Catalogo – English version


The presence of the human being in the area of Altino is attested for the very first time during the X millennium B.C.; only at the end of the Bronze Age in the XI century B.C., however, a stable kind of settlement begins to take shape. During the I millennium B.C., Altino becomes an emporium-city, the Venetians’ main strategic port, open to the routes toward Mediterranean countries: we can infer that thanks to the gifts offered by Greeks, by people from Magna Graecia and by Etruscans in the sanctuary of the god, whose name is the same of the city, Altinom. From the middle of the II century B.C., following the construction of the Via Annia – the consular road connecting Adria with Aquileia -, the Romanization process started. It was completed between 49 and 42 B.C., when Altino became a municipium, obtaining the Roman citizenship and the membership in the Scaptia tribe.

During the I century A.D., the city reaches the peak of its prosperity, as it is proved by the sources, which cite its agricultural and artisanal production and the flourishing trade. Ancient writers also recall the unique hydraulic-environmental situation of the Roman Altinum, enclosed by within a circuit of rivers and canals that, thanks to the connection with the lagoon, guaranteed the continuous exchange of water, and therefore the climate’s healthiness even among marshes and salt marshes.

Despite the economic contraction that invested Altinum from the II century A.D., as well as the other centers of Venetia, during the IV century the city maintained its important role, as the institution of the episcopal chair attested. In 452 A.D., Attila destroyed the city, and the same he did with other cities like Concordia and Aquileia, but Altino survived until the beginning of the VII century when, under the looming threat of the Lombards, its inhabitants abandoned it definitively, founding refuge in the nearby Torcello: thus, started the historical process that leaded to the birth of Venice. Altino was no longer populated, returning to be a swamp and marshes, until in the early 1900s, thanks to a systematic reclamation, the countryside was habitable and cultivable again: the countryside, indeed, is the very guardian of the rich testimonies of an important, distant past.


On July 31st, 2007, as part of the Arcus Project dedicated to the Via Annia, the Department of Geosciences of the University of Padua carried out a remote sensing campaign of the archaeological area of Altino. The subsequent elaboration turned out to be the first good detailed visualization of the buried archaeological structures of about a third of the ancient city, producing an extraordinary imagine, without any precedent. The evidence given by the aerial shots of 2007, superimposed on the digitized and georeferenced archaeological maps, in fact, has brought out with impressive clarity the extension and articulation of the urban area, also revealing for the first time the existence, profile and location of the main municipal monuments, such as the forum area, the theater and the odeon.

The acquisition of these exceptional images stimulated the beginning of a new season of studies and research, which involved the re-examination and comparison of all the documentation relating to the site of Altino, such as archival data, aerial photos, historical plans, geomorphological investigations and, above all, the results that emerged from the excavation campaigns. The results of this complex interdisciplinary work, undertaken by the archaeologists of the Superintendence for the Archaeological Heritage of Veneto, supported by historians and geographers from the Universities of Venice and Padua, led to the reconstruction of the Altino’s forma urbis, officially presented in Venice in 2009 as part of the VI Conference of Studies on Altino “Altino from the sky: the tele-revealed city”. The exhibition aims to translate the achieved results into a digital and three-dimensional key, opening up new innovative perspectives for the enhancement of the city progenitor of Venice.


Perspective view of the center of Altino from the south-east is been created by overlapping the false-color composition of a multispectral aerial image to the three-dimensional survey of the archaeological map made by the researchers. The shooting of this aerial image was carried out on 2007 July 31st, after a particularly intense dryness. Because of the extreme climate situation, maize plants, soybeans and other arable land above ancient walls, floors, foundations and roads suffered by the greater water shortage. On the contrary, those plants that grew upon clayey-silty fillings of ancient canals, holes and ditches were more luxuriant, thanks to the greater moisture guaranteed by these soils.

Through the elaboration of the different spectral bands of the image (three in the visible field and one in the visible field in the near-infrared), the differences between in the chlorophyll content of plants (the so-called crop marks) came out to be particularly noticeable, highlighting in good detail the buried archaeological structures. The high resolution of the image, which is made up by pixels of 0.5 m side, made it possible to observe also small parts. The interpretation of the aerial image unveiled the complex structure of the Roman Altino. Major buildings have been mapped in detail, as well as public complexes, like forum, basilica, theaters, amphitheater and port facilities.

It has been shown that two large canals crossed the city, putting it in contact with the lagoon. The road axes of the Via Annia and the Via Claudia Augusta have been identified in the surrounding area of the city, as well as buildings blocks, ancient agrarian settlements, riverbeds and canals no longer active. Furthermore, recent geophysical surveys on the ground confirmed that part of the archaeological structures is still stored underground. In addition, they have made possible to localize a temple (capitolium) located on the western side of the forum.


The combined results of archaeological research and aerial photography have brought to the surface the image of ancient Altino and its main buildings, still buried under a thick blanket of earth. In Roman times, as well as before, Altino was a water city, enclosed and crossed by a suitably regimented circuit of rivers and canals, on which there was a monumental landing, mooring docks and warehouses connected to river piers. The urban layout was composed of several orientations, gravitating on the segments of the Via Annia, identifiable with the cardo maximus. The political-administrative center and the main public buildings are located in the northern sector, while an extensive thermal complex has been identified further south. In the northern peri-urban area, in front of the monumental landing, there is the massive amphitheater.

In the final decades of the I century B.C., began the expansion of the city eastwards, as it is documented by the urban planning of the new Augustan district. To the north-west and south-east, in diametrically opposite positions, there were two centuries-old sanctuaries. The few architectural materials coming from the urban area suggest building programs of great commitment and highlight the prosperity that characterized the municipality of Altino for at least the entire I century A.D. However, the identification of the patronage of these public works still escapes to our knowledge: only one inscription engraved on an architrave, reused in the baptistery of Torcello, mentions the donation of temples, porticoes and gardens by Tiberius, the future emperor, to a municipality likelihood identifiable with that of Altino.


The most important municipal public buildings were located in the northern sector of the city: the elongated forum (210 x 90 m), dominated on the west side by the capitolium, and in the following block the theater and the odeon, divided by the urban route of the Annia. The theater had an appearance of grandiose dimensions with a radius of 60 meters and therefore a total width of the front of 120 meters, about twice the size of the odeon in front of it, intended to host concerts.

Following a patient census work carried out in the Museum’s archives, it has been possible to attribute to the decoration of the theater’s front one of the very few remains of the great public architecture that has come down to us: a block of corbelled frame, decorated with spirals and acanthus leaves, recovered in the 50s of the last century in Campo Rialto locality. The dating of the frame, between 40 and 20 B.C., places the theater of Altino among the first achievements of its kind not only in northern Italy, but more generally in the entire Roman province.

The amphitheater is located in the northern peri-urban belt. The building, whose major axis (150 m) was not far from that of Verona (152 m) and exceeded those of Aquileia and Padua, was therefore of exceptional size, evidently suitable for hosting a very large number of spectators and multiple types of shows.


Aemula Baianis Altini litora villis… vos eritis nostrae requies portusque senectae

Lidos of Altino where the villas are similar to those of Baia… You will be the quiet haven of my old age

The villas scattered along the coast of Altino must have been widely known in antiquity both for their particular setting, immersed in the lagoon landscape, and for the refinement of their architecture and furnishings, since the poet Martial, in one of his Epigrams, compared them to the villas of Baia, a Campania town well known for the luxury of its villas and for its aristocratic frequentations. hoping to spend their old age there, as in a quiet port.

The countryside of Altino has yielded the remains of these villas, some of which are considerable, both on the north and on the south side of the city. The most eloquent documentation is the one relating to a large villa with adjoining ceramic production plants, scenically overlooking a front, probably a portico, of over 180 meters along the bank of the Sioncello canal. The domus, the town houses, were characterized by rooms, in many cases paved with mosaics, open to the atrium, the central porticoed and paved courtyard. A fine example of this is the domus “of the panther”, so called from the depiction on the mosaic in the entrance hall; however, remains of houses with mosaic floors, painted plaster, bronze decorations and marble furnishings are witnessed throughout the urban area.

Near the thermal building, in the center of the city, there was a grandiose domus, equipped with a room of over 100 square meters paved with polychrome marble tiles and equipped with a monumental entrance, perhaps intended to accommodate the exponents of the military and government class, or maybe the members of the imperial house itself, during their stays in the lagoon city.


The picture of the inhabitants in the first centuries of the imperial age is punctually reflected on the social diagram of the lagoon community, in perfect alignment with the parameters of the main port centers of the Roman age, as it is shown thanks to the epigraphic documents: during the Imperial age, in Altino the percentage of slaves and freedmen exceeds 50% of the entire population. The number of Grecian origin names is high, as it is typical for the commercial ports. At the same time, protagonism of female resourcefulness can be seen in multiple sectors, such as production activities, funeral commissions, emancipation from slavery, all spies of the dynamism of the most vital merchant communities.

On the top of the society there were local aristocracy members, the Optimates, exponents of the main patrician families, who we can identify with the owners of the scenographically arranged villas along the lagoon coast. Thanks to the epigraphic evidence, we know the specific commercial activities of some important families: Ennii, Saufeii and Trosii are linked to the wool processing, while the Avilii were involved in the metal trade. The faces of these people, representatives of the ruling class, are recognizable in the splendid series of portraits, once enclosed inside the great mausoleums and funerary monuments that the excavations of the vast necropolis gave us back.


Altino was served by an articulated system of roads and sea connections. The Via Annia, whose date of construction fluctuates between 153 and 128 B.C., connected Adria to Aquileia by insisting on a pre-Roman road layout. Coming from Padua, the road crossed the center of Altino with a segmented route, constituting the generating axis of the urban organization of the future city, and then continued in a north-easterly direction towards Concordia, crossing Sioncello and Sile bridges. To the north of the city center there were two other roads, the Via Claudia Augusta, traced in 15 B.C. by Drusus and completed by his son, the Emperor Claudius, and the road to Oderzo, the Roman Opitergium. The first one connected Altino with Augusta Vindelicorum, today’s Augsburg in Germany, thus creating a direct route between the Adriatic port and the Danube plains; the second one, also insisting on a pre-Roman route, was connected to the Via Annia by a link road, almost a sort of ring road.

The city was also the intermediate port of both the Adriatic route that from Ravenna headed to Aquileia, and of the more reliable and safe route, which connected the same centers by inland waters and therefore allowed navigation throughout the year, sheltered from bad weather and pirate assaults. The stages of this navigation are remembered by the Itinerarium Antonini, a guide to the stations and distances between the land and sea locations of the Roman Empire, dating back to the beginning of the III century A.D. The enduring prestige of the city as a road junction is evidenced by its representation in the Tabula Peutingeriana, a medieval copy of a road map of the IV century A.D., in which Altino is marked by two towers enclosed inside a wall, an icon that distinguishes only some of the most important centers of the peninsula.


The canals crossing Altino were brackish and the city, though founded on a stable plain, was adjacent to the lagoon environments. The oldest sediments of the Venice lagoon, sampled with mechanical cores and dated with the radiocarbon method, dated back to about 7000 years. This suggests that, at that time, the coastal cordons had already developed and effectively separated the bodies of water from the stretch of the sea in front of it. In the Northern Lagoon, these first coastal strips probably correspond to the alignment of sandy islands that, from Lio Maggiore and Lio Piccolo, continue in south-easterly direction towards Sant’Erasmo, Le Vignole and Sant’Elena, at the extreme offshoot of the historical center of Venice.

The subsequent geomorphological evolution of the area is closely linked to the sediments of river waters gave to the sea by the Piave river, which has determined the construction of several delta systems. The migrations of the mouth of the river and the redistribution along the coast of sands by action of sea’s currents and waves, formed several generations of coastal cordons, which are grouped into sedimentary units represented in the geomorphological scheme.

We can infer that the oldest units can be attributed to a time span that reaches up to the I millennium B.C., while the later ones began to be created only from the VII century A.D. and continued to develop during the medieval and modern times. The Roman coastline in the sector near Altino probably corresponded to the margin towards the sea of the Sant’Erasmo – Lio Piccolo unit. The Roman lagoon of Altino was, therefore, significantly narrower than the one described in the historical cartography of the XVII century and the current layout. This suggests a greater ease of landing from the sea, along the lagoon routes which, conditioned by the network of canals and the location of now buried inlets, had to pass in the vicinity of Torcello and the other historical islands of the Northern Lagoon


During the ancient times, the Northern Lagoon was configured as a vast port system serving the center of Altino. Various infrastructures connected to navigation, such as turrets, embankments and landings, guaranteed the operation of an efficient mechanism: the goods, arriving from the sea on large cargo ships, were unloaded near the ancient inlets of the port on shallow draft vessels (naves audiacariae), to reach the port docks found in the locality of Torcello–Scanello. From here, the loads of amphorae, dolia and pottery were sorted in a radial pattern both towards the center of Altino and throughout the lagoon area to support the buildings connected to the salt production and fish farming activities.

Various types of wine, oil, fish sauces and other foodstuffs came from all over the Mediterranean sea. From the East came the well-known amphorae of Kos and the so-called vinum passum of Crete, while the island of Rhodes produced the salsa wines diluted with sea water before fermentation. The elites of Altino demanded from the Campania area the precious Vesuvianum, Surrentinum, but also the sublime Falernum and Cecubo, the best in the world for the time. While, with the exception of the Veronese vitis raetica, the big producers from Veneto and Emilia, such as the Ebidieni, Hostilii, Gavii and Valerii, sold a low-quality product in the markets of the town.

In the late antiquity, the trade was dominated by wines characterized by a more intense taste and high alcohol content, such as those of Gaza and the island of Chios, the latter to be drunk without addition of water and consumed over the year 1000 in the taverns of Constantinople. The most attested oil amphorae are made by Istrian production, while those from Piceno, a region remembered by sources for its strong vocation for olive growing, are more limited. Starting from the III century A.D., North Africa intensified its relations with the upper Adriatic cities to the point of gaining control of the market for the supply of oil, sauces and canned fish (garum and salsamenta).

The end of the ancient world, which coincided with a phase of extensive environmental upheaval, forced the relocation of the lagoon docks to the island of Torcello, an area that had long been able to respond to the commercial needs of Altino and to the competencies of the episcopate.


Definitively abandoned by its inhabitants in the first decades of the VII century, what remained of the city of Altino and its necropolis became an open-air quarry of building material for Venice and the islands of the Northern Lagoon, far from the sources of supply and therefore chronically lacking in stone material to be used for the construction of the new city. The surviving monuments were then reused in many public and private buildings with multiple functions: foundation blocks, corner stones, jambs, capitals, steps, sometimes closed to view, sometimes exhibited and charged with clear decorative but perhaps also communicative intentions.

Epigraphs were the first finds to have attracted the interest of the Humanists from the XV century, as documented by the 13 Latin inscriptions transcribed in 1436 in his Commentary by Ciriaco d’Ancona, the first of a large group of scholars who in the following centuries copied the texts and outlined a mapping of the monuments. During the XIX century, the adoption of a new conservation criteria led to the removal of numerous walled monuments in the various locations of reuse to be transported, in the absence of a dedicated museum space, to the Seminario Patriarcale alla Salute, where they are still preserved and exhibited.

In the final decades of the XIX century, the publication of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) was fundamental for the epigraphic studies of Altino, the impressive work of Theodor Mommsen, the great German historian-epigraphist, who in the fifth volume dedicated to Cisalpine Gaul, under the heading Altinum, would have written down 181 inscriptions, of which only a part can be traced back with certainty to the lagoon municipality, the others attributed on the basis of the principle of geographical proximity.

The inscriptions and their origin contexts are still a source of study and in-depth study by historians, epigraphists and archaeologists, the latter being particularly interested in the iconographic aspects of the finds that the mother-city transmitted to the daughter-city.

Sarcophagus of the freedwoman Titia Ariste, found in 1929 under the main altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello, dating back to the II century A.D. and reused to lay the remains of St. Heliodorus, first bishop of Altino.


The imposing monument is preserved, dismembered in its components, in the Basilica of Saints Maria and Donato in Murano, the urn located on the right side of the entrance, the two halves of the octagonal altar, sectioned vertically, walled up on the sides of the main door of the Basilica. The large quadrangular box urn, transformed into a baptismal font, bears on two contiguous sides the same inscription that gives an account of the promoter and recipients of the tomb as well as the measurements of the funerary enclosure to which the monument belonged, a vast square space of 120 feet on each side, equal to 36 meters.

The octagonal altar, which reaches a height of 225 cm, in Aurisina limestone such as the urn, has a very rich decorative syntax: on the panels alternate luxuriant shoots of acanthus, ivy and laurel spirals, vegetable candelabra protruding from vases, among which the images of various animals emerge. One of the panels also presents two superimposed male faces, in which it was intended to recognize the portraits of the promoter of the tomb, or of his brother, and of his father. The altar and urn date back to the Augustan age, between the end of the I century B.C. and the beginning of the I century A.D. The correspondence of the relative measurements suggested the ideal reunification of the two elements, assembled according to a proper and peculiar model of the sculptural production of Altino, in which the Murano octagonal altar is fully included both in terms of monumental typology and decorative scheme, distinguishing itself for the extraordinary quality of execution.

L(ucius) Acilius P(ubli) f(ilius) Sca(ptia) 

‘decurio sibi et’ 

P(ublio) Acilio M(a)n(i) f(ilio) patri 

Sextiliae Saeni f(iliae) matri

P(ublio) Acilio P(ubli) f(ilio) fratri 

in fr(onte) ped(es) CXX retr(o) ped(es) CXX.

The text specifies how, within a large square burial enclosure of 120 feet on each side, Lucius Acilius, a citizen of Altino ascribed to the tribe Scaptia, prepared the tomb for himself, his father Publius, son of Manius, his mother Sextilia, daughter of Saenius, and his brother Publius.


The small monument, used as a pedestal of the basin for holy water, is located in the central nave of the Basilica of Saints Maria and Donato in Murano. The octagonal altar, made of Aurisina limestone, according to the canonical scheme of this class of monuments presents a very rich decorative syntax, unfortunately difficult to perceive today due to the poor state of preservation. As usual in this class of altars, very common in the production of high-end sculptures, luxuriant plant shoots and candelabra protruding from vases alternate to decorate the eight panels. The octagonal altars, usually crowned in the shape of an acanthus head, were a type of sepulchral monument peculiar to Altino, in whose necropolis they were intended to adorn the funerary enclosures. The dating of this specimen dates back to the Augustan age, between the end of the I century B.C. and the beginning of the I century A.D.


The altar came to light in the 1980s during a series of excavations conducted inside the Church of San Lorenz by the Superintendence of Environmental and Architectural Heritage of Venice, in conjunction with a significant and comprehensive project of restoration. In the area below the pavement of the current building, dating back to the end of the XVI century, have been found the remains of the previous church structures, built at the beginning of the XII century, paved in tessellated and opus sectile and equipped with a crypt.

The votive altar, made of marble, had been reused as a pillar for one of the cross vaults of the crypt. The inscription, engraved on the monument’s front, shows the dedication to the god Mithras because of a vow made by a certain Caius Iulius Saturninus and can be dated, on a palaeographic basis, to the II century A.D. Since a similar altar, also dedicated to Mithras, had also been reused in the altar table in the baptistery of St. Mark’s, the hypothesis that has been advanced by scholars suggests that these monuments of pagan devotion, reused in Christian contexts, leaded a particular ideological meaning.

D(eo) i(nvicto) M(ithrae)

C(aius) Iulius


Pro se et


v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito).

Gaius Julius Saturninus fulfilled a vow to the god Mithras, who was willingly deservedly unconquered for himself and his family.


The small sepulchral monument, inserted at the base of the water façade of Ca’ Soranzo dell’Angelo overlooking the Rio della Canonica, was seen and documented as early as 1436 by Ciriaco d’Ancona, who perfectly transcribed the seven lines, now almost completely abraded. In fact, the small ara is now almost constantly submerged, visible only in the event of exceptional low tide, as it was already at the end of the XIX century, when Theodor Mommsen reported it as “sub aqua conlocata”. Of the entire altar, completely incorporated into the masonry, we can see only the front face on which, enclosed by two pillars, is engraved the dedication of the tomb, prepared by the freedman Titus Mestrius Logismus for himself and his wife Mestria Sperata when he was still alive. The monument seems to date back to the I century AD.

D(is) M(anibus).

T(itus) Mestrius

T(iti) l(ibertus) Logismus

v(ivus) f(ecit) sibi et




To the Mani gods. Titus Mestrius Logismus, Titus’ freedman, made this monument alive for himself and his wife Mestria Sperata.


The radical restoration works of Palazzo Grimani in Santa Maria Formosa, carried out by the Superintendence of Environmental and Architectural Heritage of Venice in the last two decades of the XX century, also involved the stone foundations of the first layout of the building, dating back to the XIII and XIV centuries, with the consequent drying up of San Severo and Santa Maria Formosa canals, on which the two water facades of the palace overlook.

It was thus brought to light, at the intersection of the two canals, the corner block of the lower row of the mighty thirteenth-century foundations, resting on a wooden slab and supported by a dense piling. The corner block, made of Aurisina limestone, turned out to be an imposing statue base on which is engraved the inscription, datable to the early Augustan age, which commemorates an eminent man named Marcus Petronius, quattuorviro and primipilo, that is the supreme municipal magistrate and highest centurion in rank of an entire legion.

M(arcus) Petronius M(arci) f(ilius)

IIIIv(ir) i(ure) d(icundo)

primum pil(us) ter

– – – – – –

Marcus Petronius, son of Marcus, a quattuorviro with jurisdictional power, three times primipilo, [- – -].


The parallelepiped ossuary-small ara is inserted in plain sight at eye level in the corner of the house overlooking the Fondamenta dei Preti and the Rio del Pestrin, near the Ponte del Paradiso in Santa Maria Formosa. Of the two visible faces of the small monument, enclosed by columns and pillars, the main one houses the inscription that certifies that the tomb was prepared by the freedman Lucius Statius Prudens for himself and two other conliberti, while the lateral one is fielded by a double head of acanthus. The small ara, made of Aurisina limestone and datable to the I century A.D., is known only from the early 1700s, thanks to the transcriptions of the epigraph by the Anglican priest Richard Pococke and the Veronese scholar Scipione Maffei.

L(ucio) Statio Sab(ini) l(iberto)


et Natalini

L(ucius) Statius Prudens


v(ivus) f(ecit).

Lucius Statius Prudentus made this monument alive for Lucius Statius Faustus, freedman of Sabinus, and for his conlibert Natalinus.


The sequence of buildings that overlook the banks of the Carbon in Rialto, in the stretch between Palazzo Bembo and Palazzetto Dandolo, presents a singular concentration of spolia elements in their respective façades. Venetian-Byzantine architectural remains, such as segments of cornices decorated with plant motifs or rows of fantastic animals, part of arched pillars as well as simple stone blocks, in fact are inserted without apparent order and at different heights in the individual facades.

The only example referable to the Roman age is a block of Aurisina limestone, crowned in the upper part by a segment of a Venetian-Byzantine frieze depicting an animal at the step. Inside a framed mirror is represented a luxuriant vine shoot adorned with bunches of grapes that develops, wrapping itself in sinuous volutes, from a vase on a high foot, decorated with pods and equipped with two elegant raised handles. The monument also has a high base plinth and a rich molded upper cornice. All these elements concur to suggest, albeit hypothetically, the identification with one of the side faces of a funerary stele (which could therefore be inserted into the masonry) of which the Museum of Altino preserves numerous typologically similar specimens, dating back to the I century A.D.


A curious pastiche is inserted on the façade of Casa Ravà overlooking the Grand Canal in San Silvestro. At the center of the composition there is a small funerary stele in the shape of a pseudo-aedicule in whose niche is depicted a married couple among whom emerges the face of a child. The stele is fully part of the typology of these monuments, which were very common in the necropolis of Altino during the I century A.D. At the time of the installation, the stele, probably in order to have greater prominence, was enclosed within a frame, composed of Byzantine and Renaissance friezes, which to some extent reproduces its shape, and surmounted by a mask, to fill the space originally occupied by the central acroterium.

This composition, which decorates the façade of Casa Ravà, a modern building in Venetian Gothic style built in 1906 designed by the architect Giovanni Sardi, significantly documents how the use of antiquity, even for ornamental purposes, persisted in Venice at least until the beginning of the XX century.


The funerary inscription, in two recomposed fragments of Aurisina limestone, is inserted in the base of the bell tower of San Vidal, in the location already reported at the end of the XVI century by Francesco Sansovino. Recent examinations, carried out with digital instrumentation, have confirmed that the epigraph belongs to the original base of the bell tower at least from the XVI century, highlighting its proportional framing in the second row of ashlars visible today from below.

The provenance of the sepulchral monument, which can be dated to the first decades of the I century A.D., is a source of discussion among scholars as the tribe to which Cnaeus Numerius Fronto, promoter of the tomb, belongs, is not Altino. It cannot be ruled out, however, that he had embarked on his political career in Altino, where he would later die.

Cn(aeus) Numerius Ĉn(aei) f(ilius)

Vol(tinia) Fronto

veter(anus) eq(ues) leg(ionis) VIII Aug(ustae)

II̅I̅Ivir ị(ure) d(icundo) t(estamento) f(ieri) i(ussit) sibi,

Cn(aeo) Numerio Cn(aei) l(iberto) Felici


C̣rescenti ḷ(iberto), Tuendo l(iberto),

– – – – – – 

Gnaeus Numerius Fronto, son of Gnaeus, a member of the tribe Voltinia, a veteran, a knight of the legion VIII Augusta, a forty-years-old man with jurisdictional power, ordered by his will that this monument should be made for himself, for Gnaeus Numerius Felix, freedman of Gnaeus, seviro, for the freedman Crescente, for the freedman Tuendo [- – -].


The fragment of a limestone stele from Aurisina was reused as a jamb for one of the windows on the ground floor of the house that forms the backdrop to Campo San Vidal. The discovery dates back only a few decades ago, when the portion of the wall between two windows was demolished during a construction work. The fragment of stelae was thus unexpectedly brought to light, and it was reused in such a way that the inscribed front remained hidden inside the wall, while the back was open, perforated for the hooking of the bars of the railing. The inscription, although mutilated, explicitly states that it is the sepulchral monument of a legionnaire, probably of Narbonne; it can be dated to the I century A.D.

[- – -]us + [f(ilius) – – –]

[- – -]ụs Nạ[rb(one)?]

[- – -]r leg(ionis) [- – -]

[hic situs] esṭ.

Here lies [- – -]us [- – -]us, son of [- – -], a native of Nạrbona?, [- – -]r of the legion [- – -].


An example of the reuse of monuments for purely decorative purposes is the one provided by the beautiful pseudo-aedicule stele, made of Aurisina limestone and datable to the I century A.D., inserted in the boundary wall of the garden of Palazzo Mangilli Valmarana in Santi Apostoli. Three figures look out from the niche of the stele: in the center a woman with a veiled head, on the sides two men who exhibit respectively in their right hand the volumen, the papyrus or parchment scroll in which the offices held during their lives were transcribed.

All of them hold the folds of their robes with their right hands, according to a canonical iconography that is very common in the environment of Altino. The tympanum of the stele depicts a child’s face between two birds, while only the lion on the right is preserved of the original acrotera. Nothing is known about the reuse of the monument, whose acquisition and insertion in the wall of the garden of the palace is perhaps attributable to the consul Joseph Smith, a well-known antiquarian and collector, who in the mid-XVIII century entrusted the architect Antonio Visentini with the reconstruction of the palace itself, originally a construction of XIV century, in its current form.


The stele, made of Aurisina limestone, known only from the end of the XVIII century, is reused as the jamb of the entrance door of a private house in Corte dei Pali in San Felice. The text, which opens with an invocation to the Mani Gods, explains how the sevirus Sextus Valerius Alcides prepared a multiple tomb while he was alive, for himself, for his wife, for three friends and for three young freedmen, all distinguished by Greek or Greekanian names. The inscription concludes with an indication of the measurements of the sepulcher, an enclosure of 16 feet on the front and 40 on the side, a large space of 4.80 x 12 meters. According to the paleographic characters, the monument can be dated to the first two centuries of the imperial age.

D(is) M(anibus) s(acrum).

Sex(tus) Valerius

Alcides V̅I̅vir

v(ivus) f(ecit) sịḅ[i] et Auceiaẹ

Psyche coniug[i],

Valerio Hermeti,

Calidio Hermeti,

Pontio Apollona[i]


Sotericho et Gamicae [et]

Taliae delic(atis) lib(ertis).

L(ocus) m(onumenti) i(n) f(ronte) p(edes) XVI, i(n) a(gro) :pedes XL.

This monument is consecrated to the Mani gods. Sextus Valerius Alcides, seviro, did so while he was alive for himself and his wife Auceia Psyche, for his friends Valerius Hermes, Calidius Hermes, Pontius Apollo, and for the young freedmen Sotericus and Gamice and Thalia. The area of the monument measures 16 feet along the front side, 40 feet towards the countryside.


The memory of Altino’s greatness is still alive in Venetian toponymy; in the nearby city of Padua, there is a city gate called Porta Altinate, as well as in Treviso there is a Porta Altinia. From these city gates, located along the medieval city walls, roads led to the ancient lagoon center. Mestre (the ancient Castelvecchio, then Castelnuovo) was also equipped with a Porta Altinate, oriented to the east towards Altino and connected to the latter by the today’s Via Orlanda. Altino is also remembered in the ancient chronicles that relate the destruction of Altino to the birth of Venice.

The most famous text, the Chronicon Altinate (11th-12th century), tells us that the people of Altinate, in order to escape the invasions, took refuge in the lagoon islands following instructions that came directly from God: “Climb the tower, look at the stars. The people went up and in the stars they saw inhabited areas, very close to the surrounding islands, as in an image; and all of them were shown figuratively that they would become its inhabitants”.

In another important chronicle, the one of the chronicler doge Andrea Dandolo (XIV century), it is said that the city of Altino had six gates and that those who had taken refuge in the lagoon gave to each of the islands where they went to live the name of one of Altino’s gates: Torcello, Mazzorbo, Burano, Murano, Costanziaca and Ammiana. The Doge himself says that, once the danger was over, some of the inhabitants of Altino moved to Padua and Treviso, giving the name of Altinate and Altinia to the gates of those cities.

Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata is also reminiscent of Altino. The Canto XVII tells about Attila, the negative hero par excellence who, according to ancient tradition, had destroyed the city of Altino: he is a scoundrel who growls and barks, he has a dog face and dragon eyes but he is a coward and, when he is challenged to a duel, he hides among his own and avoids the combat. Altino did not fall because of his leader’s skills, but because of the will of the fate: “Altino yielded to the fates, and not to the Huns” (LXIX-LXX).

Above all, however, there is the material memory of Altino: it can be found in every corner of Venice, in the bricks, stones and marbles, taken from the ancient city and reused to build the new lagoon capital.


Altino was an amphibious city, a settlement on the edge of the lagoon, an ancient port surrounded by rivers, crossed by canals and bridges. Just a centuries-old one, patient and skillful management of water flows had could make the marshes on which it stood healthy (the Gallicae paludes). Towards the end of its history, the ancient city fought against the burial and non-flow of waters, a problem that Venice later faced with the diversion of rivers from the lagoon. During the recent years, there was another reclamation which has redesigned the landscape of Altino, recovering semi-submerged and swampy land for agriculture. Today Altino is a cultural and environmental heritage of priceless value, which exerts a special charm and its centuries-old history deserves to be enhanced, as well as the vital relationship with the lagoon and Venice.


The Museum, located on the vast archaeological area of Altino, is located within a XIX-century rural complex which includes a rice mill and a traditional country building, originally consisting of a house and a barn, to which are added three new buildings. The rice mill, the building of greatest architectural interest, is entirely used as an exhibition space. The route winds its way from the ground floor following a chrono-thematic itinerary, that includes the exhibition of material coming exclusively from Altino, with the exception of the prehistoric section in which is exhibited a sample of materials coming in general from the lagoon gutter. This is followed by the protohistory of the Venetian town and, on the first floor, the sections dedicated respectively to Romanization and to the Roman city, the latter declined in its various daily, artistic, social, building and economic aspects.

The transfer of the Museum in 2014 to its new location, which was much larger than the previous one, made it possible to significantly expand the visitor’s itinerary. Therefore, there are many novelties that come from the materials on display today, either because they are the result of recent excavations, such as the evidence of the first Altino of the XI and X centuries B.C., or because they have never been previously exhibited, such as the burials of horses in the pre-Roman necropolis, the Venetian bronzes and the Roman kiln for ceramics, or because they have been rearranged according to new criteria, such as the stele of the Venetian Ostiala, the great noble tomb Fornasotti 1, the table glass, the wonderful gallery of portraits of the Optimates.

The itinerary will be completed with the sections dedicated to the Roman necropolis, the Late Antiquity and the sanctuary, the remains of which were brought to light during the excavations aimed in occasion of the renovation of the new museum.


Ancient sources tell us about Altino. They talk about Latin authors such as the encyclopedist Pliny the Elder and the architect Vitruvius, or the Greek, as the historian and geographer Strabo; they recount how Altino was a special city surrounded by water.

(Pliny)“Then comes the tenth Italic region, in the Adriatic Sea, which includes Venice, the Sile river coming from the Treviso mountains, the city of Altino, the Livenza river that descends from the mountains of Oderzo and the port that goes by the same name, the Concordia colony … “

(Strabone) “… The entire area is rich in rivers and lagoons, mainly inhabited by the Venetians; Here there are also the alternations of the tides …This place is traversed by channels and dams – on one side the ground is drained and cultivated, on the other  it can be navigated.Some cities are real islands, others are only partially surrounded by water … Of the cities that are in the midst of the marches, Ravenna is the largest, made completely of wood and traversed by water: therefore one moves on bridges and boats … Also Altino is amid the lagoons, in a condition that resembles that of Ravenna”

Even Cassiodoro, prefect of Theodoric, speaks of the lagoons and in his letters he’s amazed by how the inhabitants of Venice can build their houses on water.

(Cassiodoro) “It’s worth mentioning the situation of your dwellings which we’ve seen. The Veneto … on the southern part bordering on Ravenna and the Po … Here your home is built like the nests of water birds … in fact the land is tied up and consolidated with flexible wicker, and such a fragile construction is not afraid to oppose the flow of the sea…”

But the territory of Altino was most famous for its villas and for its countryside, as Martial the poet recounts.

(Marziale)“Beaches of Altino where the villas are similar to those of Baia … you will be the quiet harbour of my old age .…”

And Pliny the Younger, nephew of Pliny the Elder, writing to his friend Arriano Maturo, “the noblest of Altino”, asks news of his terrain.

(Pliny) “… How are your plantations, your vineyards, your seedlings, your very precious sheep?”

The Altino sheep and their pure wool are praised by the Latin authors Columella, Tertullian and Martial.

(Columella) “… Now the Gallic breed of sheep is considered the most valuable, particularly that of Altino”

(Tertulliano) “To omit the sheep of Miletus and Selgiche and Altino, or those for which Taranto or Betica are famous for, because the nature of the sites colours the fleeces …”

(Marziale) “White wool: Puglia is the winner with its fleeces, Parma is second, the honor of the third place goes to Altino.”

Columella tells us that in Altino even the cows were particular.

(Columella) “For this purpose it’s better to acquire the cows of Altino, which the locals call “ceve”. They are of short stature and produce large amounts of milk, and they are raised because once their calves are removed, they generously offer their udders to others. “

According to the grammarian Servius, in these water-rich environments, many daily activities took place standing in the boat, just as it’s going to be in Venice later on.

(Servio) “Lintre, river boats: it is certainly not without reason that Virgilio recalls the lintre, because in most of the Veneto, which abounds in rivers, one performs any trade with the lintres, as in Ravenna and Altino, where hunting, bird trapping and also the cultivation of fields are done by boat

Important historical facts involved Altino. For example the presence of seven legions commanded by Asinius Pollio during the Roman civil war, between 42 and 40 BC, and later in mid-February 169 AD also the death of Lucius Verus, who ruled with Emperor Marc Aurel.

(Asinio Pollione) “In fact, Asinius Pollio, with  his seven legions, maintained Venice long under the authority of Antonio, and performed great and brilliant enterprises in Altino and other cities of the region …. he reunited with Antonio … “

“Not far from Altino, while he was on a wagon, Lucio Verus was suddenly seized by an illness which is called apoplexy; They bled him after having gotten him of the wagon and took him to Altino; after not having spoken for three days, he died in Altino.

In 452 AD, when Attila and the barbarians penetrated deep into the Roman Empire, it was the beginning of the end.

(Attila 1 – Anonymus Ravennas) “In the Venetian region there are also other cities – Vicenza, Padua, Altino, which was once known as Altilia, before being conquered by Attila

(Attila 2 – Paul the Deacon) “The tremendous enemy, after having killed or captured the citizens, burned and razed many other strongholds in the same region: Concordia, Altino and also Padova, cities nearby Aquileia, destroying them in the same way.

Desperate and on the run, the inhabitants of Altino found a temporary shelter on the islands in the lagoon. Subsequently, after the first wave of invasions, they returned to rebuild and inhabit their city. But, about two centuries later, under the pressure of Lombard invasions, and because of the silting of their lands, most Altinians moved to the lagoon, to Torcello and the islands that were already inhabited since the time of Martial.

(Altino Chronicle) “The population fled from the city of Altino divided into two groups: some escaped from captivity to Ravenna, to Istria, to the Roman Pentapolis; others instead went on a three-day fast, so that God would show them how they could  survive by living on their boats or taking refuge in some place. The people, according to the promise that was made to these unworthy creatures, heard the voice of God, like a thunder, telling them: “Climb the tower, look at the stars.”The people ascend and in the stars see residential areas very close to the surrounding islands, like in a picture; and to all of them it was shown figuratively that they would become their inhabitants.”

At that time began a story of pride, courage and resourcefulness that culminated in the founding of a new lagoon city: Venice.