There is no reliable proof indicating a protohistoric exploitation of the gold mine, however the locally produced objects made of gold, coming from the lake dwellings near Lake Viverone, suggest that in the Middle Bronze Age there was already a rather lively activity of extraction. Besides, the presence of several erratic blocks with engravings mostly relative to the Iron age (1st millennium B.C.), witnesses an active frequentation of the area that, starting from 5th/6th century B.C., is supposed to have been controlled by Salassi (Celtic) together with Biella, part of the province of Turin and the Aosta Valley. Strabo (64 B.C. -21 A.D.) refers that in 143/140 B.C., taking as an excuse an argument between the Salassi that exploited the gold mine and the people settled in the plains, where the former were accused of depriving the cultivated fields of the water coming from River Dora which was used for washing sands, the roman consul Appio Claudio, intervened militarily. Despite a disastrous initial defeat, he took possession of the contested land. The identification with Bessa is not certain but quite possible as it probably was a big mine, for the amount of water used seemed to create problems of provisioning. We have to think that the historian, quoting River Dora, did not refer to the present river descending from Aosta Valley, but used it as a general indication of "stream" (also common in Savoie, France and Valais, Suisse ) as there are no other gold mines apart from Bessa that could justify such a quarrel over water. The year 140 is then the date after which the roman publicans could contract the aurifodinae. . Strabone's text also confirms that the metal was already extracted from Salassi, obviously not simply on a craft scale. From Plino (23-79 A.D.) we have the proof of the size of the yard as, regarding Bessa, he quotes a lex censoria that, probably for public order problems, forbade the use of more than 5000 workers. This means that there were periods where the number was even higher. Even if the exact duration of the exploitation is not known, we know that when Strabo was writing the mines had already been abandoned (or more likely worked out) and gold in Rome came mainly from Iberia.

In the beginning the gold mine depended from Vercelli as for the administrative part but when Eporedia (Ivrea) was founded in 100 B.C., it probably passed to this town. This is proved indirectly by a few tombstones and inscriptions of Eporedia citizens, found on the edge of Bessa (Riviera hamlet in Zubiena) and of the site of old Victimulae (today's San Secondo of Salussola). Riviera tombstone is relative to a priest of Augustus, the inscription of San Secondo recalls the donation of a ponderarium (structure where weights and measures were kept) by an official. This donation proves that during the Augustus Age the extractive activity was still effective, probably thanks to individuals and limited to sands dumped after the washing that, because of the imperfect treatment, still contained modest quantity of the metal. The identification of Victimulae quoted by the roman historians with the business area of the roman mine has not been confirmed yet, as the dating of the evidences and of the investigated structures do not go beyond the Imperial Age and no necropolis has ever been found.

The prospecting for gold continued also in the following centuries and continues still today as a hobby in the sands eroded by River Elvo from the old dumps.

Rome: 143 B.C.




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