Roman Military Camp Dated to 178 B.C.

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March 18, 2015

The use of modern technology has revealed tell-tale signs of the oldest known Roman military camp, thought to be more than 2,000 years old.

Researchers using airborne laser scanners found significant remains of a military camp, in Italy, that dates to 178 B.C. The remains and location match a camp that the Roman historian Livy wrote was built in that year. The camp, called San Rocco, is thought to have been a key element of the colony of Tergeste, which became modern-day Trieste.

Helecopters carried laser scanners that used the laser equivalent of radar, a process called lidar ("light detection and ranging"). The scanners targeted an area in the Bay of Muggia, in the Gulf of Trieste, near the modern Italy-Slovenia border. The researchers also used ground-penetrating radar to augment their traditional fieldwork.

Scans and digging revealed that the camp was more than 32 acres in size and was designed with heavy fortifications. Some ramparts measured up to 80 feet wide. The researchers found traditional evidence of Roman encampment, including hobnails from soldiers' shoes and fragments of amphorae, vessels used to store food, oil, and wine.

The camp was probably built, the researchers said, to protect against a neighboring people known as the Histri, whom Livy described as pirates.

The oldest confirmed Roman military camps on record were both in Spain, dating to 155 B.C. and 154 B.C., at Pedrosillo and Numantia, respectively.

Doing the research and writing the reports were archaeologists from the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste and the Fermi Center in Rome. Their initial findings appeared in the online journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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