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In the heart of the Roman cities during the Imperial age, the life of professional associations vibrated, real pillars of the society of that period. Among the valuable evidence of this ancient situation, a simple marble memorial stone rises, a precious fragment of history that connects us to the glorious past of smiths, builders and metals artisans, titled with devotion to the Genie of the Smith Association in Asti.

This small but significant find has been discovered in a medieval hole in the eastern sector of the cellars of Mazzetti Palace in Asti, just behind the remains of a corner tower overlooking the main road. Partially destroyed in the lower and rear parts, the memorial misures just 0,29 meters by 0,26 meters, and is 0,10 meters thick. Its refined shape is characterized by mouldings and concave lines on the upper part, while the inscription carved on the front reveals its historical importance.


C(ollegii) F(abrum) H(astensium)

M(arcus) Bennius


miles ra[…]

“To the Genie of the Smith Association of Asti, (by) Marco Bennio Emiliano, soldier”

The Genie, a tutelary divinity for Romans, represented the protective spirit for people, institutions and places. So the inscription dedicated to the Genie of Smith Association is a symbol of religious devotion, a tribute to a divine entity that whatched over activities and lives of who worked in the art of building.

Unfortunately the breaking of the stone makes knowing the details of the believer difficult, but thanks to the historical researches we can suppose that he was a soldier, maybe coming from Dalmatia, as his family’s name suggests, the “Bennii”. This soldier could have developed a deep relationship with the Smith Association, whose role was very important in the municipal society, especially in the field of public construction.

The surname “Aemilianus” could indicate a relation with an other family, maybe that of the grandparents or the believer’s mother, or with a previous owner, if he was a freed slave. The word “miles” suggests his military status, but it does not follow the typical abbreviation of the Roman military inscriptions. The presence of this dedication near the seat of the Smith Assocation suggests that the memorial was exhibited in a public place, maybe near the “schola”, (the school) of the Association, where the worships of protective divinities took place.

This find helps us to identify more precisely the seat of the Association, probably located nearby the ancient forum, the beating heart of the city life. More evidences of professional associations in Asti, as the Association of Dendrophorii (that means carpenters), allow us to understand better the social and economic fabric of this Roman city.

In the Imperial Roman era, the professional associations were very important pillars of the social and economic structure of the city. Organized depending on the several productive and artisan activities, these groups regulated the practise of professions, protected the interests of their members and contributed to the development and wealth of the community. From smiths to merchants, from builders to weavers, each association had its own Genie, a divinity to which to turn to in order to obtain blessing and protection in daily activities. These associations not only guaranteed the work quality and respect of professional laws, but also had an important role in political and cultural life of the Roman cities, by influencing the decisions of local authorities and contributeing to the construction of monuments and public works that we can still admire today.

Therefore the memorial of Smiths is more than a simple piece of sculpted stone; it is a bridge that connects us to the past, an icon of devotion and ability of the Roman workers. Through its inscription, it tells us about a distant era, when professional associations dominated the urban scene and the Genie watched over who shaped the world with his expert hands.


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