Searching for other Venetians. Archaeological investigations into a community in the Venice lagoon: Equilo in the early Middle Ages


Full Professor of Medieval Archaeology

University of Ca'Foscari Venice


Venice is one of the most famous cities in the world and, for this reason, we think we know almost everything about it. In reality, we know very little about the early stages of settlement (Venice, for instance, is neither a Roman city nor was it born from a Roman settlement) and, more generally, about the history of the lagoon during the early Middle Ages (6th-10th century). In that period, different settlements and communities prospered in and around the lagoon; communities that were able to express a specific identity and autonomy. We must therefore imagine the lagoon of Venice in the early Middle Ages as a space of competition, where several political and social subjects coexisted. It was only after the year 1000, following the consolidation of the duchy around the settlement developed around Rivoalto (the future Venice), that many of these settlements ended up being totally abandoned. 

When completely abandoned, these settlements are remarkable opportunities for archaeology. The absence of stratifications and post-medieval buildings have often well preserved archaeological contexts that are difficult to preserve in cities with continuity of life - such as Venice itself, for example. These conditions therefore provide a more precise idea of the social and political dynamics that involved the entire lagoon in the early Middle Ages. 

The aim of this lesson is to illustrate the archaeological project on one of these vanished communities, the one in Jesolo (ancient Equilo), started by Ca' Foscari University Venice in 2011. The research is not yet finished, but the results so far are already sufficient to reconstruct a new and original profile of this settlement and its community between the 5th and 13th centuries. They are helping us to shed light on the ecological and material characteristics of the settlement (where was it? what was the environment like? how were spaces distributed and organised?) and on various aspects of daily life (how were resources exploited? what did people eat? what were the community's livelihoods?). In addition, archaeological research has been able to illustrate aspects of sociality (hierarchies, funerary rituals, violence) and demography (mobility, diet, disease). Through the archaeology of Equilo, therefore, it is possible to open up a glimmer of light on a specific archaeological site, but also to abandon myths and old historiographical stereotypes related to Venice: thus begin to rewrite the history of one of the world's most famous cities.

Wed November 30th 2022, 12:00pm
Sauro Gelichi