Italian archaeologists believe they have discovered the site of the legendary Golden Bough, a tree that was revered in the Ancient World, particularly Rome.
In Virgil's epic tale The Aeneid the Trojan hero Aeneas, who founded Rome in the story, used a golden branch from a sacred tree to travel safely to the underworld. Although that story is mythology rather than history, some folklorists believe that the tree that bore the golden bough might have really existed and been honoured as a symbol of spirituality and power.
Some accounts say that if a slave managed to reach the tree, he was entitled to challenge the ruling priest-king. If he killed him in combat, he would not only be free but would become the next ruler.
The recent find was made at a dig 10 miles south-east of Rome, where archaeologists are excavating at religious sites devoted to the goddess Diana of Nemi, overlooking Lake Nemi. They unearthed a stone enclosure surrounding the remains of a big tree in the middle of the Sanctuary of Nemi. They also found evidence of votive offerings.
This discovery is interesting because it relates to folklorist James Frazer's theories in his famous books The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion named after the mythological sacred tree.
Professor Coarelli, a leading archaeologists at the site and an expert on Rome, said: "We're excavating, among other places, at the Sanctuary of Nemi, which is one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Lazio. It was made famous by James Frazer's The Golden Bough series of books, which begins and ends at Nemi, because it's one of the most noteworthy ancient centres of religion and culture."
Speaking about the discovery of the tree enclosure, he said: "We found many, many pottery pieces of a votive or ritual nature. The location also tells us that it must have been a sacred structure."
Some people consider mistletoe to be the origin of the idea of the Golden Bough as it is said to take on a golden hue, especially if the tree it lives on dies.
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (Oxford World's Classics)
The Aeneid (Wordsworth Classics)