Museo del Sannio, Benevento

Church of Santa Sophia

An archeological tour of Benevento would not be complete without visiting the Museo del Sannio that is currently housed in the abbey complex of the church of Santa Sophia.  It sits in at the heart of the historic center.

Sannio (Samnium in latin) is the italian name that refers to the original name of the region before Roman conquest.  The Samnites were a fierce mountain tribe that were quite violent.  So much so that archeological sites of the area show a notable lack of civic activity during the 5th century BC during the expansion of the Sannite domain.  Ethnically related to the Umbrians, the Samnites proved to be a constant problem for the Romans.  Even after their eventual defeat in 290 BC, the Samnites continued to side with the enemies of Rome whenever the opportunity did arise.  The fact that a category of gladiator was referred to a Samnite attests to thier fighting prowess.

Lapidarium at the entrance of the Museum

The museum’s collection is quite comprehensive.  It traces the local development from the late bronze age up until the medieval era.  However the wealth of its pieces date to the Roman era.  At the entrance of the museum is the Lapidarium, full of tomb markers.  It is interesting to note that a large percentage of them are for couples.  You can see the in the above photo several examples.

Roman section of the museum

The displays are well organized.  But like many Italian museums the labels and written explanations are sparse and quite random.  The Egyptian cult of Isis was very popular in Beneventum and below is a photo of some of the statuary that remains.

Remains from the temple of Isis

The Imperial period left the strongest imprint on the town.  Below is a statue of the emperor Trajan.  It was believed to have been incorporated in the famous triumphal arch which also bears his name.  The statue of his wife is very nice as well.  There are also numerous fragments from the arch preserved here as well.

Statue of Trajan
Statue of the wife of Trajan
Fragments from the Arch of Trajan

The collection continues with the Longobards and the Christian era.  However it is difficult to escape a sense of melancholy after leaving the Roman section.  The primitive art that follows reveals a complete collapse of culture that accompanied the disintegration of the Roman civilization.  The sensitivity to proportion was obviously lost.

Longobard tomb

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