Gastrointestinal infection in Italy during the Roman Imperial and Longobard periods: A paleoparasitological analysis of sediment from skeletal remains and sewer drains Journal Articles uri icon

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  • OBJECTIVE: This study aims to investigate parasitic infection in Italy during the Roman period (27 BCE-476 CE) and subsequent Longobard (Lombard) period (6th-8th CE). MATERIALS: Sediment samples from drains and burials from Roman Imperial-period sites in Italy (Lucus Feroniae, Oplontis, Vacone, and Vagnari), Late Antique and Longobard-period burials at Selvicciola (ca. 4th-8th CE), and Longobard-period burials at Vacone and Povegliano Veronese. METHODS: Microscopy was used to identify helminth eggs and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to detect protozoan antigens. RESULTS: Roundworm and whipworm were found in pelvic sediment from Roman-period burials, while roundworm and the protozoan Giardia duodenalis were identified in Roman-period drains. In pelvic sediment from the Late Antique through Longobard periods, roundworm and Taenia tapeworm eggs were identified. CONCLUSIONS: Fecal-oral parasites were found throughout Imperial Roman Italy, suggesting that gastrointestinal infections caused a significant disease burden. In the Longobard period we see continuity in transmission of fecal-oral parasites, and the appearance of zoonotic parasites acquired from eating undercooked meat. SIGNIFICANCE: A wealth of information exists about certain diseases in the Roman period, but relatively little is known about intestinal parasites in Italy during the Roman and Longobard periods. This is the first evidence for Giardia in Roman period Italy, and for any parasites in the Longobard period in Italy. LIMITATIONS: Low egg concentrations and lack of controls for some samples makes it difficult to differentiate true infections from environmental contamination in some cases. SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH: Continual study of samples from Roman and Longobard period Italy.


  • Ledger, Marissa L
  • Micarelli, Ileana
  • Ward, Devin
  • Prowse, Tracy
  • Carroll, Maureen
  • Killgrove, Kristina
  • Rice, Candace
  • Franconi, Tyler
  • Tafuri, Mary Anne
  • Manzi, Giorgio
  • Mitchell, Piers D

publication date

  • June 2021