Bronzes from sacred baths to go on display

The 24 Etruscan and Roman bronze statues discovered at the ancient sacred baths at San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany will go on display for the first time later this month. After months of meticulous restoration in a laboratory in Grosseto, the bronzes will go on display in the Quirinale Palace in Rome on June 22nd.

Dating to between the 3rd century B.C. and the 1st century A.D., the bronzes were left as votive offerings by visitors seeking cures for a myriad of illnesses from the deities believed to inhabit the hot springs of the thermal baths. Petitioners left coins and figurines of body parts in need of healing. People with the deepest pockets left larger, whole-body statues of the shrine’s deities, including Hygieia and Apollo, and of the afflicted.

The baths were abandoned and deliberately sealed by toppled columns in the 5th century, but hundreds of years’ worth of votive statuary were preserved in the hot, muddy basins of the sanctuary. The ancient baths were rediscovered in 2019 and excavations unearthed thousands of coins and body part offerings.

The whole-body statuary emerged from the pools during excavations in October of 2022. It is the largest group of bronze statuary from ancient Italy ever discovered and the only one recovered in a single archaeological exploration of its original context. Engraved with inscriptions in both Etruscan and Latin, they form a unique corpus recording the transition between the decline of Etruscan influence in central Italy and the rise of Rome.

One of the most spectacular finds was the “scrawny boy” bronze, a statue about 90 cms (35 inches) high, of a young Roman with an apparent bone disease. An inscription has his name as “Marcius Grabillo”.

“When he appeared from the mud, and was therefore partially covered, it looked like the bronze of an athlete … but once cleaned up and seen properly it was clear that it was that of a sick person,” said Ada Salvi, a Culture Ministry archaeologist for the Tuscan provinces of Siena, Grosseto and Arezzo.

The inscription also refers to another six or 12 statues left at the sanctuary by Marcius Grabillo. When excavations resume in late June, archaeologists hope to discover the rest of the Grabillo collection.

Salvi said traces of more unusual offerings were also recovered, including egg shells, pine cones, kernels from peaches and plums, surgical tools and a 2,000-year-old lock of curly hair.

“It opens a window into how Romans and Etruscans experienced the nexus between health, religion and spirituality,” she said. “There’s a whole world of meaning that has to be understood and studied.”

The statues will be exhibited at the Quirinale through October 22nd. After that, they will travel to other museums around the country before settling into their permanent home, a new museum housed in a 16th century palace overlooking the pools.