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.

This Day in Ancient History

[a couple of years ago I was experimenting with this format]

ante diem iii nonas quinctilias

Poplifugia — a festival the origins  of which were forgotten by the time folks began writing about things; it possibly commemorates the flight of the people from Gauls in the fourth century, but that seems a rather strange thing for Romans to build a festival around (even with the story of Tutula/Philotis* attached to it).

*From Seyffert’s Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, s.v. Caprotina:

The festival [sc. of Juno Caprotina] was connected with another, called Poplifugium, or the “Flight of the People,” held on the 5th of July. Thus a historical basis was given to it, though the true origin of both festivals had been probably forgotten. After their defeat by the Gauls, the Romans were con­quered and put to flight by a sudden attack of their neighbours, the Latins, who de­manded the surrender of a large number of girls and widows. Thereupon, at the sug­gestion of a girl called Tutula (or Philotis), the female slaves disguised themselves as Roman ladies, went into the enemy’s camp, and contrived to make the enemy drunk, while Tutula, climbing a wild fig-tree, gave the signal for the Romans to attack by hold­ing up a torch. The Poplifugia were cele­brated by a mimic flight. […]

Here’s the account from Plutarch’s Life of Camillus:

They say that the Latins (whether out of pretence, or real design to revive the ancient relationship of the two nations) sent to desire of the Romans some free-born maidens in marriage; that when the Romans were at a loss how to determine (for on one hand they dreaded a war, having scarcely yet settled and recovered themselves, and on the other side suspected that this asking of wives was, in plain terms, nothing else but a demand for hostages, though covered over with the specious name of intermarriage and alliance), a certain handmaid, by name Tutula, or, as some call her, Philotis, persuaded the magistrates to send with her some of the most youthful and best-looking maid-servants, in the bridal dress of noble virgins, and leave the rest to her care and management; that the magistrates, consenting, chose out as many as she thought necessary for her purpose, and adorning them with gold and rich clothes, delivered them to the Latins, who were encamped not far from the city; that at night the rest stole away the enemy’s swords, but Tutula or Philotis, getting to the top of a wild fig-tree, and spreading out a thick woollen cloth behind her, held out a torch towards Rome, which was the signal concerted between her and the commanders, without the knowledge, however, of any other of the citizens, which was the reason that their issuing out from the city was tumultuous, the officers pushing their men on, and they calling upon one another’s names, and scarce able to bring themselves into order; that setting upon the enemy’s works, who either were asleep or expected no such matter, they took the camp and destroyed most of them; and that this was done on the Nones of July, which was then called Quintilis, and that the feast that is observed on that day is a commemoration of what was then done. For in it, first, they run out of the city in great crowds, and call out aloud several familiar and common names, Caius, Marcus, Lucius, and the like in representation of the way in which they called to one another when they went out in such haste.

feriae Jovi

More from Sofia/Serdica

On the heels of last week’s announcement of the opening of a major Roman site to the public, the Sofia News Agency tells us that archaeologists are on the trail (they hope) of Constantine’s palace there too:

A large ancient building located under the St. Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia might turn out to be a palace of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, according to Bulgarian archaeologists.

The building might also turn out to be the ancient thermae, or public baths of the ancient Roman city of Serdica, today’s Sofia, according to architect Konstantin Peev, head of the EKSA company, which is helping the Sofia Municipality with the excavation and restoration of the archaeological heritage of the Bulgarian capital.

The excavations at the Sofia Largo and the so called Metro Station 2-8 next to the Tzum retail store were made necessary by the construction of the second line of the Sofia Metro.

According to Peev, the bouleuterion of the city of Serdica was located under the northwestern corner of today’s building of the Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan. The bouleuterion was a small amphitheater-like building which housed the council of the citizens in the Antiquity period. The Serdica bouleuterion had a diameter of about 20 meters.

Peev also said that the archeaological excavations in the spring of 2010 have so far revealed a number of Roman insula, i.e. homes closed off among four streets.

He pointed out that the archaeologists have revealed the main streets of the Roman city of Serdica – the main street, decumanus maximus, connecting the Eastern and Western Gates, was wide about 7-8 meters and paved with huge pave stones. The cardo, the secondary street, went in the north-south direction.

Architect Peev stated that the municipality and the Culture Ministry were currently considering various options for conserving and displaying the archeaological heritage of Sofia.

via Bulgarian Archaeologists Hope to Find Constantine’s Palace | Sofia News Agency.