Montag, 27.05.2019 11:04 Uhr

The Villa of the Antonines: a Roman residential complex

Verantwortlicher Autor: Carlo Marino Rome , 21.07.2018, 19:18 Uhr
Presse-Ressort von: Dr. Carlo Marino Bericht 5793x gelesen

Rome [ENA] In 2010, Montclair State University started the “Villa of the Antonines” Project . The aim was to shed new light on a largely neglected, but important, archaeological site along the route of the ancient Via Appia, just 18 miles southeast of the center of Rome.  The archaeological remains are situated within the boundaries of the modern town of Genzano di Roma (population about 22,000), nearby the  Lago di Nemi,

a crater lake in the Alban Hills.  In older times, the site was in the territories of Lanuvium, one of the urban centers of the people of Latium before Rome became a great power, and the nucleus of which lies about 1.5 km to the southeast of the site.   By the end of the BCE period, Lanuvium possessed Roman citizenship and, being close to the metropolis, was popular for villas as favorite summer resorts. Cicero, for example, mentions in his letters how he stopped there or passed through on a number of occasions.  By 86 CE the ancestors of the Antonine imperial dynasty, which was to rule during the mid- to late second century CE, possessed a family villa located at or near Lanuvium . This information

is known from the biography of Antoninus Pius in the Historia Augusta, the 4th century collection of biographies of Roman emperors, and a local connection with the family is supported by inscriptions from the town.  The Historia Augusta tells of the births of both Antoninus and Commodus there, and refers also to Commodus—who developed a taste for performing as a gladiator—as killing wild beasts in an amphitheatre at Lanuvium.     In 1701, several fine marble busts of Antonine family members were unearthed somewhere not too far to the north of still standing, imposing Roman brick and concrete ruins now known to have formed part of a bath complex.  

Subsequently, the vicinity around the baths came to be referred to as the “Villa degli Antonini.”  Up until the early 20th century, antiquarians and early archaeologists who visited the surrounding area continued to report the presence of various other physical remains that probably also belonged to the villa.  Because of creeping urbanization and illegal development, most of these features can no longer be identified and, although this villa is one of the major elite Roman residences in the area of the Alban Hills, it is so far the least investigated.      The curvilinear building as it presently stands is characterized by a series of nearly identical rooms (each approximately 3.5 x 4 m in size) that are defined by radial walls

connecting two concentric curving walls; a third, innermost curving wall is very close to the second one and encloses, together with it, a channel about a half metre in width. The facing of the concrete walls consists mainly of opus mixtum and opus vittatum, a common construction technique during the second century.  Much of excavation work between 2010 and 2012 involved investigating the rooms of the eastern part of this curvilinear structure, as well as excavating some adjacent areas immediately outside of it.  Because the channel mentioned above included near its midpoint a vertical shaft connecting to an underground channel (cuniculus) beneath, the structure had been tentatively interpreted as

a series of basins connected in some way with the baths.   The archaeological materials recovered during three seasons show a special preponderance of marbles and displaced mosaic tesserae.  The very numerous pieces and fragments of marble of varied thickness and dimensions include white marbles (Proconnesian among others, which has a sulphurous taste ) as well as colored ones such as serpentine, porphyry, giallo antico, pavonazetto, cipollino, and africano—basically the most common decorative types imported from North Africa and the Aegean region.  Some of the pieces have regular geometric shapes and were once part of opus sectile flooring, while others are fragments of cornices or molded slabs from wall decoration. 

The tesserae, or cubic tiles used for mosaics, include many from black and white compositions (leucitite and white limestone), while the remainder are small colored glass tesserae that represent a large part of the color spectrum and include transparent examples covered with gold leaf.  These, together with the marbles, highlight the striking decorative richness of this residential complex.  The proportion of ceramic materials recovered from the site so far is relatively modest in comparison.  Architectonic material such as fragments of roof tiles, tubuli (pipes for conducting heat in bath walls), and of course the brick stamps noted earlier is particularly important.

The stamps include several inscribed ones that were manufactured in brickmaking establishments located in Latium during the mid- to late second century; many of the other stamps, which have geometric designs only but which are not inscribed, were probably used to distinguish production units or crews in the brickyard.  With regard to ceramic vessels,numerous fragments of African red slipware and cookware have been found, but very few fragments of Italian and Gallic terra sigillata. Other artifacts include various nails and studs that probably come from wooden chests, furniture, or wooden doors but that are difficult to pin down chronologically.

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