Latest in the Riace Bronzes Saga

Okey dokey … this past week Gazzetta del Sud was telling us:

One of Italy’s best-loved cultural icons, a pair of ancient Greek statues called the Riace Bronzes, is back home in a Calabrian museum after four years lying on their backs in the seat of the regional government. “We are keeping a promise to give all the citizens of the world back one of its greatest treasures,” said Culture Minister Massimo Bray. He said the statues would be back on display in two weeks and that, given their “delicate” condition, the government would probably not try to have them moved to Milan in 2015 for the Expo world’s fair in the northern Italian city that year. Bray vowed to give the Bronzes “all the loving attention they need” to restore them to their full glory after the toll of undignified neglect in a store-room of the government offices in Reggio Calabria, on the other side of the southern Italian city. “Thanks to Bray, the bronzes will soon be back gloriously on display,” said Calabria Archaeological Superintendent Simonetta Bonomi. She hailed the news that the public can start flocking back to admire two of the most stunning works ever recovered from the cultural hotbed created by the ancient Greek civilisation in southern Italy called Magna Graecia (Greater Greece). A bigger, renovated showcase for the glorious warrior figures in Reggio Calabria’s Museum of Magna Graecia is expected to be unveiled early next year. Calabria’s culture chief, Mario Caligiuri, said the opening of the revamped site “could represent our Expo,” referring to the world’s fair in Milan which is expected to give the Italian business capital a significant economic and cultural boost. The statues were moved from the museum at the end of 2009 because the cultural institute badly needed restoration. But the work at the museum became a victim of budget cuts and red tape, leaving the statues out in the cold and spurring a national and international outcry. Leading Italian arts figures got a petition together and United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO branded the affair “a disgrace” in July. This prompted a renewed pledge from local officials this summer. “The situation is finally unblocked and will be remedied” said the managing director of Calabria’s department of cultural heritage, Francesco Prosperetti. “The Region of Calabria has given its fundamental contribution of five million euros, which will be used for building museum displays and completing installation work in the building, which should once more host the Riace Bronzes,” Prosperetti said. “If, as we hope, there aren’t snags or legal hold-ups… inauguration and opening to the public is conceivable…in the first months of next year”, Prosperetti said. Politicians had pressed Bray, since his appointment in April, to take fast action to protect the historically significant and priceless statues. He responded by saying moves would be hastened to get them back in their rightful place “by the first quarter of 2014″. On Friday he said “it turned out that this forecast was actually pessimistic and I am proud to say that these two old friends of ours are now back where they belong even sooner than we hoped”. Calabria takes the Bronzes so seriously that it has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa. In a citywide vote in 2003, the people of Reggio Calabria came out overwhelmingly against the “cloning” of the statues, which have been the Calabrian capital’s biggest tourist draw since they were discovered. The bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holiday-maker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy’s most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years. Their’ trip across town to the council site was supposed to be a brief one. When they left the archaeological museum on December 22, 2009, superintendent Bonomi said it was “just for a six-month restoration”. The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria. The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour, which sold out venues in Rome, Florence and Milan The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life. The ‘older’ man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the ‘younger’ Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair. Both are naked. Although the statues are cast in bronze, they feature silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone and a glass and amber paste. Italy has the world’s biggest trove of archeological treasures but the Riace Bronzes attracted particular attention. This was partly due to their exceptionally realistic rendering and partly to the general rarity of ancient bronze statues, which tended to be melted down and recycled. Stefano Mariottini, the scuba diver who first spotted one of the statues some 300 meters off the coast and eight metres underwater, said the bronze was so realistic that he initially thought he’d found the remains of a corpse. A million people came to see them at various venues around Italy in 1981 and the pair were featured on a commemorative postage stamp that year. The statues pulled in an average 130,000 visitors a year during their time at the Reggio Calabria museum.

Please forgive my skepto-cynicism on this one, but we’ve been hearing about the impending ‘reappearance’ of this pair for years. You can catch up on the saga from our post from this past July: The Riace Bronzes Saga Continues … I’m also curious whether this work done a couple of years ago will be put into effect: Protecting the Riace Bronzes from Earthquakes

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On the Possible Origins of Rome’s “Architectural Hubris” at Gabii

Excerpt from an item in the New York Times:

[...] Any definitive insight into the formative stages of Roman architectural hubris lies irretrievable beneath layers of the city’s repeated renovations through the time of caesars, popes and the Renaissance. The most imposing ruin of the early Roman imperial period is the Colosseum, erected in the first century A.D.

Now, at excavations 11 miles east of Rome’s city center, archaeologists think they are catching a glimpse of Roman tastes in monumental architecture much earlier than previously thought, about 300 years before the Colosseum. They have uncovered ruins of a vast complex of stone walls and terraces connected by a grand stairway and surrounded by many rooms, a showcase of wealth and power spread over an area more than half the size of a football field. They say this was most likely the remains of a public building in the heyday of the city-state Gabii, or possibly an exceptionally lavish private residence.

The discovery was made last summer by a team of archaeologists and students led by Nicola Terrenato, a professor of classical studies at the University of Michigan and a native of Rome. At the end of this summer’s dig season, Dr. Terrenato said last week in a telephone interview from Rome, about two-thirds of the complex had been exposed and studied to “tell us more about how the Romans were building at that formative stage” — between 350 B.C. and 250 B.C.

Dr. Terrenato noted that the findings appeared to contradict the image of early Roman culture, perpetuated by notables like Cato the Elder and Cicero, “as being very modest and inconspicuous.” It was said that this did not change until soldiers returned from the conquest of Greece in the second century B.C., their heads having been turned by Greek refinements and luxuries.

“Now we see the Romans were already thinking big,” he said.

The Gabii dig site is a gift to archaeologists. Not only was the city close to Rome, with many ties, but most of its ruins were buried and never built over after the city’s decline in the second and third centuries A.D. The building complex is on undeveloped land in modern-day Lazio.

At the time, Rome had surpassed Gabii in size, but some historians think the neighboring city could have exerted an influence on the Romans. Previous excavations by the Michigan group, beginning in 2007, had uncovered a significant part of the city, including private houses, wealthy burials, city walls and a temple. Of possibly more importance, Dr. Terrenato suggested, the recent research shows that people were practicing some degree of urban planning at Gabii.

Scholars of ancient history and other archaeologists were either unfamiliar with the Gabii findings or cautious in their comments. Richard J. A. Talbert, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and scholar of ancient geography in the Mediterranean world, visited the Gabii excavations last year. Dr. Talbert noted that in later Roman tradition, Gabii was seen as “a source of ideas and culture.” But he added, “We really don’t have enough evidence yet to say how influential Gabii was on Rome in these early periods.”

Christopher Ratté, the director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at Michigan, said the excavation was part of a concentrated examination of the social environment in central Italy before the rise of Rome as a world power. “It has been quite a surprise,” he said, “to find that it was still possible to break new ground like this in a region that has been so well researched.”

The Gabii Project, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and in collaboration with the Italian Archaeological Service, had explored and mapped the more than 170 acres of the ancient city, which was built on the slopes of an extinct volcano where the crater had become a lake. Then the archaeologists encountered the elaborate building complex. Dr. Terrenato said he was immediately struck by the size of the stone blocks in the retaining wall on the slope inside the complex. Each one weighed thousands of pounds.

“This was like Lego construction,” he said. “They were stacked one on top of each other without any glue binding them together. This is the only technique they had access to, and it must have been the desire for this kind of grand construction that drove them to the invention of mortar about 125 years later.”

The researchers also admired some of the architectural details: rows of stone pillars, courtyards and terraces covered in mosaic tiles in geometric patterns, a 21-step staircase cut into bedrock. They said this showed that the people were beginning to experiment with modifying their natural environments — cutting back the natural slope and creating a retaining wall.

“All this only whetted our appetites,” Dr. Terrenato said as he looked ahead to next summer’s continued excavations and a hoped-for extension of the project beyond 2014.

The The Gabii Project does have a website with some interesting stuff to augment this report (see esp. Fieldwork at Gabii: 2007-present). There’s far more to be found, though, at the Lapis Gabinus dig blog, which is possibly the best dig blog I’ve come across … weekly updates (the current season just ended) and plenty of photos. Definitely worth spending some time at …

Also worth a look is UMichigan’s press release which spawned the NYT piece:

Hadrian’s Tunnels at Tivoli

This item from the Guardian is genuinely interesting … here’s the first bit:

Amateur cavers have mapped a vast network of tunnels underneath Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome, leading archaeologists to radically revise their views of one of ancient Rome’s most imposing imperial retreats.

Lowering themselves through light shafts found in fields around the 120-hectare (296-acre) site, local speleologists have charted more than a mile of road tunnels – passages where, in the second century, oxen pulled carts loaded with luxury foods for banquets and thousands of slaves scurried from palace to palace, well out of sight of the emperor.

“These tunnels lead us to understand that Hadrian’s Villa was organised less like a villa and more like a city,” said Benedetta Adembri, the director of the site, who is planning, in the autumn, to open stretches of the tunnels to the public for the first time.

Never an emperor to do things by half – his idea of homeland security was to build a wall across the top of England – Hadrian built his country hideaway near modern-day Tivoli to escape the noise and crowds of Rome, but managed to take half the city with him.

Archaeologists have identified 30 buildings, including palaces, thermal baths, a theatre and libraries, as well as gardens and dozens of fountains.

“We think the villa covered up to 250 hectares but we still don’t know the limits,” said Abembri.

Abandoned after the fall of the Roman empire, the villa was taken apart piece by piece over the centuries, with one local cardinal stripping off marble to build his own villa nearby in the 16th century, leaving weed infested ruins.

That is where an Italian association of archaeo-speleologists, equipped with ropes, and remote-controlled camera mounted vehicles, has entered the fray, exploring the pristine tunnels under the site, as well as the nine miles of sewers and water pipes hooked up to the local aqueducts.

“What we are exploring is, to a certain extent, the real villa, because the tunnels will show us where the confines of the property really are,” said Marco Placidi, an amateur caver, who has led the search.

Although experts have long known that tunnels snaked under the property, Placidi’s team was the first to drop through light shafts to wander through them. They have mapped a main tunnel, 2.40 metres (7ft) wide, which runs more than half a mile to a circular spur, about 700 metres long which could been used to turn one-way carts.

A sea shell from the Red Sea, possibly used as decoration in the villa, is among the discoveries form the site.

Most importantly, the cavers stumbled upon the entrance to an uncharted tunnel, double the width, at five metres, that could accommodate two-way traffic. It is presently packed with soil almost to the roof.

“We have tried to squeeze in on our stomachs but we still don’t know where it goes and it could lead to buildings we know nothing about,” said Vittoria Fresi, an archaeologist who has worked with Placidi. [...]

The Telegraph coverage adds an interesting detail:

The newly-discovered underground passageway has been dubbed by archaeologists the Great Underground Road — in Italian the Strada Carrabile.

… and here’s the Il Messaggero coverage in case you want to read more from archaeologists:

This past November we heard about a Mithraeum among the tunnels beneath the baths of Caracalla (Mithraeum Reopening to the Public)

Commodus’ Mini-Colosseum at Genzano

Interesting discovery getting some coverage in the English press but the fullest is from Il Messaggero:

Che l’imperatore Commodo, il controverso figlio di Marco Aurelio, avesse una passione per i giochi gladiatori e i combattimenti contro le bestie, era noto. Non a caso le fonti storiche raccontavano che l’erede dell’imperatore filosofo avesse un anfiteatro privato nella sua natia Lanuvio dove amava sfidare il destino, scendendo nell’arena e uccidendo vestito da gladiatore le belve feroci. Ma quello che finora sembrava solo un retroscena riportato dalla biografia della «Historia Augusta», ha ora le sue prove archeologiche. La conferma che Commodo avesse davvero il suo personale tempio dei ludi gladiatori, ribattezzato già dagli studiosi «il piccolo Colosseo».

L’arena di oltre 35 metri per 24, una struttura esterna di oltre 50 metri per 40, una superficie della cavea di oltre 9mila metri quadrati, e una capienza di oltre 1300 posti, senza contare l’intero palco imperiale. Un monumento databile alla metà del II secolo d.C. Ma a colpire la suggestione sono i marmi decorativi provenienti da tutto il Mediterraneo. L’eccezionale scoperta è avvenuta a Genzano nel complesso archeologico della cosiddetta Villa degli Antonini, l’originaria residenza imperiale che si estendeva in età romana nell’«Ager Lanuvinus», l’antica Lanuvio, luogo di nascita di Marco Aurelio e, appunto, di Commodo.

È qui che dal 2010 l’équipe del Center for Heritage and Archaeological Studies della Montclair State University sta portando avanti il progetto di scavo didattico sulla Villa degli Antonini sotto la direzione scientifica di Deborah Chatr Aryamontri e Timothy Renner, grazie ad una convenzione rilasciata dal Ministero per i beni culturali in accordo con la Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici del Lazio, e in collaborazione col Comune di Genzano. Le campagne di scavo estive avevano finora indagato le strutture del vasto impianto termale degli Antonini, ma soprattutto avevano individuato una piccola porzione di strutture murarie curvilinee: «Ci sembrarono subito anomale perché apparivano disposte secondo una planimetria ellittica – racconta la Chatr Aryamontri – e oggi siamo ad una svolta. Le indagini col georadar hanno verificato l’intera disposizione planimetrica delle mura di fondazioni e gli scavi hanno riportato alla luce una nuova porzione di strutture curvilinee speculari».

Blocchi di roccia vulcanica alternati a laterizio, rivestiti di marmi pregiati. «Il repertorio dei marmi è eccezionale, il giallo antico, il pavonazzetto, il greco scritto, il granito rosa e il serpentino – avverte la Aryamontri – Pregevoli anche i rivestimenti pavimentali tra tessere di mosaico bianco-nero, pasta vitrea, incluso tessere di vetro trasparente ricoperte con foglia d’oro. Una produzione di qualità rivolta ad una committenza ricca». Tutto intorno all’arena corre un canale sotterraneo, largo oltre 50 centimetri: «L’ipotesi è che servisse anche per gli spettacoli di battaglie navali», azzarda la studiosa. Sempre sotto l’arena, spicca una scala elicoidale che scende per quasi tre metri. Forse anche il «piccolo Colosseo» di Commodo aveva i suoi ipogei per le macchine sceniche funzionali allo spettacolo. Privato, ma grandioso.

On the English side:

… the (much advertised) dig is being conducted at the Villa of the Antonines by the fine folks at Montclair State (who really should get a press release out there) … they have a page about the dig (aimed at prospective field schoolers), which notes that this amphitheatre was actually discovered last year: An Introduction to the “Villa of the Antonines” Archaeological Field Project in Italy.

Major Finds at Hadrian’s Villa

This is another one of those things that didn’t really hit the mainstream English press for some unknown reason. Here’s the coverage from Il Messaggero (from back in June!):

La «grande bellezza» di Adriano si nascondeva in un giardino segreto. L’area più panoramica e sconosciuta della sua villa a Tivoli, che si erge sulla cresta del banco tufaceo, alle spalle della famosa Piazza d’Oro.È qui che sono riemersi in sequenza strategica cinque edifici monumentali di rara raffinatezza architettonica, decorati con statue colossali, progettati da Adriano per offrire percorsi privilegiati, creando sfondi paesaggistici dal carattere idilliaco. Sono le memorie «inedite» di Adriano che riemergono ora da una porzione della sua villa del tutto dimenticata, considerata per secoli di scarso interesse, tanto da essere esclusa dal percorso di visita negli anni ’60 del secolo scorso per ospitare un campeggio. La scoperta, frutto della lunga e complessa campagna di scavi condotta dall’università La Sapienza con la responsabilità scientifica di Patrizio Pensabene in stretta collaborazione con la Soprintendenza ai beni archeologici del Lazio e la direttrice di Villa Adriana Benedetta Adembri, è stata presentata al convegno internazionale di antichità classica di Merida in Spagna, appena conclusosi. «Quello che è stato rinvenuto è solo la punta di un iceberg perché queste strutture non sono state mai documentate prima neanche dagli studiosi antichi come Piranesi», racconta il direttore dello scavo Adalberto Ottati ricercatore de La Sapienza e dell’Istituto catalano di archeologia classica. L’unico monumento visibile era il cosiddetto mausoleo di epoca repubblicana, un edificio circolare che è stato completamente reinterpretato, datandolo come gli altri all’età di Adriano (123 d.C. dai laterizi bollati). «È un unicum, non ha confronti con strutture conservate – dice Ottati – Sicuramente era un padiglione-museo, che sfoggiava i suoi fasti all’interno e non all’esterno. Nella ricca decorazione architettonica di cui abbiamo trovato frammenti monumentali, spicca un colonnato dorico, scelta stilistica non casuale, ma significativa nel suo riferimento alla Grecia delle origini. Inoltre – aggiunge Ottati – doveva conteneva anche statue e opere d’arte come una sorta di luogo di contemplazione del bello».
Dal padiglione di Adriano le indagini (condotte da Patrizio Fileri, Francesca Stazzi, Luigi Tortella, Elisa Iori, Elisa Mancini, Vito Mazzurca) hanno svelato una inusuale sequenza di edifici: un tempietto rettangolare, seguito da un secondo padiglione circolare abbinato ad un altro tempietto rettangolare. Questi ultimi, coronati da un grande edificio porticato. Un complesso scenografico di forte suggestione: «La disposizione degli edifici crea un gioco di sfondi e punti di vista tra natura e architettura che testimoniano di voler ricreare paesaggi che si ritrovano nelle pitture pompeiane – riflette Ottati – Un affascinante confronto è proprio nelle Pitture di II e III stile ed in particolar modo nelle vedute di paesaggio idilliaco-sacrale di tradizione tardo-ellenistica». Non è tutto. Nei pressi del secondo padiglione, sono stati rinvenuti centinaia di frammenti marmorei di una statua colossale che oggi, dopo un attento e certosino lavoro di ricomposizione, ha riconquistato una sua identità: «Sembra una Nemesi, e per il suo carattere colossale può essere anche una statua ritratto di un’imperatrice», riflette Ottati. Forse la stessa Vibia Sabina, moglie di Adriano. Ma le ipotesi rimangono ancora aperte. Lo scavo riprenderà a settembre.

The original page includes a mini slideshow of reconstructions of the finds …

If you’re not into working through the Italian, Wanted in Rome had a brief summary this past weekend: Major discovery at Hadrian’s Villa

Hopefully, when the digging resumes in September, the English media will be a bit more on the ball …

Plans for the Gladiator Tomb! (maybe)

If you’ve been hanging around rogueclassicism and/or my twitterfeed, you will be aware of the campaign to save the so-called ‘Gladiator Tomb’ from being reburied. The campaign was spearheaded by the fine folks at the American Institute of Roman Culture, which started a petition. Well, according to La Stampa, it appears all that attention has had an effect (at least they’re talking about it again) …ecce:

La fine di marzo era una stagione meravigliosa nella villa di Livia, moglie dell’imperatore Augusto. La villa era circondata da un paesaggio che non aveva eguali nei dintorni di Roma: colline, prati e il Tevere. Si trovava lungo la via Flaminia, l’arteria più importante tra la capitale dell’impero e le regioni settentrionali. Capitava che Livia si ritirasse lì e che l’imperatore andasse a trovarla quando si liberava dagli impegni. Dal centro di Roma era un piccolo viaggio ma la distanza era ripagata dalla bellezza del paesaggio costellato di importanti mausolei e distese di dolci prati.

L’anno prossimo saranno 2 mila anni dalla morte di Augusto: si sta mettendo a punto il programma delle celebrazioni ma quel pezzo della sua vita difficilmente potrà essere ricostruito se non con una buona dose di fantasia. Eppure la Soprintendenza Archeologica ha nel cassetto un progetto per trasformare la Flaminia in una nuova Appia antica. E’ un’idea talmente semplice da sembrare la scoperta dell’acqua calda. Sfrutta il vantaggio che la Flaminia ha rispetto alle altre rinomate strade consolari: la linea ferroviaria, la Roma-Viterbo.

Avete mai provato a raggiungere l’Appia senza un’auto privata? Da perderci la testa. La via Flaminia, invece, ha un trenino con le fermate che sembrano studiate da un archeologo per quanto sono vicine agli antichi siti. Quando fu scritto il progetto, c’era anche qualcos’altro: un paesaggio ancora non troppo diverso da quello attraversato dall’imperatore. Bastava unire questi elementi per avere un Parco archeologico, affermarono i fautori del progetto, sostenuti da Italia Nostra.

Non bastava, invece. «Quel progetto era innanzitutto un sogno, perché noi archeologi siamo dei sognatori», racconta Marina Piranomonte, una delle responsabili degli scavi lungo la Flaminia per la Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma che aveva ideato il Parco insieme con il collega Gaetano Messineo.

La realtà è diversa. Si sale sul treno a piazzale Flaminio, appena fuori piazza del Popolo. La Roma-Viterbo è seconda nella lista nera delle ferrovie italiane stilata da Legambiente: treni vecchi, sporchi, affollati a dismisura, corse che saltano di continuo. E per fortuna nella classifica non è contemplato il paesaggio, un’orgia di discariche, baracche di senzatetto, industrie abbandonate.

La prima fermata utile da un punto di vista archeologico è «Due Ponti». Si scende in un agglomerato compatto di case Anni 60. Alcuni anni fa su uno dei pochi terreni rimasti liberi il proprietario, il costruttore Bonifaci, decise di costruire altri tre palazzi: dovette fermarsi perché dagli scavi preventivi era emersa la Tomba del Gladiatore, il mausoleo di Marco Nonio Macrino, probabilmente il personaggio a cui era ispirato il film «Il Gladiatore». Era il 2008, la notizia fece il giro del mondo e la fermata conquistò un posto di rilievo che fino ad allora non aveva nel Parco Archeologico. Quattro anni dopo la Tomba è lì, coperta da un geotessuto, ma nessuno ha idea di quale futuro avrà. È stato speso un milione per tirare fuori la preziosa Tomba nascosta a sette metri di profondità e restaurarla, ma ne sarebbero necessari altri tre per creare un museo e renderla visitabile. «Si studia come recuperarli. Siamo aperti a qualunque possibilità» – chiarisce Daniela Rossi, responsabile per la Soprintendenza del sito.

La fermata successiva è Grottarossa. Un segnale indica la presenza di un sito archeologico, ma è più facile trovarlo seguendo la discarica lungo la ferrovia. Attraverso un cancello arrugginito si entra in una necropoli con due mausolei imponenti della fine del periodo repubblicano, un tratto della via Flaminia molto ben conservata, e una vasca. L’area è ampia ma l’erba è alta. I mausolei sono chiusi e coperti di muschio, i pannelli che raccontano la loro storia sono a terra e i resti di vestiti e cibo lasciano capire che di notte qualcuno dorme lì. «Non è trascuratezza, è una questione di priorità – racconta Marina Piranomonte – dopo anni abbiamo da poco ottenuto l’esproprio dell’area. I fondi per il 2013 verranno utilizzati per rimettere a posto il sito. Mi impegno a farlo rimettere a posto entro un anno».

Superata Saxa Rubra, si scende di nuovo a Labaro. Nascosto tra una selva di cavalcavia e discariche, c’è un ponte romano, lo stesso usato da Augusto quando andava a trovare la moglie nella sua villa e dalle truppe di Massenzio durante la battaglia contro Costantino. E’ stato liberato nel 2005 da una parte di rifiuti e l’Anas aveva promesso di creare un Parco archeologico. Parole finite nel nulla.

L’ultima fermata è La Celsa. Fuori dalla stazione, dal lato opposto rispetto al Tevere, non si può non vedere un enorme sperone di tufo, un Mausoleo dove i romani scavavano i loro monumenti funerari. Alla base ci sono delle fornaci dove veniva prodotta la terracotta. Due anni fa il sito – già in passato rifugio per clochard – è stato rimesso a posto: costo dell’operazione 300 mila euro. Oggi, infatti, la parte alta della roccia è molto bella e ben visibile. All’interno delle grotte nella parte più bassa, però, sono tornati a vivere i senzatetto.

Sembra un gioco dell’oca, in cui si corre il rischio di tornare sempre alla casella di partenza e di rendere la via Flaminia solo la strada delle occasioni mancate. «Sono ottimista – risponde Daniela Rossi – per me la Flaminia è la strada delle occasioni da recuperare. Lo faremo, anche con l’aiuto dei privati. Possiamo farcela, il progetto del Parco non è morto». «Tutte le nostre risorse e il nostro impegno sono dedicati a quest’obiettivo», conferma Marina Piranomonte.

If you want a reasonable English summary, check out Worldcrunch … the idea of a series of sites one could visit by train is definitely interesting if the funding can be found …

Those Millet-Eating Romans

Nice to see fellow blogger Kristina Killgrove’s work getting some attention at LiveScience … some excerpts from Stephanie Pappas’ piece:


But ancient Roman writers have less to say about the poor, other than directions for landowners on the appropriate amount to feed slaves, who made up about 30 percent of the city’s population. Killgrove wanted to know more about lower-class individuals and what they ate.

To find out, she and her colleagues analyzed portions of bones from the femurs of 36 individuals from two Roman cemeteries. One cemetery, Casal Bertone, was located right outside the city walls. The other, Castellaccio Europarco, was farther out, in a more suburban area.

The skeletons date to the Imperial Period, which ran from the first to the third century A.D., during the height of the Roman Empire. At the time, Killgrove told LiveScience, between 1 million and 2 million people lived in Rome and its suburbs.

Roman locavores

To determine diets from the Roman skeletons, the researchers analyzed the bones for isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Isotopes are atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons, and are incorporated into the body from food. Such isotopes of carbon can tell researchers which types of plants people consumed. Grasses such as wheat and barley are called C3 plants; they photosynthesize differently than mostly fibrous C4 plants, such as millet and sorghum. The differences in photosynthesis create different ratios of carbon isotopes preserved in the bones of the people who ate the plants.


There were also differences among people living within Rome. Individuals buried in the mausoleum at Casa Bertone (a relatively high-class spot, at least for commoners), ate less millet than those buried in the simple cemetery surrounding Casa Bertone’s mausoleum. Meanwhile, those buried in the farther-flung Castellaccio Europarco cemetery ate more millet than anyone at Casa Bertone, suggesting they were less well-off than those living closer to or within the city walls.

Historical texts dismiss millet as animal feed or a famine food, Killgrove said, but the researcher’s findings suggest that plenty of ordinary Romans depended on the easy-to-grow grain. One man, whose isotope ratios showed him to be a major millet consumer, was likely an immigrant, later research revealed. He may have been a recent arrival to Rome when he died, carrying the signs of his country diet with him. Or perhaps he kept eating the food he was used to, even after arriving in the city. [...]

Temple to Jupiter Stator (and Maybe Caesar’s House too?!) Found

School is just starting so here’s the quickie, unchecked/unresearched version (you always have to double check with Carandini, I think) … from the Gazzetta del Sud:

The temple built by Romulus to celebrate the hand of Jupiter giving Roman troops their unstoppable force has been found at the foot of the Palatine Hill, Italian archaeologists say. The ruins of the shrine to Jupiter Stator Jupiter the Stayer, believed to date to 750 BC, were found by a Rome University team led by Andrea Carandini. “We believe this is the temple that legend says Romulus erected to the king of the gods after the Romans held their ground against the furious Sabines fighting to get their women back after the famous Rape abduction,” Carandini said in the Archeologia Viva Living Archaeology journal. According to myth, Romulus founded Rome in 753 BC and the wifeless first generation of Roman men raided nearby Sabine tribes for their womenfolk, an event that has been illustrated in art down the centuries. Carandini added: “It is also noteworthy that the temple appears to be shoring up the Palatine, as if in defence”. Rome’s great and good including imperial families lived on the Palatine, overlooking the Forum. Long after its legendary institution by Romulus, the cult of Jupiter the Stayer fuelled Roman troops in battle, forging the irresistible military might that conquered most of the ancient known world. In the article in Archeologia Viva, Carandini’s team said they might also have discovered the ruins of the last Palatine house Julius Caesar lived in – the one he left on the Ides of March, 44BC, on his way to death in the Senate.

Head of Julia (Yep … *That* Julia) Found

The APA folks posted this one on their facebook page last night (tip o’ the pileus accruing), but I was hoping there’d be some English coverage by this a.m.. Alas, there isn’t any (yet), so here’s the story of a genuinely remarkable find of some sculputural remains which are tentatively being identified as Julia at Fiumicino, as told by La Repubblica:

Il volto è leggermente inclinato verso sinistra ad evocare una posa aristocratica, il profilo è delicato con la linea perfetta del naso. Gli occhi hanno le palpebre a rilievo e le orecchie mostrano ancora piccoli fori per gli orecchini in metallo, forse oro o argento. Ma è la raffinata acconciatura a confermare l’origine imperiale della testa (nella foto) ritratto in marmo, databile all’età augustea, rinvenuta pochi giorni fa a Fiumicino, in località Aranova, in una monumentale villa romana riaffiorata a dicembre durante i lavori di scavo preventivi per un progetto edilizio.

Potrebbe essere Giulia maggiore, figlia di Augusto, l’unica naturale avuta dalla prima moglie Scribonia. Ne è quasi sicura la Soprintendente per l’Etruria meridionale, Alfonsina Russo Tagliente, che ora sta studiando nei laboratori di restauro del Museo Etrusco di Villa Giulia il reperto scoperto dalla sua equipe di archeologi diretta da Daniela Rizzo. “Lo stile dell’acconciatura richiama modelli di personaggi illustri della famiglia GiulioClaudia – racconta la Russo Tagliente – Sulla fronte due ciocche scendono in grandi onde morbide lungo le tempie, mentre sulla nuca i capelli appaiono in bande lisce divise da una riga in mezzo e raccolte in fitte trecce racchiuse in una crocchia bassa. Inoltre, una tenia, ossia un nastro a doppio giro intrecciato ai capelli, si annoda sul capo con un effetto diadema”.

La testa, a grandezza naturale, era nascosta in una zolla di terra, ritrovata in un grande ambiente della villa che fungeva da magazzino di conservazione per il cibo. Della villa, infatti, databile tra I sec. a. C. e II d. C., è stata individuata tutta la “pars rustica”, ossia gli ambienti domestici e di servizio. “La villa, che si doveva articolare a terrazze sulla collina, era monumentale – racconta l’archeologa Daniela Rizzo – i muri d’età repubblica hanno, infatti, poderosi blocchi di opera quadrata. E’ la prima testimonianza di una residenza imperiale sul litorale”. La scoperta sarà presentata in anteprima domani, a Villa Giulia, nel corso della tavola rotonda “I traffici illeciti e il patrimonio ritrovato: risultati e prospettive” promossa dalla Soprintendenza a conclusione della mostra “I predatori dell’Arte”.

The source also has a nice slideshow of images … the identification is based, apparently, on the hairstyle which is definitely Julio Claudian. The article says “early” Julio-Claudian but I’m not sure how they can be so specific at this point, other than having a desire to get some press attention. If you want a quick English summary that’s better than mine and which has all the photos in one place, check out Dorothy King’s coverage (New Head of Julia Found).

Roman Toilet Paper/Game Piece Revisionism?

More on the game piece side, actually , although I’ll admit to not knowing about the other personal hygiene method mentioned in this item (tip o’ the pileus to Sarah Bond for setting me on to this one and to Dan Diffendale for tracking down the original article). Here’s how the Daily Mail covers it:

Ancient artefacts thought to be early gaming pieces will have to be reclassified after new research which claims they were actually used to wipe bottoms.

The flat, disc-shaped Roman relics have been in the collection at Fishbourne Roman Palace in Chichester, West Sussex, since the Sixties.

Up until now museum experts thought the items were used for early games like draughts, but an article in the British Medical Journal has now proposed that they have a very different function.

It is well publicised that Romans used sponges mounted on sticks and dipped in vinegar as an alternative to toilet paper.

Yet the idea these ceramic discs might also have been used for such personal hygiene is a revelation.

The broken pieces – known as ‘pessoi’, meaning pebbles – range in size from 1in to 4in in diameter and were excavated near to the museum in 1960.

It had been thought that they were chips used to play an ancient game, also known as ‘pessoi’, but research published last month in the BMJ drew from classical sources to present evidence that they were also used to clean up after going to the toilet.

Noting the ancient Greek proverb ‘three stones are enough to wipe one’s a***’, Philippe Charlier, assistant professor in forensic medicine at the Raymond Poincaré University Hospital in Paris, points to archaeological excavations which have uncovered pessoi inside the pits of Greek and Roman latrines across the Mediterranean.

In one such dig in Athens, American archaeologists found a range of such pessoi 1.2-4in in diameter and 0.2-0.8in thick which, Professor Charlier wrote, were ‘re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma’.

Other evidence from the classical world has been passed down to us in the form of ceramics painted with representations of figures using pessoi to clean their buttocks.

According to Professor Charlier’s article, the Greeks and Romans even inscribed some of their pessoi with the names of their enemies or others they didn’t like.

Thus everytime they went to the toilet they would literally be wiping their faecal matter on the names of hated individuals.

Examples of such stones have been found by archaeologists bearing the names of such noted historical figures as Socrates, Themisthocles and Pericles, Professor Charlier reported.

Museum curator Dr Rob Symmons said: ‘When pottery like this is excavated it is someone’s job to wash it clean.

‘So, some poor and unsuspecting archaeologist has probably had the delight of scrubbing some Roman waste off of these pieces.

‘It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we could still find some further signs of waste or residue.

‘However, these pottery pieces have no monetary value because we are essentially talking about items once used as toilet roll.

‘The pieces had always been catalogued as as broken gaming pieces but I was never particularly happy with that explanation.

‘But when the article produced the theory they were used to wipe people’s bums I thought it was hilarious and it just appealed to me.

‘I love the idea we’ve had these in the museum for 50 years being largely ignored and now they are suddenly engaging items you can relate to.’

Dr Charlier’s research indicates that the use of such stones would have probably been rather hard on the rear ends of the ancients, and could have caused a variety of medical issues.

He suggests the abrasive texture of the pessoi could have led to skin irritation, mucosal damage, or complications of external haemorrhoids.

He wrote: ‘Maybe this crude and satiric description by Horace in his 8th epode (1st century BC) — “an a*** at the centre of dry and old buttocks mimicking that of a defecating cow”— refers to complications arising from such anal irritation.’

Dr Symmons, who has been at the Fishbourne Roman Palace museum for seven years, added: ‘We will obviously have to think about re-classifying these objects on our catalogue.

‘But we hope the pieces will make people smile when they learn what they were used for.

‘They would have probably been quite scratchy to use and I doubt they would be as comfortable as using toilet roll.

‘But in the Roman era it was that or very little else.’

… plenty of photos at the Daily Mail page, which will give you an idea of the (uncomfortable, it seems to me) size of these things.

As mentioned in the article, this all stems from an item in the British Medical Journal by Philippe Charlier et al (Toilet hygiene in the classical era). I was initially skeptical (primarily due to the size of the things) but there does appear to be archaeological, literary, and forensic (not sure if that’s the right word) support  for all this. An excerpt from the article (footnotes can be tracked down in the original):

Many pessoi have been found within the faecal filling of Greek and Roman latrines all around the Mediterranean world (fig 1).6 Pessoi found during the American excavation on the Athens’ agora, for example, are described as 3-10.5 cm in diameter and 0.6-2.2 cm thick and having been re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma.4 Use of a pessos can still be seen on a Greek cylix (wine cup) conserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, US. The cup, dating from 6th century BC, was found in Orvieto, Italy, and shows a man, semi-squatting with his clothing raised. The man is maintaining his balance with a cane in his right hand and is clearly wiping his buttocks using a pessos with his left hand.

Some scholars suggest that ostraka, small pieces of broken ceramic inscribed with names that the Greeks used to vote to ostracise their enemies, could also have been used as pessoi, literally putting faecal matter on the name of hated individuals. (Examples of ostraka with the names of Socrates, Themisthocles, and Pericles have been found in Athens and Piraeus).

The two pessoi in figure 1 belong to a private collection. Their precise archaeological origin (discovered in the filling of latrines close to deposits of excrement) and their morphology (rounded form with the edges recut) clearly indicate their use for anal cleaning. Solidified and partially mineralised excrement can still be seen on the non-cleaned and lateral surfaces, which has been confirmed by microscopy (fig 2).

… I’m still somewhat skeptical now, however, because all the evidence adduced (including a bit from Aristophanes that I skipped) comes from the Greek world. Then again, Graecia capta asperum victorem cepit, and perhaps that, er, assault extended to the latrines (the Wheelock gloss on Horace’s original seems punnishly appropriate here)? Or perhaps this gives us an idea of what Romans did in the latrines while waiting? Whatever the case, it’s another interesting detail to add to the arsenal …

Other coverage:

Erotic Fresco (and Graffiti) From the Colosseum

Kind of surprised this isn’t getting more coverage … via AFP:

Italian archaeologists have found brightly coloured fragments of frescoes depicting heroic and erotic scenes inside a corridor of the Colosseum in Rome, along with samples of ancient graffiti.

“We have found traces of decorations in blue, red and green,” Rossella Rea, director of the 2,000-year-old amphitheatre, told AFP.

The fragments “seem to depict the glory of the gladiator world, with laurels, arrows, victory wreaths and even erotic scenes,” the Repubblica newspaper said.

The frescoes were found in a corridor currently closed to the public while archaeologists were working to restore an area between the second and third floor of the Colosseum, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.

“We have also found writing dating back to the 17th century as well as the signatures of spectators and foreign visitors” who had come to watch the Colosseum’s famed gladiatorial contests and mock sea battles, Rea said.

“We hope to be able to find other traces in this corridor but that depends on the funds available to continue with the restoration,” she added.

The frescoes are located in an area covering several square feet in a corridor which is around sixty metres long, and should be open to the public by summer 2014, Rea said.

The Colosseum, which was completed in 80 AD by the Roman emperor Titus and is now one of the most visited sites in the world, is in a pitiful state.

Bits of stone, blackened by pollution, have fallen off in previous years, and some experts have voiced concern that the foundations are sinking, giving the amphitheatre a lean.

The number of visitors to the Colosseum, which measures 188 metres (620 feet) by 156 metres and is 48.5 metres high, has increased from a million to around six million a year over the past decade thanks mainly to the blockbuster film “Gladiator”.

… no photos yet … then again, there really isn’t much coverage of this one yet. One would suspect the fresco was to ‘encourage’ the gladiators in regards to what success might bring?

The coverage finally arrived:

“Ovid’s” Niobe Statues Found

Tip o’ the pileus to Martin Conde, who alerted us to a story in la Reppublica relating the discovery of the villa of Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus — Ovid’s patron — and statuary from the Niobe story which is being connected to Ovid. I managed to track down an English summary in Gazzetta del Sud:

Archaeologists say they’ve uncovered an “exceptional” group of sculptures dating to the 1st century BC in a villa in Rome’s suburb of Ciampino. The sculptures, found in an ancient villa owned by Roman general Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, a patron of the poet Ovid, tell the myth of Niobe, the proud daughter of Tantalus who lost all her 14 children after boasting to the mother of Apollo and Artemis, Leto, about her fertility. Niobe, regarded as a classic example of the retribution caused by the sin of pride or hubris, was turned to stone. Excavations at the villa have also revealed a thermal bath area with fragments of artistic mosaics and a swimming pool as long as 20 meters with walls painted blue. Inside the bath area were found seven sculptures dating to the Augustan age, as well as a complete series of fragments that experts say can be reassembled. The group tells the story of Niobe, which figured in Ovid’s epic poem of transformation, the Metamorphoses, published in AD 8. La Repubblica newspaper said Tuesday a team of archaeologists made the valuable discovery last summer. “Statues of Niobe have been found in the past, but in the case of Ciampino, we have a good part of the group,” of statues, said Elena Calandra, superintendent of archaeological heritage. According to their reconstruction of the bath area, experts say the statues were carved on all four sides of the swimming pool, which may have been buried by an earthquake in the 2nd century AD.

It’s worth checking out Martin Conde’s flickr page of the La Reppublica coverage, which includes photos and a somewhat different spin on the story (which seems to be yet another major conservation kerfuffle in Italy): ROMA / LAZIO ARCHEOLOGIA: Roma, ecco le statue che Ovidio cantò nelle Metamorfosi Scoperta la villa di Messalla, LA REPUBBLICA (08/01/2013), pp. 1 & 23. If you need a quick refresher on the story of Niobe, here’s a translation of the relevant section of the Metamorphoses (6.146 ff) …

ADDENDUM (a couple hours later): See also Dorothy King’s post for further coverage and a whack of photos: New Niobids – New Light on a Old Group

Other coverage:

Hadrian’s Athenaeum Dig Completed

The Guardian seems to be alone in covering this one in English, but (as we shall see) what is being touted as a ‘new discovery’ has been in the process of excavation for at least three years now. Here’s the Guardian‘s coverage:

Archaeologists who have completed the excavation of a 900-seat arts centre under one of Rome’s busiest roundabouts are calling it the most important Roman discovery in 80 years.

The centre, built by the emperor Hadrian in AD123, offered three massive halls where Roman nobles flocked to hear poetry, speeches and philosophy tracts while reclining on terraced marble seating.

With the dig now completed, the terracing and the hulking brick walls of the complex, as well as stretches of the elegant grey and yellow marble flooring, are newly visible at bottom of a 5.5 metre (18ft) hole in Piazza Venezia, where police officers wearing white gloves direct chaotic traffic like orchestra conductors and where Mussolini harangued thousands of followers from his balcony.

“Hadrian’s auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s,” said Rossella Rea, the archaeologist running the dig.

The excavations, which are now due to open to the public, are next to a taxi rank and squeezed between a baroque church and the Vittoriano, an imposing monument to Italy’s defunct monarchy, which is nicknamed the Typewriter by locals.

The complex was only unearthed thanks to excavations to build a new underground railway line which will cross the heart of Rome. “We don’t have funds for these kind of digs so this has come to light thanks to the new line,” said Rea.

Archaeologists keeping a careful eye on what gets dug up have proved to be a mixed blessing for railway engineers, who have had to scrap plans for two stations in the heart of the centre of Rome when it was discovered their exits to the surface cut straight through Roman remains.

With the discovery of Hadrian’s complex at Piazza Venezia, the line risked losing its last stop in the centre and being forced to run into the heart of Rome from the suburbs and straight out the other side without stopping. But Rea said the station and the ruins could coexist.

“I believe we can run one of the exits from the station along the original corridor of the complex where Romans entered the halls,” she said.

The site sheds new light on Hadrian’s love of poetry – he wrote his own verse in Latin and Greek – and his taste for bold architecture – an 11-metre-high (36ft) arched ceiling once towered over the poets in the central hall.

Today the performing space is riddled with pits dug for fires, revealing how after three centuries of celebrating the arts, the halls fell into disrepair with the collapse of the Roman empire and were used for smelting ingots.

At the centre of the main hall, like a prop from a disaster movie, is a massive, nine-by-five-metre chunk of the monumental roof which came crashing down during an earthquake in 848 after standing for seven centuries.

Following the quake, the halls were gradually covered over until a hospital built on top in the 16th century dug down for cellar space. “We found pots lobbed down a well after the patients using them died,” said Rea. “We could date them because the designs on the glaze were the same we see on implements in Caravaggio paintings.”

While I was reading this, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t mentioned it in rogueclassicism before … sure I miss things and I sometimes am too quick to delete things as I try to get to ‘inbox zero’, but this struck me as too major to have been missed. And yet, I couldn’t find any mention of ‘Hadrian’s auditorium’ in the thousands of posts in our archive. There were hints, however … back in 2008 we read of a staircase being found which led to some previously-unknown building (Roman Staircase Found … cf. Roman Staircase Update). We also heard of a sixth century copper foundry (Rome Subway Finds). Was that part of this? It just might be if I’m reading this column from Il Fatto Quotidiano correctly, which seems to have the same qualms I do about this being presented as ‘new’ when it’s been going on for at least three years. Ecce:

Diversi quotidiani nazionali, nelle pagine romane, dedicano ampio spazio alla notizia del ritrovamento di un nuovo, importantissimo, monumento dell’antichità, “nel cuore della città”. L’Auditorium di Adriano, l’“imperatore-costruttore”. Un risalto giustificato anche dalla sua promessa valorizzazione, attraverso la musealizzazione all’aperto. In realtà un complesso noto almeno dal 2009. Anche al grande pubblico.

Era tutto nato con una polemica. Nel novembre del 2008. I lavori per la realizzazione della fermata e le uscite della Linea C della metropolitana in Piazza Venezia, avevano costretto all’abbattimento di dieci piante secolari, cinque pini, due palme, due cipressi e una quercia a Piazza Madonna di Loreto. Tra la Chiesa di Santa Maria di Loreto e via dei Fornari. Gli ambientalisti a gridare le loro ragioni contro quello scempio. Inutilmente. Nel frattempo, nello stesso anno, un primo sondaggio accanto alla chiesa di Santa Maria di Loreto, aveva rivelato una scala monumentale, con gradini che l’allora Soprintendente archeologo di Roma, Angelo Bottini, dichiarò sembrare “fatti più per stare seduti che per essere saliti”. Un primo significativo indizio.

Poi l’avvio delle indagini archeologiche sulla piazza liberata dagli alberi e recintata. In un settore di estremo interesse per quanto concerne il tessuto urbanistico della città antica, trovandosi nelle immediate vicinanze del monumentale complesso del Foro di Traiano. Peraltro sorprendentemente “poco esplorato” in passato.

Nel 2009 la scoperta di un’altra scalinata, consorella di quella individuata due anni prima, proprio di fronte. Scoperta e purtroppo nascosta sotto il palazzo delle assicurazioni in cui era stata inter­rata. Lo spazio compreso tra le due gradonate, ampio circa tre metri, pavimentato in lastre rettangolari di granito grigio incorniciate con giallo antico. Le due gradonate situate all’interno di un’aula rettangolare lungo i lati Nord e Sud, costituite entrambe da sei gradini, e contenute ai lati da parapetti marmorei. Una seconda aula, posta a sud della sala centrale, separata da essa da un cuneo al cui interno sono collocate le scale per accedere al piano superiore. Il rinvenimento in situ e tra il materiale di crollo di numerosi laterizi bollati recanti le coppie consolari del 123 d.C. e del 125 d.C. consentiva di porre la costruzione di entrambe le aule nella piena età adrianea. Elementi che hanno fatto ipotizzare da subito all’archeologo Roberto Egidi, della Soprintendenza di Roma, di trovarsi davanti all’esatta riproduzione dell’Athaeneum che l’imperatore Adriano aveva fatto erigere ad Atene, accanto alla grande biblioteca costruita nel 132 d.C. Poi il proseguo degli scavi. Fino a pochi mesi fa. Il quadro ormai chiaro. Certamente dal punto di vista dell’articolazione planimetrica dell’edificio. Forse non del tutto per quanto riguarda l’interpretazione funzionale. L’edificio, costituito da tre aule, con pareti alte 20 metri, si estendeva su 1500 metri quadrati.
Le ragguardevoli dimensioni, la ricchezza della decorazione interna e l’alto livello della tecnica costruttiva sono elementi che conferiscono a questo complesso un carattere dichiaratamente pubblico e monumentale. L’assetto planimetrico richiama categorie architettoniche connesse all’esercizio di attività culturali come gli auditoria, luoghi in cui si svolgevano recitationes e lezioni di retorica.

E’ dunque assai probabile che possa essere identificato proprio con l’Athenaeum adrianeo. Che però le fonti datano al 135 d. C. Quindi un decennio circa dopo le indicazioni fornite dai bolli laterizi scoperti. Slittamento cronologico che non inficia la supposta interpretazione. Un monumento del quale nessuno conosceva l’ubicazione esatta. Neanche la “Forma Urbis”, la pianta monu­mentale marmorea di Roma imperiale fatta all’epoca di Settimio Severo e di cui si conser­vano importanti frammenti, ne certifica la presen­za.

Un monumento che, secondo consuetudine in ambito urbano, ha subito numerosi utilizzi. Cambiamenti di funzione. Da quando iniziarono le spoliazioni nel VI secolo d. C. Prima forse Zecca bizantina per la produzione di monete bronzee. Successivamente una necropoli. Infine un ospedale.

Terminate le indagini e gli studi avranno inizio le opere di restauro. Per le quali sono previsti almeno tre anni e, soprattutto, un milione di euro. Intanto, si dice, arriveranno presto i pannelli didattici. Necessari per fornire le informazioni essenziali sul monumento, farne capire i mutamenti nel corso dei secoli.

Insomma la notizia sembra riguardare non tanto lo status quo del complesso antico. Riconosciuto unanimemente come di straordinaria importanza per l’archeologia romana. Quanto la vita futura. La possibilità che esso dopo essere appannaggio esclusivamente degli addetti ai lavori, possa trasformarsi davvero in Bene Comune. Divenga fruibile ai più.

A destare comprensibile perplessità è proprio questa fase. I tempi e le risorse necessarie. Tante volte è già accaduto che resti unici nel loro genere, terminate le indagini, siano rimasti a lungo rinchiusi in recinti che si era promesso provvisori. Testimonianze estremamente significative, sostanzialmente alienate alla visita. Se non alla vista. Non allontanandosi troppo da Piazza Madonna di Loreto, quel che ancora succede lungo via dei Fori imperiali, all’altezza della Basilica di Massenzio. Dove sono resti del Foro della Pace, individuati diversi anni fa, attendono ancora di essere resi accessibili al pubblico. In quanto ai fondi, dei quali si è sempre alla spasmodica ricerca per qualsiasi intervento riguardi i nostri Beni Culturali, non si può che sperare che sia possibile reperirli. Nell’attesa vien da pensare, quasi con rabbia, alle spese dissennate che la politica ha praticato negli ultimi anni. Ma anche alle risorse mal impiegate da funzionari, non sempre adeguati, del Ministero dei Beni Culturali. Intanto l’archeologia, anche a Roma, riacquista la scena.

Whatever the case, it is a major find … I can’t figure out, however, whether it is mentioned in the Severan Marble Plan or not … does anyone know?

Cat Colony in Rome Saved!

Tip o’ the pileus to Walter Muzzy for this update from AFP via Straits Times:

Stray cats prowling the ruins of ancient Rome can rest easy on their marble pedestals – a feline colony tucked away near the spot where Julius Caesar was murdered is no longer threatened with closure.

“These cats are not up for debate, they are part of the history of Rome,” mayor Gianni Alemanno said on a visit on Tuesday to the refuge, which currently looks after around 250 cats, providing them with food and vaccinations.

“This is a praiseworthy, historical, wonderful enterprise. The feline colony must not be hounded out. Woe to those who lay a finger on the cats,” he said.

City heritage officials have been threatening to close down the sanctuary, which sits in an tiny, cave-like structure at one end of the ancient site where Marcus Brutus and his fellow mutineers stabbed Caesar to death.

In case you missed the whole brouhaha: Cats in the Largo Argentina ~ Two Sides

Mithraeum Reopening to the Public

From the Art Newspaper:

Few people have ever visited the long network of underground tunnels under the public baths of Caracalla, which date back to the third century AD and are considered by many archaeologists to be the grandest public baths in Rome. This underground network, which is due to be reopened in December, is also home to a separate structure, the largest Mithraeum in the Roman Empire, according to its director Marina Piranomonte. The Mithraeum has just reopened after a year of restoration work which cost the city’s archaeological authorities around €360,000.

To celebrate the reopening, Michelangelo Pistoletto has installed his conceptual work Il Terzo Paradiso (the third heaven), which he first presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale, in the gardens surrounding the public baths. The work, made of ancient stone fragments and pieces of columns arranged in a triple loop, represents the harmonious union of the natural and technological worlds, according to the artist. It will be on view until 6 January 2013.

Mithraeums were places of worship for initiates of the religious cult of Mithraism, which was centred around the Persian god Mithra and practiced throughout the Roman empire from around the first to the fourth centuries AD. A Mithraeum would usually exist underground, either in a cavern or beneath existing buildings, and was traditionally dark and windowless.

The conservation problems began when skylights were installed. The presence of sunlight coupled with the circulation of air altered the underground microclimate and caused algae to grow on the walls as well as water gathering in the 25 metre-long central hall. During the works the skylights were sealed shut, a collapsed vault was restored and the walls and flooring were cleaned. A lighting system was also been installed to compensate for the closure of the skylights.

The Mithraeum was discovered a century ago and was almost entirely devoid of decoration. Only a small and poorly conserved fresco of Mithra remained, although the site had other significant features including the fossa sanguinis, a two-and-a half-metres-deep square pit in which new initiates would be lowered to receive the blood of a specially sacrificed bull.

The Mithraeum is due to be connected with the other branches of the underground network to form a single visitors route, although two further adjacent spaces have still to be restored before this can happen. Restoration work is expected to take around two more years.

One thing I’ve been meaning to look into is to try to get a handle on how many “Mithraeums” there were in Rome … just a stone’s throw away from this one (I think) is one near the Circus Maximus.

Roman Giant

I’ve been sitting on this one for a week, hoping there’d be a bit more coverage, but the National Geographic seems to have an exclusive. Some excerpts:

It’s no tall tale—the first complete ancient skeleton of a person with gigantism has been discovered near Rome, a new study says.

At 6 feet, 8 inches (202 centimeters) tall, the man would have been a giant in third-century A.D. Rome, where men averaged about 5 and a half feet (167 centimeters) tall. By contrast, today’s tallest man measures 8 feet, 3 inches (251 centimeters).


Two partial skeletons, one from Poland and another from Egypt, have previously been identified as “probable” cases of gigantism, but the Roman specimen is the first clear case from the ancient past, study leader Simona Minozzi, a paleopathologist at Italy’s University of Pisa, said by email.


The unusual skeleton was found in 1991 during an excavation at a necropolis in Fidenae (map), a territory indirectly managed by Rome.

At the time, the Archaeological Superintendence of Rome, which led the project, noted that the man’s tomb was abnormally long. It was only during a later anthropological examination, though, that the bones too were found to be unusual. Shortly thereafter, they were sent to Minozzi’s group for further analysis.

To find out if the skeleton had gigantism, the team examined the bones and found evidence of skull damage consistent with a pituitary tumor, which disrupts the pituitary gland, causing it to overproduce human growth hormone.

Other findings—such as disproportionately long limbs and evidence that the bones were still growing even in early adulthood—support the gigantism diagnosis, according to the study, published October 2 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

His early demise—likely between 16 and 20—might also point to gigantism, which is associated with cardiovascular disease and respiratory problems, said Minozzi, who emphasized that the cause of death remains unknown. (Explore an interactive of the human body.)


The original article is avaliable here (payfer; not even a free abstract, grumble): Pituitary Disease from the Past: A Rare Case of Gigantism in Skeletal Remains from the Roman Imperial Age (JCEM)

Cloaca Maxima in Danger of Collapse?

Kind of surprised this item from the Telegraph didn’t get more attention:

The Cloaca Maxima (The Giant Sewer), which burrows beneath the Roman Forum and the site of an ancient livestock market before emptying into the Tiber River, predates the Roman Empire.

The mile-long tunnel is believed to have been constructed in the fifth century before Christ under the orders of Tarquin the Proud, the last king of Rome before it became a republic.

The impressive structure was subsequently mentioned by Livy.

But decades of inadequate maintenance mean that it is clogged with debris and silt, raising fears of blockages and collapses.

An ambitious operation to clean and maintain the ancient drain got under way on Wednesday and is expected to take two years.

“We will free the drain of detritus and sediment that is impeding the flow of water,” Elisabetta Bianchi, a cultural heritage official, told La Repubblica newspaper.

“We still need to get funding so we will proceed bit by bit, but the hope is to complete the work within two years.” Cracks and fissures in the tunnel were studied and mapped last year, after Rome was hit by severe autumn flooding.

At one point the Tiber was so swollen that the point at which the Cloaca Maxima meets the river was almost concealed by raging flood waters.

The flooding had shown up the “inadequacies” of the centuries-old drain, said Maria Grazia Filetici, an architect with Rome’s cultural heritage authority.

“What was conceived as a great project to make Rome safer (from flooding) by King Tarquin has instead become a danger for modern-day Rome,” she said.

Engineers will have to shift huge quantities of rubbish clogging up the tunnel, including plastic bags, tangled electric cables and other detritus, said officials.

The Cloaca Maxima was originally dug as a canal by the early inhabitants of Rome, but was subsequently covered over to become a subterranean sewer.

It was maintained throughout the Roman Empire and into the medieval era and was ultimately incorporated into the city’s modern sewerage system.

… and tip o’ the pileus to Walter Muzzy for noting that the photo accompanying the piece doesn’t seem to be the Cloaca Maxima (, unless there’s another outlet down the road a bit).

Colosseum Restoration Coming Soon?

I have definitely been remiss in covering all the assorted goings-on with proposed restoration of the Colosseum by the Tod shoe folks and bits falling off and the whole thing sloping, so in anticipation of better coverage from me on this sort of thing, here’s a brief item on where we’re at in terms of the restoration:

Restoration of Rome’s 2,000-year-old Colosseum will to begin on time, said shoe magnate and project underwriter Diego Della Valle.

Della Valle, president and chief executive officer of the Italian leather goods company Tod’s, said at the IHT Luxury Conference in Rome Friday preparations are “running smoothly and (restoration) will begin soon.”

Repairs to the iconic amphitheater will begin in December, the Italian ANSA news agency reported.

“Tod’s will take care of the Colosseum. I hope other entrepreneurs will follow suit and fix up other Italian monuments,” Della Valle said.

A 50-year-old man climbed to the top of the structure Friday and threatened to jump if he did not receive help for his heroin addiction. The man, whose name was not reported, told police and firefighters who were trying to coax him down he wanted to be sent “to a recovery community,” the news agency said.

The report did not indicate whether the attempt to talk the man down was successful.

Caesar’s Assassination Site Redux ~ “Excessive Interpretation”

Last week or so we mentioned the media flurry about the discovery of the purported site of Caesar’s assassination (Site of Caesar’s Assassination Found?) … those reports were generated by one of the archaeologists working at the Largo Argentina site (Antonio Monterroso) … now fellow archaeologist Marina Mattei is saying ‘not so fast …

Cat Finds ‘Catacomb’

… but given that it was associated with a cliff, it seems more likely (and appropriate?) that it might be a columbarium of some sort … from the Guardian:

Rome may not exactly be short of catacombs, but one discovered this week is more deserving of the name than the city’s countless other subterranean burial chambers. For Mirko Curti stumbled into a 2,000-year-old tomb piled with bones while chasing a wayward moggy yards from his apartment building.

Curti and a friend were following the cat at 10pm on Tuesday when it scampered towards a low tufa rock cliff close to his home near Via di Pietralata in a residential area of the city. “The cat managed to get into a grotto and we followed the sound of its miaowing,” he said.

Inside the small opening in the cliff the two men found themselves surrounded by niches dug into the rock similar to those used by the Romans to hold funeral urns, while what appeared to be human bones littered the floor.

Archaeologists called to the scene said the tomb probably dated from between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD. Given that niches were used to store ashes in urns, the bones had probably tumbled into the tomb from a separate burial space higher up inside the cliff.

Heavy rains at the start of the week had probably caused rocks concealing the entrance to the tomb to crumble, they added.

Soft tufa rock has often been used for digging tombs over the centuries in Italy, but its softness means that ancient sites are today threatened by the elements. The cliffs near Via di Pietralata have also been extensively quarried.

Romans are often underwhelmed and sometimes irritated to find they are living on top of priceless remains. Shoppers arriving at the Ikea store on the outskirts of Rome leave their cars alongside a stretch of Roman road unearthed in the car park, while fans queueing to enter the city’s rugby stadium need to skirt around archaeologists excavating the Roman necropolis that stretches under the pitch. At the concert hall complex next door, halls had to be squeezed around an unearthed Roman villa.

But Curti said he was nonetheless amazed to wander into a tomb so close to his house, calling it “the most incredible experience” of his life.

… can’t seem to find any decent photos (this one doesn’t count)

Latest from Rosia Montana

The controversial mining site is the subject of a  Euronews extended video report … starting at 1:18 we hear of plans from Gold Corp. to turn the Roman galleries (or at least part of them) into an underground museum. They talk to some archaeologists too … then talk about other controversial aspects of the venture (there’s an ‘almost-mr-burns’ scene too):

Our most recent coverage of the Rosia Montana thing is here (with links to previous coverage):

Site of Caesar’s Assassination Found?

A zillion versions of this one bouncing around the interwebs right now … the clearest seems to be AFP via France 24:

Archaeologists said Wednesday they believe they have found the exact spot in Rome where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15, 44 BC.

The stabbing of the dictator by Roman senators was recorded by ancient historians and dramatised by William Shakespeare who gave Caesar the last words: “Et tu Brute? Then fall, Caesar.”

Now, a team from the Spanish National Research Council say they have unearthed evidence that, they believe, reveals precisely where the attack took place.

They say they have found a concrete structure, three metres (10 feet) wide and two metres (nearly seven feet) high, that was erected by his adoptive son and successor, Augustus.

After taking power himself, Augustus ordered the structure be placed exactly over the place where the attack took place so as to condemn the slaying of his father, the scientists said.

“This finding confirms that the general was stabbed right at the bottom of the Curia of Pompey while he was presiding, sitting on a chair, over a meeting of the Senate,” the Spanish research council said in a statement.

The Curia of Pompey was a closed space used sometimes for senate meetings at the time. The building’s remains are in the Torre Argentina archaeological site in the centre of Rome.

What the archaelogists found was not the spot where Caesar died but the point where he must have been stabbed and fell, Spanish council researcher Antonio Monterroso told AFP.

“We know this because there is a structure that seals the place where Caesar must have been seated presiding over the senate session where he was stabbed,” he said.

“There is a structure from the later period of his successor, the period of Augustus, placed where Caesar must have sat, and that is how we know.”

A comparison of the archaeological remains and the ancient texts led the researchers to their conclusion, said Monterroso, a member of the Institute of History of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences.

It was impossible to know if Caesar died in the same place, however, the researcher said.

“From there the body was taken to the Roman Forum for his veneration and then it was cremated,” Monterroso said.

“We don’t know if he died in that instant or if he died hours later.”

He agreed that the finding was open to dispute.

“It is not indisputable. All archaeological science is open to dispute, it should be open to dispute, it should be open to argument, it should be open to debate and open to criticism, of course.”

The three-year archaeological project, which began last year, is supported by the Rome City Council, Spanish government financing and the Spanish research council’s Spanish School of History and Archaeology in Rome.

The discovery in the centre of Rome was impressive, Monterroso said. “Thousands of people today take the bus and the tram right next to the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 2,056 years ago.”

The original press release (which almost all the other sources print verbatim) is here.

… I always find it odd when they call archaeologists “scientists”, but I won’t argue. What I’m not clear about, however, is the source for this “structure” they’re referring to … anyone know?