Rethinking the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’ at Aquileia

This probably won’t last long at ANSA:

Archaeologists working on the remains of an ancient dwelling in northern Italy have reassessed their ideas about the site after uncovering lavish decorations and imposing architectural features. The building in Aquileia, which previously appeared to be a normal Roman villa, has now emerged as a majestic mansion complex, covering an entire block. Archaeologists say the house, or domus, was the largest building in the Ancient Roman city of Aquileia and was probably the residence of a powerful figure, perhaps an imperial official. The location of the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’, between the river port and the forum, has long indicated that its owner was an important person.

But a string of recent discoveries have revealed the extent of its inhabitant’s status, said the archaeologist leading the team, Federica Fontana.

“During the latest excavations we have found the eastern entrance to the home,” she explained. “This was preceded by a large, paved piazza with a well in it”.

This is considered an exceptional find, not only for its size, but also because few entrance ways have been identified at the underground site over the years. “We have also found a room, at the same level as the entranceway, which had underground heating and a floor decorated with an exquisite multicoloured mosaic,” she said. “Thanks to these and other discoveries we can conclude that the house probably covered the entire quarter. It was divided into a series of small courtyards with colonnades. “One of these even had a large, limestone canal with drainage for rain water, of a type usually only seen in public buildings”. The team also uncovered a beautifully sculpted woman’s marble bust in the complex’s innermost courtyard that was probably once part of the architectural decoration. “All these elements make it clear just how important this domus was in Aquileia,” said Fontana. Work on Via Gemina, where the Domus of the Dancing Cherubs once stood, has yielded up a number of key discoveries in recent years. In 2005, two coloured mosaics were uncovered in astonishing condition, while 2009 saw the discovery of an extremely rare “cage cup”.

These luxury Roman drinking vessels, only a handful of which have survived the centuries, consist of an inner glass beaker surrounded by an outer decorated cage of metal.

Much of Aquileia, which was once one of the largest and wealthiest cities of the Early Roman Empire, still lies unexcavated beneath fields. Adding the site to its World Heritage List in 1998, UNESCO cited the fact that most of ancient Aquileia survives intact underground, making it the most complete example of an Early Roman city in the Mediterranean world.

I’m pretty sure the mosaic mentioned is not the one which Adrian Murdoch mentioned on Twitter a couple of days ago (which dates from the fourth century) …. that said, here’s a photo from the ANSA coverage in La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno (English edition):

… which I find very interesting as I’ve seen that ‘fishing cupids’ motif at Piazza Armerina (when I find my portable hard drives that disappeared a couple of months ago, I’ll post the photos I took … until then, here’s an example I found at flickr … might have to dig into this motif a bit more).

Previous reports from Aquileia (where a major did has been going on for quite a while) includes the excavation of the public baths (2006) … not sure why we don’t hear more about this dig.