Hic Vespasianus Dormiebat?

I initially was sitting on this one because I was hoping to get some really good coverage … then things came up and it’s sort of old news, but there is much conflicting opinion involved with it. The ‘bottom line’ which all media reports seem to agree with is that Italian archaeologists have excavated a very large villa which obviously belonged to a very wealthy person near Cittareale (Rieti). It boasts elaborate marble floors, colonnades, mosaics, and all the sorts of things we’d expect in a rich person’s dwelling. What is bigger ‘news’, however, is the speculation that it belonged to the emperor Vespasian — presumably because he was born in the vicinity (at Falacrina) or died in the vicinity (at Aqua Cutiliae), but the media coverage (especially in headlines) seems to be expressing it as a certainty. Despite that, these seem to be the important opinions:

Helen Patterson (of the BSR) dixit in the Telegraph:

“We’ve found a monumental villa with elaborate floors made of marble brought from quarries in Greece and North Africa … There’s also a very extensive bath complex which is just beginning to emerge. It’s the only large villa in the area, and the size and dating fits in perfectly with Vespasian. Until we find a stone or marble inscription saying ‘Vespasian lived here’, we can’t be 100 per cent certain, but it seems very likely. It’s in a perfect position, overlooking a river and the old Via Salaria trade route.”

FIlipo Coarelli told La Stampa (and this seems to have been translated in much of the English coverage):

Non abbiamo trovato alcuna iscrizione – dice – e quindi non c’è certezza. Ma l’epoca, la qualità degli ambienti, il luogo, e poi l’unicità di questa villa, il fatto che non ce ne siano altre nei dintorni… insomma, tutto lascia pensare a una residenza della dinastia dei Flavi

Coarelli went a bit further with Discovery News:

We are talking of a unique, 15,000-square-meter (161,459-square-foot) villa. We found no inscription that says it belonged to the emperor, but the location, dating, size and quality of the building leave little doubt about its owner.

So it seems possible that this villa did perhaps belong to Vespasian, but that’s about it. At this point it certainly does not warrant hyping it as his birthplace (so CBC, New York Times, BBC (the latter citing an unnamed archaeologist), AP) or his place of death (as the La Stampa coverage seems to suggest), this being the bimillennium of his birth notwithstanding. See further Mary Beard’s post on this (and some of the useful comments of her followers).

Some English coverage:



One thought on “Hic Vespasianus Dormiebat?

  1. Pingback: Vespasian’s Birthplace Redux « rogueclassicism

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