Friday, April 20, 2018

Elena Benvenuti and students from liceo guide our tour group through a leap into Lucca’s Roman past

Elena expounds on Lucca's origins to a large
tour group in the piazza of the Anfiteatro.
Thanks to recent research and archeological discoveries, the Roman roots of Lucca are gradually becoming clearer—and known to the public. The latter is partly thanks to the passion of history buffs like Lucca native Elena Benvenuti.

Elena recently organized and directed a tour of more than 40 people to explore Roman artifacts and explain the influence that Roman society had on Lucca. Once inhabited by Etruscans, Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC. The Romans built a walled city with streets in a grid pattern, complete with an amphitheater used for gladiatorial battles, a theater for music and drama, a large forum and fancy homes for wealthy government officials.

Remnants of the Roman blocks at one of
the entrances to the Antiteatro of Lucca.
Elena showed our tour group a Roman sarcophagus in Palazzo Pfanner and pointed out pieces of Roman walls of the amphitheater and theater before taking us to the Domus Romana, the remains of an important building from the first century before Christ. The home is now known as the “Casa del Fanciullo sul Delfino,” a name that comes from the drawing of two cupids riding on a dolphin in a frieze that was found in the house. The house was discovered during the restoration of the Orsucci Palace in the summer of 2010, and now the site is a museum. The group watched a documentary video on the uncovering of the ancient domus, at which site a Roman coin was also found, helping archaeologists date the ruins.

Caesar and Pompey drink a toast to the plans they made at the First Triumvirate, which was held in Lucca, probably close to  this very location in the Domus Romana. The meeting was re-enacted by local students for our tour group.
From the writings of Plutarch, it is known that Lucca was the site of a secret high-level meeting between Caesar, Pompey and Crassus in 56 BC. The three conspired to maintain their various spheres of power and influence. “Most of the men of the highest rank and greatest influence came to see him (Caesar) at Lucca,” Plutarch wrote, “including Pompey, Crassus, Appius the governor of Sardinia and Nepos the proconsul of Spain.” Caesar helped many candidates for office “win their elections by corrupting the people with money from him.” In return, they voted to provide Caesar with an additional five years of provincial command and allotted him more money from the government’s coffers.

The meeting, known at the First Triumvirate, also resulted in Crassus obtaining the influential and lucrative governorship of Syria, to use as a base for a grand campaign to conquer Parthia. Pompey would retain his holdings in Hispania. A highlight of the tour came when students from the Liceo Majorana of Capannori acted out the secret meeting of the powerful trio in the very location that it probably took place, the Domus Romana.

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