"La città nascosta" (The hidden city), section 4

10. Mantua in the Etruscan era

According to the legend, Ocno, son of the oracle Manto and of the god Tiber, is the mythological founder of Mantua. The city developed and became wealthy especially starting from the beginning of the 4th cent. BC, and preserved its Etruscan cultural identity until Roman conquest. 

The waters of the Mincio River nearly surrounded the residential areas, located between piazza Sordello, via Rubens and piazza Santa Barbara. Homes were made fully in biodegradable material, such as wood and clay and the roofs were made of straw. The necropolis were located outside of the town: indeed, archaeologists found tombs in via Giulio Romano, piazzale Mondadori and corso Vittorio Emanuele. Solid evidence of urban living and workshops emerged from the excavations, nevertheless lots of information about Etruscan Mantua are still to be discovered.

The Via Rubens archaeological excavations dug back into time, down into the layers of the Etruscan settlements. Remains of huts and many other finding came to light.
The city prospered thanks to commerce and long-distance journeys. Some artefacts bear witness to trade relations between Mantua, the Italian peninsula and the Mediterranean sea: fragments of transport amphorae for wine or oil, a piece of a luxurious red figured crater, one skyphos (a deep two-handled wine-cup) painted with spirals, fragments of black-varnish cups made in central Italy or in the Adriatic sea area. Brief inscriptions, incised in the Etruscan alphabet onto the surface of vases, show names of both people and gods.

12. Daily life

For the first time in Mantuan history remains indicating an Etruscan workshop have come to light in via Rubens. This was probably a pottery production site. The archaeologists found vessels which had been damaged during firing (pottery wasters) and kiln furnitures, such as “separators” or “stackers”, clay rings used to separate vessels horizontally or vertically within the loaded kiln. Weaving tools, on the other hand, came from houses: pyramid-shaped or donut-like loom weights, terracotta spools and spindle whorls. This is all evidence of textile crafts, done by women in the household.

13. Roman Age
Archeological surveys from the roman age document the area around piazza Sordello, piazza St. Barbara and via Rubens as a residential area, surrounded by many domus one beside the other and aligned on straight street axis.

Today these surrounding areas are documented by the remains of walls, decorated floors and wall paintings, which bear witness to the inhabitants’ wealthy status. Some brief paved street sections were unearthed in different points of the town, which have allowed us to recreate the layout of the original urban pattern. The entrance to a recently found roman dwelling was probably the street which today corresponds to via Rubens. Unfortunately, later constructions affected ancient structures and, consequently, a perfect reconstruction of the whole map is impossible.

We can, on the other hand, understand the positioning of some domestic spaces which were decorated with fine mosaics with a black border and a white background filled with different patterns, lozenges, little crosses and, in one case, a central figure (émblema) which has been lost. A refined decoration with multicolour leaves can also be admired. Only few traces of these dwellings are left, such as some fragments of wall frescoes; a rather unusual finding is a palmette antefix, which decorated the roof of buildings, placed above the eaves.


Ever since antiquity, brick was the most popular material used during construction due to the abundant deposits of clay which can be found in the Pianura Padana. During the roman era there were large facilities dedicated to the production of bricks which were often tied to the farms in the area; we know the trademark of many of these producers because we can find their mark on shingles and bricks. Other marks, on the other hand, were accidental: to dry out before being cooked, the bricks were left outside, often in courtyards, where domestic animals such as cats and dogs or birds would leave their prints on the drying brick. In some cases we can distinctly recognised the pegs present in the soles of shoes, probably belonging to someone who wasn’t paying attention to where they were walking. On others we can see the little footprints of naughty children. In our case a dog seems to have jumped onto the brick leaving paw prints.

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