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Pompeii find shows secrets of the Samnites
By Bruce Johnston in Rome
(Filed: 05/07/2004)

The discovery in Pompeii of a pre-Roman temple is being hailed as evidence that the city was sophisticated and thriving 300 years before Vesuvius erupted.

The temple is said to be of Mephitis, a female deity worshipped by the Samnites, a mysterious ancient people who preceded the Romans in Pompeii.

The temple complex includes a sanctuary where it is thought girls from good families worked briefly in "sacred prostitution" as a rite of passage to full womanhood.

The Samnites were previously thought of as mountain warriors, whose settlements thrived due to a military pact with Rome, but archaeologists say the finds suggest instead that theirs was an advanced society in its own right.

The discovery is the result of a three-year joint project by the University of London and the University of Basilicata in Italy. It is said to have come as a "complete surprise".

24 April 2003: Experts recreate the Pompeii wine praised by Pliny

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