Abundant evidence of the sociable custom of banqueting has been found in Aquileia’s urban residences. Spacious, luxurious rooms were reserved for this activity, sumptuously decorated and elegantly furnished. Tableware made of various materials, such as pottery, glass, bronze and silver, was used for the consumption of food and drink. Certain vessels – jugs, bottles, bowls, measuring cups and large containers – were used for preparing wine, which might be spiced and mixed with other substances. Banquets often took place in the afternoon and evening, and were illuminated by variously-shaped oil lamps in pottery or bronze. The great variety of forms and decorations of tableware found is due to rapid changes in habits and fashions, which made it necessary to constantly purchase new items for the family dinner service.
The numerous items relating to furniture in the museum's collection help us to understand what an Aquileian domus would have looked like inside. Roman furniture was made of wood, rope, wicker, leather or hides, but these organic materials are rarely preserved in Aquileia. Its decorations remain, though, made from embossed sheeting or solid figurines in bronze, bone and ivory, applied to beds, trunks, tables, chairs and stools. Even the locks, studs and hinges of doors, windows and caskets were sometimes also decorated. The rooms were illuminated by daylight that filtered through the glass window panes, and by the flames of oil lamps, lights and torches that might be hung on bronze, stone or wood candelabras, or placed on shelves and furniture. Marble and bronze decorations embellished gardens and peristyles; popular themes were Dionysus and the natural world. Interest in collecting Greek artworks and dedicating galleries to philosophers, poets and other famous personalities was widespread.
Aquileia, Mediterranean Port
Thanks to its strategic position linking the eastern Mediterranean and the Danube and Rhine zones, Aquileia was a busy, prosperous emporium, a hub between Mediterranean trade routes and trans-Alpine markets. Aquileia’s port, located at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, functioned as a centre for the redistribution of raw materials, foodstuffs and craft and artistic artefacts traded between provinces north of the Alps, the Balkans and the Po Valley.
Inscriptions, funerary steles, portraits and other objects bear witness to the countless figures who helped to make Aquileia a major economic and military centre, place of passage and meeting point of people, ideas, religions and different cultures. Successful trade, the presence of a maritime and terrestrial customs post and military garrisons attracted individuals and organized groups with the most diverse occupations from all parts of the empire. The movement of goods required companies specialized in transport, ship’s owners and captains, merchants and customs officers, activities managed both by important Aquileian families and by foreigners, such as Titus Flavius Eupor, native of Corinth, and the customs officer Aiacius Dama, from Judea. Many independent professionals such as doctors, tutors and actors, reveal through their names or explicitly declare their eastern origins through the use of Greek in funerary or celebratory inscriptions. Some would only have been passing through the city while they went about their business, for others it would have been their permanent place of residence, as in the case of the African Restutus, fully integrated into the Christian community of Aquileia.
The maritime trade brought to Aquileia from the whole of the Mediterranean area essential goods such as wine, oil, fish sauce and fruit, transported in amphorae of various shapes and sizes, and above all wheat. Along with the foodstuffs came pottery items too (including tableware and oil lamps), and precious glass objects. Nearby mines in the Alps that could be reached by road assured a supply of iron, while from Istria came the stone used for the construction of many public buildings, before the spread of oriental marbles, which from the 2nd century AD became prevalent in architectural decorations.
Aquileia’s strategic position with respect to Rome's expansionist policy towards the Illyrian regions, and its role as an eastern bastion of the Empire, determined its important military role. This function was further strengthened during the reign of Diocletian (AD 284-305) when the city was chosen as seat of the governor of Venetia et Histria ; a terrestrial military and a naval command were based there, with the task of ensuring communications with and supplying provisions to the troops engaged in the Danube region. Footwear, helmets, armour, weapons and ammunition, and accessories for wagons and horses testify to the presence of garrisons and the transit of armies and legionaries in the city. Some of the men were buried in Aquileia’s cemeteries, which have yielded many funerary steles of soldiers from many different places. Images and inscriptions recount tales of soldiers belonging to various parts of the army: among others, Praetorians, i.e. members of the emperor’s personal guard, foot soldiers and knights belonging to the legions stationed in the Danube area.
Aquileia’s multicultural character led to the popularity of numerous deities of foreign origin; during the Empire these joined the gods of the traditional pantheon, who arrived with the first settlers. Isis and Serapis were from Graeco--Roman Egypt, Cybele, Attis and Artemis Ephesia from the province of Asia , the Iunones from Gaul. The Persian Mithra, traditionally linked to the army, also played an important role, as did the devotion of Belenus, a god of Celtic origin who became patron of the city.
Aquileia was also an early centre of Christianity’s growth in the West, as shown by the fervent building activity in the 4th century AD that involved the construction of the Basilica and the other churches in the town. Symbols of the new faith such as the Constantinian Chi Rho (chrismón) are found on epigraphs and on objects related to liturgical furnishings and offerings made by the faithful.
Apart from its flourishing trade, Aquileia’s economy was based on numerous productive activities located within the town and in the surrounding countryside. The suitability of the land led to the region being intensively farmed, especially for a wine and oil production; the presence of extensive wooded areas favoured the development of woodworking and shipbuilding companies. The clay deposits associated with rivers in the lower Friuli plain were used for the manufacture of amphorae, pottery and lamps. The extensive building activity that changed the town’s appearance from early Imperial times onwards also led to flourishing brick and tile manufacture – to the organization of which bear witness the numerous maker’s marks that have been found. The need to organize water supplies led to the growth of workshops specialized in the fabrication of lead water pipes.
Many manufacturing activities were dedicated to processing imported raw materials. The most flourishing industries included glass and metal working; Aquileia’s shops dedicated to the luxury craft production of cut gems and amber were widely renowned.
From early on the land around Aquileia was well known for its abundant vineyards. Their importance is attested by finds of amphorae, casks and stone funerary reliefs portraying scenes related to grapevine growing. Historical sources confirm that local wines were much appreciated: Livia, wife of Emperor Augustus, attributed her own longevity to Pucinum, a wine produced “in the bosom of the Adriatic Sea”, perhaps on the nearby high ground of the Karst Plateau.
There is also plentiful evidence of animal raising, which was linked to the processing and sale of meat (especially that of pigs) and activities concerning the working of milk, wool and hides. In the hinterland there were many establishments specialized in cloth manufacture, as indicated by the presence of spinners, dyers, linen weavers, tailors and – in the fourth century AD – a state factory for military garmentsgynaecium).
The quantity, quality and variety of glass objects in the museum reflect Aquileia’s importance in the commerce and production of such artefacts.
There were various methods of manufacture, and these changed over time: in earlier Roman times forming vessels over a core and casting in moulds was more common, whereas after the mid-1st century BC blowing (both with and without a mould) was the most popular technique. The raw material often consisted of production waste and broken pieces that were purposely collected and recycled. Colours were obtained by adding powdered minerals to the molten glass; vessel surfaces were then decorated using various techniques.
Plentiful kiln waste and several terracotta moulds document the presence of pottery kilns distributed around the city, although few workshops have been located with certainty. During the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. poor-quality imitations of pottery imported from Greece and central and southern Italy (black-gloss and thin walled ware) were made for the local market; in the 1st century A.D. Aquileian potters also began to make vessels destined for export.
There is abundant evidence of metal-working in Aquileia. Funerary monuments testify to the presence of various types of smiths: fabri ferrarii, whose activity is commemorated by two workshop scenes; fabri aciarii, specialized in the production of high-quality tempered iron, exported to distant markets; manufacturers of nails (clavarii), weapons (gladiarii) and craftsmen specialized in precious metals (argentarii), to whose work a number of moulds bear witness.
Objects found on excavations include strigils in bronze or iron; these instruments were used for the care of the body and bear the stamps of makers in Aquileia, notably the Tampii, who moved from Latium to Aquileia not later than the early 1st century B.C.
Numerous pieces of sculpture have been found in Aquileia, evidence of the high quality of the city’s workshops. After an early phase – largely of terracotta production – in which models from Rome were copied, the 1st century BC saw the use of stone, especially limestone from the nearby Karst Plateau (including Aurisina Stone) which was initially only employed in construction work. In the Republican period the most common sculptures were funerary portraits, while in the 1st century A.D. works that served to embellish town houses and public buildings also began to be produced. There was also an abundant production of marble sarcophagi, imitations of more precious specimens from Greece and domus , with their rich mythological repertory.