Localisation of Bisenzio, Bolsena Lake district, and ‘Monte Bisenzio’ from South (graphics and photos: A. Babbi).

'Monte Bisenzio' from North (photo: A. Babbi).

Settlement areas (shades of brown) and Burial Plots (shades of black) in Bisenzio (graphic: A. Babbi).

Bisenzio, Olmo Bello necropolis, grave 16, plan and section (graphic: after R. Paribeni, Capodimonte – Ritrovamento di tombe arcaiche. Notizie degli Scavi 1928, Abb. 40-41).

Bisenzio, Olmo Bello Nekropole, tomb 2, model bronze wagon carrying a cauldron (photo: A. Babbi, B. Babbi).

Bisenzio, Olmo Bello Necropolis, tomb 2, bronze, gold and amber fibula (photo: A. Babbi, B. Babbi).


Bisenzio (Capodimonte, VT – Italy) between the Bronze and the Archaic Age: a capital node connecting dynamic networks in South Etruria

deutsche Version

The archaeological site named ‘Bisenzio’ corresponds to the eponymous ‘Monte Bisenzio’ (Bisenzio Hill, 404.8 m) rising on the SW shore of Lake Bolsena (circa 305 m asl), four kilometres N of the modern town Capodimonte in the administrative district of Viterbo (Latium, Italy). It is the case of a hill separated from flat plains to the north and south by respectively steep and gentle slopes. To the west, there are the scarps of the caldera rim, which encircles the entire lake. If the name ‘Bisenzio’ derives from ‘Visentium’, the name of the Roman municipium whose location is still unclear, the inception of a permanent settlement on the hill is much earlier and dates to at least the Final Bronze Age.

Actually, as demonstrated by the plentiful and informative domestic and burial evidence unsystematically investigated and very seldom published, a very dynamic community thrived not only on the hill, but also across the neighbouring fields, and along the now submerged lake coast between the late 10th century and the early 5th century BC.

The Final Bronze Age material mainly derives from systematic excavation on the summit of Monte Bisenzo (1978-1979), but coeval material was also collected in the surrounding foothills. Our knowledge of Bisenzio was greatly improved by the fieldwalking projects conducted by Klaus Raddatz and Jürgen Driehaus in the 70ies and early 80ies (University of Göttingen). The great majority of the finds documented were Early Iron Age and early Etruscan - later (Roman and Medieval) finds are rare. The latest finds date to around 500 BC or the start of the 5th century BC, and this is generally accepted as the end of Etruscan Bisenzio.

The cemeteries are spread over a distance of around 4 km to the south-east, west and north-west of Monte Bisenzo. Systematic excavations took place between 1884 and 1894, and between 1911 and 1933. Unfortunately, only a small minority of the grave goods has been properly illustrated. After the Second World War, numerous small excavations were carried out by the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Etruria Meridionale. According to the burial types and the funerary assemblages the earliest graves can be dated back to the early 9th century BC, while the latest Etruscan burials date to around 500 BC or the start of the 5th century BC.

Scientific Goals

Thanks to transdisciplinary and cutting-edge investigations, the Bisenzio Project aims, on the one hand, to shade light on one of the most relevant and barely known archaeological sites in South Etruria, and on the other hand, to challenge the usual theoretical models employed for interpreting the settlement patterns and hierarchy in Southern Etruria as well as the traditional picture of the historical-social evolution in that region between the Bronze Age and the end of the Archaic Age.

The international and transdisciplinary team set up and directed by Dr. Andrea Babbi will carry out a variety of accurately interconnected research activities in order to answer the following overarching research questions:

  • Was the central place named ‘Bisenzio’ a ‘minor’ centre, or should it be seen as a peculiar kind of ‘major’ centre thriving in a specific eco-zone since at least the Bronze Age and to a greater extent into the following periods?
  • If the latter is true, which are the specific features of the different phases of such a peculiar ‘major’ centre?
  • Can the features of this site help to investigate other kinds of peculiar ‘major’ centres in Southern Etruria?
  • Considering the updated framework that is going to be outlined, will the traditional interpretive models still suffice or should a new theoretical prism be adopted to interpret the settlement patterns at Bisenzio and in the Lake Bolsena district?
  • Was the decline of the local community abrupt, as commonly assessed, or a short but gradual downfall, and what were the reasons?
  • How fast did the lake level rise, and how were the settlement patterns at Bisenzio influenced by the rising water levels?

Scientific Structure

Dr. Andrea Babbi, who designed and coordinated the first phase of research activities (2015-2017) and since 2018 is the director of the International and Transdisciplinar Bisenzio Project, is a researcher of the Institute of Heritage Science of the National Research Council of Italy (ISPC-CNR) and carries out the Bisenzio Project as Associate Researcher at the Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Archäologie of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz.

In 2014, the Soprintendenza Archeologia del Lazio e dell’Etruria Meridionale (director Dr. Alfonsina Russo Tagliente / coordination with the Bisenzio Project Dr. Valeria D'Atri) conceded Dr. Andrea Babbi the necessary permits to study and publish the ancient centre of Bisenzio and its district. In 2019, the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’aera metropolitana di Roma, la provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria meridionale (director Dr. Margherita Eichberg / coordination with the Bisenzio Project Dr. Maria Letizia Arancio and currently Dr. Barbara Barbaro) confirmed Dr. Andrea Babbi and extended the above-mentioned permits. Furthermore, both the Soprintendenza and the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia (director Dr. Valentino Nizzo) have allowed the access to part of the Italian Cultural Heritage such as the documents stored in their own archives, and the almost completely unpublished finds and quite rich burial assemblages located in their storerooms, aiming for their publication. What is more, the Soprintendenza makes available to the project its own knowledge of the since long protected cultural heritage and landscape. Finally, in 2017 the Polo Museale del Lazio, today Direzione Regionale Musei Lazio (director Dr. Edith Gabrielli), granted Dr. Andrea Babbi the permits to study and publish some more findings stemming from some relevant contexts located in the Bisenzio district and stored in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco Rocca Albornoz in Viterbo.


2020-2022 Fritz Thyssen Stiftung; 2015-2017 Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft DFG.

Our special thanks go to Toyota Motor ItaliaProfilbereich 40,000 Years of Challenges - Mainz UniversityGeo Bio Team GroupAnfibia, and Servizi Nautici Zenith, which are supporting us with the logistics of the project, and to the municipality of Capodimonte, which kindly puts its infrastructure at our disposal.




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