We are in Sorano by Filattiera, at the crossroads of valleys and roads, a place furrowed by the course of the Magra and the passage of men, a place of frequentation and worship since the most remote times. Here are traces of ancient Ligurians, an old Roman farm, a late-ancient town and street, and a 5th-6th century stone defensive structure. Upon the ruins of the latter, a Christian building was erected. In the first quarter of the 11th century, when Sorano became the center of the fines Surianenses, today’s upper Val di Magra district, it became the Pieve di Santo Stefano. Although marked by almost a millennium of existence, it has come down to us.
On 19 July 1999, during some restoration works, the Warrior of Sorano stone sculpture emerged broken into two parts, in the facade in which it had rested for centuries.
Now unthinkable, the reuse of the monolith when the Romanesque church was built, possibly as a lintel of a side door, was a usual practice in the Middle Age. A time that starved for building materials. Unfortunately, the sculpture was then disguised by changes to the building in the eighteenth century.
Centuries of oblivion and vicissitudes have not tarnished the archaic expressive force of the superb figure of the Warrior. He is 1.78 m. high, and he gazes straight ahead, fiercely and enigmatic, with his mouth shut.
He shows off the belt around his waist, holds an axe and two javelins tight in his hands, and an antenna-shaped dagger of Celtic influence on his right side. He is armed to the teeth, ready for war but determined to reveal his societal role.
HE IS NOT AFRAID OF ALSO SHOWING HIS WOUNDS. A DRAMATIC FRACTURE CROSSES THE BACK, AND THE LEFT MARGIN IS MARKED BY CHIPPING AND REWORKING.
The scholars’ careful eye has revealed a metamorphosis that occurred in the artifact, from a more archaic stele statue to a more “modern” shape. The first version was carved out of the stone in the third millennium BC, between the Age of the Copper’s end and the beginning of the Ancient Bronze time. Then the Warrior was re-sculpted in the Iron Age, in the 6th century BC, on his head sides. What originally was possibly a cap, joined to the body, became rounder, more realistic. The arms, the belt, the weapons, and the legs are also the result of reworking.
We do not know his name, perhaps provided by the no longer decipherable inscription in Etruscan characters placed along the left arm. However, the writing is also part of the “restyling”, which led to the regeneration of not just this but several other ancient stele statues. It transformed these characters from peaceful people’s symbols to heroic warriors, probably funeral markings bearing the deceased’s name.
As the scientific name of “Sorano V” suggests, the Warrior of Sorano has not rested in solitude in the silence of the Pieve di Santo Stefano. In fact, it is the fifth of seven stele statues found in the area since 1924, dating back to different ages and typologies. The other six, like many specimens, have suffered an equally troubled fate, mutilated – sometimes reduced only to fragments – and buried in the following ages. Sorano I was found over two meters deep under the church floor, headless and prone. The Warrior lay above the entrance door, the carved side upwards so that he would go unnoticed by anyone entering the church. The Sorano VII was reused as a slab for a Ligurian burial in the II-I century BC, perhaps to evocate some ancestors.
The Warrior was visible until the early Middle Ages when it was reused for the first time as part of some structure with other specimens, as shown by the notches on the left. Eventually, it became a construction material for the Romanesque construction site.
Glorious stone sentinels, ritually arranged to garrison and signal access to the Lunigiana territory, the stele statues have been hidden for centuries. They were relegated to the condition of secret guardians of beliefs and traditions still largely impenetrable. A mystery that, now that they have come to light, increases in appeal to our eyes.