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Roman Villas in Central Italy

Columbia Studies in the

Classical Tradition
Editorial Board
William V. Harris (Editor)
Eugene F. Rice, jr., Alan Cameron, Suzanne Said
Kathy H. Eden, Gareth D. Williams

Roman Villas
in Central Italy
A Social and Economic History


Annalisa Marzano

Cover illustration: Fiano Romano, Volusii Saturnini Villa: lararium (photo: A. Marzano).

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

ISSN 0166-1302
ISBN 978 90 04 16037 8

© Copyright 2007 by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York

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printed in the netherlands

To my Mother,
Who did not live to see this work completed and
Whose inner strength and wisdom I hope
to have in part inherited

Sei tu ora
come un gabbiano,
che alto si libra nel cielo terso
contemplando l’azzurra distesa del mare
ammantata d’un gran brillio di sole

Preface ......................................................................................... ix
Abbreviations .............................................................................. xi
List of Illustrations ...................................................................... xiii

Introduction ................................................................................ 1

Chapter One. Villae Maritimae .................................................... 13

The Villa Maritima in Ancient Literary Sources ..................... 15
The Archaeological Evidence ................................................. 33

Chapter Two. Villae Maritimae as Economic Enterprises ........... 47

Fish-breeding and salinae ........................................................ 47
Figlinae and Agriculture ........................................................... 63
Real-Estate Speculation .......................................................... 75

Chapter Three. Villae Rusticae and the Ideological Realm ........ 82

The Villa Rustica in Ancient Literary Sources ........................ 85

Chapter Four. The Archaeology of Rural Villas ....................... 102

Wool and Textile Production ................................................. 121

Chapter Five. The “Villa Schiavistica” Model ............................. 125

Reinterpreting the Archaeological Data ................................ 129
“Ergastula” in Country Villas .................................................. 148

Chapter Six. Villa Topography: Infrastructure and Imperial

Villas ............................................................................................ 154
Villas and Infrastructure ......................................................... 156
Villas and Imperial Properties ................................................ 171

Chapter Seven. Villa Topography and Involvement with

Neighbors .................................................................................... 176

Chapter Eight. The Chronology of Villas and the

Second-century “Crisis” ............................................................. 199
viii contents

Conclusions ................................................................................. 223

Catalogue .................................................................................... 235

Introduction to the Catalogue ................................................ 237
Latium ..................................................................................... 247
Tuscany ................................................................................... 649
Umbria .................................................................................... 709
Index of Villa Sites ................................................................. 741
List of Villa Plans ................................................................... 755

Appendix A. Chronology of Villa Sites ..................................... 759

Appendix B. Data for Villa Sites in Latium .............................. 770
Appendix C. Data for Villa Sites in Tuscany ............................ 779
Appendix D. Data for Villa Sites in Umbria ............................. 788

Bibliography ................................................................................ 797

General Index ............................................................................. 817

Index Locorum ........................................................................... 821


Villas, or elite residences combining residential and productive functions,

were a distinctive feature of Roman society, and as such have been
studied from a range of perspectives by modern scholars. From studies
focusing on architecture or the cultural aspects of the otium practiced
in villa, to those on the socio-historical conditions that allowed the
emergence of a particular mode of exploitation of the land in Roman
Italy (the villa-system) or on villas as an indicator of Romanization in
the provinces, Roman villas have acquired a symbolic connotation in
modern studies, perhaps as vivid as the symbolism attached to them
in the ancient mentality and writings.
This book aims at tracing the “villa-universe” in its social and eco-
nomic manifestations, and the changes occurring over time through an
interdisciplinary approach which brings together documentary sources
and archaeological data. It focuses on Central Italy, which was the privi-
leged area for the development and diffusion of the villa, and analyzes
within an historical narrative the data available on a large number of
sites, contrasting them with the ideological constructs of the literary
sources. Although several monographs exist on individual villa-sites in
this geographic area, or on economic trends and settlement patterns
picked up by survey projects, a synthesis focusing on the role of villas
in Roman society, contextualizing the abundant archaeological record
with the aid of the documentary sources, has not previously been
attempted. The present study aims at lling this gap.
This book is based on a PhD dissertation completed at Columbia
University, New York, as part of the program in Classical Studies. Many
people have assisted me in the process, rst the completion of the dis-
sertation and then its transformation into a book, offering critical advice
and suggestions, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank them.
William V. Harris offered his invaluable criticism and ideas as super-
visor of the thesis, and I am also very grateful for his continued sup-
port since I left Columbia University. Natalie Kampen and Clemente
Marconi always offered very useful comments and suggestions on the
thesis in progress, and together with the remaining members of my
examining committee, Alan Cameron and Michel Peachin, had many
suggestions as to how the thesis might best be turned into a book.
x preface

Since the time of the defense, I have beneted greatly from discussion
with people who read parts of the manuscript and heard papers based
upon it at conferences in the United States and Europe. The interac-
tion with colleagues and graduate students here at Oxford University
has been particularly stimulating during revision of the manuscript for
publication. I especially wish to thank Andrew Wilson, for having the
strength and will to read an earlier draft, and offering detailed com-
ments and useful suggestions, after the long days of work spent in the
eld during our excavation campaign in Benghazi.
Last but not least, I wish to thank my husband, Mehmet Deniz Öz,
for his support, encouragement, and for the many sleepless nights spent
helping me in preparing the plans that accompany the catalogue: seni

Annalisa Marzano
Institute of Archaeology
University of Oxford

AE L’Année Épigraphique
AJA American Journal of Archaeology
AnalRom Analecta Romana Instituti Danici
AnnÉconSocCiv Annales: économies, sociétés, civilisations
AnnPerugia Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosoa, Università degli studi di
ANRW H. Temporini (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt.
Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung. Berlin
ArchCl Archeologia Classica
ArchLaz Archeologia laziale. Incontri di Studio del Comitato per l’Archeologia
ATTA Atlante Tematico di Topograa dell’Italia Antica, series directed and
edited by L. Quilici and S. Quilci Gigli. Rome
ATTASup Atlante Tematico di Topograa dell’Italia Antica. Supplementi. Rome
BABesch Bulletin antieke beschaving. Annual Papers on Classical Archaeology
BAR British Archaeological Reports
BÉFAR Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome
BollArch Bollettino di Archeologia
BullCom Bullettino della Commissione archeologica Comunale di Roma
CÉFR Collection de l’École française de Rome
CIL Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
CPhS Cambridge Philological Society
DA Dialoghi di archeologia
EchCl Echos du monde classique. Classical Views
Epigraphica Epigraphica. Rivista italiana di epigraa
I.I. Inscriptiones Italiae. Academiae Italicae Consociatae
ILS H. Dessau (ed.), Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae
JRS Journal of Roman Studies
LTUR Lexicon Topographicum Urbius Romae. Edited by E.M. Steinby.
Rome 1993–1999
MAAR Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome
MBAH Münstersche Beiträge zur antiken Handelsgeschichte
MÉFRA Mélanges de l’École française de Rome, Antiquité
NSc Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità
OJA Oxford Journal of Archaeology
PBSR Papers of the British School at Rome
Prospettiva Prospettiva. Rivista d’arte antica e moderna
QuadAEI Quaderni del Centro di studio per l’archeologia etrusco-italica
RANarb Revue archéologique de Narbonnaise
xii abbreviations

RassArch Rassegna di Archeologia

RdA Rivista di archeologia
RendLinc Atti dell’Accademia nazionale dei Lincei. Rendiconti
RendPontAcc Rendiconti della Ponticia Accademia romana di Archeologia
RIA Rivista dell’Istituto Nazionale di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte
RicognArch Ricognizioni Archeologiche. Gruppo Archeologico Romano
RM Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung
StEtr Studi Etruschi
StClOr Studi classici e orientali
TAPA Transactions of the American Philological Association
ZPE Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik

Figure 1 Prima Porta, Villa “Ad Gallinas Albas”, drawing

showing a detail of the mosaic from the atrium
(A. Wilkins) .............................................................. 24
Figure 2 Fresco depicting a maritime villa. From Pompeii,
House of M. Lucretius Fronto, now in Naples
National Museum (Fototeca Unione-AAR) ............ 28
Figure 3 Examples of shpond design .................................. 39
Figure 4 Circeo, axonometric drawing of the so-called
Fishpond of Lucullus (after Schmiedt 1972) .......... 42
Figure 5 Torre Astura with harbor (after Schmiedt 1972) ... 49
Figure 6 Distribution map of maritime villas equipped
with shponds (A. Marzano) .................................. 57
Figure 7 Torre Astura region, distribution of villas and
farms (after Piccarreta 1977) .................................. 69
Figure 8 S. Marinella, distribution of villas
(after Gianfrotta 1972) ............................................ 71
Figure 9 Villa dei Centroni, axonometric reconstruction
of the natatio (after Cozza 1952) ............................. 96
Figure 10 Granaraccio, olive presses and olive mill
(after Faccenna 1957) .............................................. 105
Figure 11 Orbetello, Via della Fattoria: wine presses
(after Brun 2004) ..................................................... 105
Figure 12 Viterbo, Asinello (after Broise and Jolivet 1995) .... 117
Figure 13 Trino, Le Verne (after Robino 1999) ..................... 132
Figure 14 Ansedonia, Settenestre: detail
(after Carandini 1985a) ........................................... 134
Figure 15 Castellammare di Stabia, plan of Villa Arianna
and detail of the stables (Miniero 1987) ................ 135
Figure 16 Fiano Romano, Volusii Saturnini Villa: detail
(Sgubini Moretti 1998) ............................................ 140
Figure 17 Fiano Romano, Volusii Saturnini Villa: lararium
(photo: A. Marzano) ................................................ 141
Figure 18 Alba Docilia, mansio (after Grassigli 1995) ............. 147
Figure 19 Number of villas and attested chronology of
occupation ............................................................... 200
xiv list of illustrations

Figure 20 Start and end date of villa occupation .................. 202

Figure 21 Length of villa occupation ...................................... 203
Figure 22 “Dominus Iulius” mosaic. Late 4th century
mosaic depicting villa life. Bardo Museum, Tunis
(Koppermann, Neg. D-DAI Rome 1961.0532) ...... 233

Figures and Maps in Catalogue & Appendices

Figure 23 Number of Villa Sites by Region ........................... 241

Figure 24 Villa-occupation in the three regions ..................... 242
Figure 25 Villa-occupation in the three regions
(in percentages) ........................................................ 243
Figure 26 Number of villas and attested beginning of
occupation for Latium, Tuscany and Umbria ....... 244
Figure 27 Number of villas and attested end of occupation
for Latium, Tuscany and Umbria .......................... 245

Map 1 Central Italy: The Augustan regions with

superimposition of modern borders
(A. Marzano) ........................................................... 240
Map 2a Villa sites in Latium (A. Marzano) ......................... 248
Map 2b Overview of detailed maps for Latium
(A. Marzano) ........................................................... 249
Map 3 Albano (A. Marzano) .............................................. 252
Map 4 Astura (A. Marzano) ............................................... 273
Map 5 Bassano di Sutri and Capranica (A. Marzano) ...... 284
Map 6 Blera (A. Marzano) ................................................. 286
Map 7 Castelporziano (Ager Laurentinus) (A. Marzano) ....... 312
Map 8 Circeo (A. Marzano) ............................................... 332
Map 9 Civitavecchia and S. Marinella (A. Marzano) ........ 352
Map 10 Fiano Romano (A. Marzano) ................................. 364
Map 11 Ladispoli (A. Marzano) ........................................... 388
Map 12 The Licenza Valley (A. Marzano) .......................... 390
Map 13 Pontine Islands (A. Marzano) ................................. 428
Map 14 Suburbium (A. Marzano) ........................................... 464
Map 15 Tivoli (A. Marzano) ................................................ 566
Map 16 Tusculum (A. Marzano) .......................................... 590
Map 17 Via Cassia (A. Marzano) ......................................... 636
Map 18 Viterbo (A. Marzano) .............................................. 644
list of illustrations xv

Map 19 Villa sites in Tuscany (A. Marzano) ................... 648

Map 20 Monte Argentario and Ansedonia
(A. Marzano) ...................................................... 686
Map 21 Populonia area (A. Marzano) ............................. 694
Map 22 Villa sites in Umbria (A. Marzano) ................... 708
Map 23 Umbria: distribution of villas
(from Ville e Insediamenti 1983) ............................ 710
Map 24 Villa sites of Latium by centuries
(A. Marzano) ...................................................... 775–778
Map 25 Villa sites in Tuscany by centuries
(A. Marzano) ...................................................... 784–787
Map 26 Villa sites in Umbria by centuries
(A. Marzano) ...................................................... 793–796

As usual, I am calling upon your expert advice on a matter of property.

The estate adjoining my own is for sale; the land runs in and out of
mine, and, though there are many attractions tempting me to buy, there
are some no less important reasons why I should not. The primary
attraction is the obvious amenity if the properties were joined, and after
that the practical advantage as well as the pleasure of being able to visit
the two together without making more than one journey. Both could be
put under the same steward and practically the same foremen, and it
would be necessary to maintain and furnish one house, so long as the
other was kept in repair. [. . .] On the other hand, I am afraid it may
be a rash to expose a property of such a size to the same uncertainties
of weather and general risks, and it might be safer to meet the hazards
of fortune by having estates in different localities; and then change of
place and air is very enjoyable, and so is the actual traveling between
one’s possessions.1
With these words, Pliny the Younger described to his friend Calvisius
Rufus the advantages and disadvantages of buying a new estate adjacent
to the one he already possessed in Tuscis, near the town of Tifernum
Tiberinum. This passage touches on several of the important issues
concerning villa-properties in the Roman world: the location of the
estate, its relationship to other properties already owned by the same
dominus, the practical considerations relating to its management and
productivity, and the Roman elite’s habit of traveling often between
the various villas they possessed.
At once both elegant residences and units for production, villas were
a typical feature of the Roman world. They were an expression not
only of a particular lifestyle, but also of Roman society in general; vil-
las were emblematic of membership to the upper class, or else of the
aspiration to it. Roman villas, therefore, have been the focus of scholar-
ship within various geographical and historical contexts, ranging from
studies on the “economy of the villa”2 to works on its cultural aspects,

Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.19.1–5, (translation by B. Radice, Loeb edition),
Cambridge-London 1969.
Carandini 1985a.
2 introduction

such as the villa’s role as a seat for the cultivation of a particular type
of Hellenized culture and lifestyle.3
The complex nature of the Roman villa is reected in the variety
of formulations offered by scholars to dene the word “villa”. These
denitions range from Percival’s culturally determined assertion that
the villa is a specically Roman phenomenon,4 to Leveau’s proposition,
that “la villa est un mode chronologiquement dénissable et historiquement évolutif
de l’occupation et de la mise en valeur de la campagne.”5
In considering the role of villas within the development of Roman
agriculture and types of land management, modern studies based on
archaeological ndings have tended to view the spread of rural villas
during the Republic as part of a complex process incorporating Roman
territorial expansion, a decline in the number of small landholdings
to the advantage of larger properties, the use of intensive slave labor
and the great availability of slaves on the market, and the exportation
outside Italy of agricultural produce, above all, wine.6
The proliferation of villas in Italy has thus been seen as indicative of
a drastic transformation in the ancient economy, regarded as capitalistic
in essence and analyzed from the point of view of class divisions by
scholars of Marxist orientation.7 In the provinces, the presence of villas
has been seen as an indicator of the level of Romanization and of the
acceptance, by local elites, of architectural forms and social practices,
the Roman ritual of dining and the drinking of wine for example,
otherwise alien to areas such as Britain.
As Terrenato has justly pointed out, however, the term “villa” is used
in modern studies to refer to sites that differ widely in size, architecture,
function, and date, so that the term itself is in need of comprehensive
redenition.8 Not only can one observe a variation in the use of the
term between different geographic areas—a site which would be labeled
‘villa’ by researchers working in, say, Germany, may be called ‘farm’ if
it were to be found in Italy—but there is also a clear difference in usage

Zanker 1995.
Percival 1976.
Leveau 1983: 923.
Terrenato 2001b.
For instance Carandini and Settis 1979; Carandini 1985a; 1989b; Giardina and
Schiavone 1981.
Terrenato 2001a: 5.
introduction 3

according to the type of study.9 If, indeed, social and economic histo-
rians use the term mostly to refer to establishments outside the urban
context, engaged in a specic type of land management and market-
oriented production, architectural historians emphasize the presence
of a given architectural typology, while in eld survey projects, a villa
is just a site which occupies a given area, determined a priori, with its
surface scatter of building material, regardless of mode of production
or other characteristics that survey investigation cannot pick up.
Also in the case of the ancient writers it is clear that the term ‘villa’
indicated different things to different authors at different times. It is not
by chance that Varro opens his dialogue Res Rusticae, signicantly set
in the Villa Publica in Rome, with a discussion over the meaning of
‘villa’; no unanimous agreement is reached at the end, but the vari-
ous issues addressed show the ranges in meaning covered by the term
‘villa’ at Varro’s time. By the fourth century a.d., with the profound
transformations underwent by Roman society, the meaning of ‘villa’
appears to shift from ‘landed estate’ to something more ambiguous; the
nal transformation can be seen in the writings of Gregory of Tours,
who usually uses the term ‘villa’ to indicate a settlement and land held
by several owners, in other words a village.10
The terminological aspect of the question is complicated by the fact
that both in the ancient literary works and in modern analysis we need
to come to terms with the ideological dimensions of the villa. In the
earliest of the agricultural works that we have, Cato’s De agri cultura, we
nd already the idealization of hard work, frugality and agriculture as
the only worthy pursuits of the upper classes, which can be understood
within the author’s political agenda. This is a theme which recurs in
moralizing Latin literature, looking with nostalgia at the time when
Romans were simple farmers, of equal social conditions, devoted to
tilling the land and defending the Res publica.11 The fact that the medium-

P. Leveau, “Les incertitudes du terme villa et la question du vicus en Gaule Nar-
bonnaise”, RANarb 35, 2002: 5–26.
Bowes and Gutteridge 2005: 410.
See for instance Plin., NH 18.4, who contrasts the productivity of the small
estates of the Early and Middle Republic (“tilled by the hands of the very generals,
the soil exulting beneath the plowshare crowed with wreaths of laurel and guided
by a husbandman graced with triumphs . . .”, trans. from N. Lewis and M. Reinhold,
Roman Civilization, vol. I, New York 1990: 243) with the lower yields of the estates of
his time, tilled by slaves.
4 introduction

sized farmstead, described in Cato’s work, which shows no concessions

whatsoever to comfort and luxury, has no concrete archeological paral-
lel has been pointed out recently.12 As Terrenato discusses in this same
article, this point has direct bearing on the “question” of the origin
and evolution of the villa, seen as a direct, linear descendant of the
farms of old times. An equally politically charged ideology, this time in
the context of Caesarian and Augustan propaganda in favor of land
distribution, has been identied in Varro’s work, where the ideal villa
is void of unproductiveness and extravagant luxus, and is linked to the
praise of farming practiced by the ancestors.13
That the connection between the spread of villas and agricultural
intensication occurred in the aftermath of the Hannibalic war is an
axiom found in many modern works on villas and the Roman economy.
In this case, the “ideal” villa we nd at work consists of architectural
forms that reect directly the evolution of Roman society and the
modes of agricultural production: large villas with slave quarters at
the center of estates in the hands of fewer and increasingly absentee
landlords. The conceptualization of the Roman villa that best embodies
these aspects is the villa schiavistica model derived by Carandini’s work
at Settenestre.
The discussion delineated in Chapter 5, shows what great bearing
this modern “idea” of villa, in part conditioned by modern historical
phenomena such as US slavery and the plantation system, had in the
interpretation of several important villa sites in Central Italy and in the
reconstruction of the economic picture of Roman Italy. The impact
of preconceived ideas, fostered by accounts in literary sources, on the
interpretation of archaeological data emerges from an attentive reevalu-
ation of the interpretation of the evidence offered by Settenestre and
by other villas, such as Pennavecchia or Lugnano in Teverina.14
While archaeologists may read material culture as “texts”, in ways
similar to the reading of historical texts, there are differences between
material culture and written language, as Hodder has pointed out.15
Archaeologists use inductive methods to construct an understanding of
historical meaning, but the extent to which their interpretations suc-

Terrenato 2001a: 24–25. But see Z. Mari, “La villa romana di età repubblicana
nell’ager Tiburtinus e Sabinus in Santillo Frizell and Klynne 2005: 75–95 for discussion
of the “Catonian type” villas attested archeologically in these areas.
Sirago 1995: 38.
Marzano 2005.
Hodder 1991: 191.
introduction 5

ceed—as well as the universal validity of the results—ultimately depends

on the richness of the data and on what the excavator is “looking for”.
The long lasting endurance of this villa system model that, once it
had established a connection between agricultural intensication for
export and spread of villas, had also to posit a demise of villas when
the exports ceased, can be seen as the other end of the thread of ideal
conceptualizations of villas that started with Cato.
It is precisely the Roman villa-universe that is the topic of this
book, which focuses on the social and economic role of elite villas in
Central Italy, an area corresponding to the modern regions of Latium,
Tuscany and Umbria. This book aims at an interdisciplinary approach
which brings together archaeological data and documentary sources.
In order to account for villas as a phenomenon of social history, I
have considered them in their different manifestations, approaching the
subject from various angles: the economy, art, culture, the idealization
and representation of villas, geographic distribution and topography.
It is not the question of the “origin of the villa” that characterizes
my research agenda, but rather I focus on villas as centers for social
rituals and for economic production, and on how and to what degree
these functions changed between Republic and Empire. Although the
data on villa occupation collected for the entries in the Catalogue and
discussed in Chapter 8 span from the second century b.c. to the fth
century a.d., the discussion in the following chapters focuses mostly
on the period between the rst century b.c., when elite villas were a
well-established and wide-spread phenomenon, and the third century
a.d. For this reason, although Cato’s work is taken into consideration,
his treatise is not systematically analyzed and discussed in the chapters
dealing with rural villas.
This book has at its foundations some basic denitions that have
become common ground among scholars of ancient society in recent
years: foremost among them, the fact that, although Roman society was
a pre-industrial society, it is characterized by a relatively sophisticated
level of its economy when compared to other pre-industrial societies
and that, because of the limitations of the ancient evidence, the struc-
ture, organization and manifestation of the ancient economy cannot
be studied in isolation.16

On the general features of the Roman economy see R. W. Goldsmith, Premodern
Financial Systems, Cambridge 1987: 34–59; P. Garnsey and R. Saller, The Roman Empire,
Berkeley and Los Angeles 1987; Lo Cascio 1991; W. V. Harris, “Between Archaic and
6 introduction

In antiquity activities such as agriculture or trade were complex and

multilayered, going beyond the purely economic dimension, compris-
ing social and ideological dimensions as well. The importance of this
approach in studying the ancient economy has been long emphasized
by the contribution of anthropological studies. As stated by Mauss:
In the systems of the past we do not nd simple exchange of goods,
wealth and produce through markets established among individuals. For
it is groups and not individuals, which carry on exchange, make contracts,
and are bound by obligations . . . what they exchange is not exclusively
goods and wealth, real and personal property, and things of economic
value. They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military
assistance, women, children and feasts. . . .17
The works of Varro, Columella and other sources, such as Pliny the
Younger, have been analyzed in Chapters 1 and 3 precisely for the ideo-
logical value that they have in respect to the economic mentality of
the elite. The rst four chapters are built around the dialectic appar-
ent in the ideological constructs of the literary texts on the one hand,
and the evidence offered by the archaeological record on the other. As
we will see, the tension created by this dialectic shapes the apparent
“contradictions” we can at times observe between idealized “economic”
behavior and common practice, as in the case of the idea of self-suf-
ciency, apparently at odds with the pursuit of agricultural prot usually
achieved through monoculture. This ideological opposition is the result
of the tension present in the ancient elite mentality between what is
morally acceptable and the desire of investing capital intelligently.18
Although the economic aspect of villas occupies a substantial part of
my study, my aim in this book is not to quantify the economic output
of the villas, or to analyze in detail Roman managerial and accounting
practices.19 Various wider topics related to the ancient economy,20 such as

Modern: Problems in Roman Economic History” in Harris 1993: 11–29. R. Duncan-

Jones, Structure and Scale in the Roman Economy, Cambridge 1990 treats the quantitative
evidence for landholding patterns in the empire.
M. Mauss, The Gift, Argyll 1954: passage quoted in Morley 2004: 49.
See Andreau et al. 2004 for a discussion of some aspects of the economic mental-
ity of the Roman elite.
For recent treatment of the use of writing in the management of economic
activities, discussing also accounting see J. J. Aubert, “De l’usage de l’écriture dans la
gestion d’entreprise a l’époque romaine” in Andreau et al. 2004: 127–147, with previous
bibliography; see also in that same volume J. Maucourant, “Rationalité économique
ou comportaments socio-économique”, 227–238.
Even if, according to a rigid approach, the term “economy” may result an anach-
introduction 7

the nature of the ancient city and its relationship to the countryside, or
the degree of monetization,21 that have been much debated in modern
scholarship since the appearance of M. I. Finley’s famous study The
Ancient Economy in 1973, are beyond the scope of this book. The debate
that Finley’s work generated, between those favoring a “modernizing”
approach to the ancient economy and the advocates of “primitivism”,
has not been completely superseded yet, and recently ancient economic
history has been undergoing a renewed interest with new approaches
being continually put forward.22
As the reader will realize, my approach to the economic charac-
terization of villas treated herein rests on several premises, which it is
important to dene at the outset.
First, that the Romans had a market economy, and that, although
the distant parts of this economy were loosely connected, nonetheless
they functioned as a comprehensive Mediterranean market. Temin
has argued that this conceptualization brings the description of the
Roman economy as a whole into accord with the fragmentary evidence
we have about individual market transactions, and further advocated
for the Roman economy being “an economy where most resources
are allocated by prices that are free to move in response to changes in
underlying conditions”.23
Second, that the economic mentality that guided the upper-class
Romans in managing their wealth was, at its basis, concerned with
prot—although often conditioned by moral, ideological, and social
constrains—and with the generation of nancial return that would
allow them to maintain the income necessary for their social stand-
ing and social obligations.24 In my view, the Roman landowners had

ronism, since the concepts it embodies are fully modern, (see Morley 2004: 33) it is
currently used in historiographic works.
For the view that the use of money was widespread even in the countryside see
for instance C. Howgego, “The Supply and Use of Money in the Roman World”, JRS
82, 1982: 1–31. For a general discussion on the importance of coinage to the Roman
economy: K. W. Harl, Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700, Baltimore and
London 1996, 207–289.
For a synthetic and clear overview of the past and present historiographic debate
and the various theoretical models adopted by historians see Morley 2004.
Temin 2001: 169; 170.
See Andreau et al. 2004 for discussion of investment strategies and management.
See Kehoe 1997: 25 ff. for discussion of Pliny the Younger’s social and nancial obli-
gations (with previous bibliography); also Kehoe 1988 and 1989 for discussion on risk
and investment in the case of Pliny’s properties.
8 introduction

sufcient knowledge about the Roman economy to make rational, long

term economic planning.25 This is important in order to explain the
choices of the elites in managing their villas/estates, and in investing
their capital in order to maximize returns.26
As it has been noted, investment and prot are elusive terms in the
Roman economy, given the restricted range of evidence available to the
modern historian.27 In an agrarian economy with limited growth and
restricted options for the investment of wealth, however, the choice of
investing in a villa/estate should be considered as a long term invest-
ment, since an estate represented, as Kehoe put it:
First and foremost an asset for enhancing nancial and social security,
rather than an enterprise that could be evaluated among alternative
potential investments in term of the likelihood of gain balanced against
associated risks.28
For this reason, when discussing the capital investment in, or the
enhancement of, production facilities and non-agricultural productive
activities, which at times could be substantial, I refer to the expendi-
tures necessary to make an estate produce an income, or to increase
future production, without considering the initial cost involved in the
purchase of the estate itself. The term “prot” has been used in this
restricted sense to indicate the excess of revenues over outlays gained
from the land and other non-agricultural productive activities discussed
in the chapters in a given period of time, excluding depreciation and
other non-cash expenses. Hence, an investment is deemed “protable”
when an activity carried out, or a natural resource exploited, on the
estate promoted a monetary benet to the proprietor once the expenses

M. I. Finley in The Ancient Economy, argued that Roman landowners did not pos-
sess sufcient knowledge of the economy to make such long-term economic planning;
De Neeve 1985 and 1990, on the contrary, interpreted the behavior of upper-class
landowners as capitalistic, distinguishing between capitalistic and peasant sectors of
the Roman economy; Rathbone 1991 argued for rational long-term planning and
the most remunerative use of the resources available to the estate managers in 3rd
century Egypt.
On the elite’s interest in maximization of returns see Purcell 1995, esp. 163; Kehoe
1997 stressed mostly the elite’s desire to achieve a steady income, and that “the horizon
for investing in such a way a to change substantially the revenues that an estate might
be relied on to provide was severely restricted” (p. 101).
Kehoe 1997: 2.
Kehoe, Ibidem: 6.
introduction 9

were deducted, but not necessarily a considerable annual return on

the capital invested.
Other important points need a clarication. In this study, the term
villa has been taken to indicate elite mansions, either built in a rural
setting or on the coast, which were simultaneously the seat of leisure
retreats, hence the elegance and lavishness of their residential parts, and
the seat of various kinds of economic activities, in most cases intended
for the commercial market. These villas would have comprised estates of
varying sizes, according to the geographic area, provided with ancillary
buildings. In the range of these economic activities we nd instances
not limited to agricultural production and those “subsidiary” activities
mentioned in the works of the Latin agronomists, such as bricks and
tiles production. Whatever worthy natural resource found on the estate
could be exploited, as in the one known case of a villa connected with
the exploitation of sulphur deposits.29
If in this latter case it is clear that the production did not physically
occur “in the villa”, but on the estate, the construction and occupa-
tion of the villa can be, however, clearly related to the exploitation of
the natural resource. Such cases of villas reect the desire to have a
comfortable residence for the sojourns during which the owner would
also check on the status of his/her business, while making a statement
about the wealth of the proprietor, which in part derived from the
economic activity that took place nearby.
Recently, an invite to caution in seeing the emergence of all villas as
a direct consequence of increasing agricultural intensication has been
expressed, reminding us that in many instances villas were the expres-
sion of a certain fashion adopted by a moneyed elite that had acquired
wealth elsewhere, a way of afrming the status of the owner.30 These
statements rest on the fact that the great spread of villas in central
Italy occurs in the rst century b.c. and rst century a.d., while the
agricultural intensication shown by amphora production in the same
areas precedes it by more than a century.
As we will see at the end of this study, the peak in villa diffusion in
all three regions is indeed the early rst century a.d.; however, while I
wholly agree with Terrenato that villas had a symbolic value and were

Tor Caldara, north of Antium. See Chapter 2 and Catalogue L303; we may add
the villas on Elba, connected with the exploitation of the iron mines.
Terrenato 2001a: 27.
10 introduction

sought after because of the image they evoked, I cannot completely

subscribe to the statement that “we have very little direct indication
that they (i.e., the villas) were what made the owners afuent.”31 The
evidence, if one takes into account also other types of production and
economic activities besides agriculture, seems to me to indicate that
elite villas (here intended as the mansion proper plus the estate) were
in most cases a source of wealth.
The label “elite villa” adopted herein is also in need of clarication.
With these terms, I do not intend to refer exclusively to proprietors of
senatorial or equestrian status, but to indicate all those who had promi-
nent status in society, either because of their social position—like sena-
tors, equites, and decuriones—or because of their economic power—like
rich freedmen. I have not taken into consideration those residences built
ex novo expressly for the emperor, like Domitian’s villa at Castelgandolfo
or Trajan’s villa at Arcinazzo Romano, but only those Imperial villas at
which previous phases existed before they became part of the Imperial
property, as in the case of Tiberius’ villa in Sperlonga.
In determining which sites fell into the category of “elite villas,” I was
forced to abandon the application of strict quantitative criteria, such as
computing the area occupied by the complex and comparing the areas
of the residential quarters, of the gardens, and of the service quarters.
In fact, the archaeological evidence is extremely fragmentary. Very few
sites have been fully excavated; others have never been excavated at
all and are known only by surface nds. In the case of sites identied
only by eld survey, the criteria followed herein allowed the inclusion
of all those sites which displayed signs of a certain level of décor (such
as fragments of marble veneer or mosaic tesserae), or of a considerable
size and monumentality, often apparent in the articial platform, the
basis villae, on which most villas were built. Nonetheless, in trying to
determine the overall economic picture and topographical distribution
of villas, farms and farmsteads were considered as well, and, when
relevant for the discussion, have been included in the catalogue.
One may wonder why the geographic area object of this study was
chosen. Several reasons led me to circumscribe it to Central Italy. As
mentioned above, the regions of Central Mediterranean Italy, especially
Latium, southern Tuscany and northern Campania, have been identi-
ed as the privileged area for the development and diffusion of the villa

Terrenato, ibidem.
introduction 11

structurally linked to a system of production based on slave labor for

the commercial market. For coastal villas too, the coastline of Latium,
together with Campania, is considered the area where the original
development of maritime villas occurred.32 All this notwithstanding, a
study focusing on gathering and analyzing within an historical narra-
tive the data available on a large number of villas in these geographic
areas is lacking. Although new discoveries in recent years demand an
update of the seminal work by John D’Arms on the social history of
villas in Campania,33 the lack of a more general synthesis is particu-
larly felt for those regions where the archaeological and documentary
evidence shows that many villas existed. For the regions of Central,
Tyrrhenian Italy several monographs exist on individual villas or on
economic trends and settlement patterns picked up by survey projects,
but a synthesis focusing on the role of villas in Roman society and on
its chronological development, interpreting and contextualizing the
abundant archaeological record, was not attempted.
Two reasons are probably behind this. The rst is the sheer quan-
tity of the available archaeological data, especially for Latium, where
hundreds and hundreds of sites are known. The second reason is the
quality of the data, which is extremely uneven and fragmentary, showing
a great disparity between sites documented more recently according to
modern and scientic criteria, and those discovered, say, in the early
twentieth century. Nonetheless, fruitful results can be reached, as I hope
the following chapters will show.
The interpretation of the material evidence in combination with
literary sources, while highlighting the deep discrepancies between the
two, particularly in the case of maritime villas, helps to explain the
reasoning behind the literary texts’ idealization on the one hand, and
the complexity and degree of variations attested for the “real” villas
on the other. The business opportunities offered by coastal properties,
for instance, notwithstanding the picture of conspicuous consumption
found in the ancient texts, were even wider and more diverse than
those offered by rural villas, and ranged from sh-breeding to quarry-
ing and wine-making. In my view, these properties were much sought
after not only for their recreational use and symbolic value, which was

Lafon 1981 and Lafon 2001.
D’Arms 1970.
12 introduction

undoubtedly a strong component of the appeal these properties had,

but also for their potential protability.
The sites included in the Catalogue constitute the basis of the discus-
sion drawn in the following chapters. This discussion has been enriched
and claried also with examples of villas from other geographic areas.
The Catalogue, in spite of the great disparity in the quality of the
evidence, gathers information on each villa, giving a description, the
important nds, proposed dating, bibliography, and a plan when avail-
able. It is intended as a helpful resource for scholars working on villas in
this geographic area in particular and in the Roman world in general,
which gathers together information, otherwise scattered through journals
and regional studies. However, precisely because of this distribution of
the information the Catalogue has no pretension to be an exhaustive
list of all the elite villas discovered in the area.34

See also the Introduction to the Catalogue for a more detailed discussion.


Members of the Roman elite started relatively early to build elegant

villas along the coasts of Italy, a phenomenon that by the late second
century b.c. seems to have been rather widespread.1 The diffusion of
these seaside establishments was particularly dense in key areas much
sought after as leisure retreats. It was precisely because of the numer-
ous villas dotting its coastline that Strabo described the crater delicatus,
the Bay of Naples, as one large continuous city.2 This intense building
activity was by no means limited to the Bay of Naples. Another popular
recreational destination for the elite during the Republic and Empire
was the Litus Laurentinum, a very convenient place to own a villa due to
its closeness to Rome. In the second century a.d., Pliny the Younger,
who owned a maritime villa in the area of Laurentum, described this
part of the coast in these words:
Litus ornant varietate gratissima nunc continua nunc intermissa tecta villarum, quae
praestant multarum urbium faciem, sive mari sive ipso litore utare.3
When ancient authors refer to coastal villas, it is usually to lament
their ostentatious luxury and the conspicuous consumption that took
place in them. The villa maritima appears as a symbol of extrava-
gance, even debauchery, in contrast to the villa rustica, which, with its
involvement in agriculture, is represented as an appropriate economic
enterprise for a member of the elite. In particular, this opposition is
organically conceptualized in Varro’s De Re Rustica. Ancient sources
do occasionally suggest that maritime villas could be good sources of

On the origin and diffusion of maritime villas see treatment in Lafon 2001, with
previous bibliography.
Strab. 5.4.8:  ’
  μ   μ   ,  μ ,
 ,  μ       μ!  " #$
% .
Pliny Ep. 2.17.27: “the villas, built either in group or apart, beautify with their
most pleasing variety the sea-front; from the sea or shore these look like a number
of cities.” In the stretch of coast between Castel Fusano and Capo Cotta, Lauro and
Claridge record fteen coastal villas. See Lauro 1998: 39 ff.
14 chapter one

revenue—by means of sheries, for example. But it must be noted that,

when a writer like Varro mentions the revenue from sheries, it is not
in the context of prots from the regular sale of sh on the market,
but of property values, as piscinae increase the resale value of a villa.
For instance, Varro reports that Hirrius was able to sell his villa for 4
million sesterces thanks to the “piscium multitudinem,”4 while Columella
gives the example of Lucullus’ piscinae, sold by Cato, his guardian, for
400 thousand sesterces.5 Although Varro almost reluctantly admits the
value of sheries, he stresses that they are really just an expensive and
extravagant display of luxuria, because “the maritime sheries of the
nobles are made to content the eyes rather than the purse, and they
empty out the owner’s pockets rather than lling them.”6 Cicero sup-
ports this view when he observes that many people were anxious to buy
agricultural estates ( fundi ) in the agro campano to support the expenses
(sumptus) of the “Cumanorum et Puteolanorum praediorum.”7
The tendency to see in maritime villas only a privileged place for
the display of wealth and the pursuit of otium prevailed for a long time
in modern scholarship as well. Only relatively recently has the trend
changed,8 and it is now recognized that maritime villas could have
taken part in various types of economic enterprise, complementing the
modes of production found at country villas.
It is worth asking, then, how coastal villas differ from their country
counterparts, and whether or not a specic typology for maritime villas
in different areas of Italy can be identied.
The picture that emerges, especially when comparing ancient sources
with archaeological data, is quite striking. Maritime villas were much
more complex than they might at rst appear. The economic possibili-
ties exploited in such establishments were more numerous than those
offered by country villas, ranging from sh-breeding and agriculture
to pottery and the quarrying of stone, to mention just a few. Coastal
estates combined their recreational amenities with the attractive prospect
of rewarding economic investments and ease of distribution of goods

Varro Rust. 3.17.3: “abundant sh”; see also Pliny NH 9.168, who species that
the villa was modest: Huius (i.e., C. Hirrius) villam infra quam modicam XL piscinae
Columella Rust. 8.16.5.
Varro Rust. 3.17.2: Illae autem maritimae piscinae nobilum [. . .] magis ad oculos pertinent,
quam ad vesicam, et potius marsippium domini exinaniunt, quam implent.
Cic. Leg. Agr. 2.78: “of the estates in Cumae and Puteoli”.
D’Arms 1977.

(i.e., shipping by sea). Philostratos, in describing the coastal property

of the sophist Damian, mentions harbor moles securing the anchorage
for the coming and going of merchant ships.9 The value of maritime
villas as economic enterprises as well as leisure retreats undoubtedly
increased their appeal, which helps to explain their proliferation along
the coasts of Italy and the provinces.

The Villa Maritima in Ancient Literary Sources

As X. Lafon has pointed out,10 the term villa maritima is problematic in

both usage and meaning. Some ancient sources and modern historians
use the term to refer, starting from the second century b.c., to all coastal
villas—regardless of their actual proximity to the shoreline—whose
common characteristic was luxury, as compared with the frugality of
villae rusticae. Other scholars, in particular archaeologists, feel the need
to be more precise, and apply the term villa maritima only to those
establishments built right on the waterfront, with attendant structures
focused in one way or another on the sea itself, such as piscinae, har-
bors, or pavilions. It is this denition that is followed, for example, by
F. Piccarreta, in the volume of Forma Italiae devoted to Astura:
Denisco marittime solo le ville dotate di apprestamenti a mare, costiere tutte le altre
comprese nella fascia litoranea, anche quando sono vicinissime al mare.11
Although this seems at rst a reasonable criterion in the construction
of categories and terminology about maritime villas, has the potential
to lead to some evident contradictions. For example, for those following
this rigid distinction, villas built on a coastline with high cliffs—in other
words, villas not making “physical” contact with the sea—would not
be considered maritime villas at all. From this point of view, then, a
villa such as the Villa Iovis on Capri would not fall into the category
of villae maritimae.12 This seems to me too rigid an application of the

Philostr. VS 2.23, cited in Purcell 1987: 192, n. 18.
Lafon 1981: 297 ff. See also Lafon 2001: 205 for an analysis of the use of the
adjective maritimus in ancient texts. As noted also by Gros 2001: 266, the expression
villa maritima appears only with Cornelius Nepos, but it does not occur in Cato, Cicero
or Varro.
Piccarreta 1977: 17, n. 48.
See Mingazzini and Pster 1946: 41: “La villa Iovis invece esula da questo tipo perché
situata troppo in alto per potersi considerare marittima”.
16 chapter one

principles of categorization, especially when we know that in Baiae

and other areas, in the same time period, there were villas built on
high cliffs and villas built right on the shoreline.13 In the following
pages, therefore, the term villa maritima will be used in a more exible
fashion, to refer to any villa located very near to the sea. I am using
the word “maritime” as interchangeable with “coastal.” As we will see,
the architectural typology of villas may vary according to their position
with respect to the shoreline, but there are no major differences in the
social function of villas located in coastal areas, whatever the distance
that separates them from the sea.
Literary sources do not offer as complete and detailed a record of
maritime villas through the ages as we would like; in their accounts
many aspects are taken for granted. Leaving aside passages dealing in
a straightforward way with the architecture of maritime villas, what
we nd in the sources is the “idea” of the coastal villa which was valid
for members of the upper class.
The association between maritime villas and the display of luxury
and wealth appears early in the sources, at about the same time as the
proliferation of the villas themselves. In particular, we nd moral con-
demnation of excessive display deviating from proper social behavior.
Valerius Maximus recounts an episode in which the censor Lucius Cas-
sius Longinus Ravilla issues a nota censoria against the augur M. Aemilius
Lepidus Porcina in 125 b.c., because his villa—located in the territory
of Alsium and so presumably maritime—“crimine nimis sublime extructae
villae in Alsiensi agro.”14 The interest of the censor in this matter shows
how excessive architectural display was felt to be “immoral” and could
be prosecuted as such. It also shows how maritime villas were part of the
elite struggle for personal prestige and political power: Porcina was an
old enemy of both Cassius Longinus and his colleague in the censorship,
Cn. Servilius Caepio.15 It has been suggested that the measure against
Porcina was prompted by the necessity of avoiding confusion between

Pliny Ep. 9.7, passage quoted in n. 29.
Val. Max. 8.1, Damn. 7: “(was prosecuted) on a charge of having erected a villa,
located in the territory of Alsium, too splendidly (or, more precisely, “to an improper
height”, as in Shackleton Bailey’s translation in the Loeb edition, 2000). According to
Vell. Pat. 2.10.1, Porcina was also punished for renting a house for 6000 sesterces.
In 137 b.c., Lepidus as consul opposed the ballot law proposed by the tribunus
plebis Cassius Ravilla (Broughton 1951, vol. I: 484).

forms used in private and religious architecture.16 In my opinion, it is

clear that Porcina was punished for trying to achieve too much power,
both socially and politically, by means of lavish architecture. This inci-
dent also shows the symbolic value of maritime villas, in the same way
that the houses of the elite in Rome had a strong symbolic value.17
The owner of a maritime villa could become the object of censure,
particularly when it was felt that the money spent on these private estates
ought instead to have been used for public building and to benet the
community. Such is Varro’s opinion of the rich villas of Lucullus and
Metellus, built pessimo publico;18 and the speech of Scipio Aemilianus
reported by Aulus Gellius,19 which refers to maritime villas as expolitis-
simae extructae, follows this same trend. Indeed, the contrast between
what, in the private sphere, is called luxuria, and in the public sphere,
magnicentia,20 is a recurring theme in Roman political and moralizing
writings in general.
The works of Cicero, and in particular his letters, offer precious infor-
mation on real estate, including maritime villas, owned by members of
the elite.21 The political rivalry in Rome between the aristocratic nobilitas
and the so-called homines novi expressed itself also in the geographical
location of coastal villas. Senators tended to have villas in the same
areas and, although information about landowners in the sources relates
mostly to prominent gures and their circles, it seems that there was a
tendency to try and exclude “lower” social groups (such as homines novi
and freedmen) from certain fashionable areas. De facto, people outside
the Roman nobility found ways of owning villas in “elite locations.”
Cicero tells us in a very interesting passage in the De Legibus that Lucius
Lucullus had a knight and a freedman for neighbors in Tusculum, a
vacation spot long favored by the nobilitas. In the context of stressing
the need for prominent men to set a good example for the whole of
society, Cicero recalls the case of Lucullus, rebuked for the luxury of
his villa in Tusculum. Although Lucullus replied that his neighbors had

Lafon 2001: 59: sanctuary built on terraces and maritime villas built on multiple
See Treggiari 1999.
Varro Rust. 1.13.7: villis pessimo publico aedicatis certent.
Gell. 2.20.4.
E.g., Cic. Mur. 76.
The fundamental study of villa owners in the Bay of Naples is D’Arms 1970.
For studies of senatorial real estate in general, see Shatzman 1975 and Andermahr
18 chapter one

luxurious villas too, and that he thought he ought to have the same
privileges as members of the lower orders, Cicero held him responsible
in any case, for it was Lucullus’ example that stirred up the others’
desire for luxury.22 This passage points to another condition rendering
grand architecture and luxurious villas morally reprehensible: the social
status of the owner. In fact, in this case, the attacks on ostentatious
building reect anxieties about the disruption of the established social
In the same way that Tusculum was the location par excellence for
the nobiles in the countryside, on the coast Cumae was “reserved” for
the elite. Owning a villa there in the rst century b.c. was an index of
social status; Cicero, for example, saw his villa at Cumae as giving him
greater dignitas.24 The desire to own a villa in a specic place as a status
symbol could result in overcrowding, as well as in heavy social obliga-
tions, making the ideal of a quiet retreat and relaxation impossible. It
is again Cicero who offers testimony in this direction. In another letter
to Atticus, he denes Cumae as a pusilla Roma, a little Rome, and his
villa as a domus,25 while in Formiae he claims to possess a basilica, not
a villa, judging by all the people who crowd into his mansion.26 Social
interactions between members of the elite and their peers, friends, and
clientes took place in maritime villas more or less regularly, depending
on the villa-density in the area and the vicinity of towns. Dinner invi-
tations were exchanged, political meetings convened, and invitations
for a holiday sojourn extended to friends. Atticus’ wife and daughter
spent their holidays at Cicero’s villa in Cumae, and Cicero also invited
Brutus there, although he declined the invitation.27 Prominent gures

Cic. Leg. 3.13.30: L. Lucullus, ferebatur, quasi commodissime respondisset, cum esset obiecta
magnicentia villae Tusculanae, duo se habere vicinos, superiorem equitem Romanum, inferiorem
libertinum; quorum cum essent magnicae villae, concedi sibi oportere, quod iis, qui inferiosis ordinis
essent, liceret. Non vides, Luculle, a te id ipsum natum, ut illi cuperent? On the “political” func-
tion of Lucullus’ villa, see also Cic. Sest. 93.
See Edwards 1993, Chapter 4. The animosity towards the rich and powerful freed-
men of Claudius and their luxurious buildings is notorious. For instance, the building
activity of Posides, one of Claudius’ favored freedmen (Suet. Claud. 28), becomes in
passing a target for Juvenal (14.91). See also Pliny NH 31.2.
Cic. Att. 1.13.
Cic. Att. 5.2.2. A different picture of Cumae is given by Juvenal (3.2–3), who
describes the area as “deserted” (vacuis (. . .) Cumis (. . .) unum civem donare Sibyllae).
The same kinds of considerations led Pliny to prefer his villa in Tuscis to those
in Tusculum, Tibur, and Praeneste, because there: nulla necessitas togae; nemo arcessitor ex
prossimo; placida omnia et quiescentia (Ep. 5.6).
Cic. Att. 12.36.

had not only a number of villas and deversoria where they could stop
for the night during their frequent travels, but also a network of friends
whose hospitality they could count on.28
If we proceed to analyze the literary sources of the Empire which
refer to maritime villas, we see that they place particular emphasis on
the dominant feature of such establishments: the enjoyment of pan-
oramic views of the sea and coastline. Since this aspect is emphasized,
it is not surprising that in several instances we nd an equation between
maritime villas and villas built on the shores of lakes or rivers: both
have as focal point their relationship with water. Pliny the Younger does
not hesitate to equate the villas he is building on the shores of Lake
Como with his friend Romanus’ maritime villas, or to explain their
architectural typology as following that of the maritime villas in Baiae.29
Nor was Pliny the only writer to make this kind of comparison. Seneca
proposed the same equation in one of his letters to Lucilius, and the
poet Martial considered the villas of the Alban hills to be “maritime”
because of the view they had of the lake.30
But there is no systematic reference in the sources to maritime villas
as a place for possible economic enterprises,31 comparable to what is
detailed for the rural villa. This feature is constant from the Republic
to the Empire. In Cicero’s writings, despite the frequency with which he
mentions his own or his friends’ maritime villas, there is no mention of
the involvement of their properties in any economic activity producing
revenue for the owner. Considering Cicero’s connections with freedmen
in Puteoli, one can infer complex commercial transactions that must
also have involved maritime properties—villas were part of fundi—but
this is never openly stated. Even though Varro includes pisciculture in
the pastio villatica, and Columella dedicates several paragraphs to the
proper construction of piscinae, nevertheless the focus of their work
remains the countryside and agriculture, as evidenced by the title of
their works. Varro and Columella might more or less reluctantly admit
the commercial value of sh-breeding, but for them the villa maritima
remains primarily a display of luxury compared to the productivity

See Cic. Att. 7.5.3, concerning the hospitality he expects to receive in the villas
of various friends during his travels. See also Chevallier 1988.
Pliny Ep. 9.7: nam hoc quoque no dissimile, quod ad mare tu, ego ad Larium lacum (aedico
villas); Altera (villa) imposita saxis, more baiano, lacum prospicit; altera, aeque more baiano, lacum
Sen. Ep. 89.21; Mart. 5.1.
On this subject see Chapter 2.
20 chapter one

of the villa rustica. In fact, the examples of productive pastio villatica

in maritime villas discussed by Varro are not presented as typical of
maritime villas, but rather as exceptions to the rule of such estates’
It must be mentioned that Columella, listing the potentially good
sites for a villa at the beginning of his treatise, does consider a villa
built by the sea, specifying that it should be located on a high cliff and
not on the beach.33 The letters of Pliny the Younger contain references
to economic aspects of his rural properties, but the letter devoted to
his Laurentinum,34 while it mentions g trees, mulberry trees, and milk
production on the property, does not really convey the idea that these
were economic enterprises; rather, it implies that these products were
intended for consumption in the villa.35 A much later testimony, the
mention and description in Rutilius Namatianus’ De Reditu Suo of the
salterns annexed to Albinius’ villa at Vada Volterrana,36 is less ambigu-
ous, especially given its context in a celebratory poem. The salt yielded
by these salterns was clearly not intended for the villa itself.
The reasons for downplaying the “economy” of maritime villas
appear to be mainly ideological. The aristocratic idea that “proper”
wealth came from land and agriculture led to a belief in the superiority
of the villa rustica as an economic model. In particular, it is the ideal
model of the villa in Sabina—a region renowned for its fertility—that
can be traced in the sources from Cato onward.
Reality was quite different from the ideal. The famous lex Claudia of
218 b.c., for example, which limits the extent to which senators can be
involved in sea-trade, presupposes their already-regular involvement in
it.37 Some of the senatorial properties of this time, from which the trade

Two cases: the villa on the beach near Ostia owned by the homo novus M. Seius,
where wild boars, pigeons, bees, peacocks, etc. were raised, that the character of the
Varronian dialogue Appius Pulcher wants to buy because of its protability, and that
of M. Puppius Piso Frugi on the island of Planasia (Pianosa) (Varro Rust. 3.6.2). The
case of Seius is discussed further in Chapter 3.
Columella Rust. 1.5: eademque semper mare recte conspicit cum pulsatur ac uctu respergitur;
numquam ex ripa.
Pliny Ep. 2.17.
At Ep. 4.6, Pliny refers to the Laurentinum as the only property that gives him
revenues, but he is referring to his intellectual production. On the unproductiveness of
the ager Laurentinus as a literary topos, see Purcell 1998: 18 ff.
Rut. Namat. 1.475. The description of the salterns echoes Vitr. De Arch. 8.3.10
(see the commentary on De Reditu by E. Castorina, Firenze 1967).
The Lex, proposed by the tribune Q. Claudius and supported by the senator
C. Flaminius, prohibited senators and their sons from owning ships with sea-going
capacity and a cargo space above 300 amphorae.

goods came, were very probably fundi maritimi,38 and the early appear-
ance of maritime villas on the coasts of Terracina and Sperlonga may
be connected to the exploitation of coastal fundi for the production of
wine (caecubum).39 Still, this is not the aspect of coastal villas that pre-
vails in the sources. Instead, the maritime villa acquired an ideological
dimension of quite a different sort.
By the rst century a.d., when a good part of the Italian coast had
a complex and developed “architectural maritime façade”,40 the villa
maritima had become a metaphor for human control over nature and
a symbol of civilization in the natural landscape. If architecture can,
as a general proposition, signify power in different ways,41 coastal villas
went beyond the public proclamation of the owner’s status. Take, for
instance, Statius’ poem celebrating Pollius’ maritime villa in Surrentum.
The poet chose to celebrate Pollius by praising his villa, to the point that
the owner, who built the villa, appears rst as a tamer of nature, then
as its creator.42 Purcell has identied three stereotyped ways in which
the “powerful” expressed control over nature by altering the landscape.43
The rst is to tamper with the sea: from the construction of harbors
and pontoon bridges44 to promenade platforms right on the water and
dining rooms, such as the one described by Pliny,45 exposed to salt
spray. The second is to control rivers, creating canals and waterfalls; in
domestic architecture, the garden is where these types of displays were
typically set.46 The third is to create articial altitude. Into this category

See Cic. Verr. 2.5.46: Ne illud quidem quisquam poterat suspicari, te in Italia maritimum
habere fundum et ad fructus deportandos onerariam navem comparare, where a direct connection
is implied between the possession of a cargo ship and fundi maritimi.
Lafon 1981; 1991.
Term used by Ducellier in his study on coastal architecture in medieval Albania.
A. Ducellier, La façade maritime de l’Albanie au Moyen Age: Durazzo et Valona du XI e au XV e
siècle, Thessaloniki 1981.
Drerup 1966.
Stat. Silv. 2.2, in particular ll. 54 ff. On this poem and the metaphorical signicance
of villa-celebration, see also Bergmann 1991.
Purcell 1987: 191 ff.
Caligula built such a bridge in the Bay of Naples (Baiae-Puteoli). See Suet.
Calig. 19.
Pliny Ep. 2.17.5. See also Hor. Odes 2.18.20, 3.1.33 ff. and commentary by Nisbet
and Hubbard 1978: 288 ff. on the denouncement of extravagance in building as a
literary topos.
This medium as an expression of power was not peculiar only to the Roman
world, but can be clearly traced through the ages. A beautiful example of the creation
of ponds and waterfalls as a display of power comes to my mind from a much later
age: the waterfalls and fountains of the magnicent Reggia di Caserta, the “hunting
22 chapter one

fall all those architectural features that constitute the open-front villa
maritima type—the piling up of loose material to make articial banks,
the sculpting of hillsides to suit the proprietors’ purposes, the creation
of newly level surfaces or terraces through the construction of masonry
substructures, and so on.
Villas in general were also equated with cities on a symbolic level.
There is a recurrent comparison in Latin texts between villas and
cities; it appears in different literary genres and in different periods,
and it can have either positive or negative connotations. Sallust, for
example, mentions houses and villas built up like cities as a sign of
moral corruption.47 In Statius, on the contrary, the comparison is purely
eulogistic. Regardless of the authors’ own agendas, the fact that this
equation appears constantly in Latin texts is signicant. In my opinion,
this comparison not only celebrates implicitly the owner’s vast wealth,
but also suggests the idea of control over space. The city has always
represented civilization and the imposition of order over the wildness
of nature. In fact, the very process of founding a city and laying down
its grid requires the application of human rationalism and normaliza-
tion to the variety of the natural landscape. If we turn to examine the
physical layout of villas, we nd that it very often resembled that of
cities, on a smaller scale. Not only were villas “crowned by monumental
structures and towers rising high above ground or fronting (. . .) the sea
in the manner of a Hellenistic harbor town”,48 but they would include
typically urban buildings such as baths and small temples. In one case,
the plan of a villa complex is oriented according to the cardinal points
indicated by Vitruvius in his theory of the correct foundation of a
city.49 In other cases, villas even imitated on purpose city walls and
monumental city gates. The remains of several villas in the territory
of Cosa present miniature turrets along the walls that enclose the gar-

house” of the Bourbon king of Naples, built by the architect Vanvitelli. In order to
guarantee the water supply needed, many infrastructure works were realized, including
the famous Ponte della Valle, inspired from Roman engineering design. The gardens
of the Reggia were, indeed, an affront to the town, which constantly experienced dif-
culties with the water supply.
Sall. Cat. 12.3.
Purcell 1987: 197.
The villa of Torre Gianola (Catalogue: L111), near Formia. For the observation
that the complex layout followed Vitruvius’ instructions for the orientation of a city,
see Ciccone 1990: 6–8.

dens.50 These turrets have no clear defensive function;51 their purpose

is to evoke the appearance of city walls through scenography, playing
with the equation villa-city. Similarly, it is interesting to note that the
series of towers that defended the city of Cosa itself were concentrated
on the sea-side only, indicating that their main function was to serve
as a deterrent and at the same time to be seen from the sea. The
towers’ strategic purpose was clearly secondary, since only one side of
the town was protected. The intentional “replication” of the city wall
of Cosa in the wall with turrets at Le Colonne, one of the villas of
the Ager Cosanus with this kind of retaining wall, has been noted by
S. Dyson.52 Particularly suggestive in this context is his hypothesis that
a collapsed arched-way discovered during excavation of Le Colonne
replicated the city gate of Cosa. In this same context I would interpret
mosaics found in villas (usually rural villas) depicting city-walls, such
as the ones discovered in the villa at Castel di Guido and the villa of
Livia at Prima Porta, as underlining the symbiosis between villas and
cities.53 (Figure 1)
The monumental architecture of maritime villas built on multiple
terraces and levels, articulated by porticoes and pavilions, presented an
impressive view for anybody navigating along the coast. The complex
architecture of many maritime villas was clearly intended to be viewed
as a landmark from the sea. In the case of villas that could be accessed
only from the sea, like the ones built on islands, the importance of the
sea-view is obvious. In some cases, the main entrance to a villa was
on the ocean-facing side, for someone arriving by water, rather than
on the inland side facing the street that provided access to the villa by

Settenestre, La Provinca (sic!) and Le Colonne (T1, T2, and T3); Quilici and
Quilici Gigli 1978. See also Dyson 2002 for the villa Le Colonne.
Indeed, the turrets are solid and not accessible, despite having windows.
Dyson 2002: 213.
See also the threshold of the tablinum of the Roman villa at Villa S. Rocco,
Francolise (Cotton and Metraux 1985: 105–107) and the mosaic fragment recorded
recently at the villa Astura-Le Grottacce (Catalogue L20) in Attema, de Haas and
Nijboer 2003: 131. Examples are also known in urban contexts, such as Pompeii, ins.
VIII.3.8 or the Domus B in Priverno (Righi 1983). This iconography is not limited to
Italy: many examples are known from North Africa. One such mosaic depicts a villa
with corner towers (the castellum of Nador, on which see L. Anselmino et al., Il castel-
lum del Nador. Storia di una fattoria tra Tipasa e Caesarea (I–VI sec. d.C.), Roma 1989). It is
worth mentioning here that large courtyard, fortied villas with towers were in use
both in Sicily and North Africa as early as the late third century b.c., and that Roman
authors refer to Punic farms as turres or castella (App. Pun. 101 and 117). On this see
Fentress 2001: 257–260.
24 chapter one

Figure 1. Prima Porta, Villa “Ad Gallinas Albas”, drawing showing a detail of
the mosaic from the atrium (A. Wilkins).

land, thus indicating that the sea-side view of the villa complex was the
privileged one. Such an arrangement occurs at Villa Plinio at Castel
Fusano, in spite of the presence of the Via Severiana.
Considering that scholars generally admit a correlation between the
widespread proliferation of maritime villas and the disappearance (or at
least the considerable reduction) of the threat represented by piracy,54
one could postulate that the image of a coastline dotted with villas came
to evoke the idea of security, of safety on the water, and, ultimately, of
the control imposed by the Roman state upon land and sea.
The menace represented by pirates was, indeed, felt to be a very
serious problem in Rome, leading to the lex Gabinia of 67 b.c. In that
year Ostia itself had been attacked by pirates, who destroyed the
Roman eet there and took control of the city for several days.55 The
pacication of the sea, therefore, had an important place in the politi-
cal propaganda of the prominent gures of the late Republic. Pompey
strongly emphasized his success in freeing the sea from piracy, listing it

Lafon 1981: 299; Purcell 1998: 11.
Cic., De imp. Cn. Pompei 33; on pirate attacks, P. De Souza, Piracy in the Graeco-Roman
World. Cambridge 1999: 133–145.

among his military deeds when he celebrated his triumph in 61 b.c.56

Some years later, Octavian celebrated the general pacication of the
sea after the struggles against the “pirate” Sextus Pompeius, son of
Pompey, and against Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra.57
Cicero stresses the disadvantages of maritime cities, which are danger-
ously exposed to surprise attacks from the sea, contrasting their cupiditas
mercandi et navigandi with the cultus agrorum et armorum of rural centers.58
His intention is to exalt the unique situation of Rome—which, as a
river-city, possesses all the advantages of a maritime center (i.e., ease
of shipment of goods) and none of the disadvantages—but in this
comparison we can nonetheless detect the sense of danger associated
with the coastline and the idealization of the country as “safe”.
In antiquity, the upper class had a high level of physical mobility.
Members of the Roman elite traveled often from one estate to another,
and, whenever it was possible and convenient, they traveled by sea. In
my opinion, literary descriptions59 and painted views of maritime villas
allude to and stress the importance of the sea’s safety with regard to
villas by always taking the sea as the viewer’s point of observation. If
to this we add the fact that military support, during the turbulent years
of the Civil Wars, could also come from coastal estates, as evidenced
by the case of L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, the role of the villa maritima
I am proposing as a “metaphor of power” in the collective memory
of the elite becomes clearer. Caesar reports in the De Bello Civili that in
49 b.c., Domitius, assigned as proconsul to Cisalpine Gaul, raised an
army of slaves, freedmen, and tenants (or farmers) from his properties

Diodorus (60.4) reports the text of an inscription set up by Pompey to celebrate
his own deeds: “Pompey the Great, the son of Cnaeus, imperator, freed all the shores
of the oicumene and all the islands in the Okeanos from the war against pirates [. . .]”.
The praefatio that was displayed during Pompey’s triumph is reported by Pliny (NH
7.98): Hoc est breviarum eius ab oriente, triumphi vero quem duxit a. d. III Kal. Oct. M. Pisone
M. Messala coss. Praefatio haec fuit: cum oram maritimam praedonibus liberasset et imperium
maris populo Romano restituisset. Finally, see also CIL I.2500, a bilingual inscription from
Delos reproducing the Lex Gabinia de insula Deli, the introduction of which mentions
the pirates who for many years had devastated the world ( predones quei orbem terrarum
complureis annos vastarint) and the pacication of the sea by Pompey (re publica pulcerrume
administrata imperio amplicato pace per orbem terrarum confecta).
As Purcell 1998: 17 justly pointed out, Octavian and Agrippa were able to defeat
Sextus rst by taking control of the coasts of Latium and Campania and then by
occupying the Lucrino Lake, Misenum, and many coastal villas.
Cic. Rep. 2.7–10: “the immoderate desire for trading and sailing” versus “the
pursuit of agriculture and arms”.
For example Stat. Silv. 2.2, who describes Pollius’ villa as seen approaching from
the sea.
26 chapter one

in the area of Cosa and Giglio Island for the purpose of seizing Mas-
silia.60 On the basis of this passage and the mention, in the Itinerarium
Maritimum, of a Domitiana positio, it has been proposed that, in addition
to the one on Giglio Island, the various villas that stood on the Argen-
tario Peninsula, together with the one on Giannutri Island (for a total
of ve villas), belonged to the Domitii Ahenobarbi.61 The status of the
preservation of these archaeological remains and the information we
have about each site is very uneven. Nonetheless, it seems certain that
these villas present building phases ranging from the mid-rst century
b.c. to the second century a.d.,62 and that from the rst phase presented
an “open-front” maritime façade, marked by terraces, substructures,
and colonnades, easily visible to someone approaching from the sea. It
is important to remember that both Giglio Island and the Argentario
Peninsula were on the sea route from Italy to Sardinia and Africa (and
vice versa) up until the fth century a.d., as shown by shipwrecks,63 as
well as along the commercial route to Gaul, for which a great deal of
wine, in particular, was destined in the late second and rst centuries
b.c. Furthermore, in this specic case, the villas on Giglio and Giannu-
tri were within sight of each other.64 If the villa at Porto Ercole also
belonged to the same proprietors, thus enclosing that inner stretch of
sea in an imaginary triangle, it is possible that this fact gave the owner
of the villas special rights on that part of the sea.65 Overall, a maritime

Caes. BCiv. 1.34: profectum item Domitium ad occupandam Massiliam navibus actuaris
septem, quas Igilii et in Cosano a privatis coactas servis, libertis, colonis suis compleverat; see also
Caes. BCiv. 1.56.3: Certs sibi deposcit naves Domitius atque has colonis pastoribusque quos secum
adduxerat complet. For a discussion whether to interpret the term colonus in these passages
as tenants or farmers see De Neeve 1984, Appendix I.
See Manacorda 1980. For the villas, see Catalogue: T19; T20; T29; T30; T31.
Aubert 1994: 127 hints that L. Domitius must have owned hundreds of thousands
of iugera, since he plausibly promised to give 40 iugera to each of about thirty cohorts
(Caes. BCiv. 1.17.3). More likely he was expecting to take this land out of the proper-
ties conscated from his enemies in the event of success in the war.
Against a Republican date for the villa at S. Liberata on the Argentario Penin-
sula, see Lafon 2001: 60, who supports his argument with architectural typology and
the dating of materials found in archeological surveys (the oldest being from the time
of Nero).
Martelli 1982.
There were also lighthouses atop the villas on both islands. Horden and Purcell
2000: 125–126 for coastal villas as symbol of a tamed sea.
This was suggested to me by Prof. R. Brilliant. We know that in the case of a
piscina built along the shore, its owner acquired property rights to that sea-enclosure
and, it seems, some shing rights in the waters around the piscina. Roman law in
general considered the sea and the shore to be res nullius (common to all people; Dig.
1.8.21: et quidem narurali iure omnium communia sunt illa: aer, aqua prouens et mare, et per
hoc litora maris). The ius piscandi derived from the status of the sea as res nullius, and

villa displaying grand architecture could convey, in the codied language

of the elite, several messages:
(1) The power of the owner, who was able to maintain and defend
such an estate. If scholars are correct in assuming that the territory
of Cosa and the Argentario Peninsula, which had been actively
involved in the ghting of the Civil Wars, had been sacked by
pirates, the villas of the Domitii in the area must have been an
even more powerful sign of control over that territory.
(2) Military power, especially in the tumultuous years of the Late
Republic. I have already quoted the example of Domitius Aheno-
barbus. Cicero makes the point even more clear in talking about
the fundus owned by Clodius:
Ante fundum Clodii, quo in fundo propter insanas illas substructiones facile hominum
mille versabatur valentium edito adversarii atque excelso loco superiorem se fore putarat
Milo, et ob eam rem eum locum ad pugnam potissimus elegerat?.66
(3) The civilizing power of the owner, as in the case of Pollio in Statius’
Villa owners consciously played with this equation, to the point of stag-
ing myths with related meaning. Hortensius, for instance, held banquets
in a park he had on his estate, which was populated with wild beasts.
The guests were entertained by a singer dressed as Orpheus, thus evok-
ing his taming power over wild nature. This concept is connected, in my
opinion, to the idea of the maritime villa as symbol of the pacication
of the world by the Roman state. Monumental maritime villas were built
not only for the enjoyment of the panoramic views they offered, but
also to be viewed, which explains why in paintings villas are always seen
from the sea.67 (Figure 2) I believe that the many painted views depict-
ing maritime villas in private houses, starting in the rst century a.d.,

included also the right to dry, store, and repair nets, to construct shelters, and, by
extension, to establish and operate a saltern (Curtis 1991: 149–50). But according to
the Digest (, pilings built in the sea were considered res privatae as long as
they did not obstruct rivers and harbors, which were considered res publicae. On this,
see Higginbotham 1997: 59.
Cic. Mil. 20.53: “in front of Clodius’ estate, that estate in which, because of
those absurd substructures there were easily a thousand strong men, on that high and
raised ground belonging to his adversary did Milo think that he would prevail and had
he with that view chosen that spot for the battle above all others?.” This was a rural
estate, not maritime. To stress Clodius’ hubris Cicero also claims that the substructures
of his villa, extending to the Albano Lake, violated the sacred altars and cults of Alba
Longa (31.85).
As Lafon 2001: 218.
chapter one

Figure 2. Fresco depicting a maritime villa. From Pompeii, House of M. Lucretius Fronto, now in Naples National Museum
(Fototeca Unione- AAR).

signied a pacied world by means of the representation of a particu-

larly humanized landscape. I consider these landscape paintings as the
domestic counterpart of geographical maps displayed in public spaces,
such as the map of Agrippa in the Porticus Vipsania,68 indicating the
control of the Roman Empire over the world.
Sources seem to indicate that the self-celebration of a proprietor by
means of his maritime villa could reach even the “divine realm.” In
Varro’s account, Licinius Lucullus seems to have been “competing”
with Neptune himself, by creating in his shponds a maritime environ-
ment under his control. When engineering works at his villa on the
small island of Nisida allowed constant fresh sea-water in the ponds,
Lucullus did not need anymore to “yield to Neptune in the matter
of shing.”69 If we take into account the celebratory and ideological
practices of the Roman elite and their identication with divinities,
which has a long history in Roman society,70 then the twelve villas on
Capri named by Tiberius after the Olympian gods regain their power-
ful symbolic meaning. It may be possible that this ideological dimen-
sion of villa-estates was also in part the result of the construction, in
some cases, of villas on spots previously occupied by sanctuaries.71 A
correlation between the monumental architecture of sanctuaries and
private architecture, particularly that of villas, is generally admitted in

In the Roman world, the use of the metaphor of control over nature to signify
power was connected to an interest in geography. The ability to produce precise maps
has always been, in different ages and societies, a sign of the power of an empire (cf.
the British Colonial Empire and the National Geographic Society). In Rome, the public
display of maps and representations of other countries was always related to the idea
of military victories and triumphs. Consider the case of Ti. Sempronius Gracchus, who
placed a map of Sardinia in the temple of Mater Matuta in 174 b.c. on the occasion
of his second triumph. On geography and politics, see Nicolet 1988.
Varro Rust. 3.17.9: L. Lucullum, posteaquam perfodisset montem ac maritumum umen
immisisset in piscinas (. . .) Neptuno non cedere de piscatu. In a previous section (3.17.2), Varro
made a distinction between fresh-water ponds, found among “the common folk” (apud
plebem) and sea-water ones, owned by the nobility, for which “only Neptune can furnish
the sh as well as the water”.
Just two of the many possible examples: Augustus impersonating Apollo (see also
the famous dinner he organized with the guests impersonating the twelve Olympian
gods, Suet. Aug. 70) and his opponent Marcus Antonius impersonating Dionysus.
The villa at Punta della Vipera, villa “della Standa,” etc.; see discussion infra: 45
and Catalogue: L182; L104). Under the Empire, the illegal occupation of sacred soil
and luci seemed to have been quite common in Italy, due to the profusion of land-
holders, as stated by Agennius Urbicus, De Controv. Agr. 47 Th.: in Italiam autem densitas
possessorum multum improbe facit, et lucos sacros occupant, quorum solum indubitate P. R. est, etiam
si in nibus coloniarum aut municipiorum (quoted by Lo Cascio 2003: 1).
30 chapter one

modern studies.72 While the monumentalizing of sanctuaries, especially

in Latium, is very often attributed to local aristocracies, monumental
maritime villas tend always to be linked to Roman elite owners. In my
opinion, we should also seriously consider local ownership of maritime
villas, at least in areas where local elites enjoyed economic prosperity.73
The construction, for instance, of numerous coastal villas in the area
of Fundi is connected by Lafon to the intensication of viticulture
and the commercialization of the Fundanum wine by local proprietors.
This area shows signs of considerable capital investment in land works
aimed at improving agricultural production. In the area of Pantanello,
for example, some 6500 Dressel 1 amphorae, laid head-to-toe, were
employed in a remarkable drainage system of the plain. In the case
of Cosa and the surrounding territory, where the well known villa of
Settenestre has been connected to the senatorial family of the Sestii,
some of the other villas should perhaps be related to members of the
municipal elite of that town, since their involvement in commercial
ventures in that territory is well-attested, as in the case of the Pacuvii
or Gavii, owners of glinae.74 Maritime villas gave an opportunity to
assert one’s power against rivals, and this “language”, far from being
exclusive to the senators of Rome, was mastered by locals elites as
well. Since the best, most dominant positions—from the topographic
point of view—were limited, competition expressed itself through
engagement, in the most spectacular ways, with the liquid element, as
in Lucullus’ case.75
However, the creator and owner of a maritime villa walked a ne
line. The civilizing “power” of the villa-owner could easily degenerate,
becoming morally questionable. Philosophers and moralists attacked the
re-creation of nature as an unnatural and immoral practice. Already in
Augustan times, we nd Papirius Fabianus censuring luxurious landown-
ers who “copy even mountains and forests in their damp houses, and
in the sunless smog green places, coastlines, and streams.”76 In other
sources we nd that when technology achieved anything in deance of
the laws of nature, it suggested tyrannical behavior. Velleius Paterculus

Coarelli 1983a.
For a reference to municipales and their villas see Cic. ad Att. 8.13.2, despairingly
remarking that they care only about their properties and money (nihil prorsus aliud curant
nisi agros, nisi villulas, nisi nummulos suos).
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 148.
Lafon 2001: 217.
Apud Sen. Controv. 2.1.3.

reports that Pompey called Lucullus “Xerxes in a toga” for his daring
building projects on the Bay of Naples,77 equaling in hubris the deeds
of the Persian king.
Within the ideological realm of villas, special mention must be made
of maritime villas on islands, used in particular by the Julio-Claudian
emperors as places of internment. Augustus conned various members
of his family to islands, most notably Agrippa Postumus and the two
Iulias (Augustus’ daughter and granddaughter). Suetonius, when refer-
ring to these events, does not explicitly say that they were conned in
villa or in praediis. The harshness of the penalty is evoked just by saying
that someone was sent to the “island.”78 On the other hand, archaeol-
ogy has revealed the remains of villas on islands that had most likely
already become Imperial property in the time of Augustus, such as
Ponza (Pontia), Ventotene (Pandataria), and Pianosa (Planasia). These
villas are as elegant and luxurious as any on the mainland, equipped
with ponds for sh-breeding, baths, and panoramic views. Thus, conne-
ment implied neither a lower standard of dwelling nor the renunciation
of comforts like baths and sophisticated food (although we are told
that Iulia was forbidden to have wine), but rather a complete curtail-
ment of one’s social life. Visits were not regularly permitted, and the
island location was sought specically because it allowed for complete
control over anyone who might approach. Therefore, it is not the villa
as architectural form that is equated with the idea of connement,
but the geographic isolation of the island. It is ironic that the “villa,”
emblematic of a network of social relations, economic investments,
and the assertion of one’s status in society, in this case had none of
these characteristics, being quite the opposite: a symbol of complete
retirement from the public scene. Undoubtedly, in insula expressed this
idea of isolation more poignantly than in villa.
It is necessary to mention one last aspect of coastal villas—indeed,
of all villas—as represented in the sources, namely that the villa and its
estate were “places of memory.” An estate often housed the monumen-
tal tombs or mausolea of family members of the owner or past owners,

Vell. Pat. 2.33.4: Lucullus (. . .) quem ob iniectas moles mari et receptum suffossis montibus
in terras mare haud infacete Magnus Pompeius Xerxen togatum vocare adsueverat; see also Plut.
Luc. 39.3, who attributes these words to Tubero the Stoic.
For instance Suet. Aug. 65 about the transfer of Agrippa Postumus from Sur-
rentum: Agrippam (. . .) in insulam transportavit saepsitque insuper custodia militum; and about
Iulia transferred on the mainland: ex insula in continentem lenioribusque paulo condicionibus
transtulit eam.
32 chapter one

chosen as the best place to preserve the memory of the deceased.

Cicero’s well-known desire to build a shrine to Tullia in Astura is just
one of many examples. Of course, changes in ownership and neglect
on the part of those in charge of building and maintaining a tomb
could jeopardize the successful execution of such a choice, as shown in
the well known example of Verginius Rufus’ tomb in his former villa at
Alsium, still unnished ten years after his death, as we learn from one
of Pliny the Younger’s letters.79 The topographic connection between
villas and monumental tombs became even stronger during the second
and third centuries a.d. During this period, sentimentalism appears
more outspoken in the commemoration of the deceased, even in epi-
taphs put up by masters for deceased slaves.80 The creation of complex
“commemorative and sacred landscapes” in memory of the wife Anna
Regilla and other deceased family members by Herodes Atticus in
his estates around Rome and in Greece has been recently analyzed.81
This closer interacting with the cult of the dead and changed spiritual
attitudes towards the idea of death culminates in the fourth and fth
centuries a.d., when tombs and mausolea are physically integrated into
the villa-building.82
Since villas could preserve memory, it is no surprise that in seeking
to destroy someone’s “social memory,” villas could be targeted, too.
Augustus ordered the complete demolition of a rich and elegant villa
built by his granddaughter, Iulia.83 As has been suggested,84 this drastic
decision must have been related to the disgrace that fell upon Iulia
and the intention to remove her from the social scene and collective

Pliny Ep. 6.10: Libuit etiam monimentum eius (i.e., Vergini) vedere, et vidisse paenuit. Est
enim adhuc imperfectum, nec difcultas operis in causa, modici ac potius exigui, sed inertia eius cui
cura mandata est. For a treatment of villas and monumental tombs, see the volume on
villa gardens edited by MacDougall (MacDougall 1988) and Bodel 1997.
See for instance CIL VI.16913, cited by J. Griesbach, “Villa e mausoleo: muta-
menti nel concetto della memoria nel suburbio romano”, in Santillo Frizell and Klynne
2005: 113–123, p. 118. On the topic of monumental tombs in suburban estates see also
L. Chiof, “Sepulchra in extremis nibus . . . etiam in mediis possessionibus sepulchra
faciunt” in that same volume: 125–133.
Galli 2002.
See Griensbach, quoted at footnote 80 and also discussion in Chapter 8.
When Cicero was exiled, not only was his domus in Rome destroyed, but also parts
of his villas in Tusculum and Formiae.
Bodel 1997: 10.

memory, rather than to the mere dislike Augustus had for luxury, as
stated by Suetonius.85
As we will see in Chapter 3, the ideological dimension occupied
by rural estates is totally centered on the idea of productivity. In the
next chapter maritime villas will be presented as centers of production
perhaps in a more diversied way than country villas, but in this case
the constructed “idea” of the maritime villa that we derived from the
literary sources does not talk of production, but of architectural display
and modication of the natural landscape. Also the painted views of
coastal villas, which I mentioned earlier, do not realistically capture the
“economy” of villas, by depicting, for instance, shponds,86 but focus on
architecturally elaborated sea-fronts, meant to be seen and to bespeak
the power of the owner.

The Archaeological Evidence

Although the archaeological evidence regarding coastal villas is frag-

mentary, one can attempt to draw general conclusions. It is possible
to get a general idea of the distribution of coastal villas, as well as
their architectural typology and chronology. The highest concentra-
tion of coastal villas can be seen in the portion of coastline between
Formiae and Monte Argentario. North of the Argentario Peninsula,
the number of maritime villas is lower, at least according to the cur-
rent available evidence. The chronology regarding the occupation of
these sites cannot always be determined with certainty, but the general
trend that appears is one of uninterrupted use of the mansions until
late Imperial times.87 In terms of architectural typology, coastal villas
do not differ substantially from country villas; both usually make use
of a basis villae, an articial platform upon which the villa’s structures

Suet. Aug. 72: Ampla et operosa praetoria gravabatur. Et neptis quidam suae Iuliae, profuse
ab ea extructa, etiam diruit ad solum.
Possibly, a mosaic emblema depicting a maritime villa, found in the villa of the
Cecchignola in the suburbium of Rome and currently in the Museo Archeologico of
Venice, depicts also a shpond, although it is difcult to work out the details of the
representation. For a photo of the mosaic see De Franceschini 2005: 243.
The question of the chronology of villas will be examined in more detail in
Chapter 8.
34 chapter one

rest. The most striking element that emerges when looking at a large
sample of archaeological evidence pertaining to maritime villas is the
constant presence of “production-quarters,” either partes rusticae for the
processing of agricultural products, or potteries ( glinae) and other types
of commercial activities, as we will see in detail in the following chapter.
This aspect of “productivity” is at odds with the Roman ideological
constructions about coastal villas delineated above. In the following
section I shall offer an outline of recurrent architectural features of
maritime villa sites, before passing on to the analysis of maritime villas
as economic enterprises.

Architectural Typology
It is not my intention to offer an exhaustive and detailed study of
villa architecture, for which a vast bibliography exists.88 Rather, I am
offering a synthetic overview of the salient architectural features of
maritime villas.
The traditional typology of Italian villas is divided into two broad
groups: the courtyard-villa and the portico-villa. If we focus on the
architectural typology, coastal villas present recurrent features, and
almost always fall into the category of portico-villas. The use of sub-
structures, forming the basis villae, and of various terraces on which the
building unfolds is a recurrent theme, not only when the morphology
of the terrain required this type of engineering solution, but also when
the terrain was rather at and high cliffs were absent. The villa at
Marina di S. Nicola, for example, on the at, sandy coast of Latium
near the ancient colony of Alsium, was built on two small hills and had
two cryptoporticoes sustaining the quadriportico of the pars urbana. In
this respect, maritime villas present the same features as country vil-
las, which also show the recurrent use of substructures and multilevel

For the architectural history of villas, see McKay 1998, Mielsch 1987, Painter
1980, and Romizzi 2001; on maritime villas in particular: Lafon 1981. See also Frazer
(ed.), The Roman villa. Villa urbana. Symposium on Classical Architecture, Philadelphia 1998
and MacDougall 1988. The recently published Lafon 2001 (in particular chapters
1–3) attempts a complete architectural history of the villa maritima, looking at possible
models for the type found in Magna Graecia (Hellenistic villas), but also insisting on
the internal evolution of Italian villas, which led to the different forms of maritime
villas. On the origin and evolution of the villa in general, with some innovative and
provocative suggestions, see also Terrenato 2001a.

construction.89 It is not always possible to determine the layout and

architectural typology of the different maritime villas, especially in the
rst phase of occupation. When it is possible to verify this, however,
the distribution on different terraces and the usage of open sea-front
architecture seems to have been present from the very beginning as the
main feature of the establishment. A relationship has been established
between the architectural typology of monumental villas in the rst
century b.c. and that of sanctuaries, especially in Latium (Preneste,
Terracina, etc.).90 X. Lafon has recently proposed to look for arche-
types in the Hellenistic terraced sanctuaries, like the one on the island
of Cos. Lafon’s suggestion is based on the early date of Villa Prato
(Sperlonga), which, preceding the rst-century monumental phase in
Italian sanctuaries, also indicates that the later similarities between
sacred and private architecture are to be understood as a two-way
exchange process.91 However, the possible inuence of examples from
Hellenistic Alexandria on “scenographic” villa architecture should also
be considered.
The open-front architectural typology is what we nd represented
in so many painted views of maritime villas discovered in the villas of
Stabiae or in the houses of Pompeii. These frescos, therefore, although
depicting a partly idealized landscape, give us an idea of the appear-
ance of the villas not only on the Bay of Naples, but also elsewhere on
the Italian coastline. It seems reasonable to regard the use of an open
sea-front as an indication that the sea and the coasts had reached a
certain degree of safety. As we have seen in the previous section, many
scholars believe that the defeat of piracy in the Mediterranean was the
condicio sine qua non for the diffusion of maritime villas. In fact, we must
imagine that the defense of villas built right on the shore and with an
open sea front would have been rather difcult, requiring many men
in case of an attack from the sea. The famous anecdote about Scipio
Africanus is often quoted as proof of the menace pirates represented
for villas. Valerius Maximus92 reports that while Scipio was in his villa

On substructures and subterranean rooms in Roman domestic architecture see the
various contribution in the volume edited by Basso and Ghedini 2003; on substructures
in particular, discussing various examples of country and maritime villa architecture
see Z. Mari, “Substructiones”, in that same volume, 65–112.
Coarelli 1983a.
Lafon 2001: 58. Villa Prato, built on two terraces, is dated to the second half of
the second century b.c. See Catalogue: L192.
Val. Max. 2.10.2b.
36 chapter one

at Liternum, a group of pirate chiefs disembarked and made for the

villa of the famous Roman general. It turned out that, in this case,
their intentions were not hostile. The pirates wanted to pay Scipio
their respects, but the household, seeing them approaching, was sure
of an attack. Everyone retired to the roof, armed and ready to resist
the looting of the villa. This episode can be taken as an indication of
the belief that raids by pirates targeting villas on the Italian shores had
been widespread. Victory in the ght against piracy helps to explain
the spread of maritime villas beginning in the rst century b.c. and
the construction of villas further away from urban centers, whose
defensive function was no longer a priority.93 However, in my opinion,
the impact of the end of the Civil Wars on the architectural typology
(for the open front type) and diffusion of maritime villas should not be
underestimated. It has been pointed out that the years 30–20 b.c. saw
a boom in the construction of maritime villas in response to the end
of the civil strife.94
This is not to say that we do not have archeological or literary
evidence about coastal villas dating to the second century b.c. It is
known that Cornelia, the mother of the two Gracchi, had a villa at
Misenum, for instance.95 But these early maritime villas differ in one
notable respect from those built later—they were not built immediately
on the shoreline, but on hills about 800 or 900 m from the sea; and in
some cases they were fortied by walls, making them easier to defend.
Archaeological evidence of this comes from the area of Sperlonga,
where we nd a series of coastal villas of early date (as indicated by
the substructures in opus polygonale dated to the second century b.c.)96 In
particular, the so-called “Villa Prato” was built on a hill about 800 m
from the coastline, next to the Via Flacca. The rst date of the structure,
inferred from the building technique (Fourth Style opus polygonale) and

Lafon 2001: 140. He observes that most of the episodes of attack by pirates that
we know of for the years 70–60 b.c. concerned villa owners.
Ibidem: 139. See Appian (BC 1.49) for the enrolment during the civil wars of
freedmen in the army to garison the coastline from Cumae to Rome, to prevent
attacks by sea.
Plut. C. Gracch. 19.1–2. It is very difcult to infer anything about the typology of
the villa from this late testimony of Plutarch’s.
One possible explanation of the early date of these villas might be the involvement
of these establishments in the wine production of the Fondi plain: the caecubum and the
fundanum were famous wines from this area. See Pliny NH 3.60; Strab. 5.3.6.

from material nds, is the second half of the second century b.c.97 It
is interesting that this villa, according to the results of the excavations
led by the French School in Rome, was abandoned from 60–40 b.c.,98
right in the middle of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. The
struggles of the civil war, directly or indirectly, might have caused the
abandonment of this estate.99 That during this violent time coastal
villas could appear more similar to military buildings than to vacation
residences could be argued from Seneca’s testimony, comparing villas
to military camps:
C. Marius et Cn. Pompeius et Caesar exstruxerunt quidem villas in regione Baiana,
sed illas inposuerunt summis iugis montium. Videbatur hoc magis militare, ex edito
speculari late longeque subiecta. Aspice quam positionem elegerint, quibus aedicia
excitaverint locis et qualia; scies non villas esse sed castra.100
One should, however, consider the moralizing content in Seneca’s letter,
which might have led him to stress the military aspect of the residences
of the great generals of the Late Republic. By the age of Augustus, the
villae maritimae undoubtedly had the open sea-front typology we are so
familiar with from Roman frescoes, with different kinds of structures
built just by the sea, such as harbors, sheries, baths, and nymphea. In
some cases, Roman architects applied daring engineering solutions
using opus caementicium and built parts of villas directly into the sea, like
the pars maritima of the Pisones villa about 130 m from Punta Epitafo
in Baiae101 or the triclinium projecting towards the shore in Pliny the
Younger’s Laurentine villa.

A certain terminus post quem is 184 b.c., when the censor L. Valerius Flaccus built
the via Flacca. The villa must be later in date.
The structures show no traces of later restorations, and no pottery has been found
dating to any time after the age of Augustus. Lafon 1991 and 2001: 52 ff.
It is important to mention that Villa Prato, together with Tiberius’ villa, is the
only one in the area that has been extensively excavated. Another possible explanation
that has been formulated to explain the abandonment of coastal villas in the area of
Sperlonga is that ad Speluncam, once Imperial property, became the center of a large
fundus (this is inferred from the construction of a large storehouse in the villa) incor-
porating other villas in the area. But if the chronology for the abandonment of Villa
Prato given by the French School team is correct, this explanation does not hold up.
Sen. Ep. 51.11: “C. Marius, Pompey, and Caesar indeed built villas in the area
of Baiae, but they set them on the very top of the mountains. This seemed more
soldier-like, to look from a height upon places spread far and wide below. Observe
which position they chose, which situation and type of building, you will know that
they were not villas but rather military camps.
Di Fraia 1985–1986: 262 ff.
38 chapter one

A constant architectural feature in maritime villas is the presence
of piscinae for the breeding of sh.102 Fishponds were of three types,
containing fresh water (this type is presented as the oldest by ancient
sources103 and is found in inland ponds), salt-water,104 or brackish water
(which occurs naturally in coastal lagoons). The size of these piscinae
varies according to the size of the villa itself, but, although Varro in
particular mentions them as a costly extravagance of rich proprietors, in
some cases the piscinae were clearly an economic investment, producing
fresh sh for the external market demand of such luxury goods (see
Chapter 2). These piscinae were quite elaborate, with internal divisions
allowing different types and sizes of sh to be kept separated, “just as
the painters’ boxes present different parts for the different colors.”105 A
very common shape for a piscina is the rectangle, although round or
semi-circular shponds are also well attested archaeologically (Figure 3).
In fact, the semi-circular shape was more effective at breaking the force
of the waves, it reduced the number of corners where circulation of
water would be difcult and sediment could accumulate, and it was
undoubtedly more decorative.106 Great care was put into the construc-
tion of such ponds, in order to allow proper circulation of water, result-
ing at times in extraordinary engineering solutions, such as the tunnel
dug through a mountain by Lucullus to allow the sea-water to reach
his piscinae.107 The use of numerous gratings connecting the pond to the
open sea permitted the exploitation of the tides to replace the water
in the pond. Most seaside piscinae also employed freshwater hydraulics
in order to control the temperature of the water and oxygenate it, and
also, by varying the degree of salinity, to articially recreate the natural

For a study on piscinae in Italy see Higginbotham 1997, with previous bib-
The earliest attested form of sh-breeding consisted of simple ponds dug in the
soil of a country farm. See Plaut. Truc. 35; Varro Rust. 2.17.2. According to Pliny (NH
9.170), the rst person to create vivaria for saltwater sh was Licinius Murena ( praetor
c. 100 b.c.).
Varro Rust. 3.3.2: piscinas dico eas quae in aqua dulci aut salsa inclusos habent pisces ad
villam; 3.3.5: piscinae dulces eri coeptae et uminibus captos recepere ad se pisces.
Varro Rust. 3.17.4: Nam ut Pausias et ceteri pictores eiusdem generis loculatas magnas
habent arculas, ubi discolores sint cerae, sic hic loculatas habent piscinas, ubi dispares disclusos
habeant pisces.
Higginbotham 1997: 19.
Pliny NH 9.170; Varro Rust. 3.17.9.

Figure 3. Examples of shpond design.

40 chapter one

conditions that would induce sh to reproduce.108 Lacking a natural

spring or a connection with an aqueduct, fresh water was provided by
cisterns, as in the case of the villa at S. Liberata (Monte Argentario)
or at Grottacce, S. Marinella.109
Besides the examples of piscinae built in opus caementicium and lined
with opus signinum, there are also some underground ponds, dug in the
rock, like the elaborate complex of ve ponds on the island of Ponza
(Pontiae) or the ponds in the villa of Agrippa Postumus in Sorrento.110
Where possible, this solution was preferred, because it lowered the
risk of the water heating, which was very harmful for sh-breeding.
In the Ponza example, four piscinae are underground ponds and one
was built on the at rocks along the shore, for a total area of 700 m2.
The underground ponds are connected to the sea and to each other by
means of a complicated system of canals. The piscinae built next to the
shore had to be protected by breakwaters, to control the force of the
sea in case of storms. In many cases the only surviving archaeological
evidence of villae maritimae along the coastline of Italy are the piscinae and
breakwaters, as a quick look at the catalogue of villa-sites reveals.
Columella recognizes sh-breeding as a remunerative occupation
and, although he says that these types of revenues are “alienissimum
agricultoribus,” he dedicates paragraphs 16 and 17 of Book 8 of his De
Re Rustica to advice about the construction of piscinae and the choice of
the different types of sh. Acknowledging that a behavior like the one of
Sergius Orata or Licinius Murena is in his time no longer censurable,111
Columella wants to show that the cura piscium can also produce revenue
for a villa, especially if it is built on an island or in a coastal area that

Higginbotham 1997: 15.
Catalogue: T31; L179.
The coast of this volcanic island in this point is high and tufaceous, and thus
apt to be dug; the same applyes to the Sorrento villa. For a plan of the shponds in
Ponza see the Catalogue: L163.
C. Sergius Orata, a Campanian speculator, was the rst to exploit commer-
cially the lake Lucrinum for the breeding of oysters, which became very renowned.
Pliny (NH 9.168) says that Orata acted “nec gulae causa, sed avaritia”, clearly morally
condemning his doings. He was also an investor in real estate, building and selling
villas equipped with baths with hypocaust-his invention. He gained his cognomen from
the sh aurata/orata (gilthead), which, according to various sources, was either his
favored dish or was successfully bred by him in shponds. Besides Columella, loc. cit.,
see also Varro Rust. 3.3.10; Val. Max. 9.1.1; Macr. Sat. 3.15.2; L. Licinius Murena, a
contemporary of Orata, according to Pliny (NH 9.170), invented shponds for all sort
of sh. For Columella he also received his cognomen (murena = moray eel) from the sh
he “captured” in his ponds.

does not allow good cultivation.112 But sh were not the only option
and mollusks like oysters, murices, and scallops were also bred.
The last thing to mention about the typology of the piscinae is that
in richer and more elegant villas, the practical aspect of keeping an
available supply of sh for consumption and/or sale was linked with the
desire for deliciae on the part of the owner and his guests. Sometimes,
in fact, a pavilion was built in the middle of the piscina to be used as
a cenatio in summer, as in Tiberius’ villa at Sperlonga. In other cases,
a platform resting on small substructures protrudes from one side of
the sh-pond, also offering a space for recreation and entertainment.
An example of this type of solution is the so-called piscina of Lucullus,
on the northern side of the Circeo promontory. It is believed that this
piscina belonged to a villa in the area, the remains of which have not
yet been discovered.113 It is an interesting example of a piscina with
a complex layout. First, it is not located immediately by the sea, but
about 200 m from the shoreline, so that for the circulation of water
it depended upon a canal dug between the sea and the lake of Paola.
The piscina has a circular form, about 35 m in diameter, and is divided
into a small central circular pond, four wedge-shaped ponds, and two
trapezoidal ponds, outside the circle. An external wall running around
the piscina provides access to a platform protruding into the pool. The
size of this platform is large enough to have been used for banquets
(17.90 u 9.20 m).114 (Figure 4)

Maritime villas always had a small port, protected by breakwaters, or
at least a dock, so that one could arrive and leave by sea rather than
following the land-route. In the case of villas built on promontories

Columella Rust. 16.6: hunc etiam quaestum villaticum patri familiae demonstraremus.
Of this opinion is Mielsch 1987: 26. But there is also a possibility that the piscina
belonged to the local community. Coarelli 1982: 305 believes it was so on the basis of
a stamp on a stula discovered in the area, which reads Rei P(ublicae) Circeiens(ium) (CIL
X.6431). This piece of evidence sheds new light on those villas whose existence was
inferred only from the remains of piscinae, inviting us to consider the possibility that
these shponds belonged to nearby towns. The shpond did not belong to Domitian’s
villa, on the other bank of the nearby lagoon.
For a detailed description of the structure see Schmiedt 1972: 123–133. The
platform, which presents three arched openings, had a series of amphorae walled along
its sides on two different levels, to offer shelter for sh, as in the case of the shpond
in the villa of Sperlonga. See also discussion in Chapter 2.
42 chapter one

Figure 4. Circeo, axonometric drawing of the so-called Fishpond of Lucullus

(after Schmiedt 1972).

or islands, whenever possible, two harbors were built, one for each
side, so that regardless of the sea’s conditions it was always possible to
land. Examples of this pragmatic expedient include the villa built on
Giannutri (Dianium) island, with a harbor on each side of the island,
or the case of the island of Ponza, where a tunnel 128 m long con-
nected the east harbor to the west one.115
The sea-facing side of a villa with its harbor could be preferred as
access to the establishment even when the villa was connected to an
important road. The villa partially excavated at Castel Fusano, by some
scholars identied as Pliny the Younger’s Laurentinum,116 seems to have
had the main entrance from the sea-side, although from the side inland
there is the Via Severiana.

The island, which had many villas, was probably Imperial property already under
Augustus. The presence of engineering works such as the tunnel can be explained by
Imperial involvement in the territory. For the connection between Imperial property
and “public works,” see Chapter 6.
See Ramieri 1995: 407 ff. Catalogue: L59.

A constant presence in the pars urbana of a Roman villa was the bath
complex, an important part of the daily routine and social behavior
of a Roman. Although most of the coastal villa-sites have not been
completely excavated, it seems reasonable to extend to them the same
pattern already observed in so many country villas. In these cases, during
the second century a.d., new, larger baths were added, sometimes as a
structure separate from the main part of the villa. Only seven of the
maritime villas listed in the catalogue are known for sure to have had
bath complexes dated to the second century (Castel Fusano, Castel Por-
ziano, Grotte di Piastra, Marina di S. Nicola, Giannutri, S. Vincenzino,
and Talamone),117 but this pattern is very likely applicable to the other
villa sites as well, when we know they were in use in that period.118 The
new bath quarters that were added to villas during the second century
a.d. were complete thermae, in the sense that they present the canonical
layout and succession of rooms: frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldarium. The
old bath suites found in all villas by the time of Augustus were smaller
in size, did not always present this distribution of space, and were
always located next to the kitchen,119 in the heart of the residential part
of the villa. The necessity felt during the second century to add new
bath quarters, separate from the main nucleus of the villa, probably
did more than satisfy a desire to keep up with the latest fashion. The
desire to relax in rooms decorated with elegant mosaics and precious
opus sectile in marble from the provinces—a smaller-scale version of
the urban baths built in the period120—was certainly present. But this
phenomenon, as I will try to demonstrate in a subsequent chapter, can
be taken to indicate a shift in the social habits of villa-owners as well
as in the social function of villas in the mid-Empire.

Catalogue: L59; L63; L64; L139; T19; T24; T47.
On the interesting implications of this architectural feature for the social behavior
of the villa owners, see below.
Siting the baths in this location was a practical way to facilitate the heating of
water. On baths in the early villas, see Fabbricotti 1976 and Lafon 1991.
The building of new baths in villa complexes must also be related to the privately-
nanced construction in the second century of so many thermae, both in towns and
along major roads. For data on this phenomenon in Etruria see Ciampoltrini 1993;
Zanker in Italie 1994: 270–73; Papi 2000: 126 ff.
44 chapter one

Pars Rustica
Although modern scholars sometimes forget this element when thinking
about maritime villas, it is worth mentioning that they too had a pars
rustica or quarters reserved for production, either for internal consump-
tion or for distribution in external markets. Again, the fact that in many
cases only the residential part of a maritime villa is known is the result
of incomplete excavation and fragmentary documentation, and not an
indication that these villas had no pars rustica. In contrast to what one
observes in provincial villas, especially in the north, in Italian maritime
villas the pars rustica tends to be, architecturally, marginal to the pars
urbana, often separate from the main complex.121 The pars rustica could
have been devoted to the production of wine, oil, or both. In fact, we
know of the production of different types of wines, considered to be
of good quality, at vineyards in coastal fundi. Columella mentions the
wine produced from vineyards in the area of Caere, the productivity of
which was noteworthy.122 Martial refers to this same wine, appreciating
its quality.123 Other famous wines produced in coastal areas included
the caecubum and the fundanum, produced in the area of Fundi,124 in the
production of which the maritime villas near Sperlonga must have been
involved.125 From an architectural point of view, if the villa was built
immediately on the shoreline, the pars rustica tended to be located inland,
leaving to the residential part the enjoyment of the sea-facing side. At
S. Marinella, the villa built during the rst century b.c. on Punta della
Vipera presents the following type of organization in the plan: the pars
urbana with a large rectangular piscina is located by the sea, while the
pars rustica, provided with torcular, is on the mainland side.126 This villa

Lafon 2001: 307.
Columella Rust. 3.3.3, 3.9.6.
Mart. 13.12.4, 13.6.73. Among modern studies on this topic see in particular
Tchernia 1986.
Strab. 5.3.6; Pliny NH 3.60, 14.67 about the wine of Graviscae.
According to Pliny (NH 14.8.61), work in this area for the construction of the
fossa Neronis destroyed the caecubum vineyards. If we had more reliable and precise data
on the chronology of the abandonment of some of these coastal villas, it might be
possible to hypothesize a causal connection between the two phenomena. Lafon 2001:
234 also sees a connection between the appearance of vineyards and Roman villas on
the Sorrento Peninsula. He relates the Roman villas there to “l’émergence dans la série des
grands crus du vin de Surrentum.”
Catalogue: L182. See also L177, the luxurious villa that at a certain point
belonged to the jurist Ulpianus in this same area, where excavations identied traces
of a pars rustica. If the millstone recovered and mentioned by Gianfrotta is the same

is, in other respects, a very interesting case—it was built on the site
previously occupied by a sanctuary dedicated to Minerva (sixth–rst
centuries b.c.), reusing building material from the sanctuary—and as
such raises questions on the matter of property law, specically the
law concerning private ownership of sacred areas.127 The phenom-
enon is also attested at Minturnae at the beginning of the Imperial
period—under Tiberius or the Flavians, part of the lucus dedicated to
the goddess Marica was transformed into a villa.128
There is also at least one known example of a pars rustica that is not
clearly separate from the residential part. The villa at Marina di S.
Nicola, south of the castle of Palo Laziale, presents, in the northwest
part of the complex, a pars rustica with presses and a series of small
ponds. But this part of the villa also appears to have been used, simul-
taneously, for residential purposes, indicating the existence of various
possible solutions in the distribution of space and its use.129 Furthermore,
though in this stretch of coast the main villas were anked by satellite
farms (see below), at least in the early Empire, nonetheless the main
villa had a section devoted to pars rustica, although of relatively small
size in comparison with that of the complex. One might expect that
in a situation like this, with nearby farms belonging to the same estate,
all aspects of agricultural production would be conned to these farms,
leaving the main villa for residential purposes only. The case of Marina
di S. Nicola not only tells us something about the architectural features
of a maritime villa, it also makes possible some further considerations.
The existence of a pars rustica in this complex can mean three things.
First of all, it could be a manifestation of the idea, deep-rooted in the
mentality of the elite, that a villa had to be self-sufcient, producing

item currently kept in the garden of Castel Odescalchi then it appears to be an olive
mill and not a grain mill (personal autoptic observation).
Cf. the case of Lucus Feroniae, where the so-called “villa della Standa” (Cata-
logue: L104) was built sometime during the second century b.c. in an area belonging
to the sacred lucus of the goddess Feronia.
Coarelli 1989: 118 n. 18. Coarelli does not think this fact necessarily implies that
the sanctuary was abandoned at this time. He notes that we do not know the precise
extension of the lucus and that the sanctuary shows a restoration phase in brick, with
the relocation of the main façade to the river side, most likely under Hadrian (restora-
tions are attested also in the buildings of the colony).
On this villa see Lafon 1990, Caruso 1995 and Lafon 2001: 262 ff. Traditionally
referred to rst as Pompey’s, then as Caesar’s villa, although no current archeological
evidence supports a Republican date, it was certainly Imperial property in the second
century, as attested by an inscription (ILS 1580) mentioning a procurator villae Alsiensis.
See Catalogue: L139.
46 chapter one

all that was needed on the estate. This is a theorization omnipresent

in ancient sources, from the idealization of the villa rustica found in the
agricultural writings of Cato and Columella to the satires of writers
like Martial.130 Secondly, it could indicate that the smaller farms were
rented to coloni who paid their rent in kind.131 Part of this rent, neces-
sary for the supply of the villa, could have been processed in the villa
itself—olives transformed into oil, grapes into wine. Thirdly, it may
indicate the prot-oriented mentality of the (elite) owner, where every
property was used to produce a surplus for the market (i.e. not just self-
sufciency). Indeed, X. Lafon has suggested the possibility that, along
with the subdivided exploitation of the fundus, the maintenance of a
main pars rustica in close proximity to the villa’s own port,132 built on an
internal canal, was intended to facilitate shipping of goods.
The recurrent presence in coastal villas of large shponds, partes
rusticae for the production of olive oil and wine, and ports is a rst
indication of the discrepancy between the textual and the archaeological
sources on the economic function of these villas. As we will see in the
following chapter, the economic enterprises attested for coastal villas
and their estates are of various kinds: potteries, quarries, sh-breeding,
cultivation of owers, etc. Textual sources, however, stress a different
“reality”, an ideological dimension where the concept of villa maritima
moves from being the symbol of wealth and power to that of moral
corruption and extreme hubris. This situation can be in part explained
considering that by the time maritime villas started to appear in high
numbers—the rst century b.c.—country villas and the theorization of
agriculture as the proper occupation for the Roman elite, had already
been in existence for a century or so. The chronological priority in the
development of country villas in the surroundings of Rome, combined
with the centuriatio—the measuring, dividing and ordering of land—in
the areas progressively annexed by Rome may have contributed to
create the idea that the countryside was safer than the coast and the
only proper seat for the pursuit of prot.

Cato Agr. 2.3.7: patrem familias vendacem, non emacem esse oportet; Mart. 3.58, contrast-
ing Faustinus’ productive, self-sufcient Baian villa with that of Bassus, supplied with
food from the urban market.
See Pliny the Younger and his coloni at Tifernum: De Neeve 1990.
Lafon 2001: 263.


Fish-Breeding and salinae

Maritime villas offered their owners a wide range of possible economic

enterprises, that could be as protable as agriculture, if not more so. The
principal possible economic activity, already mentioned in the context
of a discussion of the architectural features of villas, was sh-breeding.1
Despite Varro’s comments on the costly piscinae maritimae, leporaria of
the sea,2 symbolic of elite extravagance, many factors indicate that this
was a lucrative and widespread occupation.3
In fact, had the sh bred in these vivaria not had a high market
value and been easily distributed on local markets, it would be very
difcult to explain what literary sources report about the exorbitant
prices fetched by certain villas on account of their lavish piscinae.4 I
have quoted above the case of C. Hirrius, an anecdote recounted by
several authors. According to these accounts, it was only thanks to the
vast quantity of sh in his piscinae that his otherwise modica villa was
sold for four million sesterces. Hirrius had considered it more “prot-
able” to lend Caesar six thousand murenae (in other sources, four or two
thousand) on the occasion of the dictator’s triumphal banquets, than
to sell them to him, evidently foreseeing the social advantages of doing

For the economy of maritime villas see also Lafon 2001: 127–186. In discussing
sh-breeding, he rightly distinguishes between extensive sh-breeding, at times associ-
ated with salting, and intensive breeding, to which relate the complex shponds built
along the Tyrrhenian coast. Lafon (164) analyses in particular the origins of piscinae
constructae and their architectural relationship with the villa.
Varro Rust. 3.3.10.
This is implicitly admitted by Varro himself at Rust. 2: praefactio: fructus tolli possunt
non mediocres, ex ornithoribus ac leporariis et piscinis (bold mine).
Columella Rust. 8.16.5 on Cato selling Lucullus’ piscinae for 400,000 sesterces.
Higginbotham 1997: 57 sees in this the symbolic value of sh and shponds, with the
elite competing to assert their high social status by spending large sums of money on
fancy shponds, rather than an implication that these ponds must have been market-
able. See below for a discussion of Higginbotham’s ideas.
48 chapter two

Caesar such a favor.5 This anecdote suggests how truly grand Hirrius’
vivaria must have been, allowing him to offer Caesar, all at once, such
a large number of morays, which cannot be bred with other types of
sh or in overcrowded conditions.6 Hirrius was clearly breeding sh on
an “industrial” scale, not just for show or for his own supply, but as a
source of revenue.7 If we can credit the information found in Plutarch,8
even Cato the Censor turned from agriculture to more remunerative
enterprises, such as sh-breeding, in his old age.
The archaeological evidence for shpond in maritime villas indicates
that most of them were built in the rst century b.c., the period of
the diffusion of pastio villatica in its various forms according to Pliny the
Elder.9 However, the passage from Scipio Aemilianus’s Fifth Oration
has been taken to indicate that already in 140 b.c. villas with shponds
and game reserves were widespread.10 One villa complex that presents
archaeological evidence of sh-breeding on a very large scale, is the
complex of Torre Astura, on the coast of Latium, just south of Antium.
(Figure 5)
This villa, in older publications referred to as Cicero’s villa in Astura,
has a 15,000 m2 piscina built partly on an articial island, complete
with a pavilion and an aqueduct/bridge, which both fed the pond with
fresh water and connected it to the main part of the villa. The size
of this piscina is truly astonishing; by way of comparison, the complex
of piscinae on the island of Ponza although large and technologically
sophisticated, measures only 700 m2.11 The various compartments into
which the piscina at Torre Astura is divided show that different kinds of

Varro Rust. 3.17.3; Plin. NH 9.171; however note the language in Varro “mutua
dare” (in Pliny mutua appendit), generally used for loans of money.
Hirrius was credited with the invention of ponds solely dedicated to the raising of
murenae, a sh referred to by Columella as pretiosus piscis (Rust. 8.16.10). Cicero reports
that M. Curius also raised large quantities of murenae (Parad. 38).
See also Purcell 1995: 160 for the idea that “the piscinarii of the Republic are
not to be taken as simply whimsical, choosing pisciculture as a random pastime for
reasons of fashion.”
Plut. Cat. Mai. 21.5.
NH 9.168.
Morley 1996: 90. The excavators of villa Prato (Sperlonga; Catalogue L192)
believe that the shpond “le Salette” belonged to the villa and date the two features,
on the basis of building technique, to the rst half of the 2nd century b.c., making
this the earliest archeologically attested shpond.
The villa had various building phases that enlarged, in Imperial time, the pavil-
ion built on the articial island, slightly reducing the size of the shpond (part of the
lozenges-shaped tanks was obliterated. For the complex reconstruction of the building
phases see Piccarreta 1977: 27–49.
as economic enterprises

Figure 5. Torre Astura with harbor (after Schmiedt 1972).

50 chapter two

sh were bred there. A large harbor with utility buildings on the docks,
most likely related to the shipment of sh or sh products, was added
during the rst half of the rst century a.d., likely the date of the large
shpond as well.12 We know that the villa was Imperial property by
this time, for literary sources mention that the rst three Julio-Claudian
emperors used to stop in Astura on their journey to Campania. Certainly
the addition of the harbor not only served a commercial purpose, but
also offered a proper place for the emperor to land when visiting the
villa. It could be argued that the piscina and its contents provided for
the consumption of sh at the villa when the emperor and his train
stopped there, but the size and complexity of this piscina bespeaks com-
mercial enterprise. Certainly this complex was not meant to supply
fresh sh only occasionally; it is possible that the shpond supplied the
emperor with sh needed for the various banquets he offered at Rome,
in the same way the vivaria Caesaris in Ancona seem to have supplied
the Imperial palace in Rome,13 or the villa and hunting grounds of
Trajan at Arcinazzo probably supplied game for the emperor’s banquets
in Rome.14 The whole of this part of Latium was, in fact, known for
its sh-breeding. Literary sources attest the farming of oysters in the
area,15 while the various coastal lakes, well stocked with sh even in
modern times, offered an alternative to the breeding of saltwater sh
in piscinae.16 The area between Fogliano and Circeo, rich in small lakes,
was perhaps also the center of production for a local garum industry.17

To the south of the promontory is the mouth of the river Astura, by which,
according to Strabo 5.3.6, was an important protected natural anchorage; the coast,
open to the predominant south-western wind (Libeccio) offers no other anchorage until
Circeii. For reference to literary sources that mention the place-name Astura, including
Cicero’s letters, see Piccarreta 1977: 10.
See the famous satire by Juvenal, Sat. 4.51.
Fiore and Mari 2003: 39.
Hor. Sat. 2.4.33, Juv. 4.140; Pliny NH 32.6.60, in particular about oysters from
the Circeii area.
Piccarreta 1977: 13–15 gives a brief summary of the ora and fauna of the area,
much more complex and rich than the generic image of unhealthy swamps that the
name of Paludi Pontine evokes; he notes that the coastal lakes were very rich in sh
and mollusks (interestingly similar to African kinds) used to supply Rome.
See Panciera 1967: 44–45. A dolium fragment, found in the area of S. Eufemia,
between Pontinia and Sabaudia, bears the inscription: L XV VR, read by Panciera as:
L(iquaminis) quindecim VR(nae). On the basis of CIL XV.4712 mentioning garum from
Antium, he postulates a local garum industry. However, the reading of CIL XV.4712
has been considered incorrect and the titulus has been referred to Antipolis instead
(see below, note 28). In the area of Sabaudia we nd the so-called piscina of Lucullus.
See below.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 51

Ancient sources list other processed sh products besides the famously
popular garum, such as the common sh sauces known as liquamen, allec,
and muria.18 As we know in particular from installations in Roman
Spain, salterns often had kilns located nearby for the production of the
containers in which the sh products would be sold. It is possible that
some of the remains of kilns and amphorae wasters identied on the
stretch of coast between Astura and Circeo should also be interpreted
in this sense (see the section on glinae, below).19
Higginbotham, in his book on piscinae, argues strongly that Ital-
ian shponds were, rst and foremost, emblems of social status, the
result of competitive ostentation among the members of the elite, and
downplays the commercial reasons for their proliferation.20 He contrasts
the scenario of the villa owner providing fresh sh to neighboring
villas and communities from his ponds’ surplus with Varro’s assertion
that it was very expensive to maintain them. Stocking the ponds with
sh, according to Varro, was challenging, and Higginbotham, recall-
ing Juvenal (5.92 ff.), raises the possibility that sh were scarce in the
Mediterranean in antiquity “due to the age of the sea and excessive
shing.”21 In addition, he notes that, without refrigeration, it would have

Garum was the primary product, while allec was the sediment created in the making
of garum. It is more difcult to determine the exact nature of muria and liquamen, since
these terms were used imprecisely. It seems that liquamen originally meant a sauce distinct
from garum, but was then used to refer to any sh sauce. Muria was used to mean garum,
or the liquid used in making garum or in packing salted sh products. On sh products
in antiquity (salted and fermented) and their commerce, see Curtis 1991.
Piccarreta 1977: sites 11, 14 and 15C; unfortunately he does not mention what
type of amphorae the kilns were producing. Recent investigations conducted by the
Pontine Region Project at the villa site of Le Grottacce (L20) suggested that the
amphorae were olive oil containers: Attema and de Haas, “Villas and farmsteads in
the Pontine region between 300 b.c. and 300 a.d.: a landscape archaeological approach”,
in Santillo Frizell and Klynne 2005, 97–112; see p. 105. The interim report published
by Attema, de Haas and Nijboer 2003 gives a preliminary typology of the diagnostic
amphora sherds collected, which include: Graeco-Italic (2nd c. b.c.), Dressel 1A (late
2nd/early 1st centuries b.c.); Dressel 6A (maybe an earlier prototype of the Augustan
amphora) and various unknown types, which constitutes the majority of the sherds.
These unknown containers should have been small in size, judging from the size of
the handles; the rim is similar to early Tripolitanian amphorae, while the bases match
the “Brindisi” type amphora.
Higginbotham 1997; Lafon 2001: 164–179 discusses shponds and intensive
sh-breeding in villas, but he seems to regard this activity as mainly for the benet
of the villa residents. Although he mentions several times the economic function of
sh-breeding, it is not clear if he considers the production of the shponds for the
commercial market.
Higginbotham 1997: 56. And yet, Higginbotham himself reports (45–46) that
eels can be cultivated in densities not possible for any other species of sh: in modern
52 chapter two

been difcult and costly to transport fresh sh over great distances. But
these objections do not really hold up, if we consider that nowadays,
despite excessive shing in the Mediterranean, pollution, and ecologi-
cal disasters, the sea is nonetheless full of sh. As for transportation,
it may have been expensive, but no more so than transporting snow
from mountaintops to chill drinks in the summertime, a practice well
attested in antiquity.22
In the anecdote about Hirrius mentioned above, the 2,000+ murenae
lent to Caesar for his triumphal banquet were transported to Rome,
most likely alive. But what ancient authors appear to have found unusual
is the large number of sh involved, not the logistics of their delivery.
Thanks to a rare and fortuitous archaeological nd, we know that there
were small boats equipped with sh tanks,23 enabling shermen to keep
their catches alive. With this in mind, the existence of larger boats or
even wagons equipped with tanks for the transportation of sh to mar-
ket is not improbable. In fact, a reference to ships equipped with tanks
can be found in Macrobius, who relates that when the praefectus classis
Optatus introduced the Eastern Mediterranean parrot wrasse (scarus)
into the waters of Ostia and Campania under Claudius, he transported
the sh on ships equipped with vivaria.24 Furthermore, archaeological
evidence from macella and from kitchens in domestic contexts points to
the existence of tanks where sh could be kept alive until the moment
of consumption.25
Turning from fresh sh to sh products, such as sh sauce and salted
sh, Higginbotham is right in pointing out that in spite of the literary
commentary, there is little physical evidence of the processing of sh
products in Italy. However, in my opinion, this is the result of incom-

sheries in the lagoons near Orbetello, the annual yield per thousand m2 of pond area
is about four tons. This yield is produced by stocking the lagoons with just ten kg of
elvers. E. Gazda (McCann 1987: 149) estimated that the Roman shery at Cosa could
produce 48 tons of eels annually.
For a study revaluating of the cost of land transportation as cheaper than previ-
ously thought see Laurence 1998.
See Testaguzza 1970: 132; photo and drawing: 143–144. The nd is also discussed
in Higginbotham 1997: 35.
Macrob. Sat. 3.16.10: nam Optatus praefectus classis sciens scarum adeo italicis litoribus
ignotum, ut nec nomen Latinum eius piscis habeamus, incredibilem scarorum multitudinem vivariis
navibus huc advectam inter Hostiam et Campaniae litus in mare sparsit, miroque ac novo exemplo
pisces in mari tamquam in terra fruges aliquas seminavit. Cf. also Pliny NH 9.62–63: inde advectos
(scaros) Tiberio Claudio principe Optatus e libertis eius praefectus classis inter Ostiensium et Campaniae
oram sparsas disseminavit, quinquennio fere cura adhibita ut capti redderentur mari.
Macella: De Ruyt 1983: 313; 345; kitchens: Salza Prina Ricotti 1978–80: 267.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 53

plete archaeological investigation, anthropogenic factors, and changes

in both the Italian coastline and the level of the Mediterranean Sea,26
rather than proof that such establishments were relatively scarce in Italy,
compared to what is known about the Iberian peninsula and North
Africa.27 We know from tituli picti and literary sources, for example,
that garum was produced at Pompeii, but we have little evidence for
salting installations from the town.28 In his recent studies on maritime
villas, Lafon suggests that one can see an incompatibility between
piscinae belonging to opulent villas, and sh salting activities, which are
located in less sought-after areas, and which, when we have traces of
buildings, are associated with more modest villas.29 His opinion rests
partly on Pliny’s reference to the foul smell of the salting process.30 The
elaborate shponds for intensive sh-breeding displayed by many villas
were clearly meant for the production of the highly sought after fresh

Schmiedt 1972; Pasquinucci and Mezzanti 1987: most of ancient coastal instal-
lations are underwater now. In some cases, place names can supply information when
we lack archaeological evidence. See, for instance, the case of the town of Cetara,
on the Amal Coast (province of Salerno), where a traditional local industry of sh
products still exists today. The name comes from the Latin cetaria (also attested cetarium),
used to indicate either the shpond by the shore into which sh, in particular tuna,
were herded or the salting vat. Cetarius was the (tuna) sherman or the person salting
the sh. See Pliny NH 9.92; ibid. 31.94, also 9.49: Hispaniae cetarias hi replent, thynnis non
commeantibus. Hor. Sat. 2.5.44: plures adnabunt thynni et cetaria crescent, usually interpreted
to refer to piscinae, but see Curtis 1997: 54 n. 43 and the scholiast to Horace, who
explains: cetaria dicuntur proprie loca, in quibus salsamenta unt. On the entire Amal Coast,
from Punta della Campanella to Salerno, there are numerous signs of Roman villas. Of
these only one, in Minori, is now an archaeological site open to the public. A maritime
villa was also recently discovered in the town of Amal itself.
Higginbotham 1997: 56. In the provinces, in particular in Lusitania and Betica,
villas were very frequently connected closely with salting installations, both large salterns
and smaller ones, including only a few salting vats. See Curtis 1991: 148.
In Pompeii (and on a shipwreck directed to Gaul) many garum containers were
recovered bearing the name A. Umbricius Scaurus. The atrium of his house, near Porta
Marina (Ins. Occ. 12–15), had a mosaic “advertising” his products. See Curtis 1984 and
Id., “A personalized oor mosaic from Pompeii”, AJA 88, 1984: 557–566. On recent
discoveries related to garum workshops in Pompeii see R. Jones and D. Robinson (in
press) ‘‘The economic development of the Commercial Triangle (VI.i.14–18, 20–21),”
in M. P. Guidobaldi (ed.) Nuove ricerche sull’area Vesuviana—New research in the Vesuvian
area. Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei Monograph. Roma. The rare titulus CIL
XV.4712 was in the past considered to refer to garum produced in Antium, but more
likely refers to Antipolis; the possibility of garum from Ostia comes from an amphora
(type not given) with titulus G(arum) OST(iense) discovered in Noricum at Magdalensberg;
on this see Curtis 1984: 90.
Lafon 2001: 180.
Pliny NH 32.16.
54 chapter two

sh, but there are few instances of coastal villas with archaeologically
attested sh processing activity (see infra).
I agree with Higginbotham, insofar as the existence of shponds in
Italy cannot be explained by commercial reasons alone. Clearly, a series
of other factors were at play, chief among them the elite ideology of
display and competition,31 but I do not share his view that “in Italy,
the paucity of sh off the coasts coupled with successful imports from
Africa, Gaul and Spain made an already risky venture economically
Of course, it is necessary to distinguish between piscinae solely dedi-
cated to sh-breeding—the majority of the existing coastal archeologi-
cal remains associated with coastal villas—and vats and ponds for the
salting and curing of sh, which can be more difcult to identify in
the archaeological context. Furthermore, though there is no doubt that
sh and shponds possessed a potent symbolic value in the socially and
politically competitive climate of the Late Republic,33 it is too drastic
to say that “sh could and were vended not as a regular trade but to
feed the appetite of those wanting to impress rivals and peers.”34 The
fact that ancient literary sources do not explicitly state the involvement
of piscinarii in the Republican sh trade, stressing the cachet of owning
piscinae over the sale and consumption of the sh they produced, does
not necessarily imply that the sh were not sold and consumed.35 It is
impossible, otherwise, to explain why Varro (reluctantly) and Columella
admit that it is a protable enterprise to have shponds. Higginbotham
correctly states that the larger ponds, “with their elaborate tanks, walk-
ways, gates, and nearby ports were clearly equipped with more features
than were needed for purely personal use” (italics mine),36 but he then

As pointed out by Lafon 2001: 197, when referring to piscinarii Cicero, Macrobius,
and Pliny the Elder stress their nobilitas ( principes; nobilissimi principes). Cicero also uses
the term to allude to those who had retired from political life at a particularly crucial
time for the Republic; see, for instance, Att., 1.19.6, 1.20.3.
Higginbotham 1997: 57.
To quote Lafon (2001: 197): La pisciculture intensive est à la n dela république un signe
d’une élite sociale, la même qui entend résever à seul usage les rives du Crater. In the late st century
Martial satirized Papylus, a social climber, who would send gifts of expensive sh to
make a good social impression, but then dine poorly at home (7.78.3).
Higginbotham 1997: 57.
But see Columella Rust. 8.17.15: nam nisi piscis domini cibariis saginatur, cum ad pis-
catorium forum perlatus est . . ., explicitly mentioning sh from shponds brought to the
market to be sold. The Forum piscatorium was the Republican macellum in Rome: De
Ruyt 1983: 239–243.
Higginbotham 1997: 59.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 55

fails to recognize these particulars as signs of establishments intended

to be protable, providing revenue to their owners. The constant
association of piscinae with ports and/or docks should be regarded as
an indication that these shponds were equipped with the necessary
infrastructure to allow the shipment of sh to markets. It is worth
remembering that legal texts include ships and mules in the instrumentum
fundi, necessary for the transport and distribution of goods produced
on the estate; in coastal estates the goods loaded on such vessels need
not be only wine amphorae.37 Moreover, to envision a fair prot margin
there is no need to imagine production and distribution as being solely
vast in scale or intended only for faraway markets. The kinds of fresh
sh that were bred in these shponds were highly prized and regarded
as luxury goods.
A passage in Varro’s De Re Rustica, seldom quoted in the context of
the protability of sh-breeding in coastal villas,38 seems to state this
concept clearly. The passage concerns L. Abuccius, who apparently
stated that on his fundum albanum the revenues from the land were
10,000 sesterces and those from the farm more than 20,000, but that
the revenues from a maritime villa would have been more than 100,000
sesterces.39 Thus L. Abuccius considered a maritime villa to be ten
times more protable than a villa rustica, and in my opinion we should
recognize this as evidence not only of the protability of sh-breeding,
an enterprise common to all maritime villas, but also of the greater
versatility of maritime properties, which ultimately made them more
appealing than properties in the countryside.
Without question, if we consider the marketing of fresh, rather
than processed, sh, the location of a villa becomes crucial. A high
concentration of villas with shponds can be found in the stretch of
coast immediately south and north of Rome, with the exclusion of the
Litus Laurentinus, where the sandy sea-bottom did not offer the rock-shelf
usually preferred in the construction of shponds, and where the type
of habitat was suitable only for at-bottomed sh rather than kinds

Dig. ea quae exportandorum fructum causa parantur, instrumenti esse constat, veluti
iumenta et vehicula et naves et cuppae et culei.
To my knowledge, only Kolendo 1994: 64 quotes this passage in discussing the
revenues offered by sh-breeding.
Varro Rust. 3.2.17: Nonne idem L. Abuccius, homo, ut scitis, apprime doctus, cuius Luciliano
charactere sunt libelli, dicebat in Albano fundum suum pastionibus semper vinci a villa? Agrum enim
minus decem milia reddere villam plus vicena. Idem secundum mare, quo loco vellet si parasset villam,
se supra centum milia e villa recepturum.
56 chapter two

more highly valued in Roman (and also modern) cuisine, such as sea-
bass and gilt-head.40 Higginbotham is right in saying that the market
value of sh was driven by the demand from banquets (triumphal or
otherwise) and club dinners. In a well known passage, Varro explicitly
states the importance of triumphal banquets, public banquets, and
collegial dinners in driving up the price of the fruits of the villatica
pastio.41 Indeed, if we look at the distribution of known shponds in
association to villas, we see that the concentration of these installations
is rather high along the coastline south and north of Rome (Figure 6).
The market represented by collegia and their regular dinners in town
centers other than Rome deserves also to be considered. Rome was
not the only market available for the distribution of villa-production.
The large Astura complex, for instance, as well as the other villas along
that stretch of coast, were close to the urban centers of Antium and
Forum Appii.42 It seems likely that local centers such as these could
have absorbed any surplus production from coastal villas.
Examples of villas involved in sh-related economic activities are not
limited only to the coastline of Latium. In the area around the colony
of Cosa and the peninsula of Monte Argentario, part of what is now
Tuscany, there are two other examples attested archeologically. The rst
is the villa complex of “La Tagliata,” near the ancient harbor of Cosa.

In this area Pliny the Younger had his Laurentine villa; see the remarks he wrote
in the letter dedicated to his villa, 2.17.28 about shes that could be found: mare non
sane pretiosis piscibus adundat, soleas tamen et squillas optimas suggerit.
Rust. 3.16–17: Sed ad hunc bolum ut pervenias, opus erit tibi aut epulum aut triumphus
alicuius aut collegiorum cenae nunc innumerabiles excandefaciunt annonam macelli. As an example
of the frequency of club dinners and of the obligatory contributions due in these
circumstances, see the lex collegii Dianae et Antinoi in Lanuvium (ILS 7212, 136 a.d.)
ll. 14 ff. of the second page: Ordo cenarum: VIII id. Mar. natali Caesenni . . . patris. V k. Dec.
nat. Ant[inoi]./Idib. Aug. natali Dianae et collegi. XIII k. Sept. na[t. Caese]nni Silvani fratris. Pr.
N[on.]./natali Corneliae Proculae matris. XIX k Ian. n[at. Caes]enni Ru patr. Munic[ipi]. Magistri
cenarum ex ordine albi facti qu[oqu]o ordine homines quaterni ponere debeb[unt]:/vini boni amphoras
singulas, et panes a. II qui numerus collegi fuerit, et sardas [nu]mero quattruor, strationem, caldam
cum ministerio. Note that here the obligatory contribution of sh consists of realtively
cheap types.
Forum Appii, located on the Via Appia between Terracina and the statio of Tribus
Tabernis, does not seem to have been even a municipium, and the ILS lists only one
inscription found there (= CIL X.6824, a milestone recording restoration works by
Nerva). Antium is a different story: already rich in elegant villas in the late Republic,
it was also an Imperial residence (see the collegium of Imperial slaves and freedmen,
CIL X.6638, which seems to have had an annual celebration with gladiatorial games).
The existence of the praetorium Antiatinum is attested by an inscription mentioning a
tabularius: CIL X.6667. Two collegia are epigraphically attested in Antium, the Cultores
Spei Augustae (CIL X.6645) and the collegium fabrum (CIL X.6675, 6678).
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 57

Figure 6. Distribution map of maritime villas equipped with shponds (A. Marzano).

This villa, which ourished in the second century a.d. and seems to
have been in use down to the fth, presents, peripheral to the main part
of the villa, a structure traditionally labeled as a storehouse or granary.
Instead, archaeological investigations directed by the Soprintendenza
Archeologica have revealed that the structure was very likely used for
the processing of sh.43 In the area of portus Cosanus, many pools for sh-
breeding had already been built in the Late Republic, so the industrial
structure at La Tagliata could plausibly have processed sh from these
nearby vivaria.44 In addition, it is worth mentioning Strabo’s report that
schools of tuna migrated through the waters around the Argentario
Peninsula and off the coast of Cosa, and that at certain times of year

See Ciampoltrini and Rendini 1990; Ciampoltrini 1991; Catalogne T4.
It is also possible that the lagoon located near the villa, which is believed to have
existed also in Roman times, was used as a sh-vivarium.
58 chapter two

this type of shing was also practiced in the area.45 The sh processed
in the villa could have come from such seasonal shing.
This passage from Strabo might also be read in connection with the
other villa-complex in this area showing sh-related industrial activity.
Excavations at the Villa dei Muracci at Porto S. Stefano uncovered
“installations for pisciculture”,46 and next to it, the remains of structures,
probably storerooms, containing many amphorae with tuna sh-bones.
These remains were recorded by S. Lambardi in the 1800s, on the occa-
sion of the construction of a factory, and unfortunately lack the type
of information we would like to have, such as the type of amphorae
discovered.47 But it seems plausible to relate this complex also to some
kind of “industrial” process, in particular the production of salted sh,
garum and other sh-based products.
Moreover, the thin stretch of land connecting the Argentario Penin-
sula to the mainland was characterized in antiquity by many lagoons,
which seem to have been used—as indeed the Orbetello lagoon is still
used today—as vivaria. The eastern lagoon, the Tombolo di Feniglia,
which might have been connected directly to the sea by a canal in
Roman times,48 presented a series of piscinae along its southeast bank.
One pool measured about 2,250 m2, a considerable size. Five other
pools can only be identied by the remains of their manmade plat-
forms. The pools very likely belonged to the villa49 that stood not far
off, suggesting a large-scale economic enterprise.
The coastal area of Pyrgi and Castrum Novum was also known for
shing50 and sh-breeding, to judge from the number of piscinae attested

Strab. 5.2.8 about the existence of a lookout point from which to detect the arrival
of the tuna. This passage seems to be based on Polyb. 34.8.3 (Buttner-Wobst). See
the commentary to Strabo by N. Bif, L’Italia di Strabone, Genova 1988. Another such
scouting point is reported by Strabo on the promontory of Populonia (Populonium).
Pasquinucci 1982: 152 suggests that Lambardi may have mistaken salting vats
for remains of a shpond.
S. Lambardi, Memorie sul Monteargentario ed alcune sui paesi prossimi, vol. 1, Firenze
1866 (reference given in Pasquinucci 1982: 141, n. 2).
An ancient canal, lled up in the sixteenth century, is visible in aerial photographs.
The date of this canal cannot be determined. Bronson and Uggeri 1970: 213 n. 86.
The remains of the villa consisted of its substructures and in surface nds—frag-
ments of painted stucco and heating ues (tubuli; related to the bath-suite?), bricks,
and tiles. No secure dating elements were found during the survey. On this and the
evidence for the piscinae, see Bronson and Uggeri 1970: 213.
See the large number of shhooks and needles for shing nets recovered in
the archaeological excavations at Castrum Novum and Pyrgi: Gianfrotta 1981: 527,
n. 16.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 59

archeologically.51 An interesting passage in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistai

mentions Pyrgi, together with Antium, Tarracina and the Pontine
Islands, as the possible origins of large and numerous shes served at
the banquet.52 Considering that these areas are those where we observe
a great concentration of shponds, and good harbor installations, it
is likely that Athenaeus is not referring to shing eets, as the passage
in usually interepreted by scholars, but to the shipment of fresh sh
coming from the shponds of the area.53
Besides the Torre Astura example, we can presuppose that the
installations had also an economic value, as in the case of other vil-
las provided with large piscinae. The villa at Punta della Vipera had a
piscina measuring about 2,000 m2, which, judging from the available
documentation, remained in operation at least until the third century.54
The piscina of the nearby villa at Fosso delle Guardiole measured 6,000
m2. In each of these cases, the pools are much larger than was neces-
sary if their purpose was simply to supply the villa-complex with fresh
sh. By comparison, we can take as an example of shponds intended
only for internal consumption the system of pools belonging to the
so-called Bagni di Agrippa villa on the island of Pianosa,55 measuring
305 m2. Although the Punta della Vipera and Guardiole piscinae do not
even approach the impressive size of those found at Torre Astura in
Latium, they are still not inconsiderable in size.56
The last point, stressed by Higginbotham in order to downplay
economic factors in the spread of Italian piscinae, is their chronology.
The vast majority of shponds were built in the second half of the
rst century b.c. or the rst half of the rst century a.d. Higginbotham

Gianfrotta 1972. The author recognizes that at least the larger piscinae must have
been used for industrial purposes, probably to supply the Roman market with special
sh, in the same way as the harbors of Pyrgi, Antium, and Terracina in Imperial times
served as the base for shing eets to supply the urbs (p. 21); the latter statement seems
to rest upon the passage by Athenaeus referenced below.
Ath. 6.224; see also footnote above.
Similar observations, but reached independently from each other, in Attema and
De Haas 2005: 105 f., quoted at note 19, commenting in passing that the villas of the
Astura coastline and their shponds had a productive function and that Antium and
its port will have functioned as market and transhipment places for the sh from the
villas on the adjacent coast.
See Catalogue: L182 and L178.
Catalogue: T36.
Salza Prina Ricotti 1998–1999: 139; 145 discusses the shpond-complex of Ponza
as breeding sh for the market, but then strangely appears to deny this function for
other shponds on the mainland such as Torre Astura and the shponds at Formia.
60 chapter two

comments that there was a decline in interest in large piscinae during

the rst century a.d., reected in both literary accounts (scarce mention
of shponds by ancient authors after the end of the rst century)57 and
the archaeological record (a paucity of seaside piscinae built ex novo). He
views this phenomenon as a byproduct of the different role played by
the elite under the Empire:
Any social and political benet from owning these structures decreased
with the recognition of a single power at the top of the social pyramid
[. . .] Changes under the principate progressively eliminated the traditional
avenues of aristocratic self-advertisement and placed more emphasis on
local or private displays of status.58
It must be said that, while current archaeological data do suggest that
few coastal piscinae were built under the Empire, these same data show
that in many cases the existing shponds were restored and main-
tained during this period. The shpond at Punta della Vipera, for
instance, was still in use in the third century. Most of the ponds listed
in Higginbotham’s gazetteer include restorations in bricks, datable to
after the rst century a.d. In some cases, the shponds seem to have
still been used for sh-breeding in the medieval period, as in the case
of the Torre Astura complex, donated in 987 with its “shponds” to
the convent of S. Alessio on the Aventine.59
It is probably correct to say that, owing to the changed political
situation under the Empire, there was a decline in interest in piscinae
as a way for the elite to display wealth; this does not, however, imply
a decline in their primary function, sh-breeding. The paucity of
newly built shponds should not be seen as proof of the decrease of
sh-breeding altogether, but as conrmation that the Italian coast was
already dotted with a sufcient number of shponds. Almost all of the

Fishponds appear as one of the literary topoi (see also marble revetments, mosaic
oors and columns) in the attaks against excessive luxuria in the diatriba of the late
Republic/Early Imperial period. Oltramare 1926: 109; 118; 211.
Higginbotham 1997: 62–63.
The 987 a.d. document mentions as part of the donation Astura and its ancient
ruins (Astura cum parietinis suis), but the shponds appear functioning in a document
dated 1140, in which the abbot of the monastery brings a complaint against Tolomeo
de Tusculana, who was illegally controlling Astura and the shponds, depriving the
monastery of its right (quod per vim et sine ratione detineret insulam de Astura . . . et piscariis,
et pertinent iis suis et nostro monasterio abstulit). Fish-breeding or shing is still mentioned
as one of the monastery rights in a bulla by Pope Honorius III in 1217: Totum quod
vestro monasterio pertinet in Asturia et in insula Asturie, cum piscationibus, venationibus, naufragiis.
Sources quoted in Piccarreta 1977: 10, footnote 14.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 61

coastal ponds are roughly contemporary with the villas to which they
belong. What Higginbotham does not say is that few maritime villas
were built ex novo after the rst century a.d.; already-existing villas were
restored, enlarged, and upgraded to reect new tastes. Restoration of
shponds went along with the life of the villas and if few new villas
were being built, then there is no reason why we should expect to nd
new shponds. On the other hand, the technology associated with the
construction of shponds had already reached a very high standard, so
that it was only necessary to restore them to keep them functional.
Not all shponds belonged to villas. There are also cases of piscinae
owned by a municipal community, like the so called piscina of Lucullus
near the Lago di Paola (Circeo).60 This pond was fed by a canal, which
carried brackish water from the channel connecting the Lago di Paola
to the sea. An inscription, most likely dating from the early Empire,
commemorates hydraulic works undertaken by one of the magistrates
of the municipium in relation to the channel and the lake, evidence which
could be seen to indicate ownership of the pond by the community.61
It is also interesting to note that spreads of crushed murex shells were
found next to the channel.62 Since purple dye was produced not far
from the piscina, it is possible that murices were among the species kept
in the pond itself. In the light of purple dye production, it would be
particularly interesting to ascertain with certainty whether the pond
belonged to a private villa or to the community. Several villas were built
on the shores of the lake, most of them dated to the late Republic but
with Imperial phases also, since with the construction of Domitian’s

See Chapter 1: n. 113 and g. 4; the site is part of the modern municipality of
Sabaudia. Coarelli believes the shpond was publicly owned by the community of Circeii
on the basis of the stula found in the area in 1725 with the inscription CIL X.6431:
Rei P(ublicae) Circeiens(ium). Also Lugli 1928: 50 thought that the piscina belonged to the
town since it was located within the area of the harbor settlement of Circeii. In the
same area is also the so-called “Fonte di Lucullo”, the Roman tapping of two springs,
one drinkable, the other very rich in iron used to feed the baths. When Lugli surveyed
the area, the piscina was used for sh-breeding; he reported that the two trapezoidal
vats were modern, to keep sh eggs. Lugli 1928: 49.
CIL X.6428: L. Faberius C. f. Pom Murena/augur. IIII.vir. aed./aqua(m) quae uebat
ex lacu conlegit et salientem in lacu(m)/redegit/d(e) s(ua) p(ecunia) f(aciundum) c(uravit). The
inscription was discovered at S. Felice Circeo.
Blanc 1958. The deposits were not excavated but one, seen in section along the
road, was 60 m long and 0.50 m thick. The deposits were securely dated to the late
1st–early 2nd century a.d., since they were immediately above the spoils dumped while
constructing the nearby navigable channel built under Nero, connecting the lake of
Paola to the sea.
62 chapter two

villa the spot became highly fashionable. Since Circeii is praised, in the
ancient sources, for its oyster production, appreciated for their tender-
ness and sweetness, it may be also possible that the shpond was used
for oyster breeding.63
Another activity peculiar to coastal villas was the production of salt,
by means of letting seawater evaporate in shallow ponds. Salt was a
precious commodity, making possible the preservation and stockpiling
of food. These salterns were probably related to the processing of sh
products in at least some cases. To my knowledge, on the stretch of
coast in question, no villas with salterns have been identied with cer-
tainty on the basis of archaeological evidence. It is sometimes difcult
to ascertain whether the poorly preserved remains of pools were sh-
vivaria or salterns, but here literary sources complement the archaeology.
In his poem De Reditu Suo, Rutilius Namatianus mentions the existence
of salterns at Albinus’ villa at Vada Volterrana.64 This Late Imperial
testimony could very likely be applied to the mid-Imperial villa, too.
We do not know when the particular villa described by Rutilius was
built, whether in the Late Republic or in the Early Empire, since, due
to the erosion of the coastline, no archeological trace of it has been
found. We do know, however, that these salterns still existed in the eighth
century,65 three hundred years after Rutilius. The area of Torre Saline
north of Orbetello, where a maritime villa has been located, seemed to
have been exploited for salt production only in Medieval times,66 and
this raises the interesting question of the source of the salt used in the
garum and salted sh industry identied at Cosa, Torre Tagliata and
Portus Fenilie. In the catalogue, I suggest that the villa-site on Monte
Argentario/Tombolo della Giannella67 probably had large salinae and
was engaged in the production of salt. The status of the archeological
evidence can neither support nor disprove this hypothesis, but I base
my suggestion on the fact that we know of salterns functioning in

Plin. NH 32.660: Cerceiensibus ostreis—neque dulciora neque teneriora ulla esse compertum
est; Hor. Sat. 2.4.33; Juv. Sat. 4.140. Note, however, that the terracotta vessels walled
in the sides of the podium and in some of the tanks point either to eels, that when
in captivity are photophobic and hide in dark recesses, or to shes that have a strong
territorial behavior.
Rut. Namat. 1.475: Subiectas villae vacat aspectare salinas.
See E. Castorina, commentary and edition of Rutilius De Reditu Suo, Firenze
1967. Some scholars think that the villa at S. Vincenzino, near Cecina, was Albinus’
villa. See Catalogue: T24.
Carandni and Cambi 2002: 221.
Bronson and Uggeri 1970 n. 80.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 63

that location in later times—down to the sixteenth century. In Roman

times, various areas of the Italian coastline were occupied by brackish
marshes, where salt naturally accumulated with the evaporation of
water during the summer months. The mouth of the Tiber offered
such a landscape in prehistoric and proto-historic times; later on, the
natural salterns were concentrated on the borders of the lake that
stretched from the Tiber to the Castel Fusano area. This lake was
only reclaimed at the beginning of the twentieth century, and one
can still see the efuent channel that once connected it to the sea. In
antiquity, this channel was the border between the ager of Ostia and
that of Laurentum, where villas began to be built in the Republic. It
is likely that some of the villas built in this area included salterns in
their fundi and used the salt in some kind of food processing. In fact,
not far from the so called “villa of Pliny” at Castel Fusano, there was
a seasonal settlement in connection with the salterns in place as early
as the seventh century b.c.68
However, the entire coastal area between the Via Ostiense and the
aforementioned lake was dotted with suburban villas, in direct relation
to the civil and commercial center of Ostia. These villas, occupied
continuously down to the third or fourth century, show no signs of
“crisis”69 in the late Imperial period, a fact which, in addition to their
close proximity to Rome and Ostia, was probably due to the important
industry represented by the salinae.

Figlinae and Agriculture

Economic activities connected to the sea and sh-breeding are by no

means the only ones attested at coastal villas. The production of bricks,
tiles and pottery was a common commercial activity at both villae rusti-
cae and villae maritimae, and this discussion on glinae applies also to
the rural villas that are the topic of the following two chapters. As we
learn from the works of the agronomists and from juridical sources,

In the vicinity of Piscina Torta, where a great number of amphorae and pottery
fragments dated to the seventh century b.c. have been discovered. Ramieri 2002: 36.
The small villae rusticae in the area of modern Acilia also present a continuous
occupation from the Republic to the Late Empire. It is possible that these farms, which
had their own necropolis and were served by aqueducts, were part of larger fundi
organized around the maritime villas. They could also have been independent farms
serving the markets of Ostia and Rome (Pellegrino 1995).
64 chapter two

the establishment of glinae was considered a natural complement of

agriculture.70 As in the case of sh-breeding, where characters involved
in it derived their cognomina from that activity or hobby (i.e., Murena,
Orata), similarly we know of such cognomina as Tegula and Imbrex,
clearly alluding to glinae and their production.71 Having a glina,
whenever possible, at a coastal fundus was even more convenient, from
a commercial point of view, than having one inland, since maritime (or
uvial) transportation was more convenient for the shipping of heavy
loads than land transportation.72
Not all the cases of kilns producing bricks and tiles located on
the estate of a villa were necessarily producing a surplus to be com-
mercialized. In some cases the production was aimed exclusively at
the internal needs of the villa, as in the case of maintenance works
implying re-roong, etc. or other building activities that might occur
on the property. When both good clay beds and abundant fuel were
present on an estate, enough to allow exploitation for the market, the
resources could be exploited directly by the owner, or, as a solution often
preferred to limit one’s own responsibilities, leased out to someone else,
according to a locatio-conductio contract.73
Among the coastal villas examined herein this activity appears to
have been particularly common in the coastal area of Astura, which
offered beds of clay and sufcient water. Many known coastal sites show
evidence of kilns, and in one case a drying-room related to a kiln has
been identied in a rich coastal villa.74 The glinae could produce a
variety of products, such as tiles, bricks, amphorae, and lamps,75 either

The juridical and literary sources are analyzed in Di Porto 1984: 3235–77. See
also Aubert 1994, who rightly points out that the presence of glinae as a fundamental
part of estates is attested in the description of the fundi in the Tabula of Veleia (CIL
XI.1146, 14, 47, 89).
These two names are for instance attested for the Licinii; brickstamps referring
to this gens have been found in the area of Blera (Carandini 1989b: 162).
Consider the fact that in the Adriatic regions, the brick-stamps with diffusion over a
wide area are found only along the coast, indicating distribution by boats. For a general
re-assessment of land transport costs vs. sea and river transport see Laurence 1998.
See treatment on glinae in Aubert 1994.
See Catalogue: L20 and footnote 19. For the various kilns identied along the
coast between Astura and the mouth of River Foglino see Piccarreta 1977: 17–18
and map.
As rightly pointed out by Zaccaria-Gomezel 2000: 299 n. 87, it is not true, as it
was previously believed, that a particular stamp belonged only to one kind of product.
In Istria, examples of the same stamp on dolia and bricks, or lamps and dolia have
been recovered.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 65

for sale on the market or, in the case of amphorae, as containers for
other produce from the estates (wine, olive oil,76 sh products). As men-
tioned above, in the discussion of sh-breeding, it is possible that many
of the kilns in southern Latium produced containers for sh sauce or
salted sh. A maritime villa in Bagni Sulfurei (Mondragone, Caserta)
was located very close to the kilns that produced Dressel 1A and 1B
amphorae, containers used for the shipping of Falernian wine.77 In
Imperial times, the large glinae produced tiles and bricks mostly for the
urban markets, to satisfy the demand for the building materials dictated
by new architectural techniques: opus mixtum and opus vittatum.78
One of the fundamental problems archaeologists have to face, when
they discover the remains of kilns at a villa-site, is ascertaining their size
and volume of production—in other words, to determine whether the
kilns produced tiles only to satisfy the villa’s own needs, or whether it
was truly an economic enterprise oriented toward the outside market.
It is not always easy to reach denite conclusions about this matter; it
all depends on the quality of the archaeological data and the extent
of the area excavated. We know from literary sources that, whenever
possible, villas had glinae for their own internal supply, but that this
supply could also have been completed from external sources.79 Brick-
stamps can be very helpful in this matter: a wide distribution of the
same stamp, especially when the word glina appears in it, indicates a
commercial glina.80

In Istria, roof tiles bear the same stamps found on Dressel 6–B amphorae for
olive oil, showing that both were produced on the same fundi. The majority of the
names on these stamps belonged to owners of senatorial or equestrian rank; only a
few names belonged to members of the local elite.
See discussion infra and Gasperetti and Crimaco 1993; Pagano 1995: 216 ff.
Seminal studies on glinae and brick stamps are: H. Bloch, I bolli laterizi e la storia
dell’ediliza romana, Roma 1947; specically for Rome, Ostia and the suburbium: M. Steinby,
La cronologia delle glinae doliari urbane dalla ne dell’età repubblicana no all’inizio del III sec.
d.C., BCAR 84, 1974; T. Helen, Organization of Roman brick production in the rst and second
centuries A.D., Helsinki 1975; P. Setälä, Privati Domini in Roman brick stamps of the Empire. A
historical and prosopographical study of landowners in the district of Rome, Helsinki 1977.
For the type of production in the praedia of large villas in central Italy in the
Late Republic, see Manacorda in Carandini 1985: 101–106. Also, in the case of
small glinae, it cannot be ruled out that part of the production was intended for a
local market. See Zaccaria and Gomezel 2000: 297 for an analysis of the situation in
eastern Venetia and Histria.
A personal name in a brick-stamp can indicate: a) the name of the owner of
the glina were the bricks/tiles were produced; b) the name of the owner of the fundus
were the material was used for construction—the glina could have been in the same
praedium or somewhere else; c) the person for whom the bricks/tiles where produced,
66 chapter two

But what conclusion are we to draw when relatively few examples of

a stamp are known, either spread out over a circumscribed geographi-
cal area or limited only to one site? This question introduces another
problematic issue about brick stamps and villas, namely the tendency,
when a stamp bearing the name of a senator or knight is found at a
site, to attribute to that person the ownership of the estate. The desire
on the part of scholars to give names to the owners of the numerous
villas found in Italy is prevalent, but in fact we can condently attribute
ownership in only a very few cases. Besides the fact that properties
changed hands with relative ease,81 any assignment of ownership based
on brick-stamps depends on whether one interprets the tiles/bricks as
having been produced on the fundus or bought on the market.82
A cogent discussion of the various scenarios relating to brick-stamps
and villas has been presented by M. Gualtieri.83 He outlines two case
studies, showing opposite situations. The rst is a villa rustica at Oppido
Lucano,84 with an impressive pars urbana, in use from the rst century
b.c. to the fth century a.d. Various brick-stamps were discovered,85 and
show that the villa was supplied from several regional sources, rather
than from the praedium specically intended for the villa itself. Gaultieri’s
second example is the villa of Ossaia, near Cortona, in Tuscany.86 Three
types of stamps were recovered there,87 attributable to building phases
in the rst century b.c. and the rst century a.d. But in this case, con-

with no link to the ownership of the glina or the name of the ofcinatores. The owner of
the glina could also lease it to someone else. Fundamental studies about this problem
are: Manacorda 1993 and idem, “I diversi signicati dei bolli laterizi” in Brique 2000:
127–159. About the economic and social conclusions that can be drawn from this type
of material see Andreau 1996.
Finley 1976; Shatzman 1975.
Petrographic analysis can help locate the clay-beds, but this does not always solve
the question of the ownership of a villa, since in many cases we have contiguous estates
sharing the same geological typology. Stamps on water stulae are traditionally considered
more reliable than brick-stamps in the attribution of property ownership (for instance,
see Eck 1982), but contra see Aubert 1993: 177, and Bruun 2003, esp. 494–499, for a
discussion of stulae showing a proper name in the genitive case and having uncertain
provenance. In these cases he suggests the necessity to consider also the possible prov-
enance from public balnea, manufactures, etc. and not just villas. Bruun believes also
that in some cases the genitive on the stamp indicates the manufacturer, implying the
label “(ex ofcina) illius,” rather than the owner of the water line and, therefore, of the
land (= aqua illius), as these stamps have always been understood.
Gualtieri 2000.
In the Bradano Valley, in northeastern Lucania (modern Basilicata).
Herculis; P. Vei.Pollion; Pote(ntinorum); C. E. Gali; C. Iuni Kani with hedera.
For this site, see the Catalogue: T14.
C.Vibi V. f. or VE; Caesarum; A. Gelli Potni.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 67

sidering the usage of the roof tiles and the known distribution of the
specic stamp types, Gualtieri concludes that the stamps indicate the
successive proprietors of the estate: a member of the Vibii Pansae fam-
ily, followed by Caius and Lucius Caesar,88 and nally a freedman of a
family native to Clusium. Not all scholars agree that a particular stamp
indicates the ownership of a villa by a specic person. For instance, in
the case of the Late Republican villa in Scansano, near Campo della
Chiesa, where a previously unknown stamp has been recovered, several
opinions have been expressed. The archaeologist responsible for the
excavation, M. Del Chiaro, believes it shows that the villa belonged to
the Anili family, whereas J. Bodel, in his appendix to M. Del Chiaro’s
1990 article, stresses that the brick-stamp only denotes the production
of the tile in a glina owned by the Anilii.89
The picture of coastal villas that emerges when one takes into account
the whole context into which they were placed, rather than focusing
only on the residential aspect and the pars urbana, is a multifaceted
one. A maritime villa was not a single entity, but rather a complex
organism, with the main villa at the center and, depending on the size
of the fundus, a variable number of satellite farms, often assigned to
coloni.90 Due to the presence of hills and mountains, the coastal fundi
very often have an elongated form, running parallel to the coast, with
promontories separating two adjacent estates. This situation differs from
what we observe in countryside fundi, where the estate belonging to a
villa is formed by grouping the various lots, equal in size and shape,
originally assigned to coloni (see the case/model of Settenestre). The
organization of property and production based on a central villa and
subsidiary farms has long been admitted for villae rusticae, but its validity
for coastal estates has only recently been acknowledged by scholars.
John D’Arms, after his fundamental study of the villas on the Bay on
Naples, was the rst to recognize that maritime villas in the Vesuvian
area had a series of satellite-farms that provided all that was needed
on the main estate as well as goods for commerce.91 Nonetheless, it
is still possible to nd statements in the modern literature about the

Octavian/Augustus inherited some properties belonging to C. Vibius Pansa (cos. 43).
Shatzman 1975: 361.
Del Chiaro 1989; 1990. The stamp reads: P. Anilius P. F.
On the employment of tenants on villa-estates also during the Republic and early
Empire, see the chapter on villae rusticae.
D’Arms 1970 and 1977.
68 chapter two

unproductiveness of maritime villas. Literary sources can be rather

elusive on this matter, but we do nd some hints here and there about
the presence of farms on the estates of villae maritimae. For instance—and
to my knowledge, this passage is never quoted for what it implies about
the property system—Varro reports that Hirrius, the owner of the
famous piscinae mentioned above, had an income of 12,000 sesterces
from the buildings near his coastal estate (Hirrius circum piscinas suas ex
aediciis duodena milia sesteria capiebat).92 Whether this income came from
rental contracts or from the sale of goods produced on the estate we
are unable to tell, but the importance of the passage in this context is
that it seems to point to the presence of satellite farms for maritime
villas as well. A third possible reading of this passage is that, since Varro
uses the term “aedicia” and not “villae,” we should posit not farms, but
buildings right next to the piscinae for the industrial processing of sh,
as in the production of garum and salted sh. I have already mentioned
the villa complex of La Tagliata at Cosa, which contains such buildings,
and the 19th century accounts recording tuna salting at the Villa dei
Muracci. Other villa sites that may have been engaged in sh process-
ing are Torre Valdaliga and Pian di Spille.93
There are two cases, in the geographic area under examination
in which eld survey and topographical research have allowed the
reconstruction of the distribution of major coastal villas and satellite
settlements. Along the coast of Alsium, maritime villas, of which the
average extent of the pars urbana is 80,000 m2,94 are located at a dis-
tance of about 2 km. The space in between these villas is occupied by
small farms, as is the inland area. The number of settlements in this
same area was better dened by the eld survey for the ager Caeretanus,
which in the portion of territory between Ladispoli and S. Severa
documented twelve large villas (10,000–32,000 m2), mainly along the
Via Aurelia; forty-two medium/small villas (1,000–6,000 m2); and 132
small farms (1,000–2,000 m2).95
The second case is the coastal area immediately north of Torre
Astura; here the small farms are located exclusively in the hinterland,
since the average distance between maritime villas is about 200 m, one

Varro Rust. 3.17.2: “Hirrius used to take 12,000 sesterces from the buildings
around his shponds”.
Catalogue: L95; L264; Marzano forthcoming.
See Lafon 1990.
Enei 1992, 1993, in particular 43 ff., and 1995.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 69

Figure 7. Torre Astura region, distribution of villas and farms (after Piccarreta 1977).

tenth of that between maritime villas in Alsium.96 In my opinion, this

cluster of villas can be taken as an indication of two factors. First, it
could indicate villa building along this part of the coast in the Repub-
lican period, earlier than along the Alsium coast, if one assumes that
the closeness of villas reect the size of original, smaller-sized land
allotments. (Figure 7) This fact would be in accordance with Lafon’s
analysis of the chronology of maritime villas based on architectural
and archaeological data. Second, this intense building activity could be
attributed to, among other things, the vast range of economic enterprises
possible in this part of the coast—sh-breeding, glinae, etc.—which

See Piccarreta 1977.
70 chapter two

determined the ourishing of villas. S. Ciccone has attempted a similar

calculation of settlement pattern for a small portion of the coast at
Formiae. In his reconstruction, in a little less than 1,200 m one nds
four monumental villas, the estates of which extended about 1,500 m
inland. This gives a gure of 60 hectares for the fundi, including the villa,
a monumental tomb along the Via Appia, and several villae rusticae.97
As analyzed by Lafon, satellite farms could be part of one contiguous
estate including also the main villa or the land holdings could be dis-
continuous; in either case, one observes a functional differentiation of
the establishments, with few including a lavishly appointed residential
part for the dominus.98
In the area of Castrum Novum (S. Marinella) the larger villas are
concentrated along the coast, several at 1 km or less from each other;
other villas, smaller in size, are distributed inland, along the axis of the
coastal planes, in a strip of land measuring ca. 5 km from the coast
(Figure 8). Lafon suggests that this also reects a system of satellite
establishments belonging to the same proprietors, who would reside in
the villas on the coast—the ones more elegantly appointed—during
their visits.99 This hierarchical organization of one’s properties from the
functional point of view is not exclusive to coastal villas, but applies
also to their countryside counterparts.
Recognizing the importance of these farms in the universe of produc-
tion of the villa maritima allows us to attribute yet more possible produc-
tion activities to coastal villas. Wine-making was mentioned briey in
the section devoted to the pars rustica in maritime villas, and to this we
must add farming and grain production. Literary sources mention these
elements at an early date for some areas. Already in the third century
b.c., we are told that the coastal area of Caere was rich in ocks and
herds;100 archeological conrmation of this picture emerges from fau-
nal taxa excavated at Pyrgi in the third century b.c. strata, including
ovines, pigs, and bovines.101 According to Livy, during the Hannibalic
war, Caere contributed in frumentum and commeatum omnis generis.102 A
similar scenario seems to have been valid for the Julio-Claudian age,

Ciccone 1980: 14, discussed in Lafon 2001: 153.
Lafon 2001: 153–156.
Ibidem: 155.
Lycoph. Alex. 1241. The context is that of the legendary Trojan war, so caution
should be used in extracting information from this passage.
Papi 2000: 6 n. 8.
Liv. 28.45.
71 as economic enterprises

Figure 8. S. Marinella, distribution of villas (after Gianfrotta 1972).

72 chapter two

when Columella’s praedia, in addition to vineyards, also included prata et

pascua et silvas. In the section of coastline between S. Marinella and the
mouth of the river Mignone, at least fty farms with torcularia, dated
to the Republic, have been identied.103
Overall, the villa maritima, which might be considered initially only a
privileged place for the enjoyment of otium, offers, from an economic
point of view, a much more complex and variegated picture than the villa
rustica. The villa on Giglio Island, very likely the property of the Domitii
Ahenobarbi before passing to the Imperial scus, could count not only on
agriculture and sh-breeding,104 but also on the local quarrying of gray
granite,105 widely used in Roman times at least locally. At Tor Caldara,
5 km north-west of Antium, the establishment and life of an elegant
maritime villa in the rst century a.d. was connected to the exploita-
tion of the nearby deposits of sulphour.106 On Elba Island, in addition
to the quarrying of granite, which has been identied in monuments
in Rome,107 at least two of the known maritime villas appear to have
been built and used in conjunction with the commercial exploitation
of the iron mines. Next to the so called Villa delle Grotte and the Villa
di Capo Castello, built on one side of the island’s main harbor, areas
with concentrations of iron slag were discovered. Moreover, both sites
show a phase of abandonment in the late rst century a.d., when min-
ing activity (or metal-processing) on the island was reduced.108 Another
industrial activity that could potentially take place in villas and their
fundi, although we do not have direct archaeological evidence in this
sense, is the production of glass, provided the right natural resources
were available. Interestingly Pliny reports that in Campania the sand for
the glass production which came from the Volturnus River was found

Bastianelli 1939.
Judging from the middling size of the existing remains belonging to the piscina,
it seems that in this case the pond was intended just to provide sh for the villa itself.
See Catalogue: T20.
Bronson and Uggeri 1970: 204. The granite was used for architectural elements
in the various villas of the Argentario peninsula. Possibly, as for the case of Elba below,
it was also exported to Rome, but currently no analysis aiming at identifying the granite
of Giglio outside the Monte Argentario area has been conducted.
See Catalogue: L303; and Quilici and Quilici Gigli 1984.
Pancrazzi and Ducci 1996: 20–23.
Pancrazzi and Ducci 1996: 26 and Casaburo 1997. According to Strabo (5.2.6),
the metal could no longer be processed on the island for lack of fuel, and was sent
to Populonia.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 73

either along the coastline or six miles between Cumae and Liternum,
where several villas stood.109
In addition to these activities—and especially on small islands
ill-suited to agriculture and lacking in other natural resources—the
owner of a coastal villa could raise small game and birds, particularly
peacocks. These birds began to be regarded as a culinary delicacy in
the Late Republic, when Quintus Hortensius introduced them to the
Roman table.110 Animal husbandry, of this kind, fell into the category
of pastio villatica, to which Varro dedicates his entire third book. It was
an occupation that could be extremely remunerative, even if the estate
was not very large, and even more so when the property was located
not too far from Rome. Indeed, as we have seen already, the occasions
when one could sell large numbers of birds or sh at high prices were
public banquets and collegial dinners.111
Even the cultivation of owers could take place at a maritime villa,
in particular if it was located near an urban market.112 At Bagni Sulfu-
rei, near Mondragone (Caserta, in the territory of ancient Sinuessa), a
maritime villa was partly excavated, whose garden, dating to between
the mid-second century b.c. and the early rst century b.c., incorpo-
rated a very sophisticated drainage and irrigation system, with devices
to prevent seawater from rising to the surface. On the basis of the
large dimension of the garden, of the complex hydraulic system and
the transportation of fertile soil from another location, the excavators
of this complex believe that the garden was used for the cultivation of
owers for the city market.113 In fact, the garden occupied four different

Plin., NH 36.194. Lafon 2001: 149 does not nd a direct correlation between
artisan activities and the diffusion of coastal villas, but notes that a possible connection
could be seen in the case of Minturnae, were several villas belonging to elite members
were built in the late second century b.c., and where in 135 b.c. slaves revolted (artisans
according to Toynbee; shepherds and farmers for Frederiksen and Musti; bibliographi-
cal references in Lafon, ibidem).
Columella Rust. 8.11: Itaque genus alitum nemorosis et parvulis insulis, quales obiacent
Italiae, facillime continetur.
E.g., Varro (Rust. 3.2.15–16) reports a prot of 60,000 sesterces from the sale
of ve thousand thrushes raised on his aunt Ficella’s villa on the Salaria, only 36 km
from Rome, for a triumphal banquet.
Obviously, the cultivation of owers for the market was not a prerogative of
maritime villas only, but took place in rural villas as well, depending on the climate
and villa location. The excavators of the villa at Posto, Francolise, suggest the possibil-
ity that ower cultivation took place in the area in Roman times (based on modern
practices); see Cotton 1979a: 69.
Gasperetti and Crimaco 1993. See also Pagano 1995: 216 ff.
74 chapter two

articial terraces, ending only a few meters away from the present
shoreline. A thick layer of humus, brought from the foot of nearby
Monte Petrino, was placed on a preparation layer made of earth and
amphora fragments. Many channels made of tiles and tubuli formed
a complex irrigation and drainage system. The channels irrigated the
garden, while the pottery fragments in the preparatory layer helped
the retention of humidity. The problem of underground saltish water
was solved with a sophisticated device: below the two layers described
above, were two layers of whole Dressel 1-A amphorae, held together
by a thick layer of mortar; the amphorae of the rst layer, closer to the
surface, were lled with soil; the ones of the second layer were empty,
sealed with a mortar stopper.
Indeed, Cicero mentions in one of his letters prots from a ower
garden in his villa at Tusculum.114 In the letter, addressed to his freedman
Tyro, Cicero discusses the letting of the garden, alluding to improve-
ments he made, and mentioning that from another property he had a
yield in owers that exceeded expectations:
Parhedrum excita ut hortum ipse conducat; sic holitorem ipsum commovebis. Helico
nequissimus HS  dabat, nullo aprico horto, nullo emissario, nulla maceria, nulla
casa. Iste nos tanta impensa deriderat? Calface hominem, ut ego Mothonem; itaque
abutor coronis.115
We lack sufcient information to fully comprehend the passage, but it is
clear that Cicero is discussing a garden in his villa in Tusculum which
yielded some capital return either in the form of rent or of direct sell
of its product. It is assumed that owers for the market of Tusculum
were cultivated in the garden, since Cicero makes the parallel with
another of his gardens that yielded abundant owers (coronis). Whether
the one thousand sesterces that Helicus used to pay refers to the rental

For the study of hydraulic infrastructure in villas, possibly related to the irrigation
of orchards and ower gardens see Thomas and Wilson 1994; Wilson forthcoming.
Cic. Fam. 16.18.2: “Urge Parhedrus to hire the garden for himself. In this way
you will give the present gardener a shaking-up. That hopeless rascal Helico used to
pay 1000 sesterces, when there was no sunny garden, no water drainage, no wall, no
shed. Is he to laugh at us, after we took over such expenses? Warm the fellow up,
as I do Motho here, with the result that I have abundant owers for garlands”. The
details are difcult to understand for us, since the letter only alludes to transactions
and business well-known to Tyro, but it is clear that Cicero spent money to improve
the garden and that he was not satised by the offer (presumably for the purchase of
the owers) received from Parhedrus, hence the suggestion to have Parhedrus hire and
manage the garden himself (conducat).
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 75

of the garden or to the price paid for the owers it is not clear. The
improvements to the property are intended to increase the productiv-
ity of the garden, especially the creation of an emissarius, which must
refer to an irrigation system, probably fed by the Aqua Crabra, since
in the letter Cicero moves on to ask about what is happening with the
Flowers had many uses in antiquity, from the making of garlands to
be used in banquets and ceremonies, to the scenting of wine (especially
with roses, violets, and lilies), and the manufacture of perfume and
unguents.117 Varro mentions the benets of the large-scale cultivation
of rose and violet in the vicinity of a city.118 Greenhouses, although
not yet articially heated, were already being used to cultivate owers
in the rst century a.d.119 Since in Italy olive oil was used as a base for
perfumes, their production proved lucrative, during the entire Impe-
rial age, for the owners of olive groves and rose-elds in addition to

Real-Estate Speculation

In the previous sections, I focused on the various economic enterprises

attested for maritime villas. To complete the picture, I should also men-
tion that a villa could be a protable venture per se, since it was highly
valued on the real-estate market. This fact is true both for country vil-
las in sought after locations and for maritime ones. The rapidity with
which properties were bought and sold, this being a “licit” business for

Cic. Fam. 16.18.3: de Crabra quid agatur, etsi nunc quidem etiam est aquae, tamen velim
scire. The same opinion is expressed by Thomas and Wilson 1994: 147, footnote 39.
For instance, see the perfume laboratory/shop excavated in the forum of Paestum
or workshops at Pompeii. The area around Paestum is described in poetic texts (Ovid
Met., 3.15.708; Prop. 4.4.69; Mart. 4.42.10; 5.37.9) as being rich in rose-elds that
owered twice a year. On this, see Brun 2000. The author correctly points out that the
vocabulary used in the texts (rosaria) and the emphasis on the high productivity seem
to indicate large-scale cultivation rather than pure horticultural decoration. Campania
was renowned for the production of the best rose perfume. See D. Mattingly, “Paint-
ings, presses and perfume production at Pompeii”, OJA 1999, 9: 71–90 for analysis of
a particular type of oil press, the wedge press, used in perfume making.
Varro Rust. 1.16.3.
Sen. Ep. 90.25; Mart. 8.14.
Brun 2000: 300. Certain olive oils, such as the Venafrum, were particularly sought
after for their qualities in the perfume-making process.
76 chapter two

the elite, was quite surprising.121 The transactions involved senators and
rich freedmen alike. We know that one villa in Tusculum changed ve
owners within 50 years: the freedman Sotericus Marcius, L. Crassus,
Vennonius Vindicius, Q. Metellus and L. Cornelius Balbus.122 For this
reason, the desire to own a maritime villa and the location of the villa
itself resulted in part from the prospect of reselling the estate at a prot.
C. Sergius Orata, famous for breeding oysters on a large scale in Lake
Lucrinus, was also known for being the rst to install “hanging baths”123
in the villas he built on the “deserted” shores of the lake. The refer-
ence to balnea pensilia is interpreted by some scholars to mean the use
of suspensurae in the caldarium.124 What seems to emerge from the case
of Orata is that he built villas equipped with the latest conveniences
in order to sell them at a large prot. Speculation of this kind greatly
increased the prices of villas.125
Cicero mentions a legal case regarding Orata in his De Ofciis, in a
discussion of the bona des principle in sale transactions. Marcus Marius
Gratidianus had sold a house back to Orata, which he had bought
from the same Orata a few years earlier. But Gratidianus had not
stated in the sale transaction that the house, or part of it, was subject
to easement, and the case was brought to court.126 What is interesting
about this passage in this context is the fact that Orata is buying back
the house he himself had sold. Cicero does not tell us the price paid
or any other details about the sale, as he is interested only in the bona
des in the act of mancipio. But it seems reasonable to assume that Orata
proted from the transactions, or else he would not have sold the house
in the rst place. As far as we know, he had no compelling reason, such
as a pressing need for cash, to do so. As for his motives in buying the

For a study of this phenomenon at the time of Cicero see E. Rawson in Finley
1976: 85–102.
Valenti 2003: 59.
Val. Max. 9.1.1: C. Sergius Orata pensilia balnea primus facere instituit. Quae impensa a
livibus initiis coepta ad suspensa caldae aquae tantum non aequora penetravit [. . .] Aediciis etiam
spatiosis et excelsis deserta ad id tempus ora Lucrini lacus pressit, qui recentiore usu conchyliorum
frueretur. Also Pliny NH 9.168: balineas pensiles.
On the development of baths in domestic architecture in Italy, see Fabbricotti
1976, Lafon 1991 for important discoveries at Villa Prato (Sperlonga), and Papi
Pliny NH 3.15.3: Sergius Orata primus pensiles invenerit balineas ita mangonicatas
villas subinde vendendo (bold mine). See also Gros 2001: 290.
Cic. de Off. 3.67.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 77

house back from Gratidianus, one could either speculate that he was
overcome by sentimentalism and attachment or see behind this act a
businessman, who foresaw the possibility of enhancing the value of the
house and maybe reselling it later at a higher price. Cornelia, Sulla’s
daughter, was able to sell the villa at Capo Miseno to L. Licinius Lucul-
lus for 10 million sesterces. She had bought the villa, which belonged
to Marius, for only 300,000 sesterces.127 Although that low price was
the result of conscation relating to the proscriptions of 82–81 b.c.,
Cornelia must also have enhanced the property, if she was able to sell
it for 10 million some time later. One of the gures who emerges from
Cicero’s epistolary in relation to his search for a property, where to built
the funerary monument in memory of his daughter Tullia, is a certain
Silius,128 a landowner in the territory of Ostia. Silius was known for his
sense for business and had invested in buying large properties in order
to parcel and re-sell them at a high prot.
In Imperial times, Juvenal mentions in his Satire 14 two other poten-
tial speculators: Posides and Creticus. Posides, who was a freedman of
the emperor Claudius,129 built, possibly in the area of Baiae,130 luxurious
villas, which surpassed in luxury the palaces on the Capitoline Hill.
Creticus owned and built many villas on the coast of Formiae. Literary
sources do not explicitly state that these two characters engaged in real
estate speculation, but it seems plausible that such was the purpose of
their intense building activity.131
As part of this discussion, it must be remembered that the furnish-
ing of the villas was an important aspect of the speculation. Lavish
furnishings could not only be a delight for the owner, and a matter of
self representation in society, but they could also improve the market
value of the property. From Pliny the Younger we learn that a rich

Plut. Mar. 34.2.
This Silius was the father of Silius Nerva, cos. 20 b.c., maybe related to P. Silius,
praetor in 58 or 52 b.c.
Suet. Claud. 28.
Pliny NH 31.2 reports that at Baiae there were thermal springs called aquae
Posidianae after a freedman of Claudius Caesar. Posides has also been proposed as a
candidate for the ownership of the Roman villa in Positano, very partially investigated
by Weber in April 1758. M. Della Corte (1936) made this suggestion based on linguistic
evidence (the place-name Positano exhibits the typical ending for names derived from
adjectives naming a Roman praedium.
See the general comment on building activities in villas by Purcell 1985: 9, note
39: “aedicatio was a popular way of adding to the market value of a villa”.
78 chapter two

landowner like Domitius Tullus, who left to his wife amoenissimas villas,
had innumerable ancient works of art (original pieces, not copies) in
his storehouses, ready to be used for furnishing the gardens of newly
bought villas.132 Statuary was an important part of the furnishing of a
villa and its garden—the types of works and narrative themes selected
could communicate to others how the villa’s owner wanted to be per-
ceived by his peers and subordinates.133 The passage in Pliny the Elder
about Agrippa objecting to the private display in villas of statues and
pictures, which he considered public goods, is a famous quotation,
frequently used to illustrate the degree to which villas were furnished
with works of art.134 The demand for luxury goods was certainly sig-
nicant, as shown by the case of the aristocrat Damasippus, who after
losing the family’s properties was active as an art merchant, probably
taking advantage of old acquaintances interested in furnishing their
villas and town houses.135 Although not every villa received a precisely
planned decorative program according to the owner’s personal tastes
and beliefs (as in the case of Cicero’s Tusculanum, the Papyri Villa at
Herculaneum, or Herodes Atticus’ villa near Eua, in the Peloponnese),136
gurative decoration was what made a villa luxurious and fashionable,
and it ultimately helped to increase the value of the property. Goods to
the value of 30 million sesterces, including all the excess items intended

Pliny Ep. 8.18.11: Expectatur auctio (of the statues, since Tullus died): fuit enim tam
copiosus, ut amplissimos hortos eodem quo emerat die instruxerit plurimis et antiquissimis statuis;
tantum illi pulcherrimorum operum in horreis, quae neglebantur.
See especially Neudecker 1988.
Plin., NH 35.26.
He was probably the son of L. Iunius Damasippus, the praetor of 82 b.c., who
was killed by Sulla. F. Zevi, “Cicero and Ostia”, in Gallina, Zevi and Humphrey
2004: 23.
On the decorative program of the Papyri Villa—possibly a property of Calpurnius
Piso, Caesar’s father-in-law, but this is really hypothetical—a vast bibliography exists;
see, in particular, Neudecker 1988 and Wojcik 1986. Herodes Atticus’ villa (covering a
surface area of 20,000 m2, with a central garden decorated with sculptures on a plan
similar to that of the Papyri Villa) has been under excavation since the 1980s, under
the direction of Teodoro Spyropoulos. The sculptures, including original fth-century
statues, have been recently published in G. Spyropoulos, Drei Meisterwerke der griechischen
Plastik aus der Villa des Herodes Atticus zu Eva/Loukou. Frankfurt am Main 2001. The mosaic
and sculptural decoration of the peristyle garden were conceived as one decorative
program, linking the themes of the mosaics with the sculptures placed in front of the
porticoes. For example, in the north portico, in front of a mosaic depicting Menelaos
holding Patroclos’ body, fragments of a statuary group representing the same subject
were found (“Pasquino” type). For an account of the villa see T. Spyropoulos and
G. Spyropoulos, “Prächtige Villa, Refugium und Musenstätte”, Antike Welt 34.5, 2003:
463–464 and G. Ieranò, “I tesori di un intelletuale”, Archeo (6) 2001: 48–53.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 79

for the scaenae frons and the set of the theater that he had built, were
destroyed when Scaurus’ villa in Tusculum was set on re by his angry
servants.137 The fact that Domitius Tullus found it more convenient to
buy works of art in advance (as a result of wholesale purchases, auctions,
or ofcia held in the provinces), indicates the frequency with which he
bought (and sold) properties and the necessity of being able to furnish
the villas decorously and quickly. It is not by chance that at Baiae, the
famous vacation spot where many maritime villas were located, several
plaster casts of Greek statues were discovered; the casts were intended
for the manufacture in series of bronze statuary and must have related
to a workshop that produced furnishing for the villas in the area.138
Statuary is not the only furnishing for villas that could be bought
in advance or moved between various estates. While other types of
objects, such as furniture and metal objects, do not usually survive in
the archaeological record, we can get an idea of their existence by
looking at the Vesusvian area, where the eruption of 79 a.d. “froze”
the picture. The villa excavated in the 19th century at Boscoreale in
Contrada Pisanella presented in the courtyard not only wooden chests
and wardrobes containing metal toilette implements, surgical instru-
ments and vessels, but also two bronze bath tubs, while stored in the
granary were large wooden and bronze doors, pertaining to a main
gateway.139 Whether these objects originated from the same villa and
indicate that works and restorations were taking place at the site—as
it has been postulated for most of the habitations in the area—or
whether they were moved/bought from another estate to be reused
when needed, we cannot determine. This evidence reminds us, however,
that the furnishings of villas were not static and in some cases objects
were placed in a much less orderly fashion than we like to imagine,
even if we accept that the evidence of the area around Vesuvius is
exceptional because it reects on-going restorations and refurnishing
caused by the earthquake of 62 a.d. (a position, however, that several
scholars are starting to attenuate).
Extreme cases of prot-making in real estate usually concern a villa
being sold to demolitores, who would take and resell all the building

Pliny NH 36.115: relicus apparatus tantus Attalica veste, tabulis pictis, cetero choragio fuit
ut in Tusculanam villam reportatis quae superuebant cotidiani usus deliciis, incensa villa ab iratis
servis concremaretur HS | CC¯C|.
Landwehr 1985.
Carandini 1989b: 166–168.
80 chapter two

material that was reusable, from marble crustae and columns to ashlar
blocks. The senatus consultum “de ediciis non diruendis,” passed in 44 a.d.,
must have been intended to put a stop to this widespread practice.140
The law forbade the buying and selling of urban houses and villas in
order to prot from their demolition, penalizing both the buyer and
the seller. As we know from another senatus consultum, passed in 56 a.d.,
the earlier law must have been enforced on most occasions, if special
deliberation of the senate was needed for those cases that might be
considered exceptional.141 It is possible that despite this legislation,
the practice continued or was resumed in later ages. In some cases,
excavated villas appear to have been stripped of all reusable building
material before becoming a ruin.142 The twenty thousand individual
mosaic tesserae, stripped from several rooms and stored in the courtyard
of the villa discovered at La Befa (Siena) while the mansion was being
remodeled into an unrened farm, might have been the last batch of
precious building material to be sold.143
But selling was not the only way to gain revenue from real estate.
In my opinion, we should also consider the possibility that villas were
rented out. Although E. Rawson144 observed that the readiness to sell
properties among the Ciceronian aristocracy was also probably caused
by the rarity of renting among the upper classes, evidence pertaining
to the urbs suggests quite the opposite. Many members of the senatorial
elite rented a domus in Rome. Information about renting is presented
systematically nowhere in the sources, but it does exist. From Sueto-
nius, for instance, we learn that Tiberius took away the latus clavus of
a senator upon learning that he had moved to the country around the
calends of July, when rental contracts were stipulated, so that he could

There are three known epigraphic examples of this senatus consultum, the so-called
Hosidianum. See CIL X.1401 and S. Riccobono, et al., Fontes Iuris Romani antejustiniani,
Firenze 1940–43: 288–89: [. . .] debent apstinere se omnes cruentissimo genere negotiationis, neque
inimicissimam pace faciem inducere ruinis domum villarumque, placere: si quid negotiandi causa emisset
quod aedicium, ut diruendo plus adquireret quam quanti emisset [. . .].
Riccobono op. cit.: 289–90: Alliatoria Celsilla asked and obtained an exemption
for some old buildings on estates her father bought at Campi Macri.
For instance Elba, Villa della Linguella. See Catalogue: T15.
It is also possible that the tesserae were recovered to be used again at the same
site, but the type of restorations occurring during this phase transform the aristocratic
residence into a simple farm (rooms that received new oors were paved with large,
at stones, with no evidence of sophisticated décor).
E. Rawson in Finley 1976: 85–102.
VILLAE MARITIMAE as economic enterprises 81

obtain a better price after that date.145 Dio, on the other hand, reports
that the triumviri of 43 b.c. were planning to raise money by imposing a
roof-tile tax on senators living in rented houses.146 If this habit had not
been common among the upper classes, the triumviri would have had no
need to introduce such a tax. In light of these pieces of evidence for
the urban market, it is worth asking whether villas, too, could some-
times have been rented out. Literary sources, in particular the letters
of Cicero, often mention the “exchange” of invitations among peers to
spend vacations in various villas. It is possible that we are simply not
informed of cases when the “invitation” was really a rental.

Suet. Tib. 35.2: Senatori latum clavum ademit, cum cognosset sub Kal. Iul. demigrasse in
hortos, quo vilius post diem aedes in urbe conduceret.
Dio 46.31.3.


In contrast to the ambiguous picture literary sources present of villae

maritimae, the country villa consistently occupies a privileged place in
the ideological constructions of the Roman elite. Landowning and
agriculture, deeply rooted in tradition, were considered the source
of income par excellence for Roman senators.2 Agriculture was socially
respectable and was generally judged to be a safe and secure pursuit
from an economic standpoint, especially when compared to the uncer-
tainties of commerce. Clearly, the position of the sources on this topic
shows some degree of idealization, as agriculture in the Mediterranean
climate, with a wide range of variation in rainfall, can be a rather risky
investment, especially in the case of viticulture.3 Archaeological evidence
from North Africa indicates that landowners tried to put off the risk of
crop failure, caused by hail, by invoking the gods’ protection.4
Cicero in his de Ofciis comments that those who are engaged in com-
mercial activities deserve respect if, once satised with the fortunes made

In this chapter the term villa rustica is used to indicate an elite villa in a rural set-
ting, in contraposition to the villae maritimae discussed in the previous chapters, and not,
as in Varro, Rust. 3.2.1, to indicate a farm without residential part.
For an analysis of Roman juridical sources in relation to attitudes towards agri-
cultural estates as source of income see Kehoe 1997, with particular focus given to
legislation on tenancy and legacy. This study stresses the fact that in the jurists’ treat-
ment agricultural estates are counted as providing xed revenue, often equated to the
value of the annual rental.
A passage stressing the risks involved in cash-crops agriculture is Hor. Odes 3.1.25–
32, which contrasts these troubles with the serenity of those who content themselves
with little: desiderantem quod satis est neque/tumultuosum sollicitat mare (. . .)/non verberatae
grandine vineae fundusque mendax, arbore nunc aquas culpante, nunc torrentia agros sidera, nunc
hiemes iniquas. See also Pliny’s letter (4.6) on the grape harvest in his estate damaged by
hail. The risk of harvest failure could be avoided in the case of crops sold before the
actual harvest, a possibility envisaged by Cato for grape and olives, when the buyer
was responsible for harvest, process, transport and also shouldered the losses if the
harvest failed (Morley 2000: 217).
Brun 2004: 208, giving also an example of an inscription on a press counter-
weight against the ‘evil eye’ of the envious; p. 273 for two counterweights from Spain
with dedication to I(ovi) O(ptimo) M(aximo)/S.I.E.P. and Libero/S.I.E.P., read by Brun as
S(acrum) I(ulius) E(ros) P(osuit).
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 83

through commerce, they move from the “port to the country estate”; in
other words, if they start investing in land property, since “nothing is
better than agriculture.”5 The importance of agriculture in the ideology
of the upper class was directly connected with the weight given to the
idea of self-sufciency: one should produce all that is needed on the
estate, and this means an engagement in agriculture to provide both
basic—and less basic—foodstuffs. As early as the second century b.c.
the sumptuary laws passed in Rome stressed the idea of self-sufciency
by allowing the use of the agricultural products of one’s estates, thus
emphasizing the importance of agriculture as a way for the elite to
invest their capital.6 Incidentally, this deep-rooted idea may also have
contributed, later on, to the downplaying of other economic activities
that occurred in maritime villas, such as sh-breeding: a villa owner
who invested in intensive sh-breeding may have been making good
money, but he did not produce the agricultural products he needed.
The idealization of agricultural activity, symbol of the old times when
the “good citizens” were farming their land, and the importance this
concept had for the Roman elite is evident also in poetry, such as
Virgil’s Georgics. As argued by Reay, the Georgics offered to the elite
audience, composed of estate owners, a mirror image of their ideal
Roman self.7
From the very beginning, the word villa was used to refer to establish-
ments outside the city walls that included land ( fundus or praedium), and
which were engaged in various kinds of agricultural production. The
term villa rustica is less a product of the ancient mind than a specica-
tion used by the modern reader to differentiate country villas from their
coastal counterparts, which I discussed in the previous two chapters.
As a matter of fact, the term villa alone, not modied by either rustica
or maritima, referred in primis to the country villa.
As in the case of coastal villas, the rural villa developed principally
in certain geographic areas not far from Rome. The Colli Albani—par-
ticularly Tusculum, and Lanuvium—and the hills around Fidenae, Tibur

Cic., de Of. 1.151: Mercatura autem, si tenuis est, sordida putanda est; sin magna et copiosa,
multa undique apportans multisque sine vanitate inpertiens, non est admodum vituperanda; atque etiam si
satiata quaestu vel contenta potius, ut saepe ex alto in portum, ex ipso se portu in agros possessionesque
contulit, videtur iure optimo posse laudari. Omnium autem rerum, ex quibus aliquid adquiritur, nihil
est agri cultura melius, nihil uberius, nihil dulcius, nihil homine libero dignius.
Both the Lex Fannia (161 b.c.) and the Lex Licinia (130 b.c.) allowed the use of the
products of the earth (but the Fannia prohibited imported wine): Clemente 1981.
Reay 2003.
84 chapter three

and Praeneste turned out to be the favored spots for members of the
elite to own a country villa, most likely followed in popularity by Lake
Bracciano (Sabatinus). In fact, this last area was richer in villas than
the extant archaeological evidence suggests, since only three major
villas have so far been identied in the area. Because villas were built
right on the shore, and the water level of the lake is now higher than
it was in antiquity, it is difcult to locate and investigate the ancient
ruins that are now underwater. Geographic areas closer to Rome were
highly valued because they could be reached by a short trip from the
urbs, and therefore made even a short stay not impractical. Indeed, in
the Late Republic and the Imperial period, all the hills around Rome
and the above-mentioned centers were considered part of the suburbium.8
Senators, at least until the Late Republic, tended to concentrate their
properties in the areas surrounding Rome, leading to price increases
for the better properties.9 This fact does not rule out that most of the
elite members had properties and villas scattered in different areas of
Italy. But the areas just mentioned, in particular Tibur and Tusculum,
were the rural equivalent of Antium or Baiae, where many villas were
established, starting in the Republican period.
Abundant literary evidence underlines the ideological constructions
and projections relating to rural villas, which were places to cultivate
the mind as well as the elds. Here, too, the ideological framework
was built in opposition to reality, although the gulf between ideal and
reality is not nearly so wide as in the case of coastal villas. Even the
works of the agronomists, which should have offered useful, practical
advice about the management of rural villas, provide an articial and
literary construction of the “idea” of the villa. On the other side of the
scale, we have the physical testimony of the archaeological evidence. As
we will see in the next chapter, the case of Pliny the Younger’s villa is
exemplary. The remains excavated near Città di Castello reveal building
activity at the site concerned with the improvement of the function-

The ancient conception of what fell into the category of suburbium was rather
exible and imprecise, and of course it changed over time, according to the city’s
development. Even the coastline between Antium and Fregene could be referred to as
suburbium. For Pliny, the whole of Central Italy was suburbana Italiae regio (Volpe 2000:
183). For the settlements of the suburbium, see also Quilici Gigli 1994; Mayer 2005 for
a study of villas in the suburbium, with particular focus on how the term is dened in
literary texts.
For studies in elite properties and their commercialization, see Rawson in Finley
1976; Andermahr 1998.
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 85

ality of the service quarters and maximizing the villa’s productivity,

whereas in his letters Pliny refers only in passing to the management
of this estate.

The Villa Rustica in Ancient Literary Sources

The fact that, in the ideology of the Roman elite, the word villa referred
rst and foremost to what we now call the villa rustica, which yielded
revenues through cash-crop agriculture, is shown by the works of such
writers as Cato, Varro, and Columella. Their books on agriculture,
addressed primarily to members of the senatorial elite, amount to a
theorization and conceptualization of the moral superiority of farming
over other activities. Consequently, the unit that allows for this type of
endeavor—i.e., the country villa—is subject to the same conceptualiza-
tion and becomes part of the same theoretical framework.
The ideal of the villa is set forth in the agronomists’ recommendations
concerning the best location for a villa, its orientation, and architec-
tural typology. The line that can be drawn between the three authors
shows an evolution from a relatively small, simple villa to a larger and
more elegant mansion, comprising a pars urbana, a pars rustica, and a
pars fructuaria (in Columella’s ideal description), wherein the agri cultura
is joined to pastio agrestis and pastio villatica (Varro’s idea of the villa
perfecta).10 In particular, the works of Varro and Columella, produced
in a time when rich villas were widespread in the Italian countryside,
offer the best picture of what was felt to be proper, for a wealthy
landowner, in regard to the appearance of his villa and the activities
conducted in it. Although the three books of Varro’s De Re Rustica also
deal with traditional stock-farming and the farming of poultry, bees,
and sh,11 it is Columella’s De Re Rustica, in twelve books, that offers
detailed, at times even technical information on different aspects of
villas, such as how to build shponds. One must not forget, however,
that the works of the agronomists, although very technical on various
details pertaining planting, grafting, etc., do not treat every aspect of
the estate management, such as accounting and book keeping. This is
not a shortcoming of Roman accountancy notions, which were actually

For an analysis of the ancient agronomists’ works, see Martin 1971.
Stock-farming: book 2, De re pecuaria; other: book 3, De villatica pastione.
86 chapter three

rather sophisticated, as Egyptian documentary evidence suggests.12 The

main scope of such literary works was to satisfy their audience’s interest
in how to invest capital while remaining within the boundaries set by
ideological and social constructs. In other words, giving details about
starting a vineyard satised the expectations of their audience because
it tted within the nostalgic ideology of the elite. Being good citizens
equals being good farmers and agriculture is the only pursuit in which
one can get directly involved without moral stigma.13
One element common to both Varro and Columella is the critique of
(contemporary) excessively lavish villas that neglected agriculture, thus
remaining unproductive. It is precisely by contrasting the unproductive
(inutilis) villa of Appius Claudius Pulcher, lled only with works of art
and dened as deliciis sumptuosa, with the “productive” villas in the Ital-
ian landscape that Varro constructs the dialogue between the various
characters in his third book. One of these characters, Q. Axius, stresses
the concept that a country villa must retain its original function as a
unit of agricultural production. He, indeed, contrasts Pulcher’s villa
with his own, which, although opulent and elegant, has pigs, donkeys,
and horses for breeding. While one mansion displays only works of
art by Greek artists, the other has real traces of the husbandman and
the shepherd.14 Similarly, the highly productive fundi of Cn. Tremel-
lius Scrofa, with their aporothecae, offer a more pleasant spectacle to
the eyes than the mansions built like royal palaces, adorned with art
Because of their protability, Varro tells us, villae rusticae initially had
a higher market value than villae urbanae—exactly the reverse of the
situation experienced by Varro’s characters in their own time.16 By the
rst century b.c., the fashion for luxurious mansions, equipped with
beautiful gardens and located in the immediate Rome, had caused an
increase in the market value of villae urbanae. Columella also targets

See Rathbone 1991.
The reality was quite different as discussed in D’Arms 1981.
Varro Rust. 3.2.4 and 5: vestigium ubi sit nullum Lysippi aut Antiphili, at crebra sartoris et
pastoris. For an analysis of this passage and of the ideology of production, see Purcell
Varro Rust. 1.2.10: Fundi enim eius propter culturam iucundiore spectaculo sunt multis, quam
regie polita aedicia aliorum, cum huius spectatum veniant villas non, ut apud Lucullum ut videant
pinacotheca, sed aporothecas.
Varro Rust. 1.13.6: Illorum villae rusticae erant maioris preti quam urbanae quae nunc sunt
pleraque contra.
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 87

excessive luxury, but what he denounces as the cause of decline in

the Italian agriculture is the indifference of landowners toward their
estates, the inefcient management of latifundia, and the fact that the
“farmer” does not receive proper training. Agriculture as the “good”
occupation of the forefathers of the Roman Republic nds its way
into the De Re Rustica through allusions to the idealized gures of early
Rome, morally superior to their descendents, who divided their time
between agriculture and politics. Nonetheless, Columella envisions the
residential part ( pars urbana) of “his” villa complete with a series of
comforts and luxuries not in line with the frugality of ancient times,
but well attested in villa-establishments by this period. It is, in fact, an
elegant and comfortable pars urbana that will lure the absent dominus to
go and visit his estates.17
Since the rural villa was originally the productive unit in land use,
when the habits of the elite shaped themselves to the practice of otium,
the idea of the rural villa as the place for vacation and leisure remained
attached to the idea of agriculture in the collective imagination.18 The
conubium between the social practices of otium and the daily life of a
farm is, for instance, evident in Varro’s description of the aporotheca
in Scrofa’s villa,19 a dining room in a storeroom for fruit. Under the
Empire, too, the idea of engaging in agricultural chores in the coun-
tryside as a kind of retreat is well attested. Marcus Aurelius wrote to
his tutor, Fronto, daily accounts of his sojourn at a country villa with
his father, Antoninus Pius. The future emperor spent time harvesting
grapes and reading Cato’s De Agri Cultura, and then at night enjoyed

Columella Rust. 1.4: proportione etiam facultatum quam optime paterfamilias debet habitare,
ut et libentius rus veniat et degat in eo iucundius.
In various areas around Rome a change in land management was observed for
the third century b.c., with the constitution of homogenous fundi (size varies between
12/18 ha in the area of Centocelle, along the Via Casilina and 20/25 in the area of
Vellerano, between the Via Pontina and the Via Laurentina) with villae usually located
on a hill (see Volpe 2000, 188–192). In most cases these early villas continued to be
occupied until the Imperial or late Imperial periods, becoming more and more archi-
tecturally elaborated. However, the excavation of the Auditorium villa has revealed
the existence, as early as the fth century b.c., of a villa/farm provided with oil press
and storage rooms (second phase of the villa, which was built in the second part of the
sixth century b.c.). In the mid-third century b.c. the architecture of this villa displays
a clear separation between a pars urbana and a pars rustica, featuring tablinum with alae,
the plan arrangement that is canonical in houses and villas of the Republican period;
see Carandini et al. 1997. The practice of otium and the embellishment of rural or
maritime villas emerged in second century b.c. and it is largely attested, both literarily
and archaeologically, by the early rst century b.c.
Var. Rust. 1.59.2.
88 chapter three

dining in a rustic setting like the press room.20 Recent archaeological

excavations at the site of Villa Magna (S. Pietro di Villamagna, Anagni)
have been uncovering the remains of the villa discussed in the letters,
and may have already identied the press room where Marcus Aurelius
dined. A cella vinaria with many large dolia for the storage of wine was
excavated. The room, unlike any parallel known so far, presents an opus
spicatum oor made with tiles of the valued Numidian marble and had
marble veneer on the walls as well.21 This sensational discovery shows
the degree of luxurious ostentation that dwellings of the Imperial fam-
ily could have and the degree of idealization that agricultural life had
reached. Marcus Aurelius wanted to experience what he was reading
in Cato’s treatise, but the processing of grape into wine took place in
surroundings t for an emperor.
Vitruvius himself, in his treatise on architecture, recommends that
the parts of the villa built in a lavish way should not impede its utilitas,
in particular the existence and functionality of stables, storerooms, and
other facilities connected to production.22 This concept—the necessary
coexistence of utilitas and elegantia—is embedded in another topic that
characterizes the philosophical discussion about villa-agriculture, the
idea of self-sufciency.23 A villa must at least be able to produce every-
thing its owner needs; the opposite, censurable situation is when the
dominus of a country estate is forced to supply his kitchen from the city
market, an inversion of the usual movement of goods from place of
production to place of distribution/consumption. This state of affairs is
the object of many satirical works. Martial, for example, wrote several
epigrams satirizing villa-owners who behaved in this way.24
As a category, pastio villatica included various occupations “subsidiary”
to agriculture. Q. Caecilius Metellus Scipio introduced the practice of

Fronto Ep. 4.6. (Bibliotheca Teubneriana edition).
The project started in summer 2006 under the direction of E. Fentress et al.
Besides the literary reference the villa was also know from CIL X.5909, dated to 207
a.d. and referring to the paving of a road going from the villa to Anagni. See Fasti
On-line: I thank
A. I. Wilson for informing me about this discovery.
Vitr. De Arch. 6.6.5: Qui autem fructibus rusticis serviunt, in eorum vestibules stabula, tabernae,
in aedibus crypta, horrea, apothecae ceteraque, quae ad fructus servandos magis quam ad elegantiae
decorum possunt esse, ita sunt facienda.
See Purcell 1995.
E.g., 3.58, with its famous closing: at tu sub urbe possides famem mundam/et turre
ab alta prospicis meras laurus (. . .) et vinitorem farre pascis urbano (. . .) rus hoc vacari debet, an
domus longe?
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 89

fattening ducks and raised them for the market at his villas, presumably
also including the one he had in Tibur.25 Statius, in praising the villa
of Manilius Vopiscus at Tibur, mentions his pomaria 26 as noteworthy.
In this same area, archaeological remains of ponds at some villas27
show the practice of sh-breeding, well attested in other large villas
of the suburbium, such as the villa of Casal Morena.28 As we saw in the
discussion of maritime villas, most of the ancient sources have refer-
ences to sh-breeding of marine species. Varro, however, explains that
there are two kinds of shponds, one using fresh water and the other
salt water, and interestingly he attributes the exploitation of the rst to
the common people, the latter to the nobility.29 It seems that ideologi-
cal considerations about gain coming from commercial transactions
not related to agriculture proper dictate, in this case, the distinction
between plebs and nobiles as “exploiters” of the two kinds of shponds.
Forced to admit that sh-breeding can be remunerative, Varro limits
the protability to freshwater ponds, declaring that the maritime ones,
where the amount of capital investment in their construction and
maintenance is higher and more evident, belonged to the elite and
were mainly unproductive.
Fish-breeding at country villas was probably quite common in the area
around Rome. It has been noted how several circular and rectangular
water storage basins recorded in Latium, with no permanent covering
and associated with nearby cisterns, may have been shponds, if not
for breeding at least for the rearing and stocking of fresh water sh.30

Pliny NH 10.52 is uncertain whether the “invention” of foie gras has to be attrib-
uted to Metellus Scipio or to the contemporary knight M. Seius, who had a protable
maritime villa engaged in pastio villatica near Ostia, (see below): Nec sine causa in questione
est quis tantum bonum invenerit (i.e. duck-fattening), Scipio Metellus vir consularis an M. Seius.
Varro, Rust. 3.10.1 mentions both gures as involved in breeding gooses.
Stat. Silv. 1.3.81.
For instance, in the so-called villas of Quintilius Varus, of Vopiscus, and the villa
at Colle Vitriano; see Mari 1983: 44 and Catalogue: L279; L294; L299.
See the Catalogue: L42 and De Rossi 1979: 86; Carandini 1985b: 115.
Varro, Rust. 3.17.2: Reliqua enim fere mihi sunt nota, quod, cum piscinarum genera sint
duo, dulcium et salsarum, alterum apud plebem et non sine fructu, ubi Lymphae aquam piscibus
nostris villaticis ministrant; illae autem maritimae piscinae nobilium, quibus Neptunus ut aquam et
piscis ministrat, magis ad oculos pertinent, quam ad vesicam, et potius marsippium domini exinaniunt,
quam implant.
Thomas and Wilson 1994: 164–165. The authors note that the size of these ponds
corresponds to medieval stew ponds and to modern tanks for intensive sh-rearing in
Asia, although in some cases one cannot exclude that they were drinking reservoirs for
cattle. In this section the authors offer a useful analysis of pond topping-up and water
storage requirements in relation to evaporation.
90 chapter three

Cicero himself, when considering the re-organization of his brother’s

estate, the Fudianum, thinks of building a vivarium.31
The recovery at some sites of the special dolia for fattening dormice,
much appreciated in Roman cuisine, points to another potentially prot-
able activity that took place in these estates.32 The raising of honeybees
should not to be forgotten in this context, particularly when a property
was not large enough to allow “traditional” agriculture, as in the case
of the Veianii brothers, who had many alvaria on their small property
in the ager Faliscus.33 The model presented by Varro for a villa protably
engaged in the pastio villatica is the maritime villa near Ostia34 where the
knight M. Seius raised everything from birds, wild boars, and sh to
bees and dormice. The yield from this property was 50,000 sesterces,
more than what some others earned from entire fundi comprising more
than one villa.35
As noted by Purcell, a distinction is made in the work of Varro and
other Latin authors between the serious economic investments of the
noblemen and the greedy proteering of the plebs.36 In this context,
the intentional negation of self-sufciency by the great can become
a gesture of pride in their self-representation, an ultimate display of

Cic., ad Q. fr. 3.1.3: Ego locum aestate umbrosiorem vidi numquam; permultis locis aquam
prouentem, et eam uberem: quid quaeris? iugera L. prati Caesius irrigaturum facile te arbitrabatur;
equidem hoc, quod melius intelligo, afrmo, mirica suavitate villam habiturum, piscina et salientibus
additis, palaestra et silva virdicata.
For instance nds near Lecinone hill, at Scalzacane. See Catalogue: L290.
Varro Rust. 3.16.10. The Veianii served in Spain in the army under Varro. The
property is dened as parva villa et agellus non sane maior iugero uno, hos circum villas tota
alvaria fecisse et hortum habuisse.
See also Chapters 1 and 2 on maritime villas, and Varro Rust. 3.2.7.
Varro Rust. 3.2.13: ex ii pastionibus ex una villa maiores fructus capere, quam alii ex toto
fundo. It is interesting that, as noted by Kolendo 1994: 63, the Seii were active on
Delos, an island famous for the breeding of poultry. Maybe M. Seius himself was
inspired by Greek models for his “farm” in Ostia. According to the same passage in
Varro, Seius knew the works of Greek agronomists through the writings of Mago and
Cassius Dionysius of Utica. M. Puppius Piso Frugi, who raised peacocks on the island
of Planasia, had also spent some time in Greece, in the lucus of Juno on the island of
Samos, where peacocks were raised. On the commercial interests of the gens Seia see
F. Bertrandy, “Les relations entre l’Afrique du nord et l’Italie. L’example des Seii à la
n de la République et au début de l’Empire”, Epigraphica 57, 1995: 61–85. On the
connection with Delos: E. Deniaux, “Les gentes de Délos et la mobilité sociale à Rome
au Ier s. av. J.-C.: l’exemple de M. Seius et des Seii” in C. Müller and C. Hasenohr
(eds.), Les Italiens dans le monde grec, BCH Suppl. 41, 2002: 29–39.
Purcell 1995: 155.
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 91

power.37 It is true that for the third century we have legal sources tes-
tifying to the existence of praedia voluptuaria, estates devoted entirely to
pleasure.38 The reference appears in the context of the application of
the law of usufruct. Unlike the usual scenario in the law of usufruct
wherein the fructuarius is allowed to improve the property, in the case
of a praedium voluptuarium, any changes—for example, the removal of
“amenities” to create a vegetable garden, or anything else that will
yield a return—are illegal. The very fact that the special status of these
estates under the law of usufruct needs to be pointed out, indicates that
the totally unproductive estate is considered an extreme case, outside
the general practice.
Therefore, if in the Roman collective imagination the coastal villa
represents a display of luxuria and a privileged place for otium, uncoupled
from the idea of production, the country villa is, on the contrary, part
of the “landscape of production,” to use Purcell’s words. This is a con-
stant feature of references to villae rusticae, from the Republic down to
the Empire. Literary and iconographic sources attest to the privileged
views the master has from his villa in the countryside—the sight of
the estate’s fertile elds and of people laboring to harvest crops, make
wine, and press olives. For instance, Cicero, who owned several country
villas (in his home town of Arpinum, at Tusculum, and in Pompeii),
mentions in one of his letters that from his Pompeianum he can enjoy
the view of people busy attending to their everyday activities.39 Pliny
the Younger, in the description of his estate at Tifernum Tiberinum,
celebrates the views of fertile elds he can enjoy from various carefully
oriented parts of the villa.40 In the fth century we nd the same topic
still operating in Cassiodorus, who praises a villa whose many rooms
offer a view of people “charmingly laboring.”41
Iconographic media inside villas would also represent and mirror, in
a celebratory way, the real work that took place on the estate. The best
examples of this practice are the large mosaics depicting agricultural
chores from the villas of North Africa, but one exceptional nd from a

Purcell 1995: 163 states that “(. . .) the rejection of productivity (. . .) is a highly
specialized gesture whose existence and elaboration depend on and prove a general
passionate interest in the maximization of returns . . .”.
Dig., quoted by Purcell 1995: 165.
Cic. Fam. 7.1.1.
Pliny Ep. 5.6. The hills around the villa are “pingues terrenisque colles neque enim facile
usquam saxum etiam si quaeratur occurit.”
Cassiod. Var. 12.15.
92 chapter three

villa in the area of Bovillae provides a similar document for Italy.42 Indeed,
in the northern section of this villa, the courtyard features paintings
depicting agricultural work, dated to the third or fourth centuries a.d.
In addition to being the focal point in this “landscape of produc-
tion,” the villa is also, both in reality and in the projected image, the
place where the fruits of this production are accumulated, the visible
center to which the landscape’s yield is gathered, then distributed for
consumption. It is not by chance that Varro proposes an etymology
for the term villa from the verb vehere, since “the crops are hauled in to
it.”43 Furthermore, an estate was not only a place where a landowner
might keep assets and documents, but also a place to transact business,
since income was derived from forms of business other than agriculture,
such as money lending. Jurists often addressed such circumstances in
adjudicating the bequests of estates.44
The idea of the villa as the center of production, as well as the pro-
prietors’ desire to have their estates viewed as the focal point of their
management of the environment, helps to explain why, in some cases,
technological improvements to a villa are put on display.45 For example,
it might strike us as odd that a landowner thought it worthwhile to put
an inscription bearing the consular date on his olive oil—settling vat.46
This act conveys multiple meanings. The construction of such a facil-
ity was worth commemorating as if it were a public event, using the
ofcial consular dating system. It follows that the act was important to
the owner as a sign of his ability to invest capital in the amelioration of
the processing facilities of the villa, in view of maximizing the returns

See Catalogue: L42.
Varro Rust. 1.2.14.
Kehoe 1994: 52.
Juridical sources do not systematically take into account the necessity on the
part of the landowner to contribute resources on a continuing basis to keep the estate
productive (for instance, Scevola), but they do discuss the obligation to maintain the
xed capital of an estate, comprising such things as oil and wine presses and storage
buildings, especially in the case of disrepair that prevents the production and process-
ing of crop; see Kehoe 1997: 101–105.
Carandini 1985b: 150–151. The inscription, dated to 55 b.c. when Pompey and
Crassus held the second consulship, reads: Cn. Pom(peio). M. Lic(inio). Co(n)s(ulibus). II.
The settling vat, in peperino, was discovered in 1968 on the Via Praenestina (Tor Angela).
A similar case is represented by the travertino vats, whose provenance is unknown, dis-
played in the square of S. Maria della Libera in Aquino. The vats, perhaps for purple
dye-works and dated to the late rst c. b.c., have inscribed the name M. Barronius Sura,
an eques and duovir quinquennalis of the city of Aquino. Many peperino vats like the one
above mentioned, but with no inscriptions, were found around Rome, for instance at
Montergiardino, Castelluccio dell’Osa, Passo Lombardo, Zagarolo.
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 93

from his agricultural endeavors (whether successful or not); and that,

therefore, it was meant to be seen, by his peers, as an indication of his
right to belong to the upper class, and, by his subordinates, as a sign of
his power and wealth. In fact, sources refer to improvements made on
agricultural estates for the purpose of increasing the yield in an explicit
way and with no moral condemnation, unlike the veiled allusions to
the protability of coastal villas. The acquisition of a press indicated
a substantial investment, which aimed at producing a surplus for the
market.47 A similar, but chronologically later, case of an inscription on a
settling vat comes from North Africa. In the area of Tipasa in Maureta-
nia Caesarensis, in a suburban villa discovered in the late 19th century,
the oil settling vat was engraved with an inscription giving the name
of the estate, the name of the person responsible for the amelioration
and the date, counted according to the provincial era.48
Even landscape improvement works to create irrigated meadows in
one’s country estate could be proudly recorded on stone for the infor-
mation of passers-by. An inscription located on the tufa stream bank
by the Via Fallerese, which has been related to masonry dams and
channels identied in the Ager Faliscus, south of Corchiano, proclaims
that a C. Egnatius invested in the creation of meadows.49 As we are
going to see in the next section, archaeological evidence pertaining to
rural villas indicate investment both in production facilities, such as
presses, and in infrastructure aimed at improving the production, such
as water supply infrastructure used for irrigation.
Pliny the Elder mentions a certain fundus, located by a diverticulum
of the Via Nomentana, the yield of whose vineyards was increased so
much by the owner, the grammarian Remnius Polemon, that Seneca,

See Amouretti and Brun 1993: in various contributions gathered in this volume
the presence of presses is considered an indication of production of surplus for the
market even in the case of simple farms, since other simpler systems of processing
agricultural produce were available (treading the grapes, for instance).
Quoted in Brun 2004: 239. In his praediis M(arci)/Hortensi(i) Gaudenti(i)/et liorum
eius/Gaudentiis/Restitutus Prov(inciae) CCXXXVIIII (year 239 of the provincial era = 278
a.d.). For the worthiness of being remembered for olive tree planting see two cases
also discussed by Brun (ibidem: 206; 209). In one case, the fth century a.d. mosaic
marking the tomb of a certain Pudion, who died at age 80, also reports the informa-
tion that he had planted 4000 trees. The second example refers to the conductor of the
Fundus Audianus, who in the 3rd century a.d. was proud of having grafted a large
number of olive trees.
CIL XI.7505: C Egnatius Sex f prata faciunda coiravit. Two small Roman dams
diverted the water from the Fosso di Fustignano into rock-cut channels. Thomas and
Wilson 1994: 142.
94 chapter three

famed for his good business sense, bought it for four times the initial
price.50 In his biography of Polemon, Suetonius reports that just one
vine planted by him yielded 360 bunches of grapes.51 The economic
success of this property was the result of a combination of factors. First
of all, it was located just ten miles from Rome, which offered a good
market for wine and also allowed for the sale of grapes on the vine, if
one preferred not to bear the expense of wine-making. Also, Polemon
took advantage of a favorable moment to buy, since the price he paid
for the as-yet uncultivated land was low52 and he had sufcient capital
to invest in the development of the estate. It is, however, indicative of
the way that the Roman elite represented itself in the late rst century
b.c. and in the Augustan period that despite the recommendations
about protable activities for an estate given by Varro and Columella,
they offer no discussion on marketing of the produce, whereas Cato
had included in his work discussion of the contracts for the sale of
produce. As Morley put it:
By Varro’s day, they (i.e., the landowners) had clearly either stopped paying
attention to such things, or had started to pretend that it was not part
of their business. (. . .) Apparently, the more the villa system was rened
as a market-oriented, prot-motivated enterprise, the more important it
became to mark a separation between prots of agriculture (which the

Pliny NH 14.49 ff.: Sed maxima, eiusdem Stheneli opera, Remmio Palaemoni . . . in hisce viginti
annis mercato rus DC nummum in eodem Nomentano decimi lapidis ab urbe diverticulo . . . pastinatis
de integro vineis cura Stheneli . . . ad vix credibile miraculum perduxit, intra octavum annum CCCC
nummium emptori addicta pendente vindemia . . . novissime Anneo Seneca . . . tanto praedii huius amore
capto, ut non puderet inviso alias et ostentaturo tradere palmam eam, emptis quadriplicato vinis illis
intra decimum fere curae annum. From Columella Rust. 3.3.3 we learn that this vineyard
owned by Seneca produced 40 hectoliters of wine/iuger. Kolendo 1994: 62 believes
that prestige, and not economic considerations, prompted Seneca to buy. As observed
by Kolendo 1994: 61 Licinius Sthenelus, a neighbor landlord of Polemon, who had
an excellently cultivated vineyard, was probably the conductor for the works necessary
for the planting of the vines.
Suet. Gram. 23: et agros adeo coleret ut vitem manu eius institutam satis constet CCCLX
uvas edidisse.
Pliny NH 14.50 says about the price of suburban properties that: Est autem
usquequaque nota vilitas mercies per omnia suburbana, ibi tamen maxime, quoniam et neglecta indili-
gentia praedia paraverat ac ne in pessimis quidem elegantioris soli. Kolendo 1994: 61 observes
that this must be understood as price-uctuations in response to a precise moment,
probably connected to the conscations of properties by Nero in the 60s, although he
himself admits a chronological problem with the date of the purchase, which, from
internal references in the different texts, should have taken place in 55–57. For land
prices in Italy see Duncan-Jones 1982: 48–52 and 377–378; De Neeve 1985.
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 95

agronomists constantly emphasise) and the means by which those prots

were realised, and to gloss over the latter.53
The element of competitive ostentation sometimes present in a villa’s
construction per se, is of course also attested for rural villas, in the
same measure as for coastal villas. Such competition did not exist only
among members of the senatorial elite; their tastes provided a model
that members of the municipal elite wished to emulate in turn. The
amount of “conspicuous consumption” could reach high levels. From
Pliny, we learn that L. Taius Rufus (cos. 17 b.c.) spent 100 million ses-
terces “agros coemendo et colendo in gloriam.”54
Archaeological evidence, in many cases, conrms the reported gran-
diosity of rural villas, which present impressive basis villae 55 and other
architectural features, such as the monumental natatio of the “Villa dei
Centroni” outside Rome, which measured 33 m in length, had three
different levels of depth and jets of water pouring into it from the arches
of the retaining wall above the pool.56 (Figure 9)
The rural villa is also depicted as the ideal retreat from the stresses of
city life, where one might have peace, silence, and rest. Martial used to
ee to his Nomentanum whenever he “wanted to sleep,”57 escaping from
the noise of Rome. Juvenal contrasts the precarious living conditions in
Rome with villas in Praeneste, Volsinii, and Tibur.58 The poet Horace,
too, who received as a gift from Maecenas a villa in the Licenza Valley,
loved to go there to rest and seek inspiration for his poetry. Catullus,
Horace, and Quintilius Varo, a literary critic and friend of Virgil, also
had villas in Tibur or nearby. The Augustan poets’ predilection for vil-
las in this location may have been dictated by Augustus himself, who
used regularly to go to Tibur and to the sanctuary of Hercules.59 But
for a member of the elite actively engaged in political life, sojourns at
one’s villa(s) were always conceived of as temporary, a moment of otium

Morley 2000: 215.
Pliny NH 18.37: “Buying up estates and farming them in search of fame”.
For instance, the platform of the villa at Frascati, Fontana del Piscaro, possibly
owned by L. Licinius Lucullus, measures 27,139 m2. See Catalogue: L332.
See Catalogue: L43.
Mart. 12.57, with the closing: Dormire quotiens libuit, imus ad villam.
Juv. 3.190 ff. At ll. 222 ff., the city life, whose only attractions are the games at
the circus, is contrasted with the ideal situation of owning a farm and a piece of land,
where one can live bidentis amans et culti vilicus horti.
Suet. Aug. 72.2–3; 82. The sanctuary had a rich library, at least in the second
century a.d.: Gell. NA 9.14.3; 19.5.4.
96 chapter three

Figure 9. Villa dei Centroni, axonometric reconstruction of the natatio (after Cozza 1952).

balancing the negotium carried on in the city. Indeed, in the sources we

nd examples of people retiring permanently to their estates, both in
cases of intentional retirement from public life (e.g., Scipio Aemilianus
and Sulla) or in cases of old age and/or inrmity. It was only under
these circumstances that residing in one’s villa, and caring only for its
management, was admissible and not morally reproachable.60
As the country villa was the center of agricultural production, so the
leisure time spent there had to be productive, devoted to the exercise of
mind and spirit. Villas were provided with porticoed courtyards, which
alluded to gymnasia and palaestrae and to their role in Hellenistic cities
as educational centers for the mind as well as the body. Many villa own-
ers kept libraries in their various villas, where they carried on serious

Pliny Ep. 3.1, praising Spurinna’s behavior in his retirement, after years spent in
public ofce; the epistle closes saying: Nam ille (i.e. Spurinna) quoque, quoad honestum fuit,
obit ofcia, gessit magistratus, provincias rexit, multoque labore hoc otium meruit.
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 97

reading and writing. Famous examples include Lucullus, who had in

his villa in Tusculum a large library derived from booty collected dur-
ing his military campaigns in northern Asia Minor; Sulla, who had a
library in his villa in Cumae; and Cicero, who kept libraries in four of
his villas.61 It is within this ideological dimension of the villa as a place
for culture and philosophy that we can explain why so many literary
works in dialogue form are set in villas. Cicero set the dialogue of the
De Oratore in Licinius Crassus’ villa in Tusculum, explaining that the
place is well suited to cultural discussions because the portico, palaestrae,
and benches are reminiscent of the Greek gymnasia and of the debates
that took place in them.62 Horace expresses the same idea in Satire 6
when he observes that the gymnasium and the palaestra created the
proper atmosphere for literary activity.63 These spaces were furnished
in accordance with the ideological identication of the space, even if
the majority of villa-owners were not as demanding as Cicero about the
suitability of the subject of works of art to the function of the space
it which they were displayed.64 From the rich corpus of Cicero’s letters,
we learn of his precise requests to Atticus, then in Athens, regarding
the purchase of ornamenta gymnasiode; Cicero asks his friend to buy those
which “tibi gymnasii xystique videbuntur esse.”65 In other letters, he remarks
on his dissatisfaction with somebody who has purchased on his behalf
some statues of Bacchus and Mars, which do not t in the context of a
palaestra.66 Seeking to re-create the idea of the Athenian Academy, seat
of the Platonic school, Cicero called his gymnasium the Academia, as
in another villa he had a Lyceum, seat of the Aristotelian school.67 The
connection between the villa and the pursuit of cultural renement is
still present after Cicero’s time. After a visit to the eques Terentius Iunior,

On libraries in villas, their arrangement and organization, with reference to ancient
literary sources see Casson 2001: 69–71; 73–75 and Rawson 1985: 40–42.
Cic. De Orat. 2.9.10.
Hor. Sat. 6.72 ff. One needs not to forget that in the late republic members of
the elite completed their rhetorical and philosophical education either in Athens or
in Rhodes.
For studies on the sculptural display and decorative programs in the context of
villas, see: Bartman 1991; Neudecker 1988 and 1998; G. Becatti, Arte e gusto negli scrit-
tori latini, Firenze 1951.
Cic. Att. 1.8.2: “those statues that in your opinion are suitable for a gymnasium
and xystus”.
Cic. Fam. 23.1: Ea enim signa ego emere soleo, quae ad similitudinem gymnasiorum exornent
mihi in palestra locum.
Cic. Tusc. 2.9; Pliny NH 31.7.
98 chapter three

who retired to his villa preferring quiet leisure to public honors, Pliny
says that “Athenis vivere hominem, non in villa putes,”68 on account of the
great knowledge acquired by the knight through reading and study. The
association between literary production and the idealized provision of
certain spaces within the villa surfaces again in Cicero’s plan to build a
sacellum to Amalthea in the family villa at Arpinum. Interested in what
his friend Atticus had achieved at his villa in Epirus, Cicero asks not
only for a description of the sacellum and its gurative decoration, but
also for literary works on Amalthea.
This ideological and cultural dimension attached to villas is probably
the best known aspect of “villa culture,” since the works of literature
that survive from antiquity were written by precisely those “intellectuals”
interested in practicing this highly rened conceptualization of otium.
Gardens were not only the setting of works of art and philosophical
conversations, but also had a symbolic value as an element of social
status and self-representation. When Cicero vehemently evokes, in the
speech De Domo Sua, the conscation and destruction of his mansions
upon his exile, he recalls how Gabinius, the consul of 58 b.c., who
owned a villa next to his in Tusculum, transferred not only instrumen-
tum aut ornamenta, but also arbores from Cicero’s estate to his own. This
remark is not just exaggeration or rhetorical crescendo.69 In the same
way as the villa was deprived of all its valuables—furniture, works of
art, and all that the word instrumentum implied—the garden was stripped
of its trees. Such an act nds explanation not only in the desire of
Cicero’s enemies to destroy all that belonged to and represented him
as a public gure,70 but also in certain practical considerations. Trees
took time to grow, and whether in this case they were fruit trees or just

Pliny Ep. 7.25.4: “One would think that the man lives in Athens, not in a
Cic. Dom. 24.62: (. . .) cum domus in Palatio, villa in Tusculano, altera ad alterum consulem,
transferebatur, scilicet eos consules vocabant, columnae marmorae ex aedibus meis inspectante populo
Romano ad soerum consulis portabantur; in fundum autem vicini consulis non instrumentum aut
ornamenta villae, sed etiam arbores transferebatur, cum ipsa villa non praedae cupiditate—quid enim
erat praedae?—sed odio et crudelitate funditus everteretur.
On the garden as a place of self-representation for the owner see the extreme
cases of Nero, who had a painting of himself, 120 feet high, in the Horti Maiani,
and of Pliny the Younger, who in his garden at Tifernum had hedges trimmed in the
shape of the letters of his name. M. Beard, Imaginary horti: or up the garden path, in Cima
and La Rocca 1998: 23–32.
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 99

ornamental plants, like plane-trees,71 it was more convenient to take

possession of older trees than to plant young trees and wait for them to
reach the proper height or bear fruit. The trees from Cicero’s garden
in Tusculum had the same appeal as the marble columns taken from
his house on the Palatine.
The trees in question could have also been rare and exotic species.
The rst century b.c. is indeed the period when new trees are introduced
to Italy from the newly conquered territories: peach, cherry, lemon
trees—to mention a few—were all introduced by victorious generals
coming back from military campaigns. Even in the Imperial period
the interest in rare trees to plant in one’s villa garden was still strong.
Lucius Vitellius, the father of the emperor Vitellius, while in Syria as
governor, collected exotic species of g trees for his Alban estate.72
On the value that trees could add to a house an anecdote about
L. Licinius Crassus is illuminating. Crassus had an extremely lavishly
house on the Palatine hill, provided with a garden with 6 or 10 nettle
trees.73 Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus, Crassus’ colleague in the censorship
in 92 b.c., was ready to buy the property for six million sesterces, but
estimated the property to only three million when Crassus asked what
price he was ready to pay if he removed the trees.74 This anecdote
may be indicative also of the fact that it was not uncommon practice
to sell a house excluding valuable plants from its garden, in the same
way that in certain cases emblemata were removed from the mosaic oors
by the previous owner.

Plane-trees were often planted in peristyle gardens to provide shade, as in the
case of Villa S. Marco at Stabiae, where root cavities were found permitting the
identication of the plants.
Plin. NH 15.83.
European hackberry, scientic name Celtis australis. See next footnote for the dif-
ferent number of trees that appears in the sources.
The anecdote is given in two sources, Plin. NH 17.1–5 and Val. Max. 9.1.4,
in the context of the frequent quarrels that occurred between the colleagues to the
censorship. In Pliny, Domitius rebuked Crassus for living on such a lavish scale when
holding the ofce of censor and offered to buy his house for 1 million sesterces; when
Crassus agreed, but said he would keep six lotus trees, Domitius refused, giving Crassus
the opportunity to make a witty comment on who was really setting the bad example
about luxuria. In Valerius Maximus the dispute starts with Domitius reproaching Crassus
for having in his house a portico with hymettian marble columns; Crassus asks him to
give an estimate of the house value, which Domitius puts at 6 million sesterces. When
asked again what the house value minus ten trees (arbusculae) would be, Domitius says
three million, thus Crassus rhetorically replies: “ ‘uter igitur luxuriosior est, egone, qui decem
columnas centum milibus nummum emi, an tu, qui decem arbuscularum umbram tricies sestertii
summa conpensas?’ ”.
100 chapter three

Besides agriculture and otium, another activity attested more often for
country than for coastal villas is hunting. The ideological implications
of hunting as a royal and aristocratic practice, from the Near Eastern
civilizations to the Hellenistic kings, are well known, and there is no
need to go into them in detail here. It is really in the second century
a.d., with the Antonine dynasty, that hunting acquires a strong ideologi-
cal dimension and becomes a fundamental part of “villa life” in the
Roman world.75 The shift can be seen both in art and literature, for
instance with the widespread diffusion, in the second and third centu-
ries, of sarcophagi and mosaics with hunting scenes. Before the time
of Trajan, literary references to this practice in the context of rustic
sojourns are sporadic. Varro suggests the breeding of game animals
as another potentially protable aspect of the pastio villatica—he cites
the example of Q. Fulvius Lippinus, who raised deer, hares, goats, and
sheep on his fundus of 40 iugera near Tarquinia76—but does not mention
the creation of private game reserves. In the second century, however,
we nd the example of an Imperial villa built by Trajan in the area
of Arcinazzo, which was primarily intended for hunting retreats, and
whose grounds perhaps also provided game for the Imperial banquets.77
It is also in this period that the “Imperial hunt” is praised in panegyric
works as a means of warding off evil and as a sign of the emperor’s
quality.78 The spread of this practice among the elite, then, in imita-
tion of the emperor’s behavior, is hardly surprising. Because of their
location, country villas tended to offer a better environment for hunting
than coastal ones, although we know of vivaria built for game animals
at maritime villas, too, like the vivarium at the Imperial villa at Cen-
tumcellae, where Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius used to hunt.79
Pliny the Younger mentions both study and hunting as occupations
typical of his sojourns at the villa near Tifernum Tiberinum.80 The

For an exhaustive study on hunting in the Roman world see Aymard 1952.
Varro Rust. 3.12.1: Q. Fulvius Lippinus dicitur habere in Tarquiniensi saepta iugera quan-
draginta, in quo sunt inclusa non solum ea quae dixi (id est lepores, cervi et caprae), sed etiam oves
ferae, etiam hoc maius in Statoniensi et quidam in locis aliis. Also Pliny NH 8.211: vivaria eorum
ceterarumque silvestrium primus togati generi invenit Fulvius Lippinus; in Tarquiniensi feras pascere
instituit; Lippinus was also apparently the “inventor” of snail-breeding; Pliny NH 9.173:
Coclearum vivaria instituit Fulvius Lippinus in Tarquiniensi (. . .). 40 iugera = 10 ha.
Lissi 1960; Fiore and Mari 2003, 39, with previous bibliography on the villa.
E.g., Pliny Paneg. 81.1–3.
Fronto 1.172 H.
Pliny Ep. 5.18: ego in Tuscis et venor et studio. A different stand was taken early on
by Sallust, when, at the opening of his de coniuratione Catilinae, he stated his intention
VILLAE RUSTICAE and the ideological realm 101

strange association of intellectual activity with hunting is also present

in a letter from Pliny to Tacitus, in which Pliny describes how he was
armed with tablets and stylus while waiting for wild boars to fall into
his nets, so that even in the event of a poor hunt he could write and
have something to take back home.81
Since hunting became so popular in villas in the mid-Empire, it is not
surprising that the Digest includes slaves assigned to the hunt (venatores)
in the list of the instrumentum domesticum.82 If we consider that according
to Ulpian’s denition the instrumentum of a fundus included equipment
stored permanently on the estate, which had some direct bearing on
the production of a crop,83 we might view hunting as more than an
occasional hobby for the dominus.
As we will see in the next chapter, interest in the improvement of the
production of one’s rural villa that permeates the agronomists’ works
and the audience they were writing for is reected, in the archaeological
record, in the wealth of traces of capital investment in agriculture, such
as land-works, drainage systems, collection of water for irrigation, and
multiple wine presses. The central role of agriculture in the ideology
of the Roman upper class as the proper form of capital investment
“allowed” writing about ways of increasing one’s capital by investing in
various forms of activities in rural villas. If in literary texts the maritime
villa was depicted as the seat of unproductive and even corrupting otium,
country villas in the ideological realm embody the seat of production,
be it of agricultural produce or literary works.

to write history in order not to socordia atque desidia bonum otium conterere, neque vero agrum
colundo aut venando, servilibus ofciis (4.1).
Pliny Ep. 1.6.
Ibid.: quipped instrumentum est apparatus rerum diutius mansurarum, sine quibus exerceri
nequiret possessio. Some jurists dened the “crop” produced on an estate in a very broad
way, recognizing special categories of estates.


Many rural villas and farms are known in the area under examination,
especially in the regions of Latium and southern Tuscany. Even if
relatively few villa sites have been excavated, eld survey projects have
gathered abundant data about settlement types, their chronology, pat-
terns in land exploitation and occupation. However, it is worth remem-
bering that one of the crucial problems faced by survey archaeologists
concerns site denition. In a eld survey a site is usually only a surface
scatter of material varying in size and complexity and each site has
not only a different history in its use, but also in the post-abandonment
transformation caused by natural or anthropic actions, e.g., a site only
recently exposed by mechanical plowing yields very different informa-
tion from a long exposed one.1
Although the limitations of eld survey investigations are an acknowl-
edged problem, and scholars have started to ask questions about the
methodology applied and ways to improve it,2 eld survey is the only
way to gather data on a large area relatively quickly, especially if
development or other threats constitute a risk to the preservation of the
archaeological record. The South Etruria Survey Project is probably
the most famous of the survey projects carried out in Italy and one
of the rst large scale investigations of the territory in the aftermath
of World War II. The information gathered was rich and stimulated
scholars to rethink many aspects of Italian landscape history in ancient
times. As we are going to see in Chapter 8, data collected in these
survey projects are being re-analyzed and re-interpreted, since a more

Dyson 2003: 39 ff. Attempts have been made to create a common language for
describing sites located during survey (Attema et al. 2002)., but on the difculty of
comparing results from different surveys see R. Osborne, “Demography and Survey”,
in Alcock and Cherry 2004: 163–172.
See for instance the recent volume edited by Alcock and Cherry (2004); Ikegu-
chi 2000 for an attempt to compare different surveys carried out in Italy in order to
reconstruct settlement patterns.
the archaeology of rural villas 103

rened chronology of pottery types is now available.3 The variations

that may occur in survey data when using different sampling strategy,
site classication or chronology are exemplied in the case of the Ager
Cosanus, where different survey projects identied different patterns in
settlement size and chronology of occupation.4
Physical evidence recorded either during excavation or in surveys
(recovery of stone elements of presses, such as press-beds, lapides pedicini
or parts of olive-mills)5 shows that in Italy many of the Republican and
Imperial rural villas were equipped with presses, either for the produc-
tion of wine, olive oil, or both.6 A recent study suggested that in Central
Italy the agricultural landscape presented a similar situation to that
observed by Mattingly and Hitchner in North Africa, where the ratio
production facilities/territory was approximately one (oil) press every
2 km2.7 The processing of these agricultural products took place on the
estate, although the production of small independent farms may have
been processed at facilities located in towns and villages and operated
by artisans. This suggestion rests on epigraphic record indicating the
existence in various towns of collegia capulatores, oil makers, since no
presses are yet known from urban contexts.8
In the area of the suburbium of Rome, the re-modeling of the villa
complexes in the late Republican and early Imperial period, usually
marked by the addition of bath-suites, peristyle gardens, etc., is accom-
panied by an intensication and increase in the numbers of trenches for
vineyards dug in the tufa plateau and attested as early as the fth–fourth

Within the framework of the Tiber Valley Project, undertaken by the British School
at Rome and directed by H. Patterson; see Patterson et al. 2004. For a study revaluat-
ing some of the South Etruria Survey data, focusing on analysis of the occupational
history of settlement that developed into villas and those that remained farms see
H. Di Giuseppe, “Villae, villulae e fattorie nelle Media Valle del Tevere”, in Santillo
Frizell and Klynne 2005: 7–25.
Morley 1996: 129.
For instance, Bastianelli 1939 recorded the presence in the territory of Civitavec-
chia of more than 50 villae rusticae, all of which had presses.
For a study of the kind of archaeological evidence pertaining wine and oil pro-
duction see Brun 2004. See Catalogue for sites with evidence of presses, bearing in
mind that farms (i.e., sites with no evidence of luxurious residential part) have not
been included in the Catalogue. A list of sites in Rome’s hinterland with evidence for
production of wine and/or oil, some of which were farms, can be found in E. C. De
Sena, “An assessment of wine and oil production in Rome’s hinterland”, in Santillo
Frizell and Klynne 2005: 135–149.
De Sena, quoted above: 140.
Brun 2004: 8; the presses known on the Via degli Augustali at Pompeii and in the
forum of Paestum related to perfume making (see Mattingly 1990 and Brun 2000).
104 chapter four

centuries b.c.9 Of course not all the villas of the suburbium were pro-
ducing wine or preserved grape (dried, in syrup, etc.); production of
oil is also attested and to this we need to add pastio villatica and, as we
are going to see below, fruit, vegetables and owers.10 If it is difcult
to attempt an estimate of the size of properties in the suburbium in this
period—in some cases, as for the plateau of Centumcellae to the east
of Rome, remains of large villas are located only 700 m from each
other—11 one can however say that it was a time of intensication of
agricultural exploitation of the land. The “invisibility” in the archaeo-
logical record of containers for wine and oil that can be attributed to
the agricultural production centers in the surroundings of Rome has
been explained by suggesting widespread use of containers in perishable
material, such as barrels and skins, together with the possible re-use of
amphorae originally coming form elsewhere.12
In the whole region covered by this study it is not rare to nd villas
equipped with double presses, even coastal ones as in the case of villa
Prato, near Sperlonga, but we do not have many examples of sites
equipped with more than two presses, and certainly nothing comparable
to examples in Istria or in North Africa, where we have rural installations
with six, nine, or even twenty olive presses.13 This is in part the result of
the nature of the archaeological record resting on partial excavations.
Some Italian rural villas, however, show facilities consisting of multiple
presses for production on large scale. The partially excavated villa of
Granaraccio, near Tibur (Tivoli), was engaged in the production of
olive oil (Figure 10). An olive mill, two complete presses and four settling
vats for oil were excavated in 1953. The positioning of the vats suggests
that there were at least two more olive presses in the room, making a
total of four presses.14 No other part of the villa was excavated and we
do not know if there were other processing facilities.

Volpe 2000: 198; Quilici Gigli 1987; Bedini 1997; Gioia and Volpe 2004.
Some of the trenches and holes related to cultivation cut in the tufa plateau may
have referred to other types of cultivars beside vines; for an example of a complex
network of trenches, showing phases spanning from the Archaic to the Imperial period
see De Blasi 1999.
Volpe 2000: 199.
De Sena, cit. n. 6: 140.
In Istria, the rst century a.d. villa of Barbariga, Pola had 14 double presses (but
there were probably more, since there was room for 24 presses). In modern Algeria,
the late antique site at Tebessa Khalia had six presses; in Tripolitania the impressive
rural villa at Henscir Sidi Hamdam is equipped with nine presses.
See Catalogue: L286.
the archaeology of rural villas 105

Figure 10. Granaraccio, olive presses and olive mill (after Faccenna 1957).

Figure 11. Orbetello, Via della Fattoria: wine presses (after Brun 2004).

Near Cosa we have two sites provided with multiple presses. The rst
site was only very partially investigated and the remains no longer exist
(Figure 11).15 It featured at least four wine presses arranged in a row,
clearly indicating considerable wine production.

Orbetello, Via della Fattoria Site, see Carandini and Cambi 2002: 150; 156: the
site is discussed only in passing; see also Brun 2004: 42.
106 chapter four

The other site is the famous villa of Settenestre, one of the very
few examples of villas in Italy extensively excavated and comprehen-
sively published.16 The villa, which the excavators have connected to
the family of the Sestii, known to have engaged in the sea-borne wine
trade from the harbor of Cosa, had one olive press and three wine
presses. The juice from the grapes would ow from the wine presses
into a large rectangular vat (11 u 1.5 m) and from there, through
an opening in the middle of the vat, would ow into a second vat,
200 hl in capacity, placed in the cryptoportico below the processing
area. The must would then be transferred to dolia defossa placed in the
cryptoportico for the fermentation process.
In more than one instance the same facilities were probably used
for the production of oil and wine. This is theoretically possible since
the harvest times for grape and olives do not coincide: late August/
September for the former, December to February—depending on olive
type—for the latter, although the production of oil requires settling
vats to separate the oil proper from the amurca and the cleaning of
press bed and vat must have been difcult. The large maritime villa of
Varignano, located near La Spezia, had two presses in the production
quarters which were probably used for oil and wine.17 The limestone
elements of the presses show, in fact, signs of corrosion by oleic acid,
but the fact that no olive mill was found and that there was a storage
area with dolia defossa seems more characteristic of wine production.18
The study of the territory of Tibur, a popular vacation spot from
the Republic to the Empire, has yielded interesting results in regard to
villa types and distribution.19 In fact, there is a difference between the
types of villas found in the western part of this area and those found
closer to the urban center. The western section of the territory, which
presents a very early development of villae rusticae, maintains fundi rang-
ing in size from 55 and 100 iugera (13.75–25 ha) for the whole rst half
of the second century b.c. In the same period, the area closer to Tibur,
where villas were owned both by senators and by the rising urban

Carandini 1985a; Catalogue: T3.
The villa, 9 km south of La Spezia, was in use from the late second century b.c.
to the sixth century a.d., and had an area of ca. 8000 m²; see F. Tinè Bertocchi (ed.),
Roma e i Liguri, Genova, 1986: 54–56.
Brun 2004: 43–44.
Mari 1991.
the archaeology of rural villas 107

elite of Tibur,20 shows examples of large villas built on a basis villae (in
opus polygonale and opus incertum), the size of whose fundi corresponds to
the gures given by Cato of 100 iugera for vineyards and 120–240 for
olive-groves.21 Different sources mention the wine produced at Tibur,
from Pliny the Elder’s references to Tiburtine grapes, to Athenaeus and
Galen.22 Production of quality wine continued also in the late Imperial
period; indeed, the Diocletian edictum de pretiis rerum venalium recorded
the wine from Tibur among the more expensive ones. The produc-
tion of oil, too, was typical of the whole Sabine region, but the area
around Tibur was mostly planted with vineyards.23 It does not seem
that the villas just next to the center of Tibur, which can be classied
as suburbanae, had any fundi adjacent to them, no doubt because of the
high concentration of buildings. A similar pattern emerged in Tuscu-
lum, the other popular vacation spot for the Roman elite, where villa
distribution was extremely dense around the town; the sites did not
seem to have production quarters, which are attested for villas located
on lower and atter ground.24 Mari labels these Tibur villas as “pure
otium villas,” in the sense that they seem to have had no production
quarters, serving only a residential purpose. However, these mansions
were not entirely dissociated from land management. They controlled
other villas, most often smaller in scale, which were directly engaged
in agricultural production, as indicated by the recovery of many pieces
of torcularia.25

Many inscriptions recovered from the sanctuary of Hercules list local nobles,
equites, and freedmen as magistrates and patrons (for the period after the municipal-
ization of Tibur in 87 b.c.). Important records also come from funerary inscriptions:
Mari 1991: 44.
Mari 1991: 36, equal to 25, 30 and 60 ha.
Pliny NH 14.38; Ath. 1.26 e; Gal. De Sanitate Tuenda 5.5. Horace (Carm. 1.9.5–6,
1.20.1) mentions vinum sabinum, possibly the product of his villa in the Licenza Valley,
not far from Tibur, if the old attribution of the villa to the poet is to be credited.
Strab. 5.3.1 gives as the chief cultivars of Sabina olive-groves and vineyards. From
Pliny NH 15.13 we learn that the type of olive cultivated in the area was called “sergia”
or “regia.” Very few olive mills were found around Tibur; for this reasons the many
pieces of presses recovered are interpreted as wine presses. Mari 1991: 37.
Valenti 2003: 61; see Catalogue under Tusculum. It is to be remembered however
that most of the villas of the Ager Tusculanus were not excavated and that Tusculum is
in the literary sources mentioned for ower cultivation (Mart. 9.60) and onions (Plin.
NH 19.105), the cultivation of which is not so easy to detect as in the case of remains
of wine or oil presses. Also Tibur was renowned for fruit such as mulberries, apples,
gs and owers (Plin. NH 15.97; 15.70; Columella Rust. 5.10.11; Hor. Sat. 2.4.70; Mart.
9.60, references given in Morley 1996: 107).
Mari 1991: 38, g. 17.
108 chapter four

Vineyards and olive groves were not the only types of plantation to
be found in rural villas. Brief mention must be made of ornamental
gardens, orchards, and vegetable gardens. The importance of gardens
in the architectural layout of villas has been well explored, and there is
no need to repeat here what is already common knowledge.26 Gardens
had an ornamental aspect; as discussed in the previous chapter, they
were often decorated with works of art, with the aim of offering a locus
amoenus for strolls, conversation, and dining al fresco. The kiln discovered
in 1984 on the Via Flaminia, specializing in the production of ollae
pertusae, the pots used in Roman gardening, is a sign of the impor-
tance of ornamental gardens in urban and suburban villas.27 Pliny the
Elder comments in passing on the diffusion at his time of ornamental
gardens, “even on the roofs of our houses”, expressing appreciation
for the ornamental qualities of two plants introduced to Italy by Sex.
Papinius (cos. 23 a.d.).28
Gardens and parks, however, could also serve more utilitarian pur-
poses. I pointed out in a previous chapter how cultivation of owers for
an external market could take place at villas. A portion of the garden
could be dedicated to the cultivation of vegetables and spices, and not
solely for the kitchen of the villa. If the villa was located in the suburbium
either of Rome or of another urban center, horti could be cultivated
with that urban market in mind.29 Cato clearly stated in his work that
an irrigated vegetable garden was the second most protable use for
land, after vineyards.30 In Horace we nd reference to orchards around
Tibur irrigated by a diversion of the Aniene.31 For the commercializa-
tion of this kind of perishable goods (owers, vegetables and fruit) it
is intuitive that the closeness of the estate to the urban centre is very
important, although fruit was commercialized not only fresh, but also
dried or preserved in syrup, and in this form could travel far.32

Grimal 1969; MacDougall 1987; Jashemski 1979–93 and Jashemski (ed.), Gardens
of the Roman World (forthcoming).
Carandini 1985b: 152, km 12.800 of the Flaminia.
Plin. NH 15.47.
For an analysis of the production of the horti in suburban villas around Rome,
see Carandini 1985b; Wilson forthcoming.
Cato, Agr. 1.7.
Hor. Carm. 1.7.13–14: et praeceps Anio ac Tiburni lucus et uda mobilibus pomaria rivis.
Various ancient authors mention a variety of methods to preserve fruit and refer
to certain productions as typical of given areas; the commercialization of preserved
fruit is archaeologically attested; for instance see the nds from one of the ships of
S. Rossore, the ancient harbor of Pisae, where amphorae (Dr. 6A and Lamboglia 2)
the archaeology of rural villas 109

The theoretical models that have been used to predict land usage
around urban markets take into account the inuence of location on
production costs, transport and prot. It is such a model, derived from
von Thünen’s study, that Carandini applied to the ancient territory
around Rome, dening the optimum radius for the presence of vegetable
gardens.33 For what concerns physical remains of this activity, orchards
and vegetable gardens per se leave very scarce traces, but a study of water
supply structures in the Tiber Valley has pointed out several cases in
which physical remains must refer to irrigation infrastructure for hor-
ticulture.34 Since much of the water need for the pars urbana of a villa
related to the bath quarters, which become a common feature in villas
in the Imperial period, the cisterns located at an elevation lower than
the baths’ must have had another function. There are cases of villas
which feature a large cistern or more than one cistern on the middle
of a lower terrace, with the residential part with the baths built on the
upper terrace, as in the case of the Giardino villa built on the slopes
of Monte Soracte.35 Clearly the water from these cisterns could not
have fed the baths, placed at a much higher level, but was suitable to
provide water to the same terrace on which the cistern is located, or to
the lower one. Wilson points out that in these cases the cisterns must
refer to irrigation of owers, vegetable gardens, and orchards. Besides
cisterns, the research also looked at the evidence of other water man-
agement works, such as rural aqueducts, damns, and channels, showing
a substantial investment in hydraulic infrastructure for irrigation in the
whole suburbium of Rome and northwards along the Tiber valley, which,
thanks to the river, was a privileged transportation corridor. Near Fra-
scati, in the area called Cocciano, we nd an example of the tapping
of a spring for the probable irrigation of a villa garden.36 A circular
pond in opus caementicium was build around the spring, measuring 40 m

probably coming from Campania and carrying peaches, cherries and plums were found.
S. Bruni (ed.) le navi antiche di Pisa ad un anno dall’inizio delle ricerche, Firenze 2000: 43.
von Thünen, Isolated State. 1966 (English translation of 1826 publication). The
model argues that, under equal circumstances, perishable crops will be grown on
land immediately surrounding urban centers, whereas land further away is used for
products whose price on the market is more resilient to the effects of transport over
great distances. On the effect that the demands of a metropolis like Rome may have
had on the immediate countryside and farther away areas see Morley 1996, who also
takes into account von Thünen model.
Thomas and Wilson 1994; Wilson forthcoming.
Wilson forthcoming.
Devoti 1978: 105; Thomas and Wilson 1994: 146. See Catalogue: L324.
110 chapter four

in diameter and 3 m in depth. The water was presumably used to

water the gardens of the villa, of which only the substructures of the
basis are visible. Similarly in the area of Tusculum a circular basin was
probably used to water a garden at a lower level, while having also a
decorative function.37 The villa known as Site 11 on the via Gabina38
used the overow of the plunge pool that was added in the second
century to the middle of the garden to irrigate the garden itself and the
elds below this terrace. Irrigation certainly allowed for maximization
of agricultural yield, and its intense and diffused use in the suburban
area is reected by Horace’s comments about the tasteless vegetables
produced in the watered gardens of the suburbium.39
In the panorama of rural villas attested by archaeology, we are now
in possession of a special, even a unique case, in which we can compare
literary accounts of a villa and its management with archaeological
data. The case in question is the famous villa in Tuscis owned by Pliny
the Younger, and mentioned in many of his letters. In recent years, the
site of this villa, already identied some time ago through brick-stamps
bearing the name of Pliny, was excavated.40
Located near S. Giustino,41 “Pliny’s villa” was actually built under
Augustus by M. Granius Marcellus, a member of the senatorial elite
(previous phases, dating back to the second century b.c., are attested by
pottery nds but not by building structures). The events of the Granii
family show the economic rise, diverse economic investments, and links
with political life characteristic of an average gens of negotiatores. The
family was from Puteoli, but they had commercial interests stretching
from the ports of the East to North Africa; their business in Umbria
arose in the period of the rst triumvirate, and we can deduce that they
had specic interests in Hispellum from the fact that M. Granius was
appointed duovir quinquennalis there.42 The Republican villa belonging to

Devoti 1978: 162 (Casale di Pilozzo); Valenti 2003: 200. The pool, 29 m in
diameter and 2 m high, may have been also a basin to let the impurities in the water
settle before transferring the water in a cistern (one cistern is located nearby). But the
terrace on which the circular pool was built is made by a retaining wall with facing
in opus quasi-reticulatum with niches, a feature of gardens; it is therefore likely that the
water was also used to water the garden when needed. See Catalogue L314, where the
remains, following Valenti 2003, are listed under the name Casale Celli.
See Catalogue: L373.
Sat. 2.4.
Braconi and Uroz Sáez 1999.
See Catalogue: U23.
CIL XI.5264: he also built a temple to Venus there.
the archaeology of rural villas 111

M. Granius had a simple plan, including a pars urbana with courtyard

and cubicula, a pars rustica with a large threshing-oor, and a two-story
building, probably a granary.43 An intermediate architectural phase
between Granius’ and Pliny’s ownership, attested by brick-stamps,
seems to have concerned mainly the residential part, and included the
addition of a bath complex.44 Building activity that can be attributed
to Pliny includes the addition, next to the cella vinaria, of a vat for
grape-treading, the creation of a new covered space between the gra-
nary and the gallery running along the edge of the platform, and the
addition of two buildings to the southeast, probably farmhouses with
storerooms and stables.
What emerged from the excavations at this site, unlike so many others,
chiey relates to the pars rustica, rather than the pars urbana. The addition
of the treading vat indicates that at least part of the fundus was planted
with vineyards, and in fact the pottery nds from the site conrm a
mostly wine-oriented production. Already during the Granii phase, an
abundance of locally produced Dressel 2–4 amphorae demonstrates the
production of wine on the estate for the market, probably both local
and regional. With the end of the rst century and the beginning of the
second, new types of wine amphorae appeared, also produced locally,
and intended mostly for the Roman market, although the existence
of inter-provincial trade of Central Italian wine transported in these
new amphorae has emerged from the excavations at Porto Torres, in

The pars rustica had a cella vinaria with dolia, the capacity of which has been hypoth-
esized to have been 250/300 hl, and two vats for the fermentation of the must.
Granius’ brick-stamps disappear from this site around 15 a.d. It is possible, as Uroz
Sáez has suggested, that this fact is to be related to the accusation of de repetundis and
maiestas leveled against Granius Marcellus by his quaestor Caepio Crispinus at the end
of the former’s proconsulship in Bithynia. Absolved from the accusation of maiestas, he
had to respond to the charge de repetundis in front of the recuperatores and probably had
to pay some pecuniary sanction. Braconi and Uroz Sáez 1999: 191; Tac. Ann. 1.74.
The amphorae pertaining to the Plinian phase of the villa account for 50% of
the whole local production recovered. Small in size (about 15–20 l) and with a at
bottom (10–14 cm in diameter) they were suited for mixed land/water transportation
(on carts to the Tiber and then on boats to Rome). Morphologically, they are part of
the large group of at-bottomed Terraconenses (Dressel 28) and south-Gallic amphorae
(Gauloise 4), were produced in the whole upper Tiber Valley and have been variously
labeled according to the area of production or authors (Spello amphorae; Forlimpopoli
A–D; Empoli; Ostia II-521/Ostia III-369–370; Ostia I-451); the excavators of Pliny’s
villa preferred to adopt the nomenclature “anfore Altotiberine I” that refers to the
generic area of production. See Braconi and Uroz Sáez 1999: 104–111; Carandni
and Cambi 2002: 224, note 19.
112 chapter four

This picture of the villa production is reinforced by nds pertaining

to imported goods, which, with the exception of some types of Apu-
lian wine during the Late Republican phase, consist of processed sh
products, such as garum, and olive oil from Spain and North Africa.46
Although the references to this villa in Pliny’s correspondence deal
with different aspects of its economy and production—i.e., difculties
in nding coloni,47 measures to take in case of a meager harvest due
to bad weather, etc.—he does not really spend time discussing the
utilitarian parts of the villa.48 The letter to Domitius Apollinaris49 in
which Pliny describes the estate contains no reference to the pars rustica.
We gather only in passing that the estate was not only a place for the
“exercise of mind and body” (i.e., through writing and hunting), but
also for agricultural production, since Pliny mentions vineyards and
“production of the land” sent to Rome via the Tiber.
On the other hand, the archaeological record clearly shows a series
of building projects aimed at increasing the productivity of the estate
and its “utilitarian part.” It is possible, for instance, that the addition of
the above-mentioned covered space measuring at least 3.40 by 40 m,
offering more covered working areas and/or more storage areas, was in
response to the need generated by the acquisition of contiguous estates
(e.g., in the letter to Calvisius Rufus, Pliny lists the pros and cons of
buying an estate adjacent to his own). Braconi and Uroz Sáez relate
this reorganization of the villa complex to Pliny’s use of métayage in
his properties: the change from a ve-year contract, with xed rent paid
in currency, to rent paid in kind with part of the harvest. This type of
rental contract required more storage space for the part of the fructus

Forty percent of imports are processed-sh amphorae from Spain (Dressel 7–11,
50% of the sh products amphorae; Dressel 14, 35%; Beltran II, 15%); the olive oil
is from Baetica (Dressel 20). For the second–fourth centuries, North African amphorae
for both olive oil and sh products were recovered. For the nds of the excavation see
Braconi and Uroz Sáez 1999.
Pliny Ep. 3.19. Kehoe 1997: 112, note 77. Or, according to another interpreta-
tion, penuria colonorum alluded to the economic difculties of the coloni. (E. Lo Cascio,
“The Economy of Roman Italy according to Pliny the Younger,” paper delivered at
the symposium in honor of J. D’Arms, Columbia University, New York 10/26/2002).
A printed version of this paper appeared in Gallina Zevi and Humphrey 2004.
For the discussion of Pliny’s strategy in managing his estates see De Neeve 1990;
Kehoe 1988 and 1989.
Pliny Ep. 5.6.
the archaeology of rural villas 113

that was owed by him and also dictated the need, on Pliny’s part, for
a procurator and various actores to oversee the works.50
There are other known villa-sites in the modern region of Umbria,
but with the possible exception of the site at Lugnano in Teverina,51
none has been systematically excavated, with the result that data per-
taining to them are incomplete and rather fragmentary. Nonetheless,
comparison with the nds from Pliny’s villa can be illuminating. I
believe that, in some cases, the interpretation of the data reveals some
preconceptions about villas and Italian agriculture in the second century,
which the results of the excavations at S. Giustino help to correct. For
instance, a villa in the territory of ancient Ameria (Pennavecchia),52 built
sometime in the rst century b.c., is thought to shows signs, towards the
end of the rst century a.d., of “crisi nel sistema di queste ville a conduzione
schiavistica.”53 Leaving aside for now the problem of the slave-based mode
of production, the signs of crisis in this specic case would be:
a) The removal of the dolia from the cella vinaria, which is lled in to
allow the construction of a colonnade, thus indicating the cessation
of vine production and the substitution of imported wine.
b) The increased importation of foodstuffs from the provinces, as
attested by amphorae nds, a sign of the competition on the market
of products from the provinces and of the progressive disappearance
of Italian products.
But if we combine this report with the more complete one coming
from S. Giustino, different conclusions are possible. First of all, the
removal of the earlier cella vinaria need not imply the total cessation of
wine production on that estate or in Umbria in general. Only part of

Braconi and Uroz Sáez 1999: 36, probably a portion similar to the gures given
in the lex Manciana, CIL VIII.25902: one-third each of grain, oil, and wine, a bit less for
other goods. On the need of procurator and actores, Pliny Ep. 9.37: medendi una ratio, si non
nummo sed partibus locem, ac deinde ex meis aliquos operas exactores, custodies fructibus ponam.
See Catalogue: U7 and Soren 1999.
As we have seen in the case of Pliny’s villa, the establishment of most villas in
Umbria dates to the rst century b.c. In the territory of Ameria, this timeframe also
coincides with the municipalization and urbanization of Ameria and with the Augustan
land allotments attested in the Liber Coloniarum (I: 224 Lachmann). The major villas
were distributed along the Tiber and its tributaries. From literary sources we know that
the owners of these villas were both members of the local elite—e.g., Sextus Roscius
Amerinus, who had thirteen fundi (Cic. Rosc. 7.20)—and members of the “Roman
aristocracy” from other regions—e.g., Pliny and his father-in-law, Calpurnius Fabatus
(Pliny Ep. 8.20).
Monacchi 1991: 183.
114 chapter four

the villa has been excavated, so it is possible that the cella vinaria was
simply moved someplace else. Architectural restorations and changes
in the plan, sometimes even drastic ones, were quite common—as we
shall see below for the villa at Ossaia—and it is difcult to understand
them fully when only part of the complex is known. At Pliny’s villa, for
instance, the hypocaustum of the thermae is abolished and lled in with
debris from other parts of the complex. In this case, we know that the
production of wine on the estate not only continued, but probably
increased in size, if the thesis is correct that the new calcatorium was
double the size of the previous one.54 The amphorae recovered in the
villa at Pennavecchia show the same pattern for the movement of goods
as that observed at S. Giustino: imported from the provinces are olive
oil, olives, and garum.55 No provincial amphorae for wine were recovered,
and this fact makes me doubt the conclusion that wine was no longer
produced at this site. Pliny’s villa has shown that a new type of locally
produced wine amphora appeared in the second century, at-bottomed
and smaller in size. Since we know that wine was a fundamental part
of ancient dietary and social habits, the lack of wine amphorae at Pen-
navecchia might be explained in various ways. The above-mentioned
amphorae could have also been in use at Pennavecchia, containing
wine either produced on the same property or bought from local
estates, but they eluded identication—possibly the shards were too
small to be identied, or those amphorae just weren’t preserved in the
archaeological strata. Or the estate could have used wooden barrels,
which by their very nature would not have survived this long. In any
case, it seems to me too much of a stretch to infer from importation
of oil and garum that the villas were in crisis. After all, these products
were never typical of the region. In the literary sources, for instance,
the territory of Amelia is praised for the production of apples, pears,
and willows,56 not oil.
The presence of garum and olive oil from Spain and Africa ts in
with the general movement of goods toward Rome. For an area that
used the Tiber as a major transportation route, it is logical that whatever
merchandise reached Rome could easily be redistributed along the Tiber

Braconi and Uroz Sáez 1999: 35.
The amphora-types discovered at this site are Africana I, Africana II-A, and
Columella Rust. 4.30.4; 5.10.19; Pliny NH 15.50.55; 58; 59; 16.177. Willows
branches were used in the manufacture of baskets and to tie vines to stakes.
the archaeology of rural villas 115

valley. It would then be easier to buy olive oil from Baetica or Africa
than, say, from Apulia. The boats would bring foodstuffs up the Tiber
and return with wine for Rome. This type of exchange, emphasizing the
acquisition of provincial foodstuffs, would also explain why in Umbria
we do not nd abundant African red slip ware, which was used to ll
up the cargo ships transporting oil and garum from Africa. Imported
table wares and other sorts of pottery were replaced by local products:
in fact, a great variety of red slip ware, manufactured in imitation of
African shapes, is attested all over Central Italy.57
The same types of observations are valid for the site of Poggio Grami-
gnano at Lugnano in Teverina. The results of the pottery analysis at
this site show that most of its wine came from Italy, with no signicant
importation from abroad, whereas for oil, garum, and other sh prod-
ucts, the pottery analysis indicates the opposite. The large number of
nds, as pointed out by Martin, also indicates that the community on
that site was still able, in the fourth and fth centuries, to participate in
a wide-ranging commercial network, which points to the necessity of
reassessing the idea of the “decline of the villa” in the late Empire.
Not far from Tifernum Tiberinum, another recently excavated villa-
site has yielded interesting data—the villa at Ossaia, near Cortona.58
In this case, it is remarkable to note the exibility with which owners
regarded the use and distribution of space at their villas. At Ossaia,
sometime between the rst and third centuries a.d., several rooms of
the residential part were converted into some sort of workshop. This is
not a sign of the villa’s “decline” or its ceasing to be used as an elegant
residence, for elegant mosaics chronologically contemporary with the
workshop phase were discovered in other parts, and a beautiful opus
sectile oor was added in a subsequent third-century phase. On the
contrary, these facts demonstrate how changes in ownership59 or in the

See also the same scenario in Tuscany (Chianciano Terme, Mezzomiglio,
D. Soren (ed.), The site of Mezzomiglio, BAR Series). Martin in Soren 1999: 361 notes
that the attestations of African red slip ware at Lugnano, especially up to the third
century, partially attenuate this argument. On the study of ceramic assemblages as
indicator of relationship to trade routes see Martin 2005, where imported cooking
ware emerge as indicator of the importance of a location as trading node: imported
amphorae and ne ware reach inland centers, such as Chianciano or Lugnano, but
cooking ware are absent in favor of locally produced ones.
See Catalogue: T14.
For this villa, on the basis of the brick-stamps recovered, ownership by the Vibii
Pansae, a family native to Perugia, has been suggested, possibly followed by members
of the Augustan family, should the brick-stamp Caesarum refer to Gaius and Lucius
116 chapter four

demands of the market could lead to changes in the use of space in a

villa, eventually affecting also a conversion of the residential quarters
but not a substantial change in the nature of the property. It remained
a unit fundamentally devoted to economic enterprises, but at the same
time providing the dominus with a pleasant retreat.
Archaeological data for areas closer to Rome, although somewhat
fragmentary as a result of increasing anthropogenic impact, show that,
in many cases, the extension of villa-buildings of the rst–second centu-
ries a.d. obliterated older trenches for vineyards, which are often found
dug into the tufa plateau.60 However, the reduction or disappearance
of this type of agricultural production does not indicate a total indiffer-
ence to productivity in suburban properties or the emergence of villas
devoted solely to the display of elegance and luxury, so lamented by
the agronomists. Rather, it shows that other types of production, which
were more remunerative and which required comparatively little labor,
were preferred, such as the breeding of poultry, thrushes, dormice,61 etc.
Proximity to Rome was the key to the success of this type of enterprise.
The production of wine in the suburbium did not completely disappear
either,62 but only the most fruitful fundi and most highly valued varietals
continued to be cultivated, such as the Nomentana grape.63
In some cases, the architectural solutions employed in the pars rustica
were both original and monumental. In the area of Viterbo, at Asinello,
a building used for oil production was discovered and dated to the
mid-rst century b.c. The complex was located close to the Via Cassia,
about midway between Rome and Clusium, and also close to a bridge

Caesar. The excavators note that it is very tempting to relate the installation of the
workshop in Phase 2 with a stamp naming a freedman of Aulus Gellius.
Quilici Gigli 1987.
Characteristic pots for fattening dormice, the gliraria, were found in some villas of
the suburbium, such as in the villa on the Via Casilina (see Carandini 1985b: 151), but
also outside the suburbium as in the case of the site of Castelluccio, near Siena.
For evidence of villas of the suburbium equipped with presses in the early Imperial
period see Catalogue: L212 or L213, for instance.
See Pliny NH 14.49 ff.: Sed maxima, eiusdem Stheneli opera, Remmio Palaemoni . . . in hisce
viginti annis mercato rus DC nummum in eodem Nomentano decimi lapidis ab urbe diverticulo . . . pas-
tinatis de integro vineis cura Stheneli . . . ad vix credibile miraculum perduxit, intra octavum annum
CCCC nummium emptori addicta pendente vindemia . . . novissime Anneo Seneca . . . tanto praedii huius
amore capto, ut non puderet inviso alias et ostentaturo tradere palmam eam, emptis quadriplicato vinis
illis intra decimum fere curae annum.
the archaeology of rural villas 117

Figure 12. Viterbo, Asinello (after Broise and Jolivet 1995).

on the river Fosso dell’Olmo.64 The peculiarity of this construction,

which makes it so far unique, is the use of an octagonal plan for such a
utilitarian building. Each side of the octagon measures 9 m; the interior
is divided into four (Figure 12) rectangular rooms in a cross-shaped plan,
plus four polygonal and four triangular rooms. Carts could get directly
inside the building, since the doorway was 2.05 m wide, and thus the
olives could be unloaded in the central room. The other rooms held
the press, vats for decantation of the oil, storage space with dolia, and

Catalogue: L375. Broise and Jolivet 1995 suggest that the use of the peculiar
plan indicates a desire to render the building a landmark due to its location at the
midpoint of the Via Cassia.
118 chapter four

more.65 The building was very likely part of a villa, possibly belonging
to a rich local landlord.
It is interesting that the complex was erected on terrain previously
planted with vineyards. As archaeological investigations have shown, a
regular grid of trenches belonging to a vineyard was cut into the tufa
below the level of the foundation.66 The construction of the oil mill
might indicate a change in the cultivation on the fundus from grapes to
olives. This is of course hypothetical, since we do not know whether
the rest of the land around the complex was rst cultivated with grapes
and then changed to olives. But the size and monumental structure of
the oil mill, as well as its proximity to major communication routes,
are signs of the prevalence of olives as a crop. If the complex was
indeed conceived from its rst phase (mid-rst century) as an oil mill,
then cultivation on this fundus followed a different trend from that
observed only 8 km away, in the area surrounding the ancient center
of Musarna, where a regular grid of trenches for vineyards has been
discovered across the whole countryside, contemporary in date to the
construction of the oil mill.67 However, it must be noted that Jean-Pierre
Brun in his recent study on archaeological evidence for wine and oil
production in the Roman world seems to think that this complex relates
to the production of wine not oil, probably on the basis of the dolia
defossa that generally indicate wine storage.68
Regardless of the different conclusions that can be drawn about
the production of this fundus, it is clear that the architectural typology
of the structure marks a strong statement by the owner. By utilizing
a monumental form, very often employed for mausolea, this building
conveyed the same proud message declared by the dominus who put the
consular date on an olive oil-settling vat, as seen above. This indicates,

Barbieri 1995: 248 ff. The complex was about 500 m west of the Via Cassia and
was excavated in 1981–82. The building technique is opus reticulatum, the pottery nds
date to the Late Republic Early Empire and to the third–fourth centuries a.d. It is
therefore also possible that the building was not conceived from the beginning as an
oil mill, but only subsequently.
Broise and Jolivet 1995: 114.
Broise and Jolivet 1995. The authors see in the completion of such work evidence
for the availability of abundant labor, substantial funds, and the desire to regularize
and control the various operations pertaining to viticulture. On the use of these types
of trenches for vineyards, see Columella Rust. 4.18.
Brun 2004: 42, “l’Asinello (. . .) incluait un pressoir et deux magasins à dolia pobablement
pour le vin.” Also, the caption to the plan of the complex dates it between the rst and
the fourth centuries a.d.
the archaeology of rural villas 119

in the rst place, the worthiness of that type of production and the
magnitude of the investment which made it worth monumentalizing in
grand architectural forms, just as the octagonal structure of the villa of
Torre Gianola, convincingly interpreted as nymphaeum/musaeum, dramati-
cally dominated the landscape from its position on the highest terrace
of the villa, at the axial point of the entire complex.69 It also signies
the importance, that the owner is claiming for himself, in the social
hierarchy. It has been suggested that we may be dealing, in this case,
with a member of the emerging local elite, rather than with a senator
from Rome, because homines novi seem to have been more inclined to
nd eccentric architectural solutions in order to assert their member-
ship of the upper classes.70
Another possible example of utilitarian functions framed in an
unusual architectural form comes from the villa della Muracciola, on the
Cassia Nuova.71 Here a villa, in part excavated in the 1920s, contains a
calcatorium for grape processing in a room with a large apse at one end;
a series of dolia were found regularly placed along the wall of this apse.
However, the extremely scanty excavation documentation does not offer
any indication of the various phases of the villa and its chronological
evolution, and I suspect that this structure in fact represents a later
conversion of a previously residential part of the villa into an area of
production, a trend observed in several villas of the suburbium.
Although rural villas were the privileged place for agriculture, this
type of production was not the only one that could occur. As Plutarch
points out in his biography of Cato the Elder,72 among the different
forms of economic investment such as sh-breeding, pitch production,
logging, and pastureland, there was also the exploitation of hot springs.
The connection between thermal waters, bathing, and villas should not
be underestimated. As various authors have suggested, the great and
early diffusion of villas along the bay of Naples might have been in
part a consequence of the presence of hot springs in the area.73 Villa-
owners would have had a double personal interest in thermal bathing:
personal enjoyment and economic interest, especially if one takes into
account the many people who went to Baiae for therapeutic reasons,

See Catalogne: L111 and Ciccone 1990, specically 21 ff.
Broise and Jolivet cit.
See Catalogue: L227.
Plut. Cat. Mai. 21.5.
More recently Lafon 2001: 192–196.
120 chapter four

as argued by Lafon.74 In some cases, we know of villa-owners in a

given area who built thermal baths that were open to the public (not
in their villas, but in a different location), and who therefore, besides
deriving great social prestige from offering such facilities, may have
beneted from the entrance fee, as in the case of M. Licinius Crassus
Frugi (cos. 64), whose baths on the Pompeian littoral advertised pools
with sea water as well.75
A probable example of a villa built in a particular location in order
to take advantage of mineral springs is the so-called “Villa dell’Acqua
Claudia”.76 Located in Anguillara Sabazia, this villa was built imme-
diately next to springs still owing today; the mineral water is bottled
commercially with the label “Acqua Claudia”. Unfortunately, this Late
Republican villa was not fully excavated, and we lack complete data
on its different chronological and architectural phases. The villa’s most
prominent architectural characteristic is a large hemicycle with an
ambulatio, which looked onto a garden. Another villa possibly associ-
ated with mineral springs has recently been discovered in Chianciano
Terme (Chiusi), a town well known in modern Italy for its therapeutic
springs. In this town, excavations at Mezzomiglio have uncovered a
large pool fed by a mineral-water spring. The pool is linked to a small
bath complex, Trajanic in date. This complex could have been either
part of a public establishment or part of a villa. David Soren, director
of the excavations, believes it was a public complex, the famous Fontes
Clusini celebrated by Horace; but it is not unlikely that it was instead a
country villa,77 whose location was chosen not only for the fertile land
of the Tuscan hills but also for the presence of the thermal waters.

Lafon, Ibidem: 195.
It is not clear whether the entrance fee would have been sufcient to cover the
expenses of running the baths, plus some margin of nancial return. CIL X.1063:
Thermae/M. Crassi Frugi/aqua marina at baln[eum]/aqua dulci. . . . On his coastal villa see
D’Arms 1970: catalogue II.23.
Catalogue: L12. For gurative representations of the “bottling” of mineral water
(from sacred springs) see the silver cup of Castro Urdiales, depicting an attendant
emptying an amphora into a large barrel on a cart, and the stele of Q. Veiqua-
sius Optatus, illustrated in Fr. Baratte, “La coupe en argent de Castro Urdiales” in
R. Chevallier, Les eaux thermals et les cultes des eaux en Gaule et dans les provinces voisines. Actes
du Colloque 28–30 Septembre 1990. Caesarodonum 26: 43–54.
Catalogue T11; Soren et al. 1998, and Soren 2006. Only part of the complex
was excavated, in several seasons, by a University of Arizona team and by the author,
so the interpretation of the site is not denite.
the archaeology of rural villas 121

Wool and Textile Production

Another activity that could take place in villas, especially rural villas, was
the production of wool and the manufacturing of textiles, both from
wool and from other natural sources. Although anecdotes in ancient
literature remind us that every Roman household produced textiles for
internal “consumption”—witness the topos of the proper matrona and
her maidservants chastely spinning and weaving in the “good old days,”
as well as Augustus’ revival of this custom in his own household—it
is extremely difcult to nd evidence for the “industrial” production
of textiles for an external market in the archeological sources. In the
body of sites assembled in the catalogue, only a few may offer some
evidence to support the idea of the production of textiles in a consider-
able quantity on the basis of the loomweights recovered; it is however
to be remembered that with the introduction of the two-bar loom in
ca. 100 a.d. loom-weights were no longer used. Signicantly, though,
these few examples are almost all of rural villas located on hills, at
an elevation suitable for the breeding and pasture of sheep. Only in
one case, among those examined in this study, was the recovery of a
considerable number of loomweights recorded at a maritime villa built
on the spot of the ancient town of Regis Villae, not far from Vulci;
but in this case the number of loomweights is not indicated.78 Among
the country villas, one of the sites where loomweights were found is
Horace’s villa in the Valley of Licenza.79 Several bone needles, loom-
weights, and spindle-whorls were recovered there in the early twenti-
eth-century excavations, and are now kept in the local Antiquarium.
I was unable to locate any information on the exact spot where these
objects were found, in order to see if any association could be made
with a specic room of the villa. The same uncertainty applies to the
chronology of the objects, which remains unspecied. We know that
changes occurred in the layout of the villa, in either the mid-rst cen-
tury a.d. or the early second century, including the partition of the

Romanizzazione 1985: 53. This villa has not been included in the Catalogue, since
the data reported in the publication are too scanty: surface presence of abundant
ceramic material, indicating a chronological span from the rst century b.c. to the
fth a.d., marble fragments belonging to architectural decorations, mosaic elements,
The villa has been traditionally identied with the one owned by the poet in the
area, and the label Horace’s villa is currently used, even if it is not certain that this is
indeed the poet’s property. See Catalogue: L127.
122 chapter four

long side of the portico into a series of rooms; most likely these rooms
served some utilitarian purpose, but it is not possible to determine its
nature. Another villa which offers evidence for textile production is that
at Ossaia, mentioned in the previous discussion. Several rooms, paved
with mosaics in black-and-white tesserae, were excavated in Area 2 of
this villa. The objects recovered within these rooms included a great
quantity of loom-weights,80 hairpins, and clips.
Undoubtedly, the data remain too scanty to allow any quantication
or further speculation, but there seems to be a difference between the
pictures offered by the sites I have examined and villas in Southern
Italy and in Istria. In the ancient region of Lucania, two examples of
large villas involved in the industrial production of textiles have been
explored in recent years. The site of Masseria Ciccotti was occupied
by a monumental villa with phases ranging from the rst century b.c.
to the fth century a.d. From the rst phase up until at least the third
century, a fullonica was in use in the pars rustica of the villa, evidently in
connection with the weaving of textiles; whereas at the villa of S. Pietro
di Tolve, a site only 10 km distant, a large number of spindle-whorls
was recovered in one room, including one stamped Cn. Domiti Cnidi,
a freedman of Domitia Lepida, Nero’s aunt.81 Similarly, archeological
evidence of fullonicae or weaving on a large scale is known for villas
in the Augustan regio X, comprising Venetia and Histria.82 One such
example is the maritime villa of Brioni, in Val Catena, where four

The exact number of loom-weights recovered is not indicated in the publication,
nor is their weight (Fracchia and Gualtieri 1996).
Gualtieri in Lo Cascio and Storchi Marino: 75–105, esp. 85–88. See also in the
same volume G. Volpe on the site of S. Giusto (324–326), where rooms paved with
terracotta tiles and provided with channels were interpreted as working areas for the
washing and treading of wool and hides (since the liquid that ran in the channels cor-
roded the bottom part of the walls it could have been ammonia and other chemical
agents used in processing wool and hides).
De Franceschini 1998: 768–770. The author reports that nine sites show evidence
for animal raising either on the basis of the large number of bones recovered (the kind
of animal is not specied), the presence of stables or scissors to cut the wool (Vivaro
3, in the territory of Concordia); ancient sources mention various centers known for
animal breeding and market, such as Aquileia that already in the second century b.c.
was known for the forum paquarium. De Franceschini lists fourteen villas, mostly in the
area of Tergeste-Istria (eleven sites), showing evidence of fullonicae and dye works; of
these fourteen sites, eight are maritime villas, and the author suggests they might have
produced purple dye (769). The sites where loom-weights were recovered are 31, but
only one belongs to the area of Tergeste-Istria, where the majority of the fullonicae
were identied. Probably the two-bar loom was used, since most of these sites date to
the second or third centuries a.d.
the archaeology of rural villas 123

stone circular basins measuring ca. two m in diameter, and sockets

for parts of a torcular used to wring the textiles attest to dye-working,
perhaps the production of purple dye, or to washing and bleaching
cloth produced in the fundus.83
It is possible that this discrepancy between the evidence for Central
Italy and that for the Southern and Northern regions is not simply
the result of chance nds. In fact, it seems that regions like Latium
or Etruria had a high density of collegia centonariorum in their cities and
towns, while such collegia are rarely attested, for instance, in Southern
Italy.84 It is conceivable that the industrial production of textiles took
place predominantly in villas located in areas with a low degree of
urbanization, where artisans capable of running similar activities were
lacking; in the opposite of Latium, a region with a high degree of
Overall, villae rusticae do not present the same striking contrast
between the picture given by the literary record and the evidence
of archaeology as in the case of maritime villas, where the otium ele-
ment is stressed while the production aspect remains hidden in the
background or apologetically discussed, as in Columella’s discussion
of sh-breeding. Agriculture had a central place in the traditional
ideology of the Roman elite and this ensured that one would declare
more freely and publicly, in writing and in inscriptions, the investments
made to improve one’s estate and its protability. The archaeological
evidence from the countryside in the area examined shows the density
of settlements in Roman times, from small to large establishments, the
considerable investment in works aimed at improving the production
of the land, such as terracing, irrigation and drainage infrastructure,
and in production facilities, such as multiple presses.
Not all the production activities that are attested in country villas
are strictly speaking agricultural, but as the writings of the agronomists
show, the Romans had a large and exible understanding of what was
to be included under the term agriculture, which comprised such diverse
activities as bricks and pitch making. However, country villas were also
idealized. As centers of agricultural production, they are regarded

De Franceschini 1998: 624–626. Two basins are fully preserved.
Oral communication by Dr. Jinyu Liu. An example of a rural villa, where a
high concentration of loom weights was recovered is the villa Vittimose at Buccino
(Campania); at least part of the cloth produced there may have been sold on the local
market; see Dyson 1992: 142.
124 chapter four

also as ideal seats for the production of the mind, where to engage in
studies and literary composition. As we have seen in the case of Pliny
the Younger, his letters dealing with the estate at Tifernum Tiberinum
give only some details about its production and management; Pliny, as
any other member of the elite, does not judge worthy of writing the
fact that a new larger treading vat was added in his villa, as we learn
from the excavation at the site, but does write about his daily routine,
comprised of reading and writing, even while he was hunting.85

Pliny Ep. 1.6.


When historians talk about the “villa system” as a mode of production,

they are referring to the type of villa rustica that initially appeared in
the Italian countryside in the time of Cato and then developed into
the villa theorized by Varro and Columella—that is, a villa with both
a pars urbana, for residential purposes, and a pars rustica, which exploited
slave labor for the concentrated cultivation of cash crops, such as vines
and olive trees. It is generally accepted that the “Roman villa” was the
manifestation of a specic socioeconomic system, which, in the after-
math of the Hannibalic war, had both new capital and a considerable
number of slaves at its disposal.1
Whether the “villa-system” in Italy was adopted from Greece via the
colonies of Magna Graecia, or from the Punic (Carthaginian) world,
via Sicily, as the discoveries on the island of Jerba suggests, or even
whether it evolved in Central Italy from Etruscan palace-structures is
still an open debate.2 Whatever its “origins”, this type of villa is said to
have developed in Tyrrhenian Central Italy, specically in the regions
of Latium, northern Campania and southern Tuscany (Etruria).3
The scholarly denition of the villa system, and the construction
of the economic models it implies, rests heavily not only on literary
sources like the works of the Latin agronomists, but also on the results
of various archaeological investigations. The work directed by Andrea
Carandini in the Ager Cosanus and at the site of Settenestre has, for
example, been very inuential in this sense.
At Settenestre, Carandini and his team4 excavated a large country
villa, with at least three major phases: original construction in the

Volpe 2000: 195.
Lafon 2001; Carandini 1989b: 113 and Fentress 2001; Terrenato 2001a. Carthage
had certainly an important role in the development of agricultural “enterprises”: one
needs not to forget that the agricultural treatise of the Carthaginian Mago was the
only literary work translated into Latin in the aftermath of Carthage’s destruction in
146 b.c., and constituted the basis for the works of the Latin agronomists.
Carandini 1989b: 102–103.
Carandini 1980; 1985a; 1989b; Catalogue: T3.
126 chapter five

mid-rst century b.c.; additions and changes to the oor-plan in the rst
century a.d.; and decline leading to abandonment in the late second
century a.d. The villa has been associated with the Sestii, in particular
to the senator L. Sestius, since the site is located in the immediate hin-
terland of Cosa, from where the shipment of wine to Gaul in amphorae
stamped “SES” took place. The reason why the published study of this
villa became so inuential on works relating to Roman agriculture and
the economy of Roman Italy is that, in its second phase, the site seemed
to exemplify Varro’s villa perfecta: an elegant pars urbana, a pars rustica
equipped for the production of wine and oil, and a pars fructuaria for
storage, comprising also a granary. The villa had two courtyards sur-
rounded by rooms belonging to the rst and second phases, which the
excavators determined to be slave quarters (alloggi servili). This evidence,
in combination with the results of the eld survey of the region around
Cosa and the villa of Settenestre,5 showed that a radical change in the
mode of land ownership took place around Cosa in the rst century
b.c., namely a shift from small farms belonging to coloni to villas at
the center of large estates. The progressive concentration of the land
in the hands of fewer and fewer landowners, along with the creation
of the slave-staffed villa perfecta, would have caused a serious crisis for
small farms and free labor, causing the disappearance of small- and
medium-sized settlements.
The archaeological data recorded at Settenestre provided the evi-
dence for a situation already attested by literary sources in Etruria
and elsewhere for the second century b.c.6 In order to explain the dif-
fusion, by the rst century a.d., of large latifundia7—not only in Italy,
but also in the provinces—historians applied these considerations on

Intensive survey was carried out in the Valle d’Oro, Valle dell’Albegna, Valle del
Chiarone and Valle del Tafone: Celuzza and Regoli 1982; Carandini and Cambi 2002
(long-overdue presentation of the survey results and smaller in scope than the original
two volumes planned, the book presents interpretative work up to the 1990s). For a
review of this volume see Wilson 2004.
According to Plutarch (Ti. Gracch. 8), when Tiberius Gracchus traveled through
coastal Etruria in 137 b.c., he found it deserted and farmed by imported slaves. See
also App., BCiv 1.1.7–9 on the exploitation of public land by the rich by means of
slave labor and on Tiberius’ speech on these topics on the occasion of the vote on
the Lex Agraria. On the impoverished conditions of coloni in Etruria in the rst century
see Sall., Cat. 28.4.
The famous passage in Pliny, NH 18.35 is often quoted in this context as evidence
of the diffusion of large estates in the rst century a.d.: latifundia perdidere Italiam, iam
vero et provincias sex domini semissem Africae possidebant, cum interfecit eos Nero princeps.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 127

the mode of land ownership and exploitation to the rest of Italy, sup-
porting the theoretical model with the archaeological evidence offered
by Settenestre.
According to Kuzišoin, the latifundium was a large, centrally managed
agricultural enterprise, measuring 1,000 or more iugera (= to 250 ha),
using mostly slave labor, which reached its height in the rst century
a.d.8 However, it is difcult to reconstruct the actual size of large
estates from the references given in literary sources and juridical texts.
Apart from a few instances where the extension in iugera is explicitly
indicated—for example the suburban praedium measuring 1000 iugera
mentioned by Varro9—passages are generalizing, with a moralizing
undertone, as in the case of Pliny the Elder’s statement that latifundia
ruined Italy. The only conclusion that one can reach is that upper
class estates must have been very large, but we are not able to quantify
their size, or to say whether they were continuous estate or, more likely,
scattered properties.10
The survey carried out on the occasion of the excavations at Sette-
nestre identied the probable size of the fundi belonging to the larger
villas for the territory of Saturnia, Heba and Cosa. For Saturnia, villas
probably controlled an area of three centuries each, ca. 150 ha, since
the centuriation module for this area was probably 20 u 20 actus; in
the territory of Heba, the survey found one villa-site/km2 to the west
of the town, in contrast with the two sites per 1 km2 identied in the
eastern portion of the territory.11
In the case of Settenestre and the surrounding area, an estimate
of the average size of the fundi was inferred from the distance between

Kuzišoin 1984; references to property measuring 1000 iugera are found in some
literary texts, see footnote below. The units given as examples by the ancient agricultural
writers are: 100 iugera (25 ha) for a vineyard and 240 iugera (60 ha) for an olive grove
in Cato and Varro; in Columella, 200 iugera (50 ha) of arable land forms the basis for
computation of labor-input in grain and vegetable production. On large properties
and land management, see also Corbier 1981.
Varro, Rust. 2.3.10; the same size is given in Cic., Att. 13.31.4 for a hortus and
Hor. Epod. 4.13. See De Neeve 1984, 217–219 for a discussion of attempts to calculate
property size on the basis of the monetary value of the property or number of animals
the fundus could support.
For instance in the case of T. Vettius, who is said by Diodorus, 36.2, to have
owned in 104 b.c., on his property in Campania, 400 slaves, it is assumed that the
gure referred to various scattered properties and not to one large continuous estate.
For an example of generic references to large portions of land owned by few see Cic.,
Leg. Ag. 2.78, mentioning that the Ager Praenestinum was owned by pauci.
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 124–131.
128 chapter five

large villas, identied through the combination of eld survey and

photo aerial interpretation with the study of the terrain morphology.
The estates controlled by the villa of Settenestre and the other large
villas identied in the area seem to have measured on average 250/
300 ha.12
Since the Settenestre villa was fully excavated, a more precise
calculation of the extension of cultivated areas, at least in the case of
the vineyard, was based on the wine production capacity shown by
the number and volume of dolia in the cella vinaria. Carandini consid-
ers that the cryptoportico had room for 80 dolia, which on average
have 10 hl capacity, equal to an annual production of 800 hl of wine.
Adding to this gure the wine possibly stored in amphorae, Carandini
suggests a production of 1000 hl of wine and a vineyard of 125 iugera
(= 31 ha).13 Tchernia renes the calculation according to the different
possible yield of grape, noting that wine yield could go from 35 hl/ha
to 60 hl/ha; the vineyard would have therefore measured between 15
and 31 ha.14 Finally, Brun’s calculation further reduces the extension
of the land cultivated with vines at this site, noting that in the crypto-
portico there is room for only 75 dolia and that wine stored in ampho-
rae is irrelevant for the calculation of the production, since wine was
transferred in amphorae only at the end of the fermentation process.
He therefore thinks that, at the most, the possible wine production was
750 hl, equal to vineyards measuring, according to variation in grape
yield, between 12 and 22 ha.15 The labor force used in the running of
this estate would have consisted of slaves, as indicated by the identi-
cation of slave-quarters in the villa and by the paucity of small and
medium size settlements around Settenestre that could have belonged
to free farmers, who could then have been hired by the owners of the
larger estates.

Carandini 1985a: 53.
Carandini 1985a: 165–166.
Tchernia 1995: 389.
Brun 2004: 41–42, with discussion of Carandini and Tchernia.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 129

Reinterpreting the Archaeological Data

The identication of slave quarters at Settenestre which, in the second-

phase of the complex, would have housed about a hundred slaves,16 has
also given archaeologists excavating elsewhere in Italy a key to interpret-
ing the function of similar structures (i.e., courtyards surrounded by a
series of rooms). Using this parallel, many scholars interpret features
such as the courtyard of the Volusii villa at Lucus Feroniae and the series
of rooms in the villa on Giannutri Island as slave quarters,17 engaging
in speculation about changes in the types of cultivars (grain versus
olives and grapes),18 about the decay of villas belonging to absentee
landowners, and, last but not least, the replacement of independent
farmers with slaves.
The case of Settenestre has generated such a well articulated eco-
nomic model of the rural Roman villa that, although it is recognized
that in Republican times peasant small-holdings and slave-staffed villas
were mutually dependent and shared similar modes of agricultural pro-
duction,19 no one has really doubted either the presence of hundreds
of slaves at Settenestre or the identication of the courtyard as slave

The calculation was made on the basis of a military text of the Trajanic era (Hyg.
De Munit. 1), reporting that six or eight legionaries could sleep in a tent measuring
10 u 10 Roman feet (ca. 3 u 3 m). This is the same size as the twenty-three cellae at
Settenestre (for the excavators, including two cellae ostiariae and one cella monitorum).
For these sites, see Catalogue: L106; T19. The fact that in Rosati 1992: 92 the ruins
known today as Conventaccio are referred to as an ergastulum is the more striking consid-
ering that: a) It seems unlikely that the seven or eight rooms located on the upper terrace
(and in an amazing panoramic position) were slave quarters. From what is known of the
plan of the villa, this complex does not seem to be next to any “service part” of the villa,
such as the kitchen, but on the contrary is close to the heart of the rich residential part.
Even considering that we are missing part of the upper story of the main residential com-
plex one may wonder where the owners and their guests would sleep during their visits.
b) Even if we accept that the rooms were reserved for the household servants, the
term ergastulum should not be used since it indicated a space for fettered slaves. On
this topic see below.
For an overview of the theory that viticulture and olive growing, requiring inten-
sive labor, were more suitable for slave labor whereas grain cultivations suited best
independent farmers/tenants see De Neeve 1984: 215–217; Morley 1996: 122–129
for discussion of modern opinions on productivity and cost of slave vs. free labor in
villas and on the organization of labor.
Garnsey 1980; Skydsgaard 1980. Ikeguchi 2000 for a discussion of approaches
to using the archaeological evidence as informative of type of labor and management
of estates.
130 chapter five

quarters.20 However, as early as 1981, D. W. Rathbone, in a study on

the development of agriculture in the Ager Cosanus, warned against “easy
acceptance of a simple notion of the villa system being a straightforward
slave mode of production.”21 And in order to explain the presence of
small farms and villages in the Albegna Valley, an area on the outskirts
of the economic center of Cosa and its harbor, it has been suggested
that proprietors had always rented their land in marginal areas to free
peasants, instead of using intensive slave labor.22
The apparent discrepancy between the eld survey evidence, show-
ing that rural territory was occupied by numerous small settlements in
addition to large estates, and the remarks about the predominance of
large slave staffed villas attributed to the literary sources to Tiberius
Gracchus23 can perhaps be explained if we consider that Tiberius Grac-
chus, who was probably traveling along the coastal Via Aurelia Vetus,
may in fact have reported just what he saw from the coastal road, in
the vicinity of which the larger villas like Settenestre were located.24
Tiberius Gracchus’ remarks, charged with political connotations in the
debate on ager publicus and land assignment, did not necessarily reect
the general settlement pattern of the whole of Etruria.
If we turn to the archaeological evidence for slave quarters, in reality,
we do not know much about their architectural typology. Schumacher
points out25 that in the ancient world slaves were a large, heterogeneous
group (highly-specialized household slaves existed alongside agricultural
manpower), a fact that makes it difcult to identify specic typologies for
servile dwellings. It is assumed that small, uniform rooms were intended
for servile use, but, as Whitehead puts it, “archaeologically the slaves
are invisible [. . .] there is no accepted way of recognizing slave dwell-
ings.”26 Ultimately, this problem relates to the broader issue in ancient

Recently, Schumacher 2001: 101 noted in passing that no archaeological evidence
proves the use of this space as slave quarters, although some architectural features t,
and that the rooms could have been used for other purposes, such as housing for free
workmen, storerooms, etc.
Rathbone 1981: 13.
Cambi and Fentress 1989: 82.
See above.
Wilson 2004: 573.
Schumacher 2001: 238. For an overview on the archaeological evidence relating
to slaves in the ancient world see Thompson 2003.
Whitehead 1994: 196. A new and stimulating approach to the study of slave
dwellings, focusing on material culture (or the lack of ) has been presented by Webster
2005, applying New World studies approaches to Roman Britain.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 131

architectural studies about the degree to which architectural typology is

a secure indication of the function of spaces, (especially in cases such
as this one) when trying to determine the social status of the “users.”
In the case of slave quarters in rural villas, architectural features have
been “questioned” through the lens of ancient literary accounts.27 It is
no accident that the only archeological evidence (Settenestre) for the
typology of slave quarters was discovered in Etruria, the very region
indicated in the literary sources for an early diffusion of the extensive
use of slave labor.
The use of courtyards surrounded by rooms is fairly common in
villas; however, it is interesting to note that in modern scholarship on
villas in Italy, this same architectural feature is interpreted differently
according to geographic region. Indeed, while the possible function of
villas as inns is strangely absent from the analysis of villa-sites in Etru-
ria, the “center” of the slave mode of production, it occurs relatively
frequently for sites in other geographic areas. For instance, at sites in the
northern regions a courtyard surrounded by rooms is never interpreted
as slave quarters, but most usually as the bedrooms of a mansio, even
when this interpretation forces one to reconsider known data on the
road network, as in the case of the complex at Le Verne.28 (Figure 13)
Even for complexes built on a smaller scale, like the villa at Matrice
(Molise), the interpretation of an inn is put forward.29 It seems to me
that this type of interpretation of the archaeological data is the result
of preconceived notions about the predominant economic conditions
in a given area and the mode of agricultural production. In Northern
Italy, on the basis of Pliny the Younger’s testimony concerning the lease
of his lands to coloni, the presence of slave quarters in villas is never
assumed, whereas it is expected in Central Italy. Therefore, in collect-
ing and examining the archaeological data pertaining to villa-sites in

Similiter see Purcell in his review to the Settenestre publication (1988: 197) on
the slave-quarters: “It is important to remember that that is a supposition, and that
Varro and Columella are in the end behind it.”
Le Verne is considered to be the mansio of Rigomagus, but most likely was a large
villa. As Robino 1999: 249 points out, the typology of the structures (large courtyard
with modular rooms) could refer to either a villa or a mansio—in the former case, the
rooms may have been storerooms and service areas (but not slave quarters!); in the
latter, bedrooms.
For this site, being close to the intersection between a north-south tratturo and
an east-west road, the excavators hypothesize that the villa also functioned as an inn
and think that it probably belonged to one of the local domini nobiles. See Lloyd and
Rathbone 1984.
132 chapter five

Figure 13. Trino, Le Verne (after Robino 1999).

Central Italy, along with the results of various eld surveys, I became
more and more aware of the necessity of reassessing the archaeologi-
cal evidence for this discourse and the role played by both slave labor
and free labor in the “villa system.” In fact, the archaeological evidence
quoted so often to prove the widespread use of slaves in Roman agri-
culture in the Republic, in primis the data from Settenestre, is not so
clear as to be indisputable.
Following the numbering of the plans in the 1985 publication, the
rst-phase slave-quarters at Settenestre would be Courtyard 42. On
the west side, this court presents rooms labeled as cellae for slaves, a cella
vinaria,30 and a stable, kitchen, etc. Each of the cellae measured 3 u 3 m
and had a doorway 1 m wide. The identication with slave rooms made
by the excavators was based not on specic nds recovered within the

Surprisingly, the attribution of the given space to a cella vinaria rested not on any
material nds (sunken dolia, for instance), but on Varro’s indication (Rust. 1.13.1) that
the cella is to be built on the ground oor, facing north.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 133

rooms,31 but on two other considerations. First, they judged the rooms to
be too small for the storage of goods. Second, the 1 m wide doorways
seemed too narrow for stables.32 The third option left to explain the
use of those rooms was, following passages in Cato and Columella,33
to think of them as cellae familiae for the servi soluti. This same line of
thinking led to the identication of the function of the twenty-one rooms
of the second larger courtyard to the south-west of the rst one (i nuovi
alloggi servili): poor nishing of walls and oors—considered a sign of
inadequacy for the storage of foodstuffs34—and doorways too narrow
(1 m) for stables (Figure 14). Carandini suggested that each of these rooms
could have housed a family of slaves, proposing also that “slave-breeding”
may have been actively encouraged by the owner of the villa.
In 1981, excavations carried out by the local Soprintendenza at Villa
Arianna, at the site of ancient Stabiae (modern Castellammare di Sta-
bia), unearthed the stables belonging to this large, luxurious villa. The
excavation, which also recovered the bronze components of two carts,
identied ten box stalls as well as an inscription bearing the name of
the horse housed in one of them: Repentinus.35 (Figure 15)
The doorways of these stalls measured between 0.85 and 0.90 m.
This fact shows that, in the case of Settenestre, 1 m wide doorways
do not preclude the possible use of the rooms as stables. 1 m is also
the current standard doorway width for a standing stall for horses.
The nds of the stables at Stabiae also remind us that the breed of
horse used in Roman Italy was smaller in size than many of the breeds
we encounter today, being probably more similar to the Arabian.36

Many of the cellae (nos. 38, 41, 48, 108, 115, and 201) were not excavated down
to the oor level (where one would expect to recover most of the interesting data in
a stratigraphic excavation).
The thresholds were made out of monolithic blocks of limestone; the doors, in
both quarters, had one leaf and could be closed only from the outside.
Cato Agr. 14.2; Columella Rust. 1.6.3.
Where the oor level was reached in the excavation, the ooring consisted of
beaten earth or earth and lime. In many rooms a number of nails were recovered,
possibly an indication of wooden oors or upper stories; in this case, the storage of
foodstuffs seems conceivable.
Miniero 1987. Miniero suggests that some of the rooms were stalls, and some
were probably rooms for household servants (but not eld slaves: 177). The inscription,
a grafto in large letters on the wall plaster next to Room 6, runs: Repentinu[s]/Rimi
[-]e[. . .]. The excavation uncovered only the central courtyard and the front of the
stalls opening into it, but did not unearth any stall in its entirety, so that we do not
have their total measurements as a comparison with the Settenestre cellae.
It should be added that if one wants to follow at all costs the norms given by the
agronomists, the size of the rooms is closer to what was recommended by Columella
chapter five

Figure 14. Ansedonia, Settenestre: detail (after Carandini 1985a).


Figure 15. Castellammare di Stabia, plan of Villa Arianna and detail of the stables (Miniero 1987).
136 chapter five

Apparently, at Settenestre and in the surrounding territory, several

horse harnesses were found.37 If we add to this the fact that donkeys
and mules, both smaller in size than horses, were commonly used in
the countryside for overland transportation, the likelihood of all of the
Settenestre cellae housing slaves diminishes greatly. Indeed, we should
remember that the Digest included mules in the list of the instrumentum
fundi,38 since they were used for transportation, either as pack animals
or to pull carts.39 As Schumacher observes, no archaeological evidence
proves that the Second Complex at Settenestre was slave quarters, and
the cellae could just as easily have been used as storerooms, as housing
for free workmen, or for some other purpose.40 In addition to this, we
should also remember the possibility that various structures on rural
estates, including slave dwellings, may have been built using perishable
materials, such as wood, which, due to the nature of the Italian climate
and soil, leave no trace in the archeological record.
E. Regoli, in discussing the data gathered by the survey in the Albegna
valley and the Valle D’Oro, has noted that identication of the dwellings
for the work force of the various known estates of Imperial date is in
most cases unsuccessful and cannot be attributed to scarce preservation
of perishable material, since the poor dwellings of the third century
b.c. coloni left identiable traces. However, she also notes the possibility
that workmen lived in habitations located very close to the main villa,
the traces of which are therefore blended into a single large surface
scatter picked up by the eld survey. The presence of small necropoleis
with simple tombs alla cappucina near the villas, in use until the fourth
century a.d., may support this suggestion.41

for the bubilia: Lata bubilia esse oportebit pedes decem vel minime novem, quae mensura et ad pro-
cumbendum pecori et iugario ad curcumeundum laxa ministeia praebeat (Rust. 1.6.6). Much later,
Palladius (1.21) talks of a space measuring 8 u 15 ft for each pair of oxen.
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 220.
Dig. ea quae exportandorum fructum causa parantur, instrumenti esse constat, veluti
iumenta et vehicula et naves et cuppae et culei.
Agronomists and other sources stress the importance of mules in agricultural works
and transport by discussing their breeding; see Varro, Rust. 2.8.1–3, who was from
Reate, an important center for mule breeding; Columella, Rust. 6.35.1–37.11; Plin., NH
8.272. It was also possible to lease mules and/or muleteers and all the other equipment
necessary for transport and the Digest has various sections dealing with locatio/conductio
of muleteer slaves and responsibility for damages: see Martin 1990.
Schumacher 2001: 101. He adds however, with circular reasoning, that the archi-
tectonic characteristics point somehow in the direction of slave quarters, an opinion
that I do not share, considering that it was the excavation at this very site that caused
the courtyard/cellae typology to be seen as indicative of slave quarters.
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 227.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 137

In noting the weaknesses of the interpretation of the excavation data

at Settenestre, I intend neither to deny in toto the presence of slaves
in the complex, nor to propose that the rooms surrounding the two
courtyards were necessarily stables. But I would like to underline the
fact that the data offered by one of the best excavated villas are not
as unproblematic as is often assumed and should be used with more
caution when applied to other sites or to the elaboration of a general
economic theory of Roman Italy. It seems to me that the function of
those rooms should be considered as manifold—storage (not necessarily
for foodstuffs alone), slave dwellings, stables, etc.42 Cases of animals and
servants sleeping in the same room are, for instance, well attested in
some Vesuvian villas, like Oplontis, where skeletons have been recovered.
In the case of Settenestre, the interpretation of the archaeological data
was inuenced by preconceived ideas, generated through readings of
literary sources. We should also remember that Roman rural slavery has
often been seen and reconstructed through the lens offered by the reali-
ties of slavery in the American South.43 As has been written, in studies
of Roman rural slavery, “concentrated slave labor organized around a
plantation system is the model that continues to be cited. This has led
to an overenthusiastic search for ergastula.”44 The dangers of nding in
the archeological record what one “wants to nd” are always present
and have been clearly analyzed by Hodder in his studies proposing a
theoretical system for archaeology.45
Another idea arising from the data offered by Settenestre and the
surrounding region—namely, that large villas determined the disappear-
ance of medium-sized properties belonging to free farmers—cannot be
generally applied either. Some areas show the presence of small and
medium-sized villas under the Empire as well, both close to Rome
(e.g., Ostia) and far from Rome (e.g., the Cecina valley). The small and
medium-sized farms identied near Ostia (Acilia) present phases dat-
ing from the Republic to the mid- and late Empire; each has access to
aqueducts and a necropolis. The majority of the tombs that appear to

See Rathbone 1991 for a reconstruction of a multipurpose rural complex on the
basis of indications from Egyptian papyri.
See for instance studies such as C. A. Yeo, “The economics of Roman and
American Slavery”, Finanzachiv n.s. 13.3, 1952: 445–485. It is not by chance that the
publication on Settenestre comprises a section on American plantations. On the
necessity to consider American slavery as a separate phenomenon from ancient slavery:
Schiavone 1989: 49.
Dyson 1992: 131.
For instance Hodder 1991.
138 chapter five

be related to the various farms date to the second century a.d.,46 and
this fact can probably be related to the settlement of veterans in the Ager
Ostiensis during the Imperial period, as stated in the Liber Coloniarum.47
In this respect, we should also mention that the construction date for
the villa of Settenestre proposed by the excavators has been questioned
by Dyson, who pointed out that the date “derives more from their
reconstruction of the historical circumstances that led to the founda-
tion of the villa than from the recovered archaeological evidence.”48
In his opinion, the desire to link the villa with the Sestii family, known
to have been proprietors in the Ager Cosanus, was one of the reasons
for emphasis being placed on the historical reconstruction rather than
on the archaeological data. As discussed above, the “appearance” of
the great villa of Settenestre—and of the other grand villas of the
area—has been connected to the decline of the town of Cosa, since
the senatorial proprietors of these slave estates undermined the local
community in which they had no interest, accelerating the crisis of small
landowners. However, if Dyson is correct in positing the construction
date for the luxurious villas of Le Colonne and Settenestre in the late
second century b.c.—and it seems to me his argument rests on strong
basis—then the villas would be contemporary with the height of pros-
perity of Cosa, while the decline in the rst century b.c. would coincide
with a break of occupation at Le Colonne also.49 The pottery data from
the eld survey in the Albegna valley, mentioned earlier, also seem to
offer a more complicated picture than the slow, progressive decline in
the number of sites posited as general model of land occupation in
Italy. Datable African red-slip forms recovered in this area indicate
a peak in the period from the late rst century a.d. to the mid-third
century, followed by a drop and a new concentration of nds for the

See Catalogue: L1.
Lib. Col. 234 L; 236 L.
Dyson 2002: 224–225; he considers the mid-rst century b.c. date too late in
the light of the hundreds of black glaze sherds recovered in the excavation and of
the substantial group of third/second century b.c. coins, in addition to the fact that
dating on the basis of wall painting style (Pompeian IIA, considered to belong to the
original decoration of the villa and dated to 40 b.c.) is not a reliable criterion. The
nearby villa of Le Colonne (T1), very similar in architectural typology to Settenestre,
has been dated to the late second century b.c.
Ibidem: 226. Dyson also observes that some of the villas may have belonged to
locals, since some in the local community must had reasonable wealth, as indicated
by a coin hoard discovered in one of the houses in Cosa, including more than 2,000
Republican denarii. For the chronological phases of Le Colonne see also the discussion
in Chapter 8.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 139

years 320–400 a.d. If these data relate directly to the export of African
ware, they also have some value for determining settlements’ history
and their involvement in an import-export market economy.50
Another famous archaeological example used to demonstrate the
widespread diffusion of slave labor in villae rusticae is the well known villa
of the Volusii Saturnini at Lucus Feroniae (Fiano Romano), just north
of Rome. This villa was possibly built around 50 b.c. by Q. Volusius
Saturninus.51 Under Augustus, L. Volusius Saturninus, the consul for 12
b.c., redecorated the original mansion and added to it a large peristyle
surrounded by rooms. Moretti and Sgubini-Moretti, who followed the
emergency excavation of the complex in the 1970s, think that the rooms
constituted an ergastulum52 for “hundreds” of slaves, thus revealing a
radical change in the villa’s mode of production, from coloni to slaves.53
To quote Sgubini Moretti, the courtyard is “un esempio dei Tusca ergastula,
sinonimo dell’efcienza del modo di produzione schiavistica in Etruria.”54
The change in the type of labor would also have reected a change in
the type of production—from wine and oil, produced at the Republican
villa, to grain55—in response to the market crisis of Italian wine under
pressure from imports from the provinces.56 But if one scrutinizes the

Ibidem: 226.
The Volusii were homines novi from Cingulum in Picenum, who reached consider-
able wealth and prestige with Augustus. The rst member to obtain the consulate was
L. Volusius in 12 b.c.
The term ergastulum is often used improperly by modern authors to refer to slave
quarters in general. On this issue see below.
There is no single good publication on this villa, which was excavated hastily on
account of the construction of the highway and not following the stratigraphic meth-
odology. The only monographs on the villa are: Moretti and Sgubini-Moretti 1977;
Sgubini-Moretti 1998; Volusii Saturnini 1982.
Similar opinions on the Volusii complex include Torelli’s (Bianchi Bandinelli and
Torelli 1986, scheda 65: “Il peristilio bordato di stanzette, sulla cui funzione non esistono dubbi: è il
quartiere servile, uno dei Tusca ergastula di cui parlano le fonti”) and Carandini’s (1989b: “forse
il più grande ergastulum che no ad oggi conosciamo . . . potrebbe trattarsi di un grande allevamento
di schiavi per Roma con una famiglia per ogni stanza . . .”). On vernae as a source for the slave
supply see Bradley 1987.
The wine and olive presses belong to the rst-century b.c. phase of the villa.
Strangely in this case the authors reverse the usual association between vines/olive trees-
slave labor and grain-free tenants discussed by modern authors; see supra note 18.
The existence of the crisis of Italian wine and oil production is controversial. As
has been remarked (Panella and Tchernia 1994; recently Tchernia 2006, also remarking
the lack of a general study on the chronology of villas in Italy), the decrease in wine
and oil exports from Italy indicates only a change in the distribution patterns of the
products. And even if there was such a crisis, some scholars are starting to separate the
phenomenon from the alleged decline of the villas, denying that the end of viticulture
meant also the end of villas (Lafon 1994; Métraux 1998).
140 chapter five

Figure 16. Fiano Romano, Volusii Saturnini Villa: detail (Sgubini Moretti 1998).

reasons for identifying the complex at Lucus Feroniae as an ergastulum,

one discovers that they are basically twofold: rst, the mention in lit-
erary sources of the existence, in Etruria in general, of latifundia and
ergastula; and second, comparison with the architectural typology of the
courtyard excavated at Settenestre.
These two architectural complexes are not, after all, so very similar
in their typology. While at Settenestre the second courtyard is an
enclosure separate from the residential part of the villa, in the Volusii
villa the supposed “ergastulum” unfolds around an elegant peristyle
attached to the residential part (Figure 16). Furthermore at the center
of the supposed slave quarters at the Volusii villa, there is an elaborate
lararium (labeled 41 in the plan), featuring an elegant mosaic oor of
sophisticated design, a marble mensa, marble busts of members of the
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 141

Figure 17. Fiano Romano, Volusii Saturnini Villa: lararium (photo: A. Marzano).

gens, and a long inscription recording the funerary honors voted to

L. Volusius Saturninus (L. f., cos. 3 a.d.)57 by the senate (Figure 17).
The label Lararium, as applied to this room, may be misleading for
someone who does not know the complex and has in mind the Vesuvian
lararia consisting of nothing more than an aedicula next to the kitchen. In
contrast, the lararium of the Volusii was elaborate and clearly intended
to be seen. We should ask ourselves for what audience such elegance

The inscription (AE 1972.174; for the text see below n. 60) is a copy of the senatus
consultum conferring great honors to this member of the Volusii family upon his death.
Another copy of this decree (of which a fragment is known) was placed in the Forum
in Rome, on the base of one of the many honoric statues erected for Lucius Volusius.
The historian Tacitus remembers the death of the famous Volusius at Ann. 13.30. See
also Pliny NH This lararium was completely different from the small, coarse
aediculae we nd next to the kitchen in many Pompeian houses. In this case we have an
entire room, prominently located right in the middle of the west side of the peristyle.
The mosaic oor has an elaborate decorative pattern, depicting a kantharos in each of
the four corners. The back wall of the room presents a masonry support, once revetted
with marble slabs, where the statues of the family’s ancestors were placed. On the right
wall two inscriptions once hung, the long one regarding the funerary honors decreed
by the senate, and a shorter one dedicated to Q. Volusius Saturninus, younger son of
L. Volusius Saturninus. This second, shorter inscription (AE 1972.175) reads: Q(uinto)
Volusio L(ucii) f(ilio) [L(ucii) n(epoti)]/[S]aturnino co(n)[s(uli)] (56 a.d.),/[s]odali Augustal[i,
sodali]/[T]iti, frati Arval[i, legato]/Caesaris at (sic!) census a[ccipie]ndos/provinciae Belgicae.
142 chapter five

was displayed. It is generally assumed that the lararium was intended

for the slaves housed there, who needed a proper space for the perfor-
mance of rituals addressed to their masters,58 thus offering an ultimate
sign of the wealth and power of the gens. But the characteristics of
this lararium make me doubt the identication of the courtyard as an
ergastulum for eld slaves.59 For one thing, the marble inscription for
L. Volusius Saturninus is a completely unexpected nd for a villa.
As has been noted, if we had not known the provenance of such an
inscription, we would have assigned it with no hesitation to a public
space or building.60 It is also crucial, in order to assess the nature of the
architectural complex around the courtyard, to determine whether it is
correct to talk about a lapse in the use of the mansion as a residence
by the Volusii during this early Imperial phase, and about “absentee
landowners.”61 This is in fact a circular argument: an ergastulum right
next to the pars urbana is possible since the Volusii did not often reside
in the villa; yet the explanation for their absence is the transformation
of the property from a “otium” villa to a highly productive farm, as
attested by the ergastulum itself.
It should be remembered, too, that the addition of the peristyle with
modular rooms is not the only building activity dated to the Augustan
period. In the pars urbana, indeed, most of the mosaic oors were redone
and Rooms 7, 8 and 10, once used for activities related to production,
were integrated into the residential part.62 These facts conict with
the idea that the owners visited their villa less often during this time.
To this we have to add that L. Volusius Saturninus, the builder of the
peristyle, was the patronus of Lucus Feroniae, as an inscription on the

Sgubini Moretti 1998: 40.
See also Salza Prina Ricotti’s study on slave quarters and kitchen in Roman houses;
she observes that servants quarters open on small courtyards, are never surrounded by
columns and are characterized by long corridors (1978–1980: 297).
It is worth quoting here the text of the inscription (AE 1972.174): [L Volusio L f
Q n Sa]turnino. Cos/[augur, sodalis Augustal]is, sodalis Titi, proc[os Asiae]/[legatus divi Augusti et
Ti Caesa]ris Aug pro praetore in [provinciis]/[- -et Dalmatia, pra]efectus urbis fuit [annos XVI?, in
quo]/[honore, cum nonagesimum tertium] annum agens dec[essisset, senatus],/[auctore Nerone Claudio
Augusto Germa]nico, funere publico [eum efferri]/[censuit, vadimoniis exse]q[ui]arum [ei]us causa
dilatis, item statuas ei/[ponend]as tr[ium]fales (sic!) in foro Augusti aeneam, in templo novo div[i
Au]gussti (sic!)/[m]armoreas [du]as, consulares unam in templo divi Iuli, alteram [i]n/[P]alatio intra
tripylum, tertiam in aria (sic!) Apolinis (sic!) in conspectum (sic!) curiae/auguralem in regia, equestrem
proxime rostra, sella curuli residentem at (sic!)/theatrum Pompeianum in porticu Lentulorum.
Sgubini Moretti 1998: 39.
Ibid.: 28.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 143

base of a statue voted to him by the decuriones tells us.63 He himself

and his homonymous son (the person honored in the long inscription
from the lararium) built and dedicated, between 14 and 20 a.d.64 the
temple to divus Augustus in the forum of Lucus Feroniae.65 Considering
the position of these two members of the gens Volusia within the local
community, it is highly unlikely that they did not visit their villa (which
was also not far from Rome) as often as before; thus the idea of a lapse
in the residential use of the villa does not really hold up.
All this considered, I am skeptical about the identication of the
series of rooms as an ergastulum. Daniele Manacorda spoke against
this theory as many as twenty years ago, proposing for the space a
combined usage as housing and storage (horreum).66 The analogy in
the size of the rooms between this space and the complex on the
north side of the villa, which was used for storage,67 supports his sug-
gestion. And in fact, Carandini himself, referring to this complex in
the Settenestre publication,68 wrote at rst that it was a horreum, in
part because literary sources report that the Volusii preferred coloni to
slaves.69 Carandini subsequently changed his views—in a contribution

AE 1978.304: L(ucio) Volusio Q(uinti) f(ilio) Saturnino/co(n)s(uli), ((septem))vir(o)
epulon(um)/ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) public(e) patr(ono).
Lucus Feroniae was an important cult center from archaic times. The rich sanctu-
ary, plundered by Hannibal in 211 b.c., was dedicated to the Sabine goddess Feronia.
As in the case of other sanctuaries, the cult center was also the seat of an important
regional market (Livy 1.30.5; Cass. Dio 3.32.1), still functioning at the beginning of the
Empire (Strab. 5.2.9). Lucus Feroniae was able to develop this commercially strategic
role thanks to the presence of the Tiber, which offered a transportation route from the
upper Tiber valley down to Rome. Of the many harbor installations that L. Quilici
(1986) detected along the Tiber, one is located in correspondence to Lucus Feroniae.
The center became a real town in the rst century b.c., after the settlement of a colony
of veterans, and took the name of Colonia Iulia Felix Lucoferonensium. It seems that the
colony fell into slow decline starting in the third century a.d.
[L(ucius) Vo]lusius Q (uinti) f(ilius) Sa[turninus ((septem))vir epulon(um). Co(n)s(ul)
((trium))vir]/[c]enturis equ[itum recognoscendis cens(oria) pot(estate)]/[L(ucius) Vo]lusius L(ucii)
f(ilius) Sa[turninus co(n)s(ul), augur, proco(n)s(ul) Asiae]/[te]mplum divo Augusto [ faciendum
curaverunt idemque dedicaverunt].
Volusii Saturnini 1982: 57. Schumacher 2001: 99 also thinks it was a horreum.
Some dolia bases have been found in situ.
Carandini 1985a, vol. I: 177.
L. Volusius’ opinion reported at Columella Rust., 1.7.3: felicissimum fundum esse,
qui colonos indigenas haberet. See also Manacorda in Volusii Saturnini 1982: 68; Corbier
1981: 443 expressed caution in considering the Volusii villa as typical of villas based
on slave labor.
144 chapter five

on the villa schiavistica, he presents this part of the Volusii complex as

an ergastulum for “hundreds of slaves (centinaia di schiavi).”70
This matter is not merely a useless mental exercise, but has some
weight in the recent historiographical debate about the crisis of the
Italian economy as a whole, seen also through the crisis of the villa and
its peculiar “slave mode of production.”71 Only relatively recently have
some scholars admitted that it is not legitimate to apply to the whole
of Italy the villa model (which is, ultimately, the Settenestre model)
and its evolution in Central Italy, introducing into the debate the idea
of a “villa periferica” with different regional manifestations.72 However,
the old model is still accepted for Central Italy, and no one has really
questioned the presence of hundreds of slaves at Settenestre or at
other large villas in the area.
In the case of the villa at Lucus Feroniae, there is no incontrovertible
archaeological evidence73 that at the beginning of the Empire a shift
took place from the cultivation of grapes and olives to that of grain.
If, as I believe, it is highly improbable that all the rooms around the
courtyard were cellae for eld slaves, the main reason for supposing such
a change in the type of cultivation disappears.74 The only two other

Carandini 1989b.
On villas and the second-century economic “crisis,” see Chapter 8. For a clear
and synthetic elucidation of the status of the historiographic debate about this issue,
see Lo Cascio and Storchi Marino 2001: 5–12. The debate goes hand in hand with
the debate about the sources for slaves in the Roman Empire and their quantica-
tion. See Lo Cascio 2003; Harris 1999; Scheidel 1997 and 2005. On slave traders
see Bodel 2005.
This theorization is the result of a rich body of archaeological data that presents,
particularly for the southern regions, a situation very different from that which was
postulated earlier. Some interesting material about these archaeological investigations is
presented in Lo Cascio and Storchi Marino 2001. For the idea of the “villa periferica,”
see Carandini 1994, with critiques by L. Capogrossi Colognesi and D. Vera in the same
volume. A very fragmented scenario about Italian villas, made up of distinct regional
situations, has been proposed by Giardina 1997.
It must also be noted that since the excavation took place in haste, using bulldoz-
ers, no stratigraphic data are available. Furthermore, we do not know what type of
ooring the peristyle court had (this could be a good indication of its usage), nor is
it possible to investigate it now, since the space is kept as a meadow and many mod-
ern irrigation pipes run through it. In many cases, the reconstruction of part of the
elevation of the walls was done in such a way that it is difcult to determine what is
ancient and what is new.
Many scholars have pointed out that for the tending of olive trees and vines it is
better, from an economic point of view, to employ seasonal workmen than to keep slaves
year round. Therefore, it is assumed that slave labor would have been required only
by extensive grain cultivation. However, the cultivation of grain also requires workmen
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 145

elements that could somehow support the theory of a shift to extensive

grain cultivation are a rectangular building with pillars, located along
the wall enclosing the villa and the garden, which may have been a
granary; and the existence in Rome of the Horrea Volusiana,75 which
some believe were used primarily to hold grain.
To make the analysis more complex, it must be added that in some
publications there seem to be very vague boundaries, when talking
about slaves and slave quarters, between household servants and eld
slaves. Even when considering household servants alone, there were
many possibilities for their housing. In fact, although in many cases,
according to the literary sources, servants had their own rooms,76 in
Pompeii it seems that slaves did not have their own rooms,77 and we
have evidence from other Vesuvian houses/villas that servants often
slept in the stables or kitchen. It is also possible that personal attendants
slept on the oor in front of their master or mistress’s door, as Sidonius
Apollinaris describes in one of his letters,78 or at the foot of his or her

seasonally, and less manpower than other cultivations; I do not nd this to be a strong
argument in support of the idea of extensive use of slave labor. See also n. 18.
These horrea may have been the former horrea Seiana on the Testaccio hill. If this
is correct, then it was L. Volusius Saturninus, L. f., who bought them after the death
of Seianus in 31 a.d.
For instance, in Vitr. De Arch. 6.7.2, Varro Ling. 5.162, and Sen. Controv. 7.6.4, a
clear distinction is made between the master’s cubiculum and the slaves’ cellae. Of course
it all depends on the richness of the house/villa and on the level occupied by the slave
in the social hierarchy of the house: it was one thing to be a qualied slave, such as
an accountant, teacher, or doctor, and another to be “general” manpower. Pliny Ep.
2.17, about his villa in Laurentum, mentions servants’ quarters so elegant that they
can be used to house guests (reliqua pars lateris huius servorum libertorumque usibus detinetur,
plerisque tam mundis ut accipere hospites possint). On the other hand, the criteria followed
to identify slave quarters are not univocal if we change geographic location. Again an
example from the Bay of Naples comes in handy, owing to the exceptional quality of
the archaeological record there. At Villa Arianna at Stabiae, the “slave quarters,” in
the east part of the villa, include rooms of differing quality. Some are quite simple in
their décor, with cocciopesto ooring (W1 and W2 in the Weber plan), but others, such
as W3 and W15, have mosaic oors and ne wall decoration. The array of objects
recovered in these rooms includes pastry moulds (W1), bone and metal decoration ele-
ments probably pertaining to pieces of furniture, metal masks, glass vases, the famous
tower-shaped samovar now in the Naples Archaeological Museum, and some iron
pieces thought to be slave fetters (W15). The variety and quantity of objects stored
in these rooms (and in other villas excavated in the area) led scholars to believe that
the villa was under repair and that part of its interior decoration had been stored in
these rooms.
George 1997.
Sid. Apoll. Epist. 2.13 (about his villa at Avitacum, possibly to be located on the
shores of the Lac d’Aydat): [. . .] interiecto consistorio perangusto, ubi somnulentiae cubiculatiorum
dormitandi potius quam dormiendi locus est. Similarly Salza Prina Ricotti 1978–1980: 267
146 chapter five

bed, a practice well attested in colonial India and Africa. Overall, the
whole idea that household slaves required their own rooms is dubious.
In the case of agricultural manpower it is more likely that they were
housed in subsidiary buildings, built in perishable material such as
wood, rather than in the main residence of the dominus.
Besides Manacorda’s suggestion that the Volusii peristyle complex
was used as a horreum, I would like to make another suggestion to
explain the construction of this new part of the villa. Varro, in talking
about villas located next to a well traveled road, asserts that one can
build tabernae deversoriae offering lodging and refreshments to travelers,
in order to prot economically from the villa’s location. Other literary
sources, such as Horace and, later, Ammianus, refer to this practice as
well.79 If one considers the importance since the Republic of Lucus
Feroniae and its sanctuary as a regional market, and its location along
the Via Tiberina,80 it is possible that the Volusii villa offered services as
an inn.81
The presence in the northwest corner of the peristyle of a latrina
paved in opus spicatum and of a possible kitchen may support this hypoth-
esis. A paved road, which leads into a paved courtyard, provides access
to the so-called ergastulum, an important feature mentioned in sources
for inns or mansiones as a way to avoid the dust raised by carriages. If
we compare the architectural features of this complex with the villa of
Alba Docilia in Liguria,82 a mansio along the Via Iulia Augusta, we notice
several similarities in their oor-plans (Figure 18). In order to fully assess
the use of this part of the villa, it would be necessary to know how
the central space of the courtyard was arranged. The lawn that one
currently sees at the site is not based on any archaeological evidence.
The area could have been a garden, maybe with trees as some have
suggested, or it could have been paved. This aspect is simply unknown,

thinks that in most cases household slaves did not have their own rooms and would
sleep wherever they found a place, as in some eastern countries.
Hor. Sat. 1.5.45; Amm. Marc 29.6; Rut. Namat. 1.377.
Various port-installations along the Tiber, identied by Quilici 1986: 205–06,
could have been used by Lucus Feroniae for the transport of goods. The town was
located in front of the port of Cures, at the conuence of the Capenas and Tiber
rivers. More recently another port has been located 3.5 km northeast of the center,
near Baciletti. See Fontana 1995: 569.
De Franceschini 2005: 284 also rejects the idea of slave quarters and suggests the
space was used to hold nundinae in the villa.
Grassigli 1995. On the identication of mansiones on the basis of archaeological
data, see also Mezzolani 1992.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 147

Figure 18. Alba Docilia, mansio (after Grassigli 1995).

and will remain so, due to the careless nature of the excavations. But
what we can say is that if some of the rooms around the courtyard
were used to house family guests and/or travelers, then the presence
of the lavish lararium in such a prominent position is understandable
as a powerful self-assertion of the family’s importance.
A family as well known as the Volusii Saturnini were in the rst
century a.d. must have sought means of self-display in their own
mansion, along with their involvement in the construction of public
buildings in the colony of Lucus Feroniae. They restored and renewed
the villa according to the latest fashion, installing new mosaic oors in
the rooms; they added a large garden area with an exedra housing ne
marble statues. In the context of this general refurnishing, a lararium of
this kind made sense whether it was viewed by paying guests or guests
of the household. If the rooms were servants’ quarters, visitors to the
house would have had no reason to circulate in that part of the villa,
148 chapter five

leaving one to ask why such an elegant setting was erected in the rst
place. More statues than those hitherto recovered must have stood in
the lararium or in the portico outside it. In fact, another inscription was
recovered in pieces not far from the lararium. It belonged to a statue
dedicated by a certain Didymus to Q. Volusius, son of Quintus.83
Didymus, whose name reveals his servile status, was perhaps the vilicus
of the villa. According to some scholars, this dedicatory inscription by
a slave would indicate that the “users” and “recipients” of the lararium
were, as stated above, the slaves housed in the “ergastulum.” In my
opinion, this type of dedication does not unequivocally imply a slave
audience to read the inscription and react to the social status of the
dedicans Didymus. Leaving aside the question of the extent to which
we can expect agricultural slaves to be literate,84 Didymus’ dedication
would have been more signicant for the glorication of the gens and
of his own person if it was placed in a “public” section of the mansion,
visible to visitors, clientes, and guests of the owners.85

“Ergastula” in Country Villas

As I have already mentioned, the term ergastulum/a is often improperly

used, particularly in archaeological publications, to refer generally to
slave quarters of what we will call the “courtyard type,” meaning a
courtyard surrounded on some or all sides by modular rooms. If, follow-
ing Robert Étienne’s research,86 we examine what the Romans meant by

AE 1972.176: Q. Volusio Q. f., L. n./Saturnino/auguri, salio Pal[atino],/IIIviro a. a. a. f. f.,
preafecto [urbi],/centurioni eq [Rom.]/[tu]rmae pr[imae]/[Di]dymus [-].
See W. V. Harris, Ancient Literacy, Cambridge Mass. 1989: 199 on literate slaves
attested as supervisors. An isolated document—two short Republican inscriptions, in
Oscan and Latin, on a tile from Pietrabbondante (Samnium)—shows that two slave girls
(Amica and Deftri, possibly around twelve years old, given the size of the footprints left
on the tile) were not only physically involved in the brick production but were also able
to write (the inscriptions are discussed in Aubert 1994: 224 ff.) But this is an exceptional
document, which does not allow the inference of widespread literacy among slaves. On
the basis of the very fact that the girls were literate, Aubert suggests they may have
been more than handworkers, perhaps part of the clerical staff of the workshop.
The need for rooms to accommodate guests should not be underestimated. A rich
domus (“House of Aemilius Scaurus”) excavated in Rome next to the intersection of
the Via Sacra and the Clivus Palatinus presents in its large substructures bath quarters
and cubicula (in many of them a masonry bed-base was found), presumably for guests
and clientes as well as the house servants. See Papi 1999: 714.
Étienne 1974.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 149

the word ergastulum, we discover that this term did not have a univocal
meaning in Latin. The word was used to signify a workshop or room
where workers (operarii; compare with the Greek ergasterion), sentenced
to perform a certain task, were chained.87 In many texts, from Cicero
to Livy, and particularly in Columella, ergastulum is used to refer to the
place where chained slaves were housed for the night.88 Finally, ergastulum
could indicate a group of people convicted to hard labor, for instance
the slaves trained for gladiatorial games. The meaning that interests me
most in this context is the one referring to space reserved for chained
slaves on an agricultural estate.
Columella gives a precise description of the characteristics of this
space in his treatise, noting that it must be an underground space, but
wholesome, illuminated by high, narrow windows so the slaves can-
not escape. The ergastulum is presented in clear contrast to the cellae
intended for the servi soluti.89 While Cato and Varro also make the
distinction between fettered and unfettered slaves, they do not use the
term ergastulum, nor do they envision separate housing arrangements
for the two groups. In Cato, the compediti, although they do not have a
proper bed like the rest of the familia, sleep in the cellae familiae, under
the surveillance of the vilicus. Varro, on the other hand, mentions only
a space where the familia can recover from their work.90 Thus, from the
examination of Columella’s text, the inaccuracy with which the word
is sometimes used in modern publications stands out—a series of cellae
around a courtyard cannot be an ergastulum, because an ergastulum was
an underground space.
Étienne, in his above-cited study, noted that we do not have archaeo-
logical remains of underground ergastula in any villas in Italy. He explains
this fact with reference to the difculty and cost of building a structure
such as the one described by Columella. This explanation does not really
hold up if one considers three things: rst, the high levels reached by
Roman engineering and building practices, resulting in the construction
of aqueducts, tunnels, and maritime structures thanks to the invention
of hydraulic cement; second, the oddness of Columella describing such

Late testimony of Isid. Orig. 15.6.1–2.
In fact, on an agricultural estate there was a distinction between chained and
unchained slaves (servi vincti and soluti).
Columella Rust. 1.6.3: Optime solutis servis cellae meridiem aequinoctialem spectantes ent;
vinctis quam saluberrimum subterraneum ergastulum plurimis, sitque id angustis inlustratum fenestris
atque a terra sic editis, ne manu contingi possint.
Varro Rust. 1.13: ubi comodissime possint se quiete recuperare.
150 chapter five

a costly structure for the housing of fettered slaves; and third, the fact
that every known villa already has a recurrent underground or semi-
subterranean architectural feature—the cryptoportico.
Cryptoporticoes, indeed, are one of the most common features of
Roman architecture, both public and private.91 When one thinks of
cryptoporticoes in the context of a villa, Pliny’s letter on his Lauren-
tine property comes to mind rst. In the description of his Laurentine
villa, Pliny mentions a grand cryptoportico, a sheltered place in which
to stroll during bad weather.92 Doubtless many cryptoporticoes were
elegant places, decorated with frescoes and statues or provided with
fountains and nymphea, for the delight and enjoyment of the villa-
owner and his guests. In other instances, the cryptoportico was simply
a covered passage connecting different parts of the house. But not all
cryptoporticoes were alike. In some cases, we can detect a change in
the use of the cryptoportico through the various chronological phases
of a mansion. In Pompeii, for example, the so called “House of the
Cryptoportico” presented elegant stuccos and wall paintings in the
Second Style, while in a second phase, the northwest part of the cryp-
toportico was used to store amphorae and the space was divided with
rough partitions. But in many other instances the cryptoportico seems
never to have been intended as a space to be enjoyed by the owner,
since it is left in a semi-nished state, with rough plaster on the walls
and poor quality ooring.93
As revealed by the excavations, the villa that Pliny owned in Tuscis
possessed already in the Late Republican phase a very long gallery/
cryptoportico which, situated along the edge of the natural plateau of
the Vadimone River, must have had some kind of utilitarian function.94

On cryptoporticoes in Roman architecture, see Cryptoportiques 1973, particularly
the contributions of Staccioli (57–66) and Giuliani (71–81); also Lavagne 1988: 352 ff.
and various contributions in Basso and Ghedini 2003, a volume focusing on domestic
subterranean architecture, among which are E. Noto, “I criptoportici”, 303–338; M. S.
Busana, P. Bonini and F. Rinaldi, “Gli ambienti di soggiorno”, 123–234, Z. Mari,
“Substructiones”, 65–112, etc.
Pliny Ep. 2.17: Hinc cryptoporticus prope publici operis extenditur.
In light of this evidence, I disagree with Mari’s statement (see n. 95 below) that
cryptoporticoes in villas rarely had only a utilitarian use. Many villas had more than
one cryptoportico, one providing a rened space, while the other(s) seem to have been
intended for practical purposes.
The gallery was 4 m wide and preserved to a length of 60 m and height of
1.60. The state of preservation is poor because of erosion from the nearby river, but
in some parts the excavators did nd rubble from the upper structures (Bracani and
Uroz Sáez 1999: 34).
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 151

Such a space could have been used for any “service” activity on a
country estate, from storage to functioning as an ergastulum,95 or even a
working area for certain agricultural tasks. Indeed, in the villa known as
“Horace’s Villa” at Grotte di Vocone in the Ager Foronovanus, (not to be
confused with “Horace villa” in the Licenza Valley) the working area for
the nal phases of wine production was located in the cryptoportico.96
A system of canals brought the must from the room with the torcular
vinarium to the cryptoportico, a rough and unnished space. This villa,
only partially investigated, had at least two cryptoporticoes. The second
one was more elegant; it had a vaulted ceiling and windows, and a cor-
ridor, with a mosaic oor in Cottanello pink marble, ran over it. As we
have previously discussed, the villa of Settenestre displayed a similar
use of the cryptoportico space, where a large tank collected the must
from the press room above and where the dolia were stored.
The pragmatic decision to use the cryptoportico for utilitarian pur-
poses rather than luxurious enjoyment is not limited to estates in the
countryside far from Rome. In the case of a suburban estate, such as
the Quintilii’s lavish villa on the Via Appia, the service functions such
as storage space, kitchens, hypocausta, etc. were similarly located in the
vaulted rooms and cryptoporticoes of the large basis villae.97 Similarly, the
massive substructures of the villa “Il Parco” at Monte Porzio Catone,
in the Ager Tusculanus, must have housed service quarters and storage
spaces.98 A passage in Sidonius Apollinaris seems to indicate that in

Mari 1983: 39 n. 217 alludes to the possibility that the ergastula described by
Columella should be identied with the cryptoporticoes, because of the same architec-
tural characteristics; but he then rules this out in consideration of the cryptoportico’s
preeminence in the architectural composition of villas. It also has to be noted that
from Pliny Ep. 3.19 we learn that on his property in Tuscis he, like the other landlords
of the area, did not use fettered slaves (vinctos).
Muzzioli 1980 and Catalogue: L360. Some unpublished data on this villa near
Sassogrosso were presented in a poster exhibit entitled “Sabina” at the Deutsches
Archaeologisches Institut in Rome, Fall 2000.
Paris 2000: 40.
189 rooms have been identied so far, occupying about half of the villa’s platform;
probably not all of them were accessible in antiquity. Some rooms had wall decoration
and scutulatum oors, perhaps bedrooms for special household staff or guests. See Cata-
logue: L339. Examples of substructures used as service quarters, including household
slaves rooms, are known for large houses on the Palatine in Rome, such as the above
mentioned house on the Clivus Palatinus (note 85) and another house discovered between
the Domus Publica and the Clivus Palatinus; see Papi 1998; 1999 and P. Basso, “Gli alloggi
servili” in Basso and Ghedini 2003, 443–463 with other bibliography.
152 chapter five

his villa female servants and dependents of the estate would gather in
a section of the cryptoportico to eat their meals and chat.99
The villa of the Volusii Saturnini itself had at least two cryptopor-
ticoes. One belonged to the Republican phase and was located to the
southwest of the original nucleus. A second one, buttressed on the
southeast side the large terrace-garden, was added in Augustan times.100
Only part of Cryptoportico 1 is drawn on published plans of the villa,
but it runs at least to the spot where a medieval construction still stands.
There may have been another cryptoportico on the southeast side of the
Republican villa, the side which has been bisected by the highway. It is
not easy to assess the quality of the space offered by Cryptoportico 1,
since a good part of it—toward the medieval tower—has been blocked
by a wall to prevent unauthorized access to the site. The accessible
portion has been used to store nds from the site, such as piles of tile
fragments; built-up soil covers the original paving, while the walls are
plastered with what appeared to me to be medium-quality plaster. The
space does not seem particularly rened or elegant, so perhaps it was
used as a service area, especially after a second, larger cryptoportico had
been added.101 If we were to designate, then, a location for a certain
number of slaves to be housed on this estate, this space seems to me a
better candidate for an ergastulum than the courtyard mentioned above,
but since the data on the cryptoportico and its relationship to the other
parts of the villa are not sufciently clear, we can only speculate.
The suggestion that the cryptoportico should be considered as pos-
sible candidate, if we want to identify at all costs a masonry structure
for the slaves that conforms to the indication of Columella, should not
be viewed as a blithe attempt to substitute one architectural model for

Sid. Apoll. Epist. 2.10: haec tamen aliquid spatio suo in extimo deambulacri capite defrudans
efcit membrum bene frigidum, ubi publico lectisternio exstructo clientularum sive nutricum loquacis-
simus chorus receptui canit cum ego meique dormitorium cubiculum petierimus. It is difcult to say
specically to whom Sidonius is referring with the term “clientulae.” Possibly these are
the wives and daughters of coloni, of other workers on the estate, and of those men
who had put themselves under the landowner’s protection.
The approximate measurements I have inferred from the plans are, for Crypto-
portico 1, c. 4 m wide and at least 25 m long; for Cryptoportico 2 (number 63 on the
plan in Sgubini Moretti 1998), c. 8 m wide and 30 m long.
I could not obtain access to the second cryptoportico (most of it was destroyed
by the construction of the highway). In plan it appears to be about double the width
of Cryptoportico 1, divided into two naves by pillars or columns. I have no data on the
presence of windows on the southeast side. Considering its location next to the large
garden, it is more likely that this cryptoportico offered a sheltered ambulatio.
the “VILLA SCHIAVISTICA” model 153

slave quarters (the courtyard with modular rooms) for another (the
cryptoportico). Although we know of at least one case, from a suburban
villa in Pompeii, of subterranean rooms (not a proper cryptoportico)
used to house slaves, or perhaps better to punish them,102 we do not
have secure indication of subterranean rooms used for the gangs of
chained slaves mentioned in the literary texts. The observations that I
made above on the probable frequent use of perishable material to build
housing for agricultural manpower still stand. In reality, the possibilities
for the usage of space in villas were numerous, and no doubt much
more exible than the writings of either Varro or Columella indicate.
The above discussion of the cryptoportico and its use in known villa
complexes is intended merely to point out that Romans had the tech-
nology and resources to build underground ergastula if they wanted to
and that not all cryptoporticoes were elegant, sheltered ambulationes.

In the early 20th century, excavations carried out at the suburban Villa delle
Colonne a Mosaico in Pompeii discovered three subterranean rooms, accessible from
a ramp leading to the courtyard of the pars rustica; In one of the rooms, was the skel-
eton of a slave, with iron collar and bound to a pole in the ground. See P. Basso, “Gli
alloggi servili” in Basso and Ghedini 2003, 443–463, esp. p. 455.


The geographical distribution of villas in Italy was determined by several

important factors, among them the convenience of various locations,
the fertility of the land, and proximity to other kinds of commercially
exploited natural resources. For example, in the Ager Veientanus (Monte
Aguzzo) and Ager Faliscus (Monte Maggiore), the local basalt quarries
(used for the paving of roads) were surrounded by the well appointed
villas of those who exploited them commercially.1 But there were also
other major factors determining villa-distribution, such as the presence
of a good transportation infrastructure. A major road running into or
through a given area not only made it easy to reach one’s property,
thus allowing the construction or purchase of a mansion that could
be visited regularly, but also constituted the fundamental condition for
the shipment and distribution of whatever commercial goods were
produced on the estate. This relationship could work both ways; the
presence of villas in an area could lead to the construction and regular
maintenance of roads.
A navigable river could also serve as a major communication route,
particularly one provided with harbor installations and bridges along
its course, like the Tiber. As we have seen in Chapter 4, villa sites in
Umbria are mostly concentrated along the Tiber and its tributaries.
The river, as is also attested by Pliny’s letters and other literary sources,
was used for both the transportation of passengers and the shipment
of goods produced on rural estates to Rome. Minor rivers also seem
to have had a role in the diffusion of villas, clearly because of their
role in the transport of goods. One such a case is the river Garigliano,
on whose banks several villas were built, up stream from Minturnae,
and where a kiln was also discovered.2 Similarly, the wooden structures
belonging to uvial docks located at more than 20 km from the mouth

Potter 1987: 114.
Lafon 2000: 145–146: the kiln was located on the river, 12 km from the sea. The
senator L. Cornelius Lentulus Crus produced and shipped wine from here to Gaul
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 155

of the river Amaseno, between Circeii and Terracina, were very likely
used for shipment of goods by rural villas in the area.
We have seen that a recurrent feature of maritime villas was the
presence of a small harbor, in addition to any road that might already
pass nearby (as in the cases of villas along the Via Severiana to Tar-
racina, or the coastal villas in the area of modern Sperlonga, which
took advantage of the Via Flacca), and this points to the importance
of water transport, both for people and for goods.
Another important element determining the choice of where to build
a well appointed villa was the availability of a reliable water supply.
In addition to collecting rain water in cisterns, other forms of water
supply were also needed for a villa, especially when the fashion of
having baths and nymphaea became popular. Water could be provided
by private aqueducts, by tapping nearby natural springs or aquifers by
means of underground channels, or by wells if the water table was
not too deep. If a major public aqueduct ran close by, the villa could
be connected to it directly. It was therefore highly desirable to own a
property next to an aqueduct, since it could supply running water for
all the villa’s needs.
The presence of Imperial residences in a given territory also deter-
mined the diffusion of elite villas there. During the Empire, it was
desirable to be close to an Imperial seat in order to maintain and
foster crucial political and social connections. In addition, the presence
of an Imperial residence in an area very often translated, in practical
terms, into a better infrastructure, providing further incentive to own
or upgrade a villa in the same area as the emperor’s.
These are general observations on factors that appear to have inu-
enced the distribution of villas in a given area; obviously, each individual
case needs a closer examination. For instance, the area around Tusculum
shows a high concentration of villas, not always in the most favorable
or convenient position, probably as a result of the high demand of vil-
las in that area.3 In the suburbium of Rome, another sought after area,

(p. 147, note 53). According to Cato, De Agr. 135, Minturnae was a very good market
where to buy iron agricultural tools.
See Valenti 2003, introduction. Sen. Ben. 4.12.3 mentions as reasons to buy
properties in Tusculum or Tibur the healthfulness of the climate: Nemo Tusculanum aut
Tiburtinum paraturus salubritatis causa et aestivi secessus, quoto anno empturus sit discutet; cum erit
tuendum est. The last part of the sentence is translated in the Loeb edition as “stops to
consider at how many years purchase he is going to buy; when once he has bought
it, he must look after it”. The passage seems to imply that the buyers were not too
156 chapter six

especially in the Imperial period, it appears that in the late Republican

and early Imperial period the north-eastern portion was mostly occu-
pied by small- and medium-sized properties, and few complexes with
those signs of luxury that would classify them as villas. This peculiar
situation, in comparison to other areas of the suburbium, was perhaps
the result of land distribution to veterans under Tiberius.4

Villas and Infrastructure

In one of his letters, Pliny the Younger mentions a small estate (agellus)
that a friend of his is interested in buying. He lists the reasons why
Tranquillus, his friend, is interested in that property: it is close to Rome,
it is well served by roads, and, lastly, the villa and the land attached to
it are both the right size.5
The existence of a good network of roads is, indeed, a fundamental
prerequisite to the diffusion of villas in a given geographic area, and
especially in the case of owners based in Rome, who would travel
frequently to their estates. Pliny tells us in a letter that he could easily
reach his Laurentine villa, located only 17 miles from Rome, before
evening, even if he had to attend to business in Rome during the day.
He lists among his villa’s advantages the fact that two different roads can
be used to get to his estate: the Via Ostiensis and the Via Laurentina.
The importance of the Via Laurentina as a coastal route, due in part

concerned in calculating how many years were needed for the amortization of the
expense, nonetheless once the property was bought the owner had to concern himself
with its maintenance and perhaps with the generation of some kind of income from it.
See K. Verboven, “Mantelité et commerce. Le cas des negotiators et de ceux qui negotia
habent: une enquête préliminaire” in Andreau et al. 2004, 179–197.
Di Gennaro et al., “Il liberto Faonte, il notabile Marco Claudio Ponzio Ponziano
Marcello e i loro vicini”, in Santillo Frizell and Klynne 2005: 27–48, see p. 33.
Pliny Ep. 1.24: vicinitas urbis, opportunitas viae, mediocritas villae, modus ruris. Possibly the
use of the term agellus is not to be taken literally in this context. Pliny seems to prefer
the use of diminutives when referring to properties. In the letter addressed to Calvina,
where he discusses the income from his properties, he uses the term agelli: Sunt quidem
omnino nobis condicionem agellorum nescio minor an incertior (Ep. 2.4.3). He also refers to his
own estate in Laurentum as villulae nostrae in the closing of Ep. 2.17. On calculation of
the value of Pliny’s properties see Duncan-Jones 1982: 17–20; for skeptical position
about estimates of Pliny’s wealth see De Neeve 1990.
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 157

to the high concentration of residences and towns along it, is attested

by repair works to this road until at least the time of Maxentius.6
If we look at the area crossed by one of the most ancient roads lead-
ing to Rome, the Via Salaria, we nd that the villa establishments in
that area are undoubtedly situated in relation to the road. As a recent
study has shown, all the large villas whose remains have been discov-
ered in the territory of ancient Trebula Mutuesca were located on the
slopes of low hills along the Via Salaria, with diverticula connecting the
villas to the main road. All the major villas identied were located no
more than 2 or 3 miles from the Via Salaria itself.7
As one can intuitively understand, proximity to a major road was
not just a matter of convenience in reaching one’s villa, but was
also important in shipping the estate’s surplus and production to the
market(s). A eld survey conducted in the Ager Cosanus has shown the
relationship between the location of the large villas in the area, like
the one at Settenestre, and the road system and the harbor of Cosa,
from which locally produced wine was shipped to the provinces during
the Republic. In this area, villas are located in proximity to the main
roads, the Via Aurelia and Via Clodia, and near the minor networks of
roads following the centuriation grid. In the same way as several large
villas were concentrated on the coastal strip, a similar concentration of
villas was located in the valley around the mouth and along the midle
stretches of the Albegna river, which was navigable.8 For the villa sites
surveyed by Quilici Gigli in the area of Blera,9 the relationship with
the three major roads of the territory—the Via Cassia, the Via Clodia,
and the road leading to Tarquinii—was crucial, along with the addition
of a system of secondary roads, creating a capillary communication
network in the territory. For example, a large, partially excavated villa
not far from Blera, in the area known as Conserva, was situated only
500 m away from the ancient route to Tarquinii, 1.5 km from the town
of Blera, and was also very close to the road going from Blera to Luni
sul Mignone: an undoubtedly advantageous position with regard to
communication routes. In the areas of Anio and Tibur, the distribu-
tion of villas in the territory also seems to have been connected with

See CIL XIV.4087.
Migliario 1995: 130. The large number of freedmen’s names attested epigraphi-
cally in the area is probably to be related to the villas.
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 146.
Quilici Gigli 1976.
158 chapter six

communication routes and the exploitation of the tufa and travertine

quarries, respectively.10
In the Ager Tusculanus, one of the preferred seats for senatorial country
estates, known Republican villas in the territory show a distribution
along major roads, like the via Latina.11 Lafon does not see a direct
correlation between the diffusion of villas and the creation of infrastruc-
ture like roads and harbors, noticing that in the Bay of Naples and in
southern Latium, areas with intense villa diffusion, there was no major
public road or harbor construction in the period between 125 b.c. and
50 b.c.12 There is, however, rich evidence for the construction on the
part of villa owners of diverticula to connect their estates with a major
road. The task could have been carried out as part of a collaborative
effort among proprietors in one given area. At S. Rocco (Francolise) it
seems that the secondary road that connected the earliest villas built
here with the Via Appia was the fruit of such collaboration among
Access to communication routes was also important in areas whose
geomorphology caused production to be oriented more toward stock-
breeding than agriculture, because of the role played by transhumance.
In the territory of Cliternia, which is characterized by narrow valleys
and mountains not lower than 800 m, the soil is unsuited to intensive
agricultural production, so stock-farming and forestry prevailed. Here,
sheep-breeding was prevalent, together with some level of grain cultiva-
tion, and we nd that the (few) large and medium-sized villas are located
along the major communication routes.13 One villa, possibly owned by
the consul Prifernius Petus, is located near both the road that crossed
the Cicolano and a major route running at a higher elevation that
was used by shepherds to drive their herds to the pastures of Piano di

DeLaine 1995: esp. 561. She points out that villas have been found right up to
the boundaries of the Anio tufa quarries, including one villa with walls built over
quarry refuse.
Valenti 2003: 57.
Lafon 2001: 128.
Grain cultivation has been inferred from the recovery of mill-stones. Large vil-
las are rare; small farmsteads and settlements of the “vicus-oppidum” type prevail. To
the east of Cliteria, the town of Amiternum was also connected with sheep-rearing,
presenting little archaeological evidence for large villas. The involvement of various
Roman and local families in land-owning and sheep-breeding in this region is attested
epigraphically. See Segenni 1990.
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 159

Rascino.14 An inscription found in the area concerning an estate indi-

cates that the movement of herds must already have been substantial
in the Republican period.15 The “no trespassing” inscription, erected by
a certain Titus Umbrenus, was presumably placed at the beginning of
a private road on his property, and explicitly states that the prohibition
to trespass is directed at other landowners’ herds and wagons.
There are several known instances of private intervention in the
building of infrastructure on elite property, sometimes to the benet also
of neighbors and other “external” users. One such case is the bridge
built over Fosso del Forco, near Sacrofano. This bridge, built of local
tufa, displayed two identical inscriptions, one on each side, recording
the name of Humanius Stabilio, the person who built the bridge “in
private land for those who go across.”16 Next to the bridge, an altar and
the remains of an enclosure have been found, but no traces of a road,
which most likely had a beaten earth surface, and was not paved. The
construction of this bridge can be related to a villa rustica, the remains of
which have been noticed on a hill just north of the bridge. Indeed, the
entire area north of Fosso del Forco, up to Campignano, is littered with
the remains of farmsteads and villae rusticae. Perhaps Stabilio built his
bridge for the convenience of these other local landowners as well.
Some indication of the importance of a navigable river to villa dis-
tribution can be gathered from the sites registered in the catalogue for
the region of Umbria. The Tiber and some of its navigable tributaries
offered a valid alternative to roads in this region, both for the shipment
of goods and the transport of people.17 Archaeological investigations
have conrmed what sources like Pliny the Younger tell us about the
importance of the Tiber in the transportation of goods to Rome, reveal-
ing a number of ancient uvial harbors.18 The rich villas identied in

The remains are located at Staffoli di Cliternia, and the consul Prefernius Petus
was suggested as owner on the basis of a tile stamped with his name (CIL IX.6078.16).
See Migliario 1995: 145 ff.
ILS 6012 = CIL IX.4171. The inscription reads: Via inferior/privatast/T. Umbreni C. f.,
precario itur,/pecus plostru(m)/niquis agat. The cippus was found “precipitato dal Monte
Verano nel tenimento di Calcariola nel commune di Civita Ducale nella destra del
salto presso il ponte di S. Martino.”
Guzzo 1970: T. Humanius/Stabilio fecit/in privato/transientibus.
According to later literary sources the transport of foodstuffs on the Tiber would
have dated back as early as the fth century b.c.: Livy 2.34.5, 2.52.6; Dion Hal. Ant.
Rom. 7.12.3.
Although new discoveries have been added to this list, Quilici 1986 is still a fun-
damental study in this context. Traces of dykes or other types of manmade structures
160 chapter six

the upper Tiber Valley show a privileged connection with both roads
and the river.19 The nicely appointed villa at Penna in Teverina, provided
with a pars rustica including a kiln and a cella vinaria, is located on a hill
with a commanding view of the Tiber, only 500 m away. Furthermore,
this villa was close to the Via Amerina, to a uvial harbor 1 km distant,
and to the bridge across the Rio Grande River.20
Several of the villas located on hills along the (few) navigable rivers
of Central Italy would have had storerooms and docks on the river
bank, for the storage and shipment of goods, as in the case of the villa
of Ripa Mammea,21 which had a uvial harbor on the Aniene River,
a tributary of the Tiber, featuring such structures.
The same trend can be observed on the Adriatic side of the Apen-
nine Mountains, an area which was formerly considered marginal to
the question of the diffusion of villas, at least in comparison with the
Tyrrhenian side. Ongoing research projects in Picenum, in the valley
along the River Pontenza, are revealing the distribution of villas in cor-
respondence to the ancient river bed and the arteries of Roman roads,
as well as, in the lower river valley, horrea related to known amphorae
production sites along the coast.22
In the second century, Trajan’s commitment to the general restora-
tion and improvement of the Italian road system23 certainly beneted
villa owners on their journeys to and from their estates and in the
commercial distribution of products by land. For instance, it is impos-
sible not to relate the new building activity registered, under Trajan, at
various sites in the area of modern Chianciano Terme, in the territory
of ancient Clusium, with the construction of the Via Nova Traiana. As

seeking to regulate the ow of rivers and control the territory’s hydrology have been
found in Umbria; see Bruschetti 1996: 154; Moscatelli 1995; Quilici and Quilici Gigli
1999. The Tiber represented the major communication route for Sabina as well, but
few uvial harbors have been securely identied. Among these is the uvial harbor
at Cures Sabini, still in use between the third and the fourth centuries (Alvino and
Leggio 1995: 206).
See also reference to sites in Ville e insediamenti 1983: 57.
See Catalogne: U11.
See Catalogue: L257.
F. Vermeulen, “The Potenza Valley Survey (Central Italy). From Acculturation
to Social Complexity in Antiquity: a Regional Geo-Archeological and Historical
Approach”; M. Pasquinucci and S. Menchelli, “The Archaeology of Wine: Case Studies
in Etruria and Picenum,” papers delivered at the 2003 AIAC Congress, Boston.
He was much celebrated, not only for his military victories, but also for the pro-
gram of great public works he launched in Italy: Cass. Dio 68.7; Gal. De Meth. Med.
9.8; Pliny Paneg. 29.2.
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 161

stated by a milestone, the road ran a Volsiniis ad nes Clusinorum.24 The

sites at Chianciano Terme, identied mostly by eld survey, fall into the
category of large and medium-sized villae rusticae, with Republican and
Trajanic building phases. The second-century phase is securely dated
under Trajan by the recovery of many tiles stamped with the names
of the consuls for 114 a.d.25
The distribution of villas in relation to road networks can also be
observed outside the geographic area covered by this study, especially in
areas such as Campania, which saw an early and intense proliferation
of villas. A complex system of villae maritimae, villae rusticae, and paved
diverticula, in connection with the main road network, has been identied
along the coastline between the modern towns of Mondragone and
Cellole in the province of Caserta (corresponding to the territory of
ancient Sinuessa), and in the area immediately inland, at the bottom of
the hills. The villas had various types of installations for the processing
of agricultural products, among them wine presses, cisterns, and kilns
for the production of Dressel 1A and Dressel 1B wine amphorae.26

The presence of a good harbor not far from an estate was also very
important. As outlined in the chapter dealing with villae maritimae, all
coastal villas had some kind of harbor—particularly when a natural
cove could be used for the purpose—or at least docks to allow the land-
ing of vessels. But although such installations served the daily needs of
the villa, allowing the possibility of transporting people to and fro, they
were not sufcient for the proper distribution of products to impor-
tant commercial markets. If the production of the villa was markedly
oriented toward the shipment of a large surplus to far away markets,
proximity to a public harbor was a plus. As noted above, access to the
harbor at Cosa was essential for the shipment of the wine produced

W. V. Harris, “The Via Cassia and the Via Nova Traiana between Bolsena and
Chiusi,” PBSR 33, 1965: 113–133.
Paolucci 1988. The discovery of tiles with this stamp is recorded for the 1800s in
the areas of Chianciano and Chiusi. Many tiles stamped with the names of Vopiscus and
Hasta were also discovered during the excavation of the large swimming pool at Mezzo-
miglio, Chianciano. See Soren, et al. 1998: 24; Soren 2006, and Catalogue: T10–T13.
S. De Caro and F. Miele, “L’occupazione romana della Campania settentrionale
nella dinamica insediativa di lungo periodo” in Lo Cascio and Storchi Marino 2001:
501–581; see p. 510.
162 chapter six

by inland villas to faraway markets in the provinces (e.g., Gaul, in the

case of the Sestii).27 The importance for villa-owners of having access
to a proper harbor is shown by an anecdote reported in the ancient
sources. M. Aemilius Lepidus, elected censor for the year 179 b.c., used
public funds to improve the harbor at Tarracina because he was the
proprietor of several estates in the area.28 In reporting this information,
Livy condemns the fact that he used public money for private interests:
thus the works in the harbor are labeled ingratum opus. The suggestion
that M. Aemilius Lepidus’ estates in this area may also have produced
lime for the construction of buildings in Rome is fascinating in light of
his own involvement in public building activity in the Urbs.29
The importance of the harbor of Minturnae at the mouth of the
Liri both as a gathering and a shipping point for the agricultural pro-
duction of the villas in the whole of the Liri valley is well known.30
The identication of dolia produced in Minturnae in the rst century
a.d. for Falernum wine sent to Rome has proved that Minturnae was
important as shipping port also for the villas in the Ager Falernus. The
products of these villas and the wine produced in the area of Cales
used to be sent to the harbor of Sinuessa, but when this port declined
Minturnae’s harbor installations offered a ready alternative for the
villa proprietors.31 This fact shows how the economy, existence, and
distribution patterns of the produce of these villas were not affected by
the decline of the harbor of Sinuessa because another nearby harbor
could offer the same service. The Falernum was very likely transported on
trains of pack animals along the Appia to the harbor of Minturnae. A

For production and villa owners in the Ager Cosanus see Manacorda 1980 and 1981;
Carandini 1980; for sh products produced at and shipped from Cosa in addition to
wine by the Sestii see McCann 1987.
Livy 40.51.2–3: retinuit quosdam Lepidus a collega praeteritos. Opera ex pecunia attributa
divisaque inter se haec [con]fecerunt. Lepidus molem ad Tarracinam, ingratum opus, quod praedia
habebat ibi privatamque publicae rei impensam ins<er>uerat . . .
DeLaine 1995: 560, on the production of building materials and the rural land-
scape. She observes that the two consular families of the Aemilii Lepidi and Sulpicii
Galbae, involved in major building projects in Rome (e.g., the porticus Aemilia), owned
rural estates at Tarracina. She suggests that lime may have been among the agricultural
products they shipped to Rome. In the immediate vicinity of Rome no lime is available
(lime was produced in the area of Lucus Feroniae, but in limited quantity, Fontana
1995) and it needed to be shipped from other areas. For Cato, a lime-kiln is a natural
part of a rural estate, Agr. 38.1.
A. Ziccardi, “Il ruolo dei circuiti di mercati periodici nell’ambito del sistema di
scambio dell’Italia romana” in Lo Cascio 2000, 131–148; see p. 142.
Arthur 1991: 157.
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 163

passage in Horace’s Epodes, mentioning the Ager Falernus in conjunction

with traveling on the Appia with small horses or donkeys may support
this opinion.32 Also the wine-producing villas in the area of Cales may
have resorted to send their produce to Minturnae for shipment, since
slaves of the Sulpicii Galbae are attested in Minturnae and it is known
that this gens had estates in the Ager Falernus and that the wine of Cales
was stored in Rome in the Horrea Galbana.33
On the island of Elba (ancient Ilva), several villae maritimae have
been discovered. Proximity to the island’s main harbor almost certainly
factored into the placement of villas on these sites. Two of the villas
were built in scenic spots on the bay where the Roman commercial
harbor was.34 The presence of iron scoriae in the area around Villa
delle Grotte points to the involvement of villa-owners in the com-
mercial exploitation of this resource, thus explaining the necessity of
having one’s property, with its eventual industrial establishments, next
to the harbor. In Formiae, the remains of a Republican villa, which
the antiquarian tradition attributed to Cicero, included a harbor and a
complex comprising a rectangular courtyard surrounded by long rooms,
most likely storerooms and tabernae.35
Members of the elite were not the only ones to take an interest in
improving harbors near their properties and residences, as evidenced
by the story of Lepidus recounted above. Emperors showed a similar
preoccupation with the construction of good harbors. Nero, who built
himself a large villa in Antium, on top of a previous Republican villa,
also built a harbor at Capo d’Anzio.36 The ancient ruins now referred
to as “Grotte di Nerone” are most likely the remains of commercial
installations at this harbor. Some of the structures of the Imperial harbor
were later incorporated into the harbor built by Pope Innocent III in
1700, but ruins are still visible both in the water and on the shore.
The port at Tarracina, after the above-mentioned Republican exam-
ple, was improved again during the Imperial period. After experiencing
certain difculties during the civil war between Vespasian and Vitellius,
the city of Tarracina entered a period of prosperity as a result of the

Ziccardi, ibidem: 141; Hor., Ep. 4.13–14: arat Falerni mille fundi iugera et Appiam
mannis terit.
Ziccardi, ibidem: 142.
“Villa della Linguella” and “Villa delle Grotte”, Catalogue: T15; T16.
See Catalogue: L114.
Suetonius mentions the construction of the harbor at Nero 9.
164 chapter six

improvements made to the harbor under Trajan. He was also respon-

sible for the so called “Taglio del Pesco Montano,” the cut around part
of the rocky slope of Mount St. Angelo, which enabled the coastal
progress of the Via Appia after it had crossed the urban center. This
engineering work must be viewed in relation to the improvements made
to the harbor, the combination of which offered a good port and a
more practical road connection to the entire territory and coastline
near Tarracina, with its many villas.
Even greater repercussions for a territory can be seen in the case
of the construction of the large harbor at Centumcellae, which has
been completely obliterated by the modern harbor of Civitavecchia.37
Trajan’s initiative, contemporaneous with the construction of the new
basin at Portus Ostiensis, had an impact not only on Rome—for which
the new structure was mainly intended—but on the entire area between
Cosa and Alsium, although the status of the available evidence makes
it difcult to determine the impact it had on the villas in the area. It
has been pointed out that the popularity of the wine produced in the
area of Caere in the late rst century and early second century a.d.
indicates a new economic vitality of the area in Imperial times, to which
the works at the harbor of Centumcellae may be in part related.38
The presence of the emperor in his villa there, while keeping an eye
on the work in progress at the harbor,39 as well as the area’s proximity
to Rome, continued to keep the density of villas in the territory high
during the Empire. We can assume that, after Trajan, other emperors
also occasionally resided on this Imperial property, or in one of the other
residences scattered along this stretch of coast. Consequently, members
of the elite also kept villas in the area and sojourned in them on a
regular basis. For instance, the large villa that lies underneath Castel
Odescalchi at S. Marinella (Castrum Novum) belonged to the jurist
Ulpian in the second-third centuries. But owing to a lack of proper

For a discussion of the aqueduct built to supply the harbor and annexed buildings
see E. Brunori, “L’acquedotto di Traiano”, in Maffei and Nastasi 1990: 215–219.
Lafon 2000: 151. See also the discussion on wine production and amphora kilns
in the area in Maffei and Nastasi 1990: 114–116; 179 for the suggestion that the
construction of the harbor at Centumcellae allowed the shipment of perishable agri-
cultural products such as fruit to Ostia. For a discussion of the relationship between
the harbor, the Imperial villa and the settlement see in that same volume F. Correnti,
“Centumcellae: la villa, il porto e la città”, 209–214.
See Pliny Ep. 6.31 for a reference to the construction of the harbor as seen from
Trajan’s villa (villa pulcherrima cingitur viridissimis agris), where the consilium principis was
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 165

excavation, not much is known about the villa’s layout, its chronologi-
cal phases, the types of the possible production practiced there (only
hinted at by the recovery of fragments of millstones and dolia from the
pars rustica), and the eventual connection between the life of the villa
and the creation of the port at Centumcellae.
Traces of prosperity and long-range commerce can be identied at
some villa sites after the second century a.d., possibly an indication of
the benecial effects of the port at Centumcellae. A partially excavated
villa near Tarquinia, conveniently located in the vicinity of the Via
Aurelia and the bridge over the Marta River, was either built ex novo in
the third century or enlarged at this time by the addition of an ornate
bath suite. All the pottery recovered, including African spatheia, dates
to between the third and the fth centuries a.d.40 Unfortunately, the
many villas in this territory, particularly the coastal ones, are poorly
preserved, and available data on the material culture are scanty, as in
the case of Ulpian’s villa.

Water Supply
Securing a water supply was a fundamental problem for a villa. Water
was needed for daily tasks as well as for more “luxurious” amenities,
such as baths, fountains, and nymphaea. The presence of abundant water
was highly advantageous for a villa, whether in the form of springs,
rivers, wells, or aqueducts, which carried water from faraway locations.
Among its many advantages, Pliny observes that his Laurentine villa
has one disadvantage: it lacked a stream for its water supply, which was
instead, fortunately, provided by wells.41 Excavations at Settenestre
revealed that the rst concern during the laying down of the founda-
tions of the villa was to dig a deep well to reach the water table. The
so called “villa dell’Acqua Claudia” at Anguillara Sabazia was built
next to the drinkable mineral-water spring, still owing today.
Since water was needed for many purposes,42 villas always had a series
of cisterns to gather rainwater, even when they could use the water of

See Catalogue: L266.
Pliny Ep. 2.17.
I am not considering in this context the possibility of extensive irrigation of
agricultural cultivations (excluding olive trees and vineyards, both usually “dry culti-
vations”), for which archaeological evidence is scarce. However, the irrigation of villa
gardens should be included in the discourse on water usage; see Chapter 4, with refer-
ence to channels dug in the tufa in the suburbium which may have been for irrigation
166 chapter six

a nearby spring or river. Large cisterns were often fed by aqueducts

or springs, allowing the storage of water to be used when needed. In
the case of villas built on different terraces—the most common archi-
tectural typology—the cisterns are usually located on the upper level,
so that their higher elevation would facilitate the distribution of water.
Many of the unexcavated sites recorded as villas in the catalogue have
been identied mainly by the presence of cisterns, well preserved in
comparison with the other remains; this fact is very evident in the case
of Blera or Tibur, for example.
The source of water supply for villas is obviously dictated by the
hydrology of the area. Different solutions taking into account the
geology of a given spot were applied. In the area of Sperlonga, the
villa at Pian delle Salse features cisterns fed by water collected by a
dam, clearly a diversion structure, built in a nearby gully.43 On bare
limestone surfaces, as in the case of Casale delle Grotte near Cosa,
channels are cut in the rocky surface to collect the runoff from the
hillside into cisterns.44
It was denitely a plus for a property if a connection to an aque-
duct was also available, providing running water for the needs of the
villa. Many of the cisterns identied at villa sites, too big to be lled
by available catchment runoff, were, in fact, fed by aqueducts.45 This
solution was an effective way of guarantying constant supply by storing
water when available, since usually aqueducts would distribute water to
private users at set times, as we can for instance see from an inscription,
thought to refer to the Aqua Cabra, which lists the hours in which it was

or to drain excess water, and Wilson forthcoming. Wilson suggests that irrigation may
have been used for vineyards as well; I believe that in most cases vineyards were not
irrigated, as this would have resulted in less sugar content in the grape and hence in
a lower alcoholic gradation of wine, which would have spoiled easier. However, if the
target was the production of low cost, low quality wine for Rome, irrigation may have
been used to increase production on some estates. The ease with which low gradation
wine spoils may explain the adoption of the new smaller, at-bottomed amphora type
(variously labeled as Spello, or Forlimpopoli A-D, or Ostia II-521/Ostia III-369–370,
or Altotiberine I.) commonly produced in Central Italy in the mid-rst and second
centuries a.d. Even nowadays in some parts of Central Italy, because of soil type
and climate, low gradation wines are produced that do not age easily and need to be
consumed relatively soon once the container is opened. Perhaps the smaller amphorae
were intended to allow the use of the product within 2–3 days from opening. See
Braconi and Uroz Sáez 1999: 108.
Thomas and Wilson 1994: 141.
Thomas and Wilson 1994: 141. The site is 4 km northeast of Orbetello.
Thomas and Wilson 1994. On aqueducts in the countryside of Rome see Wilson
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 167

permitted to draw water from the aqueduct.46 In order to connect their

pipeline to public aqueducts running near their estates, private users
would need authorization and would pay a fee; illegal connections were,
however, quite common. Frontinus reports that, of the total discharge
of 14,018 quinariae relating to urban aqueducts, 2,345 quinariae were
delivered to private properties in the countryside.47 An example of a
public aqueduct expressly reserved to satisfy requests for water from
local landowners comes from Tusculum, southeast of Rome. This ter-
ritory, one of the areas with the oldest diffusion of villas, was also rich
in springs and had many aqueducts. The many villas in the territory
of Tusculum had several options, but the Aqua Crabra was reserved
exclusively for the villa-owners in the area. We know that Cicero, who
owned a property here (his famous Tusculanum), used this aqueduct
for the water supply at his villa. In the De Lege Agraria, he mentions
the fact that he had to pay a tax to the municipium of Tusculum for
the use of the aqueduct.48 Some centuries later, Frontinus informs us
that Agrippa, while working on improving the water supply of Rome,
decided not to use the Aqua Crabra, in order to leave it entirely for the
villas in the area. The water was distributed to the various villas in turn,
on specic days and in regular quantities.49 This same passage also tells
us that Agrippa’s stipulation was not respected, and that some of the
water was regularly diverted into the Aqua Iulia by the aquarii, so that
they could prot by distributing this water to other users. Frontinus
proudly records his intervention to correct the situation, thus allowing
the villa-owner in Tusculum to wonder at the “unusual abundance”
of the water owing from the aqueduct.
Other aqueducts in this area included the Aqua Tepula, whose springs
were located on Lucullus’ estate, on a diverticulum of the Via Latina,50

CIL XIV.3676; also VI.1261, which besides giving the hours, shows also a map
with the various pipes connected to an aqueduct.
Frontin. Aq. 78–86. A quinaria measured how much water could be discharged
through a pipe 5/4 of a digit in diameter, owing under constant pressure. This mea-
sures out to about 5,000 to 6,000 gallons per 24 hours. But on the impossibility of
reaching an exact value for the Roman quinaria measure, see Ch. Bruun, Appendix at
Frontinus, De Aquaeductu Urbis Romae, (R. H. Rodgers ed.), CTC. Cambridge 2004.
Cic. Leg. Agr. 3.2.9: ego Tusculanis pro aqua Crabra vectigal pendam.
Frontin. Aq. 1.9. The spring of the Aqua Crabra was probably located on the
modern Via Anagnina, at an elevation of 612 m.
At the X mile of the Via Latina, probably to be identied with the spring
Preziosa, 2 km west of Grottaferrata. See Frontin. Aq. 1.8 for the reference to Lucullus’
168 chapter six

and the Aqua Iulia, created by Agrippa in 33 b.c., which also began on
the Via Latina.51 From Frontinus’ De Aquis Urbis Romae, it emerges that
villa-owners were often illegally using water from the public aqueducts
to supply their villas,52 which by this time required a great deal of water
for “luxury” purposes—just think of the diffusion in this period of baths,
fountains, nymphaea, and eurypii. Imperial favor could be bestowed in
the form of special rights to take water from an aqueduct, as shown
in a poem by Statius about his villa in Albano and Domitian’s conces-
sion to use running water from the aqueduct he had built to supply
his palace.53
The same connection between villas and aqueducts is evident in
Tibur, another geographic area that contained a large number of
elite villas from an early date. The area of Tibur was well connected
to Rome from the Early Republic onward. The Via Tiburtina was a
very early road,54 and the presence of good roads and abundant water,
in conjunction with the fertility of the hills, explains the early diffusion
of villas in Tibur and its development as one of the preferred vacation
spots for the Roman aristocracy. One of the largest estates in this region
has been located in the area known as Grotta Papale. The villa, which
presents a clear Republican phase as well as an Imperial one, was built
on two terraces and measured about 23,000 m2, a considerable size.
It had a nymphaeum and cistern, which were fed by one of the public
aqueducts of Tibur, probably the Anio Vetus. Another villa, located under
the Villa Gregoriana on the right bank of the Aniene River, is believed
to have been the one owned by Manilius Vopiscus, celebrated by Statius
in Silvae 1.3.55 Just as water occupies an important place in the poet’s
celebration of this estate, the site itself presents a specic solution to
the problem of providing the large water supply needed by the villa. A
private aqueduct was cut directly into the hill, but it is not clear whether
it derived water from a public aqueduct or directly from the river. It

On the XII mile, 1.5 km southeast of Grottaferrata.
Under the Empire, the emperor would grant the ius aquae ducendae, and in this
case the pipes set by private citizens to draw water from a public aqueduct would be
stamped with the name of the emperor who granted permission.
Stat. Silv. 3.1.61 ff.
When the road was extended into the territory of the Marsi, it took the name of
Tiburtina Valeria from the magistrate supervising its construction, a member of the gens
Valeria and possibly to be identied with the censor of 307 b.c. M. Valerius Maximus.
See Quilici 1990: 62. The road followed an older path used for the seasonal herding
of cattle between the modern regions of Abruzzi and Latium.
See Catalogue L287 and L299.
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 169

must have been built during the Republic, since it provided water to a
series of covered shponds dated to the late second century–early rst
century b.c., which themselves constitute a very interesting example of
large-scale sh-breeding at a country villa.
In general, Tibur had no water-supply problems, thanks to the pres-
ence of the Aniene River, but it seems that in the rst two centuries of
the Empire there was a need to store larger quantities of water. Some
villa sites, indeed, show the transformation of Republican cryptoporti-
coes into cisterns.56 This must be related to the increased demand for
water, since it is also in this period that larger or new bath quarters,
nymphaea, fountains, and water-triclinia are added to many villas. The
same trend is observable elsewhere; for instance, at a villa located near
modern Sezze, on the road leading to Privernum.57 Also at this site,
rooms in the Republican substructures were transformed into cisterns
in the second century a.d., in response to an increased need for water,
connected to the general beautication of villas that characterizes
this period. Also the villas in the Ager Tusculanus present the addition
of bath-quarters in the second century, with the need to increase the
volume of water supply; several large monumental cisterns were built
in this period very likely to feed the baths.58
In many cases, the portions of aqueducts identied in relation to
villas are private aqueducts built by the villa-owner, and fed with water
from a main public aqueduct, springs, or cisterns. A villa excavated
in modern Ischia di Castro, in the province of Viterbo, presents a
major architectural phase in the early rst century a.d., probably to
be more precisely dated under Augustus. Along with the restoration
or addition of the torcular olearum and the pars urbana unfolding around
the peristyle,59 an aqueduct was also built. The aqueduct increased the
availability of water, previously provided only by the cistern60 connected
to the impluvium, although the villa might have had other cisterns that
have yet to be discovered. This private aqueduct was connected to the
main aqueduct coming from the Monti Canini, built at the time of
the centuration of the land. Another example of a private aqueduct,

See Catalogue: L294; L301.
See Catalogue: L188.
Valenti 2003: 62–63.
For the full description of the remains discovered at this site see Catalogue:
The capacity of the cistern is not indicated in the publication.
170 chapter six

in this case fed by a cistern, can be found at the villa under excavation
at Pian della Civita, near Artena. At this site, part of an aqueduct has
recently been discovered coming from a large cistern on the top of
the mountain.61 Villa distribution does not seem to be affected in areas
where it was not possible to use a connection to a public aqueduct,
provided that alternative solutions for the water supply existed. In the
area of Tor Sapienza, where most of the urban aqueducts to Rome run
underground, villas and farms relied on underground cisterns catching
roof runoff, wells and springs.62 Few of the larger villas are supplied
by aqueducts when these run again above ground, as in the case of
the Sette Bassi villa.
A noteworthy private initiative involving the building of an aqueduct
for the needs of a villa is attested by an inscription found in the area of
Viterbo.63 The text of the inscription mentions the construction of an
aqueduct, 9 km long, to provide water to the Villa Calvisiana, an initiative
of the then-owner, Mummius Niger Valerius Vegetus. This inscription
is also interesting for the information it gives about property distribu-
tion and the names of owners—the aqueduct ran through eleven fundi
belonging to nine proprietors, many of whom bear Roman aristocratic
names as eminent as that of the senator P. Tullius Varro, on whose
property the so-called Aqua Vegetiana originated. Since the aqueduct
needed to run for some distance before reaching the Villa Calvisiana,
through the estates of various landlords, Valerius Vegetus bought the
land on which the spring stood and a strip of land to allow the passage
of the aqueduct, rather than relying on the servitudes on drawing water,
which carried only limited rights of maintenance.64 Unfortunately, the
exact location of the Villa Calvisiana remains uncertain.

Brouillard and Gadyene 2003; the excavators observed no calcareous deposit in
the aqueduct and wondered if it was never in use; however, if the cistern supplying it
was fed by rain water, one would not have calcareous deposits, but probably in order
to have enough water the cistern was in turn fed by another aqueduct.
Thomas and Wilson 1994: 181.
Since three copies of this inscription have been found, it seems likely that several
copies of the text were inscribed and set, probably on each of the fundi intersected by
the aqueduct. See Barbieri 1999: 120 n. 14. The text published in CIL XI.3003 was
already known in the seventeenth century.
The Roman legislation on water rights was very detailed and complex; this area
of law had become the object of specialist study by the late Republic. Cicero, pro Balb.
45 refers to a certain M. Tugio as an expert, whom he had consulted about the Aqua
Tusculana. Vegetus bought from the various proprietors a strip 10 Roman feet wide
(but 6 feet wide where the water ran in pipes).
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 171

There is evidence of private aqueducts even in the case of small and

medium-sized villas. In the territory of ancient Ostia, near modern
Acilia, several medium-sized villas have been identied, with occupa-
tion phases spanning from the Republic to the mid- and late Empire,
each of which had its own aqueduct and necropolis.65 The attention
given to maximizing the water supply for these villas probably reects
an intensive engagement in agricultural production—vegetable gardens
and orchards, as we discussed in Chapters 3 and 4—which makes per-
fect sense for this area, considering its proximity to Ostia, Rome, and
the Vicus Augustanus Laurentium.66

Villas and Imperial Properties

There is an important connection between the location of Imperial

residences and the concentration of villas around them. It was impor-
tant, for social and political reasons, to be in the same location as the
emperor and his “court.” For example, when Hadrian built his villa
in Tibur—which functioned as a “court” and center of government
outside Rome, complete with meetings of the senate and the consilium
principis—all those who could afford it wanted a mansion next to the
emperor, and those who already owned a villa in the area wanted it to
be fashionably up-to-date and well equipped for frequent visits. Existing
villas were enlarged and restored and some new villas were built. The
majority of the villa sites registered in Mari’s monograph on Tibur
show a second-century phase, aimed at beautifying the mansions. The
best example is offered by a villa located very close to Hadrian’s Villa,
known as the villa of the Vibii Vari. The original Republican villa was
enlarged with the addition of a lower, larger terrace, protruding toward
Hadrian’s Villa with a large exedra. This phase has been dated by brick-
stamps to the time of Hadrian. On the one hand, this building activity,
which also included the construction of a possible sacrarium, clearly
reects the desire to have a fashionable villa showing one’s social status

Most of the tombs date to the second century a.d., providing important data on
the existence of medium-sized properties in during the Empire. See also Chapter 8.
Of course, the luxurious villas of Laurentum also had aqueducts, like that of the
villa at Tor Paterno (V. Mannucci, “L’acquedotto laurentino e Tor Paterno: osservazioni
e primo intervento di restauro,” in Castelporziano 1985, 31–41). On the advantages offered
to local villa-owners by the presence of the Imperial residence, see below.
172 chapter six

in the same location as the emperor’s; on the other hand, it might show
the imitation, on a smaller scale, of the emperor’s own architectural
activities. The typology of the “sacrarium,” indeed, resembles some of
the buildings of Hadrian’s Villa. If the attribution of the ownership
of this villa in the second century67 to either C. Iulius Plancius Varus
Cornutus or Vibius Varus,68 both renowned public gures, is correct,
then the social and political “necessity” of having a proper residence
next to the emperor’s palace becomes clear.
As Lafon has rightly pointed out, the fact that the principal Impe-
rial residences were located in and near Rome until the Severans is a
key to explaining the continuous presence of large elite villas in Italy.
In his opinion, the function of a villa as an aristocratic residence, and
not just as a unit of agricultural production, is one of the fundamental
parameters to keep in mind when pondering the decrease in the number
of villas during the Empire.69
Another area presenting a villa-occupation pattern similar to Tibur’s
is the area of the Albani Hills, the territory between Castel Gandolfo,
Albano, and Nemi. This whole area, because of its proximity to Rome,
the fertility of its volcanic soil, and the presence of lakes, became a
vacation spot for the Roman elite early in the Republic. By the rst
century b.c., villas had a widespread diffusion in this area. Several
Imperial residences were located here in Imperial times, among
them the villa in Albano, probably previously owned by Pompey the
Great; Nero’s villa near the Lake of Nemi (Subiaco); Domitian’s villa
at Castel Gandolfo; and the so called Villa degli Antonini at Genzano,
also very likely an Imperial villa. The similarity to the Tibur scenario
also includes the presence in the territory of important old sanctuar-
ies, in this case the sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis on the shore of
Lake Nemi,70 which was surrounded by many villas. The presence of
several Imperial residences, favored by different emperors at different

The suggestion was made on the basis of 5 small fragments of inscription(s)
recovered at the site showing a senatorial cursus honorum; see I.I., 132. The name Varus
is visible in the inscription and the mention of the province of Cyprus. The name
Iulius Plancius Varus has been integrated on the basis of CIL XIV.2925; others sug-
gested Vibius Varus.
Cornutus was consul with Pliny the Younger in 100 a.d.; Varo was consul in
134 a.d.
Lafon 2001: 219–226.
The sanctuary of Juppiter Latiaris was located just north of this sanctuary, on
Mount Albano.
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 173

times, accounts for the constant development and use of villas in this
region until the late Empire. A recent study gives the high number of
sixty-two identied villas in this region.71 In general, the chronological
phases go from the Republic to the late Empire. The “life” of the vil-
las in this region does not seem to have been adversely affected by the
deployment of the II Legio Parthica Severiana under Septimius Severus,
but rather by the increasingly less frequent visits of the emperor to the
residences in Albano after the Severans.72
The litus Laurentinum enjoyed uninterrupted development with regard
to villas not only because of its proximity to Rome, but also for the
presence of two Imperial palaces, one in Laurentum, the other one in
Antium. In particular, the area was further developed under Commodus,
when the emperor decided to retire to his residence there in order to
escape the plague spreading through Italy after the return of Lucius
Verus’ troops from campaigns in the East. In fact, the construction of
the Via Severiana, later completed by Septimius Severus, was begun by
Commodus to connect Ostia with the Imperial palaces in Laurentum
and Antium. However, the establishment of Imperial properties in this
region goes back to Augustus,73 who built the Vicus Augustanus Laurentium.
Gradually, this vicus became the administrative and distribution center
for the whole area. In reality, the coastline from Antium and Astura
to Centumcellae, passing through the towns of Fregenae, Alsium, and
Norium contained a series of urban centers (under Imperial patronage)
and villas gravitating toward the mouth of the Tiber and the Impe-
rial court, which were part of the social and economic life of Rome.74
Direct Imperial intervention could lead to an increase in the number
or quality of villas, while also creating links of patronage. For instance,
literary sources mention that Nero, while building his harbor and villa
in Antium, sent there a colony of praetorian veterans, selecting the
richest among the primipili. Surely their social status and rank in the
census was reected in well appointed villas.75
Nero’s construction of the harbor in Antium points to another
important association. Often the presence of an Imperial residence

Chiarucci 2000.
The case of Albano is further analyzed in Chapter 8.
See Gell. NA 10.2.2: ancilla Caesaris Augusti in agro laurenti.
See Purcell 1998: 28 ff.
Suet. Nero 9. Tacitus (Ann. 14.27) does not mention the selection of the richest
of the primipili, and states that the veterans’ assignment did not solve the problem of
the depopulation of the area.
174 chapter six

in an area demanded the improvement of the infrastructure, such as

roads (e.g., in the case of the Via Severiana)76 or harbors (in the cases
of Antium and Centumcellae). In turn, these improvements beneted
the other properties in the area and added to their market value, mak-
ing it even more desirable to own a villa near an Imperial residence
and giving rise to renovations. The activities of Nero or Trajan fell in
between private and public interests, because of the scale of the work
and their geographic location. But in the case of Imperial properties
farther away from the capital, too, improvements were made to the
local infrastructure, to the advantage of the entire area.
The remains of a large villa located near ancient Telamon (at S.
Maria delle Grazie, less than 1 km from Talamone) have been related
to Trajan on the basis of a stula bearing a stamp with Trajan’s name,
the titles of Germanicus and Dacicus, and the name of the freedman
in charge of the water supply ( procurator aquarum).77 Chance discoveries
at the beginning of the twentieth century uncovered two diverticula, also
apparently Trajanic in date, which connected this site to the Via Aurelia.
It is noteworthy that one of these two diverticula is of a monumental
character unusual for villa sites; the road was paved with large stones
and had a total width of 9.60 m.78 If Ciampoltrini is right in suggesting
that we should relate this to the construction of Portus Telamonis,79
known from maritime itineraries and attributed to Trajan, then we
have a very nice illustration of the weight of Imperial intervention in
improving the infrastructure in a given area, probably also to accom-
modate the needs of an Imperial property. In this case, the intervention
would not have been intended solely to provide an Imperial estate with
a road and harbor, but to build utilitarian structures that could eventu-
ally be used by other establishments in the area. The construction of

Another example is the paving of the road leading from Anagni to Villa Magna
(at the foot of the Lepini Mountains). A large Imperial residence was located there,
discussed by Marcus Aurelius in two letters to his tutor Fronto. The paving of the
road, recorded in CIL X.5909 (viam quae ducit in Villam Magnam silice sua pecunia straverunt)
was done by the Severans. See Chapter 3 for discussion of M. Aurelius’ letter and for
recent archaeological discoveries at Villa Magna.
See Catalogue: T47, and Campanile 1919.
This is information inferred from the drawings done in 1915 at the moment of
discovery, showing the proper roadway measuring 6.50 m, plus crepidines on both sides
measuring 1.55 m each. The dimensions of the road allowed the passage of three
chariots at the same time. The standard width for Roman roads with heavy trafc was
4 m. See Catalogue: T47.
Ciampoltrini 1994b.
villa topography: infrastructure and imperial villas 175

the port would also indicate an interest in regulating and improving

sea-trafc in the Gulf of Telamon and in providing infrastructures for
the surrounding areas, along the same lines as what was being done
by Trajan at Centumcellae, Ostia, and Tarracina. Considering that the
harbor at Cosa, south of Telamon, was already in decline in the rst
century a.d. and was abandoned in the second century, it is possible
that this harbor was intended to replace Cosa in serving the area. But
Portus Telamonis does not seem to have had a long life, if indeed
Ciampoltrini is right in relating the remains at S. Maria Delle Grazie
with the harbor complex, since pottery nds do not date to after the
third century. It is possible that the Roman harbor was soon lled up
by sand and was therefore abandoned, since this was a problem in the
Gulf in both medieval and modern times.80 It is impossible in this case
to say whether there was a connection between the construction of the
harbor, the large road leading to the Via Aurelia, and the “life” of the
villas in the area. Studies concerning the territory of Cosa presented
a picture, dominated by the case of the villa at Settenestre, of villas
being abandoned in the late second and third centuries, but some of
the data are being reconsidered and the entire idea of a villa crisis in
the second century, together with the chronology of villas, needs to be
reassessed (see Chapter 8).

Ciampoltrini 1994b also notes that the drawings mentioned in n. 78 do not show
any wheel furrows on the paving, another possible indication that road and harbor were
used for a short time; but the artist could simply have ignored this detail.



Besides the important role of infrastructure and Imperial residences,

examined in the previous chapter, in determining the geographical
distribution of villas, villa distribution must be considered also in
relation to local communities, for villas and towns normally had a
relationship of close economic and social symbiosis. In the geographic
area examined in this study, large and well appointed villas, belonging
either to the Roman elite or to local elites, tend to be concentrated
in areas surrounding urban centers, highlighting the socioeconomic
importance of these connections and reminding us to look beyond the
oft-quoted relationship of villas to the metropolis of Rome. In modern
studies devoted to Roman villas in Italy, by and large, the close social
and economic relationships between villas and nearby communities
have received too little attention.1 In fact, the emphasis has been put
mostly on the relations between the countryside—or coastal areas—and
Rome, the center of both power and economic consumption. In real-
ity, when one looks at a large sample of villa sites and tries to reorient
them in their topographical and economic context, the close relation-
ships between villa sites and nearby urban centers, such as municipia
and coloniae, is evident.
With respect to patterns in villa distribution relative to urban centers,
it is possible to identify the following trend: the “villa phenomenon” is
more intense in areas with denser colonization and a higher degree of
urbanization. This phenomenon is certainly not exclusive of Italy and
is observable also in other areas, such as North Africa. It is a trend
easily detectable in Etruria. Coastal and insular villas aside, the mouth
of the Ombrone River marks a dividing line in terms of the number

The symbiosis between villas and local urban centres has been picked up and
addressed by eld survey works, but the studies that focus on villas and villa culture
have mostly focused on the Roman senatorial elite and therefore on villas as the otium
escape from the negotium of the Urbs and on the villa production oriented to the market
of Rome.
villa topography 177

and typology of villas present in the territory: for the area to the north,
an area comparatively less densely urbanized, the number of known
villas is much lower than for the area to the south.2
Therefore, within the framework outlined above about the importance
of infrastructure and Imperial residences, two other elements seem also
to determine villa distribution in an area. The rst is proximity to Rome;
the second is proximity to a local urban center. Southern Etruria, where
many villas have been identied, presents both these elements, with a
high concentration of municipia and coloniae. In northern Etruria, large
and well appointed villas are concentrated in the areas around what
few cities the region has (Rusellae, Populonium, Volterrae, Pisa, Luca,
Florentia), in comparison with the region of southern Etruria. This is
not to say that these areas lack signs of intensive land-use in the Roman
period: centuriation of the land and small- and medium-sized farms are
here well attested—think for instance of the so-called Piana delle Cento
Fattorie near modern Lucca, where numerous farms assigned to coloni
were built in the mid-second century b.c.—3 but large, well-appointed
villas are not as common as in southern Etruria. Cambi and his col-
leagues proposed a typological classication for villas in Etruria that
takes into account their relationship to urban centers and the distribution
of their production.4 Although these scholars are focusing mostly on
the situation in Etruria in the Late Empire—that is, in the fourth and
fth centuries a.d—they note that large villas tend to concentrate in a
circular area with urban centers in the middle, towards whose markets
the surplus was directed. Diffusion of large villas across a wider area,
relative to the urban center, seems to occur, according to their typology,
in cases where a very good road system exists. The farther one travels
from towns, the more the size of villas diminishes; their production
must consequently have been intended mostly for self-consumption,
since smaller fundi imply a smaller or nonexistent surplus.
It may be useful to reproduce the classication of villa settlements
produced by Cambi, et al., despite the fact that it is not completely

See F. Cambi, “Calabria romana. Paesaggi tardo repubblicani nel territorio brin-
disino” in Lo Cascio and Storchi Marino 2001: 363–390, esp. pages 364–65.
The villas were enlarged in conjunction with the assignment of land to veterans
by Octavian in the 40s b.c. and the sites seem to have prospered at least until the end
of the rst century a.d. See M. Zecchini, “Nella Piana delle Cento Fattorie”, Archeo
188, 2000: 36–47. The area is an archeological park.
Etruria 1994.
178 chapter seven

clear what criteria they adopted in determining, say, the difference in

the destination of the production between types A1 and B1:
Type A1: in the valley of the Ager Cosanus and the Chianti senese the vil-
las are located around towns, in a circle. They are engaged in extensive
production for the city market.
Type A2: in the valley bottom of the Ager Cosanus and the Ager Populoniensis
and in areas connected with a good road system one nds villas similar
to the A1 type, but spread on a larger area.
Type B1: on hills in the north part of the Ager Rusellanus and in the
Chianti senese one nds villas of medium and large size. Only part of the
production went to the external market.
Type B2: on the high hills of the Ager Cosanus and Ager Rusellanus, there
are medium and small farms, producing for self-consumption.
Type C: the coastal valleys of the Ager Cosanus present villas and villages
depending on them. The agricultural production is oriented towards the
urban market.
This classication connects both the size and the location of villas in
relation to urban centers with the distribution of the products of the
villa itself. Large establishments close to a city would have been pro-
ducing extensively for the city market, as in the A1 type, whereas for
smaller villas on the hills—type B2—production for self-consumption is
postulated. The small-holdings identied by eld survey in the valleys
far from city centers were related to a mode of production used in the
large estates of Cisalpine Gaul; in other words, the so-called Plinian
type, using a mixture of coloni and slaves.5
In light of what we know about villa-owners in this region, from both
literary and epigraphic evidence, it is also possible to draw some con-
clusions about the social background of the owners. Southern Etruria,
colonized much earlier and more intensely, is also the area from which
the greatest families of the Etruscan elite rst integrated themselves
in the Roman upper class, reaching senatorial rank. Members of this
Roman-Etruscan aristocracy owned very large villas in the territory of
Tarquinii. But moving northward from Rome, the rank of the owners
tends to diminish. The territory of Vulci, for instance, contains large
estates, but they were owned by members of the mid-senatorial rank,
like the Sextii in Cosa. In northern Etruria, an area controlled for a

The textual evidence offered by Pliny’s epistolary and the geographic location
of these small-holdings seem to be the basis for postulating a mode of production
combining coloni and slaves.
villa topography 179

longer time by families descended from the ancient Etruscan aristocracy

but not yet integrated into the senatorial rank, villas seem to be less
numerous, as stated above.
Under the Empire, particularly after Trajan’s directive that senators
of provincial origins should invest a third of their property in Italian
estates, this “map” of land-ownership changed, with the addition of
owners from the provinces.6 I need hardly add that the most sought-
after properties were those closest to Rome, which drove real-estate
prices up considerably.7 As Pliny remarks in a letter to his friend Nepos:
“This is the moment to sell, if you own properties in Italy, and to buy
in the provinces.”8
Regardless of the different opinions expressed by scholars about
Pliny and the management of his business, it is clear that he was very
attentive to prot.
Latium, both Latium Vetus and Latium Adiectum, presented a high
degree of urbanization and a high density of villas. Here, also, large
villas tend to appear in the areas around urban centers, as in Tusculum,
Praeneste, Tibur, and Ardea.
The above-mentioned topographical relationship between urban
centers and the proliferation of villas also gave rise to an intricate
network of interactions between villas and cities on the social level.
As we shall see, during the Empire an important change seems to
have occurred in the perception of villas as proper spaces to display
one’s “public” and political achievements, a role previously performed
exclusively by the domus.
Let us consider the well-known example of the Volusii Saturnini villa
near Lucus Feroniae. This villa, located only 500 m from the forum of
the town, was either built by Q. Volusius Saturninus around 50 b.c.,
or passed to the Volusii under Augustus, if Gazzetti’s hypothesis of
previous ownership by the Egnatii family is correct.9 This gens, or at
least a branch of it, was probably from Capena and was involved in

The provision was reiterated by Marcus Aurelius, who diminished the quota to
a fourth.
However, provincial senators invested also in land and estates in other regions of
Italy, such as Roman Calabria; see D. Manacorda, “Sulla Calabria romana nel paesag-
gio tra la repubblica e l’impero”, in Lo Cascio and Storchi Marino 2001: 391–410,
esp. pages 406–407.
Pliny Ep. 6.19.
See Gazzetti 1992: 42. The discovery of the inscription Egnati on a lion-shaped
trapezophoros found at the villa led to the supposition that they owned it.
180 chapter seven

some kind of patronage at Lucus Feroniae, as shown by epigraphic

evidence.10 The Egnatii, who were involved in the Civil Wars of the
rst century b.c., were proscribed by Augustus and their properties
conscated. During the time when the Volusii are securely attested to
have owned the villa, members of the family became patroni coloniae
(L. Volusius Saturninus, cos. 12 b.c., as we have seen in Chapter 5, was
the recipient of a dedicatory inscription from the decuriones). In the role
of patronus, L. Volusius undertook or contributed to the construction
of several public buildings in Lucus Feroniae, among which I have
mentioned the construction and dedication, between 14 and 20 a.d.,
of a temple to divus Augustus.
During this period, the villa was considerably beautied and monu-
mentalized, not only by the addition of the large peristyle discussed in
Chapter 5 (the so-called “slave quarters”), but also with new mosaics
and with the creation of a big garden area on the south side, pro-
vided with a large exedra and statues.11 It is clear that we have here an
example of two-way interaction. If, on the one hand, the ownership
of the villa and attached fundi compelled the Volusii to become patroni
coloniae and to nance public works, it was, on the other hand, precisely
their involvement in the public life of the community that enhanced
their status in that area. In other words, the family, in the person of
L. Volusius, felt compelled to beautify the property, mostly as conse-
quence of their social status in that community, and only partially in
response to new fashions and architectural trends. The villa, clearly
visible from the forum of Lucus Feroniae, where the family was spon-
soring the construction of buildings, functioned as the tangible symbol
of their power and wealth. It is in this context, therefore, that one must
read the erection of the so called lararium with celebratory inscriptions
discussed in Chapter 5, since that was, without doubt, a structure made
to be “seen” as a display of social prominence. In my opinion, rather
than being intended in primis for “internal consumption”, i.e. within

Gazzetti 1992: 23. The inscription reads: Cn. Egnatius C. f. Pr PR, and refers to a
public monument in the town, probably the paving of the forum or of the sanctuary’s
square. It seems that this Cn. Egnatius can be identied with the proconsul of Mace-
donia for 147 b.c., who constructed the Via Egnatia from Dyrrachium to Byzantium.
Papi 2000: 67 reports that Cn. Egnatius also contributed to the monumentalization
of the sanctuary of Feronia.
Fragments of three statues were recovered (a Heracles herm—Landsdowne type—a
herm-portrait of Euripides—Farnese type—and a head of Menander). As in the case of
other marbles from the villa, these were later fragmented and burnt to produce lime.
villa topography 181

the household, as has been suggested, the lararium was intended as a

display for external visitors to the house, a domestic counterpart of the
Volusii presence in buildings of the forum. We can certainly imagine
notables of the area among the visitors to the villa.
The ownership of a considerable property, by a member of either
the Roman or local elite, involved a series of sequential and causal
connections. Economic interests in a given area led to some kind of
patronage in the local community; this patronage in turn led to more
interactions with local notables, which translated into the necessity of
upgrading one’s residence according to one’s new social status. To con-
tinue with the analysis of the case of the Volusii Saturnini, a more recent
archaeological discovery identied a large complex for the production
of lime just 1.2 km from Lucus Feroniae. The complex, consisting of
three kilns, and associated with a villa, dates to the Augustan age. It is
located along the Via Capena, connecting Lucus Feroniae to Capena.
It has been calculated that the three kilns could produce between 200
and 300 cubic meters of lime per month, allowing for the construc-
tion of thousands of cubic meters of opus caementicium.12 It is very likely
that this property, along with its attached commercial enterprise, also
belonged to the Volusii Saturnini. As Sergio Fontana pointed out in his
1995 article, the large-scale production of lime in Augustan time must
be seen in connection both with the building activity going on at Lucus
Feroniae and in the large Volusii villa and with the market at Rome,
which had great need of lime.13 Very close to these kilns is the uvial
harbor at Baciletti, which would have made possible the transportation
of lime to Rome via the river.
In this case, the production of lime, which from the juridical point
of view fell under the category of agricultural activity,14 was simulta-
neously both the cause and the result of the extensive involvement of
the Volusii Saturnini in the community of Lucus Feroniae. Besides the
dedicatory inscription on the temple of divus Augustus, the building activ-
ity promoted by the family is also attested by an inscription recovered

Fontana 1995: 568.
We know that for the fourth century a.d., when building activity was considerably
less intense than during the rst centuries of the Empire, the praefectura urbana needed
3,000 carts of lime annually (Cod. Theod. 14.6.3, reference in Fontana 1995: 569). Cato
(Agr. 16, 38.4) seems to allude to the possibility of selling lime, and for the early Impe-
rial period an inscription from Capua mentions a negotians calcararius (CIL X.3947). On
the lime supply for building activity in Rome, see also DeLaine 1995.
Dig. 32.55.3.
182 chapter seven

in the necropolis Salaria. This epitaph mentions a certain Epigonos

Volusianus, who was exactor operis in Lucus Feroniae;15 in other words,
he superintended some kind of building yard, either in the colony or in
its territory. The economic and social implications of the patronage of
a local community are closely intertwined. In this connection, all things
considered, the idea that the Volusii became absentee landowners in
Lucus Feroniae, as scholars have suggested, is insupportable.
Economic interactions between villas and local towns could go
beyond selling the villa’s surplus and buying needed items.16 The area
of the villa per se could be the seat of economic transactions, fairs,
and therefore also social interactions. Recent archeological evidence
from the large villa at Marina di S. Nicola (Ladispoli, ancient Alsium)
offers interesting data on the existence of a large paved space, possibly
used for commercial transactions at the villa. The complex, on the
opposite side of the main residential nucleus, parallel to the coastline,
had some probable tabernae opening onto a large square, which also
constituted the main access to the villa through a diverticulum of the
Via Aurelia.17 Caruso thinks that the area was used for commercial
transactions and activities. No specic dating element is given for this
part of the villa, but Caruso’s suggestion is fascinating, if correct. One
could also hypothesize that this area was periodically “open to the
public” for commercial purposes, like for a fair. This would make the
villa a focus of interest for the local communities (and other estates)
and a denite seat of commerce.18 The suggestion seems plausible in
the light of evidence referring to villa-owners organizing markets on
their estates. The practice must have been much more widespread
than the scattered references that we have suggest. For example, Pliny
the Younger reports that the ex-praetor Bellicius Sollers asked for the

For the dedicatory inscription belonging to the temple see Chapter 5, n. 65; for
the epitaph: CIL VI.37422.
Whittaker 1994 denies a direct and formal connection between rural economy of
Italy and the cities, since the cities were not in control of their own riches and wealthy
landowners could transfer their revenues beyond the reach of the city.
Caruso 1995: 293. The square was paved with the same type of limestone used
in the preparation layer of the road.
De Franceschini 2005: 284 suggests that the Augustan courtyard with modular
rooms (the so-called ergastulum) in the Volusii Saturnini villa at Lucus Feroniae, featur-
ing storage space for goods, was used to hold markets in the villa. The connection
between urban centers and countryside for circulation of goods and creation of
aggregate demands from the point of view of the peasantry is disussed in de Ligt
1990 and 1991.
villa topography 183

senate’s permission to hold nundinae on his estate in Northern Italy.19

In this case, the market-fair was a large one, probably regional, if not
intra-regional, to the point that a delegation from the town of Vicentia,
where Sollers’ estate was located,20 opposed his request in the senate,
evidently because the town wanted to keep control over the organiza-
tion of the nundinae for nancial reasons. Although the nundinae were
organized on one’s private estates, the senate (and the emperor) had to
grant permission. The emperor Claudius himself asked to be autho-
rized to have a market on his praedia.21 Epigraphic evidence supports
the literary record in this. For instance, a senatus consultum dated to 138
a.d. grants to the senator Lucilius Africanus the right to hold nundinae
on his African estate, in the region “Beguensis, territorio Musulumianorum”,
in Byzacena (el-Bejar).22 Pliny the Younger, when discussing in one of
his letters the reasons for the construction of a new temple to Ceres
on his estate at Tifernum Tiberinum, states that the sacellum was too
small to contain the crowd that gathered in his estate from regione tota
on occasion of the religious festival at the end of September.23 These
festivals were also occasions for regional markets and although Pliny
does not explicitly say so, very likely a market took place on his estate
on occasion of the celebration.
One can imagine that, on a smaller scale, the buying and selling
of goods quite often took place directly on the estates, as may have
happened in the space with tabernae identied in the S. Nicola villa.24

Pliny Ep. 5.4 and 5.13.
Sollers has been identied with the T. Lucius Bellicius Sollers, epigraphically
known at Verona, Rome and environs, who married Claudia Marcellina; it is therefore
assumed that he had properties in the territory of Verona and of Vicentia. Sollers,
and then later the wife, are known to have owned glinae in their praedia near Rome.
On this see Cracco Ruggini 2000.
Suet. Claud. 12: ius numdinarum in private praedia a consulibus petit.
Senatus consultum de nundinis saltus Beguensis: CIL VIII.270; S. Riccobono et al., Fontes
Iuris Romani antejustiniani, Firenze 1940–43 n. 48. El-Bejar is in the Kasserine area,
where abundant evidence for sites with multiple presses are known; the presses have
been referred to oil production, but some are being re-assessed as wine presses (A. I.
Wilson, personal communication); see also Brun 2004: 224–229. By the third century
is only the emperor who deliberates about nundinae rights, as declared by Modestinus,
Dig. 50.11.1 and conrmed by an inscription from Numidia, reporting an edict of the
emperor Probus giving to Munatius Flavianus the rights to organize a market exempt
from vectigalia and portoria in a vicus of his property (vicus Emadaucapensis, near Cirta;
quoted by Cracco Ruggini, ibid.: 164).
Pliny, Ep. 9.39.
Whittaker 1994: 132 notes that Varro (Rust. 1.16.3) recommends the direct pur-
chase of goods from villa estates, and that the practice of holding fairs on the estates
184 chapter seven

It must be mentioned that since this villa, like others on this stretch
of coast, controlled several farms inland, the large paved square with
tabernae may have been just a service area for the internal needs of the
villa, for instance when goods from the farms were shipped to the main
estate.25 Nonetheless, from the scattered pieces of evidence cited above,
one can deduce that villas played a signicant role as centers of com-
mercial exchange with nearby communities. One argument e contrario
will further strengthen this point. A passage from the grammarian
Festus indicates that, in those areas where a territorial organization in
pagi and vici prevails, the vici comprised elementary functions in com-
mercial exchanges in substitution of the villa system.26
With the changing political situation of the Empire, when the sorts
of opportunities available to the Roman elite were different from the
Republican period, the quality and intensity of relationships between
senatorial and equestrian villa-owners and municipal elites increased.
The occasions for social interchange were promoted and channeled
particularly through the ofcial institution of the patronatus. It is well
known that, under the Empire, in particular from the late rst cen-
tury a.d. onward, prominent members of the senatorial or equestrian
elite were more involved in the patronage of communities where they
owned property, by means of municence and largitiones.27 But what
has not, I believe, been stated clearly in modern studies is the degree

is thought to have become more common as the Empire progressed. On selling on

the estate as also a practical measure to cut transport costs and building up ties of
dependence and obligation see Morley 2000: 218–219.
It is possible that the farms were rented to coloni who paid rent in kind, hence
the necessity of space at the main villa to store the goods. See the section on the pars
rustica in Chapter 1.
Fest. 502–08 L.: ‹Vici› . . . ex agris qui ibi villas non habent, ut Marsi aut Peligni. Sed
ex vic(t)is partim habent rempublicam et ius dicitur partim nihil partim nihil eorum et tamen ibi
nundinae aguntur negoti gerendi causa. Et magistri vici, item magistri pagi quotannis unt. Altero,
cum id genus aedicio‹rum de›nitur, quae continentia sunt his oppidis, quae itineribus regionibusque
distributa inter se distant (. . .).
An estimate by Foraboschi 1994 calculated that for municipal patroni in Italy,
members of local elites without senatorial or equestrian rank made up only 14% of
the total number. About the promotion of relationships between local communities and
prominent members of the elite by the central government, Whittaker 1994 observes
that the creation of the curatores civitatis seems to have been a way for emperors to tie
prominent senators and equites to the cities, promoting patronage, since curatores were
mostly chosen from among landowners in nearby areas. During the Republic and
early Empire, the picture seems to be different: not one of the proprietors identied by
sources for the elegant villas near Castrum Novum is known to have been a patronus,
a magistrate in the nearby coastal urban centers, or the recipient of public honors
(but see Lucus Feroniae and the Volusii, patroni of the town in the Augustan period).
villa topography 185

of personal involvement between villa-owners and local notables that

this fact implied and how, in consequence, the architectural typology
and perception of space in villas also changed. A rough calculation
of the percentage of senatorial curatores attested for Italy shows that
the majority (ca. 70%) are concentrated in the regions of Campania,
Latium, Etruria and Umbria, areas where there was probably a stronger
interest in establishing or re-enforcing connections and client-patron
A villa at S. Giuliano del Sannio (Campobasso), part of the territory
of Saepinum in antiquity, represents a compelling example of how, in
Imperial times, the “social life” of villas was centered on nearby towns.
In my opinion, this example also shows that, by this time, the physical
space of a villa was perceived as “public” and therefore suitable for the
celebration of the owner’s achievements in public life. This villa was
never excavated, but a series of bases with inscriptions for honoric
statues was found in situ, although the statues were not recovered.29 All
the inscriptions, dated to the second and third centuries a.d., honor
members of the gens Neratia, a family native to Saepinum, which, from
municipal elite status under Augustus, reached senatorial rank under the
Flavians.30 What is peculiar about these honorary statues, as we learn
from the inscriptions, is that all but one of them were dedicated by
the municipes saepinates, the municipal decurions of the town. Honorary
inscriptions to the same members of the gens Neratia were also recovered
in Saepinum, presumably placed originally in the forum of the town.
These data indicate not only the fact that the villa, or part of it, was
perceived of as a “public space,” and thus suitable for the housing of
such statues, but also the extensive interaction taking place between
villa-owners and local notables. We are unable to determine, in this
case, whether the statues and inscriptions in the villa were placed there
by direct initiative of the municipes, along with those in the forum, or
whether these were copies of the “ofcial” ones placed in the forum by
the decurions, which the Neratii commissioned to glorify themselves at
home, too. Both explanations are possible, but in either case the presence
of those statues would have been a visible indication to all the visitors

See Papi 2000: 32. In the rst century b.c. the patronage of a community involved
primarily homines novi and their town of origin.
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 222.
Gaggiotti 1984/85.
Eck 1983.
186 chapter seven

of the household, from guests to clientes, of what the family had done
for the town, of the gratitude of the notables, and of the expectation
of similar deeds from other members of the gens.
The evidence offered by the Neratii villa cannot be considered
unique. Scattered evidence indicates that the reiteration of honorary
inscriptions from towns’ public spaces in villas occurred elsewhere.
In a villa excavated at Cures, in Zara Madonna locality, a dedicatory
inscription was found to L. Iulius Marinus Caecilius Simplex,31 legatus
of Trajan for Lycia and Pamphylia in 96–97 and in 101 or 102 a.d.
Another inscription, bearing the same text recovered in the villa, was
discovered in the nearby town, modern Canneto Sabino.32
In a study on epigraphic evidence from honorary statue bases in
Venetia and Histria, Geza Alföldi discusses few examples of honorary
inscriptions that he considers to come from villas, although the inscrip-
tions are often re-used in churches and their nd spot is not known.
One such inscription is a dedication voted by the decuriones of Verona to
their patronus C. Herennius Caecilianus during the reign of Hadrian.33
Since the location of the inscription is Sirmione, Alföldi thinks that it
was placed in a villa owned there by Caecilianus by direct intervention
of the decuriones and does not nd this problematic.34 The hypothesis
that in the cases of the Neratii and Caecilius Simplex the town council
voted the installation of the inscriptions in the villas could be sup-
ported by a similar occurrence in the case of patronage of a collegium.
In a suburban villa located near ancient Fidentia (modern Salsomag-
giore Terme, Parma), a late Imperial tabula patronatus to Virius Valens,

AE 1947.156.
CIL IX.4965 = ILS 1026: L. Iulio L. f. Fab. Marin[o]/Caecilio Simplici IIIIviro/viarum
curandarum, tr. mil./leg. IIII Scythicae, q. pro pr. provinciae Macedoniae, aedili pleb.,/praetori, leg.
pro pr. provinciae Cypri,/leg. pro pr. provinciae Ponti et Bythyniae proconsulatu patris sui,/curatori
viae Tiburtinae, fratri arvali,/leg. aug. leg. XI c. p. f., leg. imp. Nervae Traiani/Aug. Germ. provincia
(sic) Lyciae et/Pamphyliae, procos. provinciae Achaiae, cos. See also Muzzioli 1980 n. 15 and
Carandini 1985b: 64.
Alföldi 1984: 20–21; 60; he also discusses how the formula locus datus decreto decurio-
num can appear in inscriptions found in houses and villas and does not consider these
cases as private copies of inscriptions placed by the municipalities in public places. In
the case of this formula, however, I do not think we can suppose that the decurions
were voting a statue/inscription for one’s villa, assigning the spot for it, for the d. d. l. d.
formulaic expression refers to land owned by the city and cannot refer to a private
house (the comparison with the tabula patronatus is exemplicative, where the inscription
is voted by the assembly to be place in one’s house, but in a spot the owner will choose,
see below for examples). If we nd only decreto decurionum, in my opinion it is possible
to think of the decurions voting a statue to be placed in one’s villa.
villa topography 187

decurio of Fidentia, was recovered. The bronze tabula was placed in the
peristyle of the residential part of the villa. The inscription mentions
the nomination of Valens to patronus of the collegium dendrophorum. The
interesting part comes toward the end of the inscription, when we
learn that everyone in the collegium assembly voted to place the bronze
tabula in Valens’ villa, in a place to be indicated by him.35 Of course
this scenario is not exactly the same as a deliberation of the town
council, and cannot “prove” the hypothesis that the decurions voted
to erect honorary statues in people’s villas; but in my opinion it does
show how, under the Empire, a villa was regarded as having a “public”
dimension with respect to the owner’s career and social position, in the
same way as has been shown for the Roman domus.36 As it has been
observed, the occurrence of honoric statues placed in houses and
villas by (subordinate) friends, collegia, communities, and even family
members37 in the second and third centuries a.d., substitutes, at least in
Rome and suburbium, public forms of honor that, excluding some special
cases, were now precluded to senators and knights, being monopolized
instead by the Imperial family.38

(...) placuit univeris tabulam aeneam patrocinalem ei/poni in parte domus eius qua permiserit quo
plenius voluptas/nostra erga eum eluceat cuius titulus scripturae perpetuitate gloriam nostri consensus
declaret/adfuere universi (Marini Calvani 1990: 125). Other examples of tabulae patronatus
placed in one’s habitation by decree are ILS 7216 (190 a.d.) and ILS 7217 (224 a.d.).
In the fourth century the illustrious senator Aurelius Evagrius Onorius displayed the
tabula indicating him as patronus of Cluviae in his villa in the countryside of Histonium,
on the Adriatic side of Italy: Staffa 2000: 49.
Wallace-Hadrill 1994. Emerging municipal families would keep strong ties with
their town of origin even well after reaching senatorial status and starting political
career in Rome, thus the family town house in the town of origin represented the new
status of the family to the eyes of their fellow citizens. For instance, in a large and
richly decorated domus excavated at Suasa (Ancona), which belonged to the gens Coiedia,
part of an inscription referring to a base of an honorary statue was found. The person
celebrated was L. Coiedius Candidus, who, under Claudius, became quaestor, quaestor
aerari Saturni and curator tabularum publicarum. A similar inscription from a public context
had long been known: also in this case a private copy was set in the family house and
kept for several generations (the house was abandoned in the ca. late fourth century
a.d.). See De Maria 1993.
See for instance the inscription/statue placed by Claudia Marcellina to socero
optimo Ti. Claudius Augustanus Alpinus Bellicius Sollers, CIL, V.3337 and Alföldi 1984:
137. If indeed this statue was placed in a villa, one wonders what the “audience” for
it would have been.
Panciera 2001, esp. 16: “fra il II e III sec. d.C. l’offerta di una statua era una delle pos-
sibilità che si presentavano (i.e. to the subordinate friend); che questa fosse collocata nella casa
del protettore, da un lato rientrava nei comportamenti socialmente consentiti a Roma, dall’altro tornava
a gloricazione, sia dell’onorato, per il potere che con ciò gli si riconosceva, sia dell’onorante, per la
divulgazione e ufcializzazione, che tornavano a suo vantaggio, di un’ amicitia potente”.
188 chapter seven

For this reason, I strongly disagree with ideas such as those expressed
by Nevett, that:
in the context of villas there is no evidence for the kind of symbolism
attached to the town house, suggesting that these houses may have played
a less public role than their urban counterparts [. . .] not so closely involved
with formal patron-client relationship.39
Furthermore, in the case of suburban villas belonging to a local owner,
as in Virius Valens’ case, the establishment was a primary, not a sea-
sonal residence; in other words, it was a large “domus,” incorporating
all its social roles.
It is, therefore, reasonable to say that the change in the nature of the
political opportunities open to members of the Roman elite under the
Empire, as well as their association with local communities through
the role of patronatus, promoted the villa as a new venue for the display
of one’s achievements in the local public sphere. In Republican times,
this function does not seem to have been present in villas, at least to
judge from the evidence available. That is not to say that, during the
Republic, social exchanges in villas between villa-owners and the local
communities were absent in the dimension and space of the villa; on
the contrary. Although literary sources are vague about this matter, we
nonetheless nd hints in Cicero’s letters, as when he states, for example,
that some of his villas were crowded with clientes and visitors—presum-
ably in search of favors—just like his domus in Rome. The writer indeed
uses in this context the term domus and not villa to describe the villa at
Cumae, precisely to convey a sense of the intense social and business
obligations that took place during his sojourns at his estate.40 No doubt
business and social contacts were frequent and complex in villas during
the Republic. The difference seems to lie not in the fact that meetings
with business and political connotations would and could take place in
villas, but in how the physical space of the villa was perceived, on the
ideological level, to reect the public persona of the owner. With the
commitment of estate-owners to the development and patronage of
local municipalities that emerges under the Empire, it is natural that
villas came to have the same function as the domus had previously.

Nevett 1997: 295.
Cicero, at Att. 5.2.2. In the same passage his villa in Formiae, crowded with visi-
tors, is dened as a basilica.
villa topography 189

We should ask whether this shift in the perception of the villa space
determined also a change in the old and traditional equivalence between
villa and otium, the opposite of the negotium that would occur in the
city. If the villa is, in the Imperial period, more openly considered as a
place to carry out negotium like the urban residence, do the aspirations
of spending villa sojourns engaged in philosophical studies or literary
production disappear?
Not quite. Pliny the Younger letters are rich in references to his vil-
las—both the maritime at Laurentum and the country at Tifernum—as
places where he can pursuit his studies and writings. Even hunting, if
we are to believe him, gives him the chance to spend time engaged
in proper, productive “otium”.41 However, it seems to me that, in this
period, the villa operates ideologically on two levels. On one level, it
is still the out of town residence, the escape from the usual duties and
business that for a member of the upper class like Pliny meant Impe-
rial ofces; the villa is still the realm of otium. On the other level, the
villa is where local communities have contact with powerful proprietors
elected as their patroni or appointed curatores civitatis. It is the villa, not
the far away house in Rome, that marks the status of the owner in the
eyes of the local community. On this level, the villa becomes a place
for negotium, and this is reected in its furnishing and architecture.
To the changed social world of villas in the mid-Empire, I would
also ascribe a change in the architectural typology of villas. Starting
in the second century, we observe in villa complexes the restoration or
addition of bath quarters, generally larger baths, which take the place
of the smaller balnea of Augustan times.42 This phenomenon is certainly
a response to new practices and fashions originating in Rome, where

Plin. Ep. 1.6, where he describes to Tacitus how he waited for boars to fall into
his nets while writing, inspired by the silence and surrounding nature, and concludes
exhorting his friend thus: “so when next you go hunting, take my advice and carry
your writing tablets with you as well as your luncheon basket and your ask”.
For a different opinion, see Papi 1999: 719, who, on the basis of a letter from
Pliny to Pompeia Celerina (Ep. 1.4), states that baths were not commonly present in
rural villas in this period. On the contrary, the body of archaeological data shows just
the opposite. I also disagree with his interpretation of the passage from Pliny (quan-
tum copiarum in Ocriculano, in Narniensi, in Carsulano, in Perusino tuo; in Narniensi vero etiam
balineum . . .), which, in my opinion, indicates that Pliny was struck by the particular
elegance or functionality of the baths in the villa near Narni, compared to those in
other villas. For Sherwin-White 1966: 93, Pliny means that, to his surprise, he found
the baths in that villa heated and ready for use.
190 chapter seven

very large and luxurious Imperial bath complexes were being built.43
Other reasons may help to explain it, such as the need for larger baths
for a higher number of guests, although being upper class mansions it is
possible that bigger rooms were not necessarily responding to practical
need of more space, but were still intended for only a few users, thus
marking with the “abundance” of space the wealth of the owner.
At many sites, like the so-called Villa Plinio at Castel Fusano or the
villa Della Tagliata, these new bath quarters are no longer incorporated
into the main residential block of the villa, as were the earlier balnea,44
but are instead set apart. In the villa at Castelporziano, a new bath
complex was built during the reign of Hadrian, using part of the area
that was previously occupied by a cryptoportico and a terrace with a
panoramic view of the sea.45 These new baths are usually located next
to a gestatio, like a portico or a garden area, where it was possible to
stroll and exercise the body.46
In my opinion, the interest in building larger and more elegant baths
in villas during this period is not just a response to the fashion of the
time and the desire to be up-to-date.47 These new, larger spaces indicate
that a considerable number of guests were being entertained at one time

The construction of large Imperial baths in Rome started with Nero (in the Cam-
pus Martius). Galen (second century a.d.) outlines the four basic therapeutic moments
in the practice of bathing, corresponding to the iter in Imperial baths: sauna, hot bath,
cold bath, massage, and strolling.
Republican and Augustan bath suites are usually placed next to the kitchen, in
order to facilitate the heating of water. On baths in domus and villae, see: Fabbricotti
1976; Lafon 1991; Papi 1999. Vitruvius (De Arch. 6.5.1) includes the balnea in a list of
“private” rooms, which only family, guests, and close friends can enter: ex his quae propria
sunt, in ea non est potestas omnibus intro eundi nisi invitatis quemadmodum sunt cubicula, triclinia,
balneae ceteraque quae easdem habent usus rationes.
The villa had at least two bath complexes. The Hadrianic date is secure on the
basis of brick-stamps. See Catalogue: L63.
The association between baths and gestationes in villas was already present during
the Republic, but not so systematically as under the Empire. For instance, we learn from
Cicero (QFr. 3.1.1–2) that the remodeling of his brother’s villa in Maniliano included the
addition of “balnearia et ambulationem.” Note the habit of recording on inscriptions the
length of the gestatio and the number of steps, as in the case of the Porticus Triumphi
examples, perhaps the re-creation in the private sphere of a public building in Rome
(CIL VI.29776; XIV 3695a; LTUR under Porticus Thiumphi).
This trend is general and can be traced outside the geographic region covered
by the present study. For instance, in the large villa complex at Varignano (Liguria),
the rooms adjacent to the colonnaded atrium were turned into bath quarters in the
late rst century a.d. The atrium itself was incorporated into the bathing itinerary as
a resting place between the caldarium and the frigidarium.
villa topography 191

and possibly more frequently than before.48 The importance attributed

to being able to offer proper hospitality in one’s villa, including up to
fashion baths and other amenities is stated in an inscription from a
villa on the Via Nomentana. The inscription declares to the reader
that in “the estate of Aurelia Faustiniana the bath washes the guest in
the urban fashion and that every other amenity is provided.”49 Indeed,
parallel to the trend of adding new bath quarters, starting at the end
of the rst-beginning of the second century a.d., one can also observe
the addition of larger dining halls in villas. These halls, often on the
main axis of the peristyle, could accommodate a larger number of
guests than the traditional nine (three people for each of the couches
in the triclinium). They also offered more space for service and for dif-
ferent kinds of entertainment, while the permanent indication of the
couches in the mosaics shows that the room is now intended primarily
for that use.50 Undoubtedly, larger architectural spaces were also a sign
of one’s importance and power, and they were not necessarily always
built in response to functional needs. One way in which conspicuous
ostentation may manifest itself in architecture is by the creation of large,
impressive, but useless, spaces because the rich can waste and need not
follow strictly the needs of practicality. However, these two phenomena
in villa architecture can be seen in correlation with each other, for the
social practice of holding a banquet also included inviting the guests
to the baths before dining. Literary evidence alludes to this practice,
although not in the context of a villa, but of urban residences. Martial
invites a friend, Iulius Cerialis, to dinner, giving him an appointment

If the dominus was alone or in residence only for a short time, it may not have
been worth the time and fuel required to heat the baths, especially if a nearby urban
center offered public baths, as in the case of Pliny’s Laurentine villa. See Ep. 2.17: in
hoc (i.e. vico) balinea meritoria tria, magna commoditas, si forte balineum domi vel subitus adventus
vel brevior mora clafacere dissuadeat.
CIL XIV.4015: In [hi]s praedis Aure/liae Faustinianae/balineus lavat mo/re urbico et
omnis/humanitas presta/tur.
Dunbabin 1996: 72. The permanent indication in the mosaic oors means that
the couches were intended to cover that space all the time, whereas previously rooms
used for dining were used for different purposes and occasion, with movable furniture.
For a study on the origins of triclinia in the Roman house, with analysis of the posi-
tion of triclinia in houses in Pompeii see A. P. Zaccaria Ruggiu, Origine del triclinio nella
casa romana, in G. Cavalieri Manasse and E. Rofa (eds.), Splendida civitas nostra. Studi
archeologici in onore di Antonio Frova, Roma 1995: 137–54.
192 chapter seven

in the balnea Stephani, which were just next to Martial’s house.51 In the
Satyricon, Trimalchio receives his dinner guests in a balneum, which
appears to be next to his house and which he presumably owns,52 and
one can compare this kind of arrangement with the “real” example
of the praedia of Iulia Felix in Pompeii. Then, in the middle of the
banquet, Trimalchio invites the guests to take a hot bath, thus allow-
ing for a change of triclinium afterwards.53 This time, it seems that the
bath suite is part of Trimalchio’s own house. For a later period, Dio
recounts an episode involving Trajan, who, in order to show his trust
in Licinius Sura, went to his house, dismissed his body guard, called
the barber to shave him, took a bath and nally dined there.54
These examples are all set in an urban context, where, if the house
completely lacked bath suites or large baths, the alternative of using
nearby public baths was available. But a villa complex, often not close
enough to an urban center to make using the public baths there con-
venient, had its own baths. In the case of dinner invitations, we can
assume that often, if not always, the social ritual that included bathing
before or during dining was performed at the villa. When Pliny writes
to enquire about his friend Caninus Rufus in Comum and his life in his
suburbanum, the baths and the large dining halls are placed at the end
of a list of villa-features, as part of an imaginary itinerary following
the common usage of the different parts of the villa:
Quid suburbanum amoenissimum? Quid illa porticus verna semper? (. . .) Quid illa mol-
lis et tamen solida gestatio? Quid balineum illud, quod plurimus sol implet et circumit?
Quid triclinia illa popularia, illa paucorum? Quid cubicula diurna, nocturna?.55
The distinction Pliny makes between triclinia for a large number of
guests ( popularia) and ones for family and intimate friends ( paucorum)

Mart. 11.52. At 12.50 the poet sarcastically addresses a villa owner-who possesses
magnicent baths large enough for many people, but not proper dining halls and
bedrooms. The expected relationship between bathing and dining is thus implied.
Petron. Sat. 26.10 ff.
Petron., Sat. 72.2–73.5. Dining and its setting already constituted a means of
displaying power and wealth as early as 182 b.c., when one of the rst sumptuary
laws regulating dining expenditure was promulgated. Laws on this matter were still
being promulgated in the early Empire, progressively increasing the limit of expenses
allowed and the type and quantity of food to be served.
Dio (Epit) 68.15.6.
Pliny Ep. 1.3.1–2: “What about your lovely suburban villa? And its portico where
is always spring, (. . .) the soft, and yet rm (ground of the) promenade, the baths, which
are full of sunshine? What about the dining rooms, the ones for a large crowd and
those for few people? What about the day and night cubicles?”.
villa topography 193

is another indication of the widespread social practice of giving large

banquets on a regular basis, now codied in the architectural forms.
When an owner was also a patronus of nearby communities, the status
and prestige of the family had to be reected in his villa; hence the
“necessity” of having fashionable bath quarters, triclinia, nymphea, and
The villa in Massaciuccoli, which belonged to the Venulei Aproniani,
underwent two major restorations—larger baths were added under the
Flavians in conjunction with the construction in Pisae of new public
baths, a gift of the family; and later, during the second century, new
restoration enhanced the retaining wall of the substructures of the
bath quarters with the addition of a series of niches for statuary. At
this time we know that one member of the family, cos. in 168 a.d., was
patronus of Lucca.56 In the case of private donations to communities,
as Papi’s monograph showed57 at least in the case of Etruria, there is
a clear difference in the types of private donations between the early
and mid-Empire. Under the Julio-Claudians, benefactors earmarked
their donations for various kinds of public buildings, from temples to
bridges to aqueducts. After a period of scarce private donations under
the Flavians, private municence started up again in the second century,
under Trajan. At this time, donations in Etruria are mostly directed at
the organization of one-time events, such as banquets, the distribution
of wine and sweets, oil for the baths, etc., rather than to the construc-
tion of buildings.58 The exception to this trend appears to be only one
type of building, public baths, which became the object of numerous
private and also Imperial donations to towns in Etruria,59 thus align-
ing the tendency to favor the baths in Italian towns with that already
discussed favoring them in the villas.
The different possibilities available to a villa-owner to show his or her
favor through patronage and the resultant social interactions between
a patronus and the recipients of his generosity can be illustrated with
the example of Pliny.
Although Tifernum Tiberinum was not particularly close to Rome,
Pliny was at times compelled to go to Tifernum because of his “duties”
as patronus of the town. He was named patronus by the local decuriones

See data in the Catalogue: T28.
Papi 2000.
Idem: 125 ff.
See also Ciampoltrini 1993.
194 chapter seven

as an adolescent, as we learn from one of his letters,60 probably when

he acquired the estate there by inheritance from his uncle. Local com-
munities seem to be particularly far-sighted at times in choosing their
protectors and in bestowing the honor of patronatus, thus putting the
honored person under the obligation of being a benefactor. Pliny had
a temple built in Tifernum pecunia sua and found the time to go there
for the dedication, on his way to visit his wife’s grandfather, Fabatus,
in Comum.61 He also asked permission from Trajan to transfer to the
municipium of Tifernum, which evidently lacked such ornamenta, the
inherited statues of former emperors that were in his villa.62 The town’s
population was very pleased with their patronus, since Pliny wrote that
they “always celebrate my arrival, express sorrow at my departure and
rejoice of my honors”.63 In Comum, Pliny’s hometown, his largitiones
took the form of a library and a monetary contribution to hire a teacher
for the schooling of the youngsters.
From several of his letters, we learn that during his sojourns in villa,
Pliny often had to attend to a series of social obligations, which kept
him away from his studies—he had to arbitrate legal disputes, hear
the complains of his tenants, and perform his duties as patronus.64 In
Comum, one has to add to this list encounters with old friends, which
kept Pliny’s bond to his hometown strong and generated new social
relations. For instance, in one case, he decided to contribute to an old
friend’s “income” so that he could move from the rank of decurio to
that of eques, thus “increasing his dignity” (augere dignitatem tuam debeam)
and guaranteeing that he would show gratitude to Pliny in the future
(te memorem huius muneris amicitiae nostrae diuturnitas spondet).65 On a differ-
ent occasion, when Pliny decided to take the initiative concerning the
lack of a schoolteacher in Comum, the impression we get is that the
praetextatus and his son paid him a visit with the hope of obtaining just
that from their famous fellow-citizen.66 In any case, from the letter it
is clear that the father wanted to introduce his son to Pliny (and to his

Pliny Ep. 4.1.4.
Pliny Ep. 10.8.
Pliny Ep. 4.1.4: adventus meos (oppidum) celebrat, profectionibus angitur, honoribus gaudet.
Pliny Ep. 7.30; 9.15; 9.36 written from the villa at Tifernum.
Pliny Ep. 1.19, letter to Romatius Firmus.
Pliny Ep. 4.13. On friendship and patronage and its economic advantages and
implications see Verboven 2002, which focuses on the late Republican period, but also
discusses evidence offered by Seneca’s and Pliny the Younger’s writings.
villa topography 195

eventual protection) and that they were paying him the morning hom-
age (venit ad me salutandum). These acts of municence on Pliny’s part
induced the beneciary to be grateful and obliged, and in turn gener-
ated more occasions for social interactions, from dinner invitations to
business meetings to more casual encounters. It would be nonsense to
think that when Pliny went to his villa in Tuscis, or to visit his property
in Comum, he enjoyed a solitary retreat in the countryside.67
Tangible signs of reverence on the part of members of local com-
munities towards important villa-owners, as presented in the cases of the
Volusii and Neratii, were also directed to women. For instance, Laberia
Hostilia Crispina, daughter of the consul M. Laberius Maximus and
wife of C. Brutius Presens, an important gure during the reigns of
Trajan and Hadrian, is honored as patrona in an inscription found at
Trebula Mutuesca, modern Monteleone Sabino.68 It is interesting to
note that in this case the inscription is placed on the initiative of the
mulieres of Trebula, who collected the money necessary to honor their
patrona. It is generally assumed that as patrona of Trebula, Crispina
owned estates in that territory. Her husband was also a landowner in
the area. Not far from Trebula, on the west side of Monte Calvo and
next to the Madonna Dei Colori church, a large and luxurious villa
has been known since 1824. The villa, famous for the statues that were

See Pliny. Ep. 9.36 about his daily routine while in the villa at Tifernum: interveniunt
amici ex proximis oppidis partemque diei ad se trahunt. For the many friends from “regio mea” =
Comum see Syme 1985 and Champlin 2001 for discussion of the various friends,
many of equestrian background, mentioned in the epistolary, who can be related to
Tifernum and neighboring cities in Umbria (primarily urban centers to the south of
Tifernum T.). As rightly pointed out by Champlin, the information from the letters
reect only a part of his complex social network (what Pliny decided to publish in
accordance with the image of himself he wanted to present); on the political mean-
ing of the concept of friendship in Pliny’s epistolary see de Blois 2001. For instance,
from the letters we do not know of any special interest in or link with Hispellum, but
fragmentary epigraphic evidence indicate that Pliny left in his will a bequest to build
a public building there; see Champlin, ibid.: 123–124.
Torelli 1962. For the text of the inscription, see Catalogue: L143. Laberia also
appears in an inscription from the Cicolano (northeast of Trebula) recording her
testamentary bequest for the erection of a silver statue to Aesculapius weighing 100
pounds (CIL IX.4512). Women gave donations to the towns in the same way men did.
Donations were made by both aristocratic and non-aristocratic women. For instance,
Ummidia Quadratilla donated an amphitheater and a temple to her hometown of
Casinum (ILS 5628: Ummidia C. f./Quadratilla/amphitheatrum et/templum Casinatibus/sua
pecunia fecit). This is the same Ummidia mentioned at Pliny, Ep. 7.24, who used to have
a personal troupe of pantomimes. On the other end of the social scale we can place
the freedwoman Iulia Hilara, who in Forum Novum (Vescovio) offered public games
in honor of the gens Sabina (Gaffney et al. 2000).
196 chapter seven

recovered in it, belonged to C. Brutius Presens.69 We can imagine that

Laberia Crispina had given some contribution to the town, and was thus
honored with the inscription. To what specically the “ob merita” men-
tioned in the closing of the inscription refers, we do not know; possibly
some kind of largitiones, which particularly beneted the women of the
community. Such was the case when a certain Fabia Agrippina “adver-
tised” her donation of one million sesterces in support of the girls of
Ostia.70 The restoration and/or construction of public buildings is also
a possibility in the case of Laberia Crispina. We have many examples
of women “patronizing” a community by sponsoring the construction
of public buildings. To cite one instance from a gens we have already
encountered in our study, Volusia Cornelia, possibly the daughter of
Q. Volusius Saturninus (cos. 56 a.d.), restored a theater in the area of
the famous sanctuary of Nemi. Her deed is recorded in a monumental
inscription, displayed today in the Museo delle Terme di Diocleziano
in Rome, which was probably placed on the frons scenae building.71 This
is an interesting case, since it is possible that the theater was part of a
private estate. According to several scholars, the theater was not public
(i.e., belonging to the sanctuary), but was part of a luxurious villa, pos-
sibly owned rst by Caligula and then passed to Volusia Cornelia.72 It
is known that one branch of the Volusii family had a praedium in the
area of Nemi, and stulae bearing Volusia Cornelia’s name were also
found. If the hypothesis is correct that the theater was part of a villa,
it raises the interesting question of why such an inscription would be
displayed. In the “private” realm of a villa, what would have been the
sense of monumentally recording the restoration? We have to consider
that the inscription was intended for the guests that happened to be at

Ownership is shown by stamped stulae aquariae and bricks, see Catalogue: L143.
The many statues discovered in this villa are now, with few exceptions, in the Glyptotek
in Copenhagen.
Dixon 2001: 108.
AE 1932.68. For a picture of the inscription see Friggeri 2001: 84. The theater,
whose rst phase has been attributed to the late Republican period, was excavated
by E. Gatti between 1924 and 1928 and then backlled; see E. Polito, “Un gruppo
di lastre marmoree con rafgurazioni di armi e Muse dal teatro di Nemi” in Brandt,
Dupré Raventós and Ghini 2003: 251–258.
Coarelli 1981: 103; Coarelli 1987: 180–183; Friggeri 2001: 84; in favor of the
theater being part of the sanctuary of Nemi: M. G. Granino Cecere, “Contributo
dell’epigraa per la storia del santuario nemorense”, in Brandt, Leander Touati, and
Zahle 2000, 35–44.
villa topography 197

the villa, be they friends sharing a vacation or neighboring villa-owners

and notables invited to dinner and other kinds of entertainments within
the villa. The very presence of a theater in a villa, if this is indeed
the case, suggests the nature and scale of the entertainments that took
place there, which must have been addressed to people other than the
members of the family.
A similar case of construction of a building recorded by an inscrip-
tion and considered by scholars to be part of a villa is the monumental
natatio discovered in Formia in the 1920s.73 The pool, which was framed
by a complex architectural scenography and displayed various pieces of
original Hellenistic sculptures, was ca. 85 m long. A fragmentary inscrip-
tion attributed the construction of the complex, or at least its restoration,
to the future emperor Nerva, during the year of his second consulate
in 90 a.d.74 If the opinion that this monumental complex was part of
Nerva’s villa is correct,75 the inscription would be extraordinary and
rather puzzling, not only for the ofcial nomenclature it displays, with
indication of tribe and consulate, but also for the formula “sua pecunia”:
in the private setting of a villa, what would be the point of asserting
that something was built with the owner’s money? It is probably safer
in this case to think also of some kind of public building rather than
a villa, although if the hypothesis of the villa put forward for Volusia
Cornelia and for Nerva should be true, this would force us to recon-
sider Roman elite attitudes in the Imperial period towards one’s private
properties, felt to be as much a part of the public urban landscape of
municence and display as the “proper” public buildings.
In conclusion, a new type of involvement in the life of local com-
munities and relations with local notables caused the villa to become a
means of displaying one’s public achievements, while entertainments,
such as banquets and bathing, offered in larger and more lavish villas,
were reected in the construction of larger triclinia and bath quarters.
Dedications such as the Neratii statues or the inscription to Laberia
Crispina illustrate the close relationship between villa-owners and
notables of local communities, and how, especially from the second
century onwards, villas are considered, both by the recipient of the

Catalogue: L113.
Cassieri 2003: 228, footnote 18: M. Cocceius M. f. Pa. Nerva cos II s. p.
Cassieri 2003: 226; she suggests that the inscription should indicate that somehow
the public could access the part of the villa where the natatio was.
198 chapter seven

honor and by the dedicator, an appropriate setting for the display

of such honoric dedications. The villa had acquired a full “public”
dimension with respect to the owner’s career and social position, which
rendered it interchangeable, as a venue for display of one’s position in
society, with the family domus.



In publications on villa-sites in Italy it is not uncommon to read that,

starting in the second century a.d., and continuing into the third, villas
were progressively being abandoned; their function as elite residences
and production units for cash crops ceased, while squatters dwelled in
precarious living conditions in the abandoned structures. Archaeologists
reached these conclusions on the basis of evidence for the subdivision
of large rooms into smaller living quarters, of poor, crude repairs, and
the reutilization of elegant residential parts for utilitarian purposes, such
as workshops, storerooms, and so on.
These data—combined with the fact that, by the mid-Empire, Italy
was no longer exporting agricultural goods, such as wine, but was
importing them from the provinces—generated the widespread view that
most villas ceased to be units of agricultural production, and that the
crisis of Italian agriculture also caused a crisis in the “villa system.”
The idea that imports of wine and oil from Spain and Gaul put
Italian slave-labor estates in difculties, forcing a move towards tenancy
and extensive cereal agriculture goes back to Rostovtzeff.1 Alternative
theories have also been put forward by historians, for instance Staer-
man’s idea that the slave mode of production experienced an internal
crisis due to the contradictions of its form of economic organization,
which led to escalating costs of supervising production, fuelled by the
owners’ desire to increase their prots.2 Regardless of the initial cause,
both theories agreed on the nal result: the decline in the protability
of Italian agriculture and the collapse of the villa system, which led
to a crisis in the economy and society as a whole. Even though some
of the elements produced in support of the idea of the commercial
competition of the provinces, such as the famous edict by Domitian in
92 a.d., ordering the destruction of half the vineyards in the provinces

Morley 1996: 135.
200 chapter eight


Number of Villas




92 91


2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD

Figure 19. Number of villas and attested chronology of occupation.

and prohibiting the establishment of new ones in Italy3 (which was

interpreted as a protectionist measure in support of Italian agriculture),
have been re-evaluated in the context of a shortage of cereals, and of
possible over-planting of vines after the eruption of Vesuvius,4 signs
of demise at villa sites have generally been framed in the context of a
“second century crisis”.5
Although most of the villa-sites considered in this study present only
partial archaeological data, it is worth trying to determine any signi-
cant chronological pattern that may emerge in regard to the attested
phases of occupation, while remembering that these data should be
treated with the awareness that they reect only what was discovered
and published about each villa.6
The available data on villa chronological phases does indeed show
that in all three regions a decrease in the number of occupied-villas

Suet., Domit. 7.2.
Tchernia 1986: 221–253.
For a discussion of the scholarly position on this “crisis” and re-evaluation of
the evidence as being an inversion of the commercial trends between Italy and the
provinces see Chapter 4 and Lo Cascio, “Introduzione”, in Lo Cascio and Storchi
Marino 2001: 8–9; Andreau 1994.
In regard to the use of pottery forms as datable elements, it should be remembered
that many late Imperial vessel types were produced and used for a long time, from the
third/fourth to the late fth/sixth centuries.
the chronology of villas 201

occurred after a peak in the rst century a.d. (Figure 19)7 The fact that
the spread of elite villas can be regarded as a typical late Republican
phenomenon, as emerges from ancient literary texts and from modern
studies taking into account topographical and archaeological data, is
clearly exemplied in the dramatic increase between the second century
b.c. and the rst century b.c., when villas almost triple in number.
Interestingly, if we consider the attested rst and last phases of occupa-
tion of the sites, the number of villas that seem to have been built in
the rst century a.d., and those which apparently ceased to be occu-
pied in the same time period is identical (125 villas each). (Figure 20)
At rst, this fact seems to show that the abandonment of villas had
already begun in the rst century a.d., earlier than hypothesized.
Although the increase of imports to Italy from the provinces started
to occur during the rst century, the two events cannot be linked by
a causal relation. A certain period had to have occurred before the
changed economic situation could have an impact on the economy of
villas, and before proprietors would have found it increasingly difcult
to place their products on the market.
In this rst century a.d. scenario, therefore, the increase in provincial
imports would be chronologically too close to the demise of villas to
be a causal connection, and other explanations for the phenomenon
should be sought. We should ask, for instance, whether the high number
of sites which ceased to be occupied reects rather the normal pattern
in “occupation habits” and the great increase in the number of vil-
las constructed in the period.8 In other words, if we posit that a villa
was usually in use for three generations, i.e., one hundred years, and
that a great increase occurred in the construction of villas in the early
rst century a.d. (indeed many of the rst century villas can be more
precisely dated to the Julio-Claudian period), a proportional number
of villas would have ceased to be used at the end of the century. From
this perspective, what at rst appears as an abnormal contraction,
caused by some undetermined external factor, in reality would be only
the outcome of the great intensication in the number of villas built,
which followed the usual occupation pattern of one hundred years.
Was this the case?

The chronological data for the villas listed in the Catalogue are provided in the
Appendixes and discussed in detail in the Introduction to the Catalogue.
The large number of villas known only by the existence of a basis villae, where no
survey or excavation was carried out, can of course skew these data.
202 chapter eight



Number of Villas




4 2 0
2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD

Centuries - Latium


Number of Villas



2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD

Centuries - Umbria

Figure 20. Start and end date of villa occupation.

If we distribute villas according to the length of their occupation (one,

two, three, etc. hundreds of years), we see that the highest percentage
was in use for one hundred years only, but 74% of the datable sites
had an occupation span longer than a century (Figure 21). The number
of sites showing an occupation that lasted for ve, six, or even seven
centuries, although small, still seems representative of the fact that a
the chronology of villas 203


Number of Villas (%)

20% 19%




1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Centuries of Occupation

Figure 21. Length of villa occupation.

villa was usually kept up and occupied for a very long time;9 therefore,
it seems that the data on the end date of villa occupation reect insuf-
cient excavation and/or lack of datable nds rather the actual history
of villa occupation. For instance, the villas excavated in the early 20th
century, when the focus of the research and recording was, for politi-
cal and ideological reasons, the rst century period, the “golden age
of the Empire”, or those dated only on the basis of the recognizable
building technique of visible remains, such as opus reticulatum, may
skew the data in favor of the rst century. If only a rst century a.d.
phase was recorded the villa will be recorded as having been built and
abandoned in that century.
What conclusions can we then draw on the economic crisis and
disappearance of villas in Italy considering the partiality of the data?
Many villas produced evidence of some kind of occupation down to
at least the third century, in several cases the fourth and fth. The rst

For the purpose of this work, the charts showing the villa chronology start with
the second century b.c., but if one considers that in some instances, especially in
the suburbium of Rome, much earlier phases have been detected in villas, often just
smaller buildings (farms), either obliterated by the construction of a larger complex
or enlarged and incorporated in the new villa, the occupation span of some sites was
actually longer.
204 chapter eight

distinction that needs to be made, however, is that during the mid- to

late Empire, there is a difference between the “life” of maritime villas
and that of rural ones. In general, as has been recognized already by
various scholars, coastal villas continued without interruption to be used
as luxurious residences by members of the elite. The furnishing of these
villas was kept up-to-date, and new sectors were added according to
the taste and fashion of the time. These considerations are particularly
valid in the case of sites within easy reach of Rome—for example, the
Laurentine coast and Alsium, where materials recovered in villas can
be dated up to the sixth century a.d.—but are by no means limited to
them. Even villas built on the small islands off the coast of Tuscany
were still ourishing at least as late as the mid-Empire—the remains
on Giannutri and Giglio Island attest to lavish second-century archi-
tectural phases.10
Thus, the social function of coastal villas as elite residences does not
seem to change over time. The crucial question to ask, then, in the
case of coastal villas, is whether their economic function also remained
unaltered throughout this period. With the exception of a few specic
cases, such as the temporary abandonment of the villas on Elba Island
in conjunction with a reduction in the utilization of the iron mines,11
there seems to be no evidence pointing to the interruption of economic
activities in these coastal establishments. For instance, I have already
noted that the fact that new piscinae were generally not built during the
late-second and third centuries a.d. does not necessarily imply that sh-
breeding ceased to take place. The pools were regularly repaired and
restored in these centuries, and so must have continued to be in use.
Even for rural villas, we have indication of earlier shponds continuing
in use throughout the third century a.d.12 In the case of rural villas,
it seems that shponds for sh-breeding decayed later, in the fth and
sixth centuries, and possibly we could connect this phenomenon with
the blocking of part of the Tiber to breed sh: the disappearance of
the production from the ponds may have prompted the exploitation
of the river.13

In some cases (e.g. Capraia) in the late Empire monastic communities occupied
villas on the small island off the coast of Tuscany.
See Chapter 2.
See Catalogue: L363.
We know that Theodoric ordered the removal of these blockings because they
impeded navigation on the river (Alvino and Leggio 1995: 204).
the chronology of villas 205

Medieval documents mentioning the donation of the maritime

complex of Torre Astura to the Benedictine monastery of S. Alessio in
Rome refer to the shponds and shing rights as part of the donation,
thus implying that the shponds were functioning at this time, prob-
ably with no interruption since late antiquity. Furthermore, the coastal
location and harbor installations of maritime villas allowed many of
them to function as commercial stop-off points along trade routes and
probably as distribution points for goods toward inland centers. Such
is the case of most villas along the coast or on the islands of Tuscany.14
The villa della Tagliata and the settlement of Portus Finilie, near Cosa,
performed this function after the harbor of Cosa had declined,15 as did
the harbor of the villa on Giglio Island, where cargoes recovered from
shipwrecks include mid- and late-Imperial African amphorae.
The important change that occurred on some of these estates during
the mid-Empire concerns their ownership status. Testamentary legacies
had progressively transferred many of the coastal villas to the Imperial
scus. This meant that some of these villas were no longer regularly
used as a place of retreat for the owner, since the emperor had many
estates to choose from. Imperial slaves or freedmen were appointed as
the overseers of these properties, as shown by epigraphic evidence.16
For instance, the Roman villa buried under Castel Odescalchi in Palo,
ancient Alsium, believed by some scholars to have belonged rst to
Pompey and later to Caesar, was certainly part of the Imperial scus by
the second century a.d., as attested by the funerary inscription of the
procurator Augusti villae Alsiensi.17 The same fate touched the large coastal

Ciampoltrini 1994–95 stresses the decline of harbor cities in Tuscany during the
empire, substituted by villas-ports (“ville-approdi”) belonging in most cases to the Impe-
rial scus. In his view, this shows the intervention of the Imperial house in regulating
commercial trafc to guarantee supplies for Rome, with no attention to the population
of the region itself. But these goods from overseas were reaching inland centers as
well, as a look at the nds from rural villas show; therefore, in my opinion it cannot
be denied that goods were also distributed regionally from these ville-approdi. The case
of villas in Umbria is different, because there the distribution of provincial products
clearly originated from Rome, via the Tiber.
It seems that the nearby settlement of Portus Finilie, on the Tombolo di Feniglia,
which is attested as a harbor down to the medieval time, slowly became the main port
of the area in Imperial time, no longer as a town, but as a large maritime villa. See
Calastri 1999.
Ciampoltrini, ibidem, also analyzes the change in the social fabric of the coastal
centers of Tuscany, such as Populonia and Elba Island, under the Empire, when inscrip-
tions show a heightened concentration of slaves and freedmen versus the predominance
of local free families in the Augustan age.
CIL XI.3720; see Catalogue: L153.
206 chapter eight

villa at Marina di S. Nicola, where a stula was found stamped with

the name of Elagabalus and the title of deus Sol Magnus. In the case of
some other villas, ownership by the emperor is presumed when a spe-
cic lineage became extinct, as for the Volusii villa at Lucus Feroniae,
or else on the basis of the recovery of many statues of members of
the Imperial family. This last criterion, however, is not reliable and
does not necessarily demonstrate Imperial ownership, considering that
non-Imperial members of the elite would also have had similar statu-
ary ensembles on their estates. Maritime villas that changed ownership
in this way were nonetheless kept up-to-date in their furnishing and,
as the epigraphic attestation of procuratores and dispensatores tells us, the
property was administered and expected to be economically productive.
At the above-mentioned villa of Marina di S. Nicola, excavations have
turned up signs of works related to agricultural cultivation, possibly of
vineyards, dating to the third century at the earliest. Once they had
become part of the scus, the ownership of these villas could change
again; indeed, they could always go back into the hands of members
of the elite through ofcial gifts or auctions beneting the Imperial
Overall, the archaeological record conrms the picture given by
Rutilius Namatianus in his poem De Reditu Suo for the early fth century:
maritime villas like the one belonging to his friend Caecina Albinus at
Vada Volterrana18 were still used as elite residences, except for those
located on certain islands, where communities of monks sometimes
took refuge.
Turning to rural villas, we nd that, on the contrary, most sites pres-
ent those particular structural signs that have led scholars to theorize
the widespread abandonment of villas and their progressive decay.
The crude restorations mentioned above for the mid- and late Imperial
phases are often accompanied by the use of some rooms or part of the
villa for burials. Often, such a “necropolis” contains exclusively infant
burials, as in the case of the very elegant villa partially excavated at
Lugnano in Teverina. At this site, a section of the villa, which seems

The villa excavated by the University of Pisa at S. Vincenzino, near Cecina, has
been commonly identied with Caecina’s villa. The site shows architectural phases
down to the third century a.d. and African pottery of the fourth and fth centuries.
See Catalogue: T24.
the chronology of villas 207

to have been already in ruins by the late Empire, was used as an infant
cemetery, possibly as a result of an epidemic of malaria.19
The fragmentary status of the archaeological record, however, should
caution us that we are possibly considering only part of the overall
picture. In fact, a large villa excavated at Ossaia, near Cortona, offers
quite different data. Between the second and fourth centuries a.d.,
the villa underwent major architectural changes. Previously residential
rooms were turned into a workshop for the production of pottery and
lamps; another part of the villa fell into complete disuse, while some
rooms indicate a redistribution of space through the creation of new
walls, datable by their brickwork.20
If this part of the complex alone had been excavated, it would have
fallen into the general trend of decline assumed for country establish-
ments in Italy. But further excavations revealed contrasting data. In
a phase immediately following the installation of the workshop, the
ground of the colonnaded garden was carefully leveled to accommodate
a lavish opus sectile oor in precious marble. Moreover, the amount of
pottery recovered for the third and fourth centuries was greater than
for other chronological phases, including both imported and locally
produced types, such as African red slipware and Middle Adriatic terra
sigillata. These data not only show that the villa was still “active,” but
also that it was used, as before, as a residence by its dominus. Indeed,
the evidence offered by the elegant and expensive marble oor rules
out the supposition of “squatters” to account for the workshop or the
downsizing in other parts of the villa. Transformations could occur in
a villa with regard to furnishings and the distribution of space when
it changed owner. It is possible that the changes discussed above in
the case of the Ossaia villa were the result of new ownership, since
the property seems to have passed from the hands of the Vibii Pansae
to Caius and Lucius Caesar in the Augustan period, and then to a
freedman of Aulus Gellius in the second century a.d.21 It is legitimate,
then, to ask whether other sites exhibiting poorer living conditions in
their mid- to late-Imperial phases might not also have offered similar

See Soren 1999. Infants, as is often the case, are buried using amphorae as cofns,
and this custom offers information on the type and origin of the products reaching
and circulating at a given site. Catalogue U7.
Fracchia and Gualtieri 1996. See Catalogue: T14.
This evidence rests on names recovered on brick-stamps at the site; in this case
the excavators think that the tiles and bricks were produced on the estate for internal
needs and thus consider the stamp a good indication of change of ownership.
208 chapter eight

evidence of more elegant furnishings in other sectors, if only they had

been fully excavated.
Ossaia is not the only example of a country villa showing a high
quality architectural phase between the late-second and fth centuries
a.d. The bath complex—possibly the entirety—of a villa near Tar-
quinia,22 discussed in Chapter 6, was built ex novo in the third century
a.d. The only pottery recovered at this site dates from the third to fth
centuries, and consists entirely of forms produced in Africa. A similar
picture emerges from the town of Villa S. Giovanni in Tuscia, outside
of Blera,23 where a large villa was fortuitously discovered during public
and private works in different parts of the town. The datable evidence,
consisting of building techniques and the iconography of the mosa-
ics and statuary, points to the late Empire, and it is possible that this
luxurious villa, which left its mark on the very name of the town, was
built ex novo in the third century.
Different regional situations need to be taken into account in try-
ing to explain the fragmented picture presented by the chronology of
rural villas in Central Italy. In the villas of the Ager Cosanus, traces of
abandonment of the structures have been dated to the late second
century, but the picture reconstructed for the area of the nearby colony
of Saturnia is rather different. The various villas identied in this ter-
ritory, concentrated along the roads leading to the urban center and
around it, show no signs of “crisis” in the late second century and this
fact has led to the hypothesis that the fundi were engaged in extensive
cultivation and not in intensive wine making.24
In southern Tuscany/northern Latium, the area corresponding to
ancient southern Etruria, new building activity, both public and private,
can be detected in conjunction with the administrative reorganization
of the region into the district of Tuscia Annonaria.25 In Umbria, on
the other hand, the presence of villas with high quality, fourth/fth-
centuries phases—indicating their function as both elite residences and
economic units of production—should be related to the fact that the
region was an important link between Rome and the Imperial capital

See Catalogue: L266.
See Catalogue: L39.
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 151; the fundi belonging to these villae were larger
than the ones calculated for the Ager Cosanus villas (ca. 250 ha), ranging between 600
and 1,600 ha.
Ciampoltrini 1990.
the chronology of villas 209

of Ravenna.26 The trend is very evident in the area around Ravenna,

where the number of elite residences dramatically increased after the
city became the capital of the Western Empire.27 Latium presents many
examples of villas on higher hills which were used until the fth century,
then progressively transformed into villages and castles—the phenom-
enon of incastellamento—in relation to monasteries. This is the case of
the large Roman villa near the medieval castle of Morolo, connected
to the Benedictine monasteries of S. Silvestro on the Monte Soratte
and Sant’Andrea in Flumine.28 In centers such as Tusculum that had a
long history of elite villa settlement, villas continued to be used as elite
residences well into the third century, although many properties were
incorporated into the Imperial scus as early as the early Empire.29 It
is for the fourth and fth centuries that archaeological evidence for the
occupation in the villas in this area becomes scarce, probably reecting
the collapse of Tusculum as a vacation spot.
Surveys and excavations have documented the persistence into the
late Empire of high-status villa in other geographical areas. The vil-
las located around Farfa, in the upper Tiber Valley continued to be
occupied into the seventh century; similarly, in the region of Abruzzo,
large villas survived down to the sixth-seventh centuries.30 The territory
of Pisa and Volterra offer evidence of small villa-sites persisting into
the fourth century, while in the Biferno valley large villas have phases
of occupation dated to the fth century.31
Taking all of this into account, there are, however, many fairly well
excavated rural villas that exhibit clear evidence of downsizing and
burial practices, with no indication of continuing use as upper-class

The fact that most of the villas in this region seem to have been in ruins by the
sixth century is probably a consequence of the struggle between the Goths and the
Byzantine Empire, and, later, the struggle for the creation of the Longobard duchy at
Spoleto, events which greatly affected the urban centers in the region. See Bruschetti
1996: 166–67.
On the contrary, the area closer to Mediolanum, which became capital of the
Western Roman Empire in 286 until the seat was transferred to Ravenna, does not seem
to have had as consequence of this a diffusion of elite villas, which are well attested in
the more scenographic areas of the sub alpine lakes of Garda, Iseo, etc., where elite
from Mediolanum would retire to (see Aug. Confessions 9.3–4 for the rus Cassiciacum).
However, in the whole Cisalpine region under Theodoric various villas and hunting
palaces were used by the king and the court ofcials (Rofa 1997).
Camilli and Vitali Rosati 1995: 410.
See Catalogue under Tusculum.
Staffa 2000.
Dyson 2003: 94–95.
210 chapter eight

mansions. In some instances, after a phase of abandonment following

the violent destruction of a villa, the site is occupied again, frequently
displaying those characteristics of a lower standard of living. Such is
the case at the villa at Campo della Chiesa (Scansano), where, after a
violent re in the late rst century a.d. and an indeterminate period
of abandonment, the site and surviving structures of the villa were
divided into smaller living quarters and occupied again; and at the villa
at La Befa, which also shows signs of destruction by re and a later
transformation of the mansion into a rustic building.32
How, then, should we read this evidence? Undoubtedly, during the
second and third centuries a.d., the “villa system” underwent major
transformations—witness the change in product distribution patterns
from provincial to regional markets, and the possibly considerable impact
of the second-century plague on rural and urban demography33—but
data like those collected at Ossaia imply a need to reconsider the idea
that the crisis of the Italian villa-system was total.
Two different issues are related with the concept of crisis of rural
elite villas in modern studies. On one hand the idea that most villas
ceased to be used as elite residences because they were “abandoned”
by the owners; on the other hand the implication that this abandon-
ment was both caused by and at the same time determined the frag-
mentation of the system of land exploitation: abandoned villas meant
abandoned lands.
The assumption that lower standards of living in country villas meant,
by and large, that they ceased to function as units of agricultural pro-
duction seems to me to be faulty. As stated some years ago,34 we should
consider the possibility that the supposed signs of abandonment in villas
are, on the contrary, signs of “use as-is.” In other words, owners could
have decided to keep fashionably up-to-date only one villa, leaving
the others, possibly rented to coloni, unchanged. Various reasons could

See Catalogue: T44; T6.
Contra the idea of depopulation in Italy, at least in the rst half of the second
century, see Lo Cascio 2003: 4 ff. He theorizes a situation of overpopulation, resulting
in too much pressure on the economic and natural resources, and in high availability
of manpower, thus explaining the high rate of turnover in the management of fundi
and the short lease contracts. The link between the apparent abandonment of villas
in the West and population decline in the late Empire has been questioned by Lewit
1991: 41–43; Whittaker and Garnsey 1998: 280; Van Ossel and Ouzoulias 2000
among others.
Métraux 1998.
the chronology of villas 211

explain such a practice, expressly stated in Pliny and other sources.

Indeed, in a letter addressed to his friend Calvisius Rufus, evaluating
the pros and cons of buying an estate next to his own at Tifernum
Tiberinum, Pliny lists the great advantage of not having to worry about
furnishing another villa, while some of the personnel could also be
shared between the two estates, to considerable economic advantage.35
Pliny was certainly not the only proprietor ready to choose this solution.
The gromaticus Hyginus, also writing in the time of Trajan, refers as
well to possessores who opt to maintain only a few villas as aristocratic
residences, while “abandoning” others.36 Take as an example the case
of Sabina, one of the regions where country villas were most prevalent.
Here as well, country villas exhibit architectural signs of “crisis” in the
late Empire. But Sabine wine was still widely produced and appreciated
in the fourth century, as shown by Diocletian’s edict on prices, and in
the sixth, as mentioned by Cassiodorus.37
As pointed out by Vera, signs of abandonment in second- and
third-century villas rarely mean abandonment of the land as well, but
should be instead explained as a result of the concentration of proper-
ties, the reorganization of the mode of production, and the growing
importance of the pagus-vicus structure as an administrative unit.38 In
the area of Saturnia, eld survey data seem to indicate that some elite
villas were abandoned in the second century a.d., while the fundi were
still cultivated by workmen residing in a nearby village, perhaps a sign
of the concentration of properties and the keeping up of fewer villas
as residences, as discussed by Pliny in his letter.39 For later periods,
Symmachus’ epistolary and the biography of Melaina, indicate that

Pliny Ep. 3.19: [. . .] quod non minus utile quam voluptuosum posse utraque eadem opera,
eodem viatico invisere, sub eodem procuratore ac paene iisdem actoribus habere, unam villam colere
et ornare, alternam tantum tueri. Inest huic computationi sumptus supellectilis, sumptus atriensium,
topiarum, fabrorum atque etiam venatori instrumenti; quae plurimum refert unum in locum conferas
an in diversa dispergas.
Hyg. Grom., 170, p. 124 (Behrends 2000 = Th. 93): Praeterea solent quidam complu-
rium fundorum continuorum domini, ut fere t duos aut tres agros uni villae contribuere et terminus
qui niebant singulos agros relinquere: desertis villis ceteris praeter eamcui contribute sunt vicini non
contenti suis nibus tollunt terminus quibus possessio ipsorum nitur, et eos quibus inter fundos unius
domini nes observantur sibi defendant.
Alvino and Leggio 1995: 204.
Vera 1994: 245. Also Mancassola and Saggioro 2000: 315, stressing that a change
in type of villa settlement does not automatically translate in a change and/or crisis
in the structure of land property and land management.
Carandini and Cambi 2002: 217.
212 chapter eight

their large estates in Campania and Sicily were divided in various plots
cultivated in an autonomous way by coloni and their families.40
The picture presented by the archaeological data can thus be
explained by the concentration of land property in the hands of a small
number of landowners (Pliny’s example of furnishing just one villa);
by a preference for the use of coloni in the cultivation of fundi (renting
both land and villa to the colonus, since the landowner had many other
villas to reside in if he wanted to); and, nally, by the reduced appeal
of a particular area as a seat for prolonged sojourns.
This last circumstance could come about for a variety of reasons.
As stated in the previous chapter, the location of the Imperial seat was
an important factor in determining the social and political geography
of elite villas in Italy. When the Imperial seat was moved from Rome
to the cities of Milan and Ravenna in Northern Italy, members of the
aristocracy may have ceased to reside in villas near Rome, choosing
other properties in the north. In fact, the only thing that can be safely
inferred from the evidence for the “downsizing” of villas is that some
of them ceased to be used as aristocratic residences.41
The case of Albano is exemplary in this context. During the reign
of Septimius Severus, an important and innovative decision was taken
with regard to this region: a new legion was created and deployed next
to Rome. The II Legio Parthica Severiana was deployed at the castra Albana
in Albano, an action which seems not to have “affected” the presence
or use of villas in the area. On the contrary, it has been suggested
that the decay of villas in the area in the late third century a.d. is to
be related to the deployment of the legion to another location in the
mid-third century a.d., which would have caused a demographic and
economic decrease affecting some villas.42 Personally, I am disinclined
to view the shift detectable in certain villas43 from “elite” to “down-
sized” residence, with part of the villa used for burials, as the result of
the legion’s departure. It can hardly be a coincidence that this event
overlaps with another important change regarding Albano. After the
Severans, the emperor’s visits to his residences there became increas-

Reference given by Carandini and Cambi 2002: 226.
See infra for discussion of recent suggestion that “downsizing” of villas—at least
in the fth and sixth centuries—is not a secure indicator that they ceased to be used
as elite residences.
Chiarucci 2000: 188.
See Catalogne: L2.
the chronology of villas 213

ingly less frequent. If we consider, in addition, Constantine’s dona-

tion of the Imperial massa of Albano to the bishop of the town,44 we
have a more likely set of reasons for the “downsizing” of villas in the
area of Albano after such a long era of splendor. All of these factors
resulted in some villas no longer being maintained as well appointed
elite residences, but still functioning as units of agricultural production
and lodging for farmers.
Other areas, too—for example, Tibur and Tusculum, where many
villas had long been Imperial properties—may no longer have been
regarded as preferred seats of elite retreat owing to the “absence” of
the emperor. In addition, there are other pertinent factors that com-
plicate the situation in each area, warning against easy generalizations.
The emergence of the Church, for instance, had an impact on villa
property in certain areas. Constantine’s donation of the Imperial massa
of Albano to the local bishop was not the only time that property
belonging to the Imperial scus, including land and villas, was donated
for the benet of the early Church. In such cases, it is likely that the
Church rented the land to several families of farmers; some villas may
have been divided into smaller sections to accommodate them. This
plausible explanation also accounts for the fact that in the countryside,
in medieval times, churches or monasteries were often built on the spots
previously occupied by Roman villas, as in the case of the creation
of the Pievi in Tuscany. It has already been suggested that, in the late
Empire, the increase of farmer-renters, either free or slave, and mostly
living on farms and vici, ought to be related to the concentration of
property and the reorganization of land-use.45 The transformation of
some villas, then, from aristocratic residences to rural establishments
coordinating the production of several fundi, as well as an increase in
storage facilities,46 should also be attributed to this phenomenon, and
not to a generalized crisis in the villa system.
The villa excavated at Pieve Vecchia di Casal Marittimo, near
Volterra, provides an example of the type of pattern I have presented
above. Built in the early Empire, the mansion underwent restorations
and changes in plan at several different times, and seems to have ceased

See Chiarucci 2000: 179; the source is the Liber Ponticalis, Silvester I.185.XXX.
Vera 1994.
For example, Site 10 at Tor Bella Monaca on the Via Gabina (Catalogue: L372)
presents the addition of a long building in the late Empire, at least part of which can
be surely identied as storage space for grain.
214 chapter eight

to be used as an aristocratic residence sometime in the fourth or fth

century a.d.47 Later, a pieve and cemetery were established on the site
of the villa. Other sites in the same area, classiable as medium-sized
farms rather than villas, with evidence of engagement in a combination
of agriculture and animal husbandry, do not seem to show any signs
of crisis in the second century. Only where there was a considerable
economic intensication before this date, does one observe signs of
contraction in this period.48
As I have already discussed in Chapter 5, there seem to be several
preconceptions at work in the evaluation of Italian villas and agricul-
ture in the second century a.d. The interpretation of data from some
villa-sites in Umbria as suggestive of crisis as early as the late rst
century49 can be corrected by comparing these sites with others in the
same region, which have been better excavated. Here, the presence of
amphorae showing imports of garum, olive oil, and olives in the mid-
Empire should not be seen as indicative of a cessation of agricultural
production; these same items were imported in the early Empire as well,
and with reason: they had never been typical of the region.
Recent studies focusing on Central Italy are adding new data and
working to correct the theory of a second-century crisis.50 Indeed,
one of the factors contributing to the development of the second-
century crisis idea was the result of the South Etruria survey, showing
a lack of second- and third-century pottery. But, just as the theory of
wide-spread villas employing gangs of slaves is being re-evaluated by
scholars, emphasizing various regional situations with a mixed economy,
so, too, are new eld surveys, the re-evaluation of materials from the

The villa was excavated in 1930 by Paribeni, but no record was made of the
abundant ceramics recovered, so it is difcult to establish the chronology of the various
phases. The terminus post quem for the abandonment of the villa is a coin of F. Valerius
Severus (306–307 a.d.). Catalogue: T50.
L. Motta, “Etruscan and Roman Farmers in Northern Etruria: the site at
S. Mario and the Cecina Valley Survey,” paper delivered at the 2004 AIA annual
meeting, San Francisco.
Monacchi 1991: 183, discussing the villa near Penna in Teverina, at Pennavecchia.
Different conclusions can bee reached when interpreting the data in the light of the
results of the excavation at S. Giustino (discussed in Chapter 4).
For instance, see Camilli and Vitali Rosati 1995 about the survey in the Ager
Capenas: a majority of the large villa-sites present pottery dating down to the end of
the importation of African sigillata; similar data come from the Farfa survey. For the
Ager Faliscus, a slight reduction in the number of sites is noted for the third century,
but “questa crisi sembra essere di tono ben minore di quanto normalmente asserito,” Camilli,
et al. 1995: 399.
the chronology of villas 215

South Etruria project,51 and the development of a more precise chro-

nology for certain pottery types, changing the pattern of villa occupa-
tion, and pushing it later into the Empire.52 New data are even now
being collected that seem to go against the past tendency to see in the
second century the onset of decline. Investigations in central Marche
(Picenum) located several sites in the area of Monte Priori, interpreted
as large villas occupied down to late antiquity. The entire area seems
to have begun to ourish precisely in the second century a.d., in the
time of Trajan and Hadrian.53 In the territory of Capena and Veii,
the quantity and quality of rural villas datable to the second century
show, according to researchers, “no signs indicating a crisis”.54 Needless
to say that there are cases when a villa had been clearly abandoned
for some time before part of the structures were used again in some
kind of fashion,55 but the answer to the question about the density of
villas and quality of villa occupation in Italy under the Empire varies
greatly according to geographic area. As Lafon noticed, the decrease
in the number of elite villas that seems to occur in Latium and Etruria
starting in the second century a.d. is balanced by an opposite tendency
in “peripheral” regions, such as Calabria and Sicily.56 Similarly, various

The pottery material recovered in the South Etruria survey and other data are
being re-studied as part of the larger Tiber Valley Project, a collaboration between
scholars of twelve British universities under the aegis of the British School at Rome.
See Patterson et al. 2004.
In regard to the size of rural establishments as determined by eld surveys, it
has to be remembered that data from a eld survey are partial and must be handled
with the awareness that they are not incontrovertible. When a survey is carried out at
different times in a eld subject to cultivation (i.e., to the dispersal of the archaeologi-
cal material by means of deep plowing), one can have very different outcomes. A test
carried out by Graeme Barker in his Biferno Valley survey, in Molise, showed that the
same site, surveyed twice at an interval of four years, yielded different results. In fact,
a small Classical site with a dense concentration of material became, in the second
survey, a large, diffuse scatter of abraded material. Another site, very rich in potsherds
and building rubble, was later marked only by sporadic tiles (Barker 1995: 49).
F. Vermeule, “The Potenza Valley Survey (Central Italy). From Acculturation
to Social Complexity in Antiquity: a Regional Geo-Archeological and Historical
Approach”, paper delivered at the 2003 AIAC Congress, Boston.
Camilli and Vitali Rosati 1995: 408, “la mancanza di segnali di crisi”.
As in the case of the villa on the via Ostiense, in use until the rst half of the
second century and then systematically deprived of building material; third century
burials at this site were dug into thick ood deposits from the Tiber that covered the
villa after its abandonment. See Di Gennaro and Griesbach 2003: 154, site 34.
Lafon 1994: 221. For instance see the large and luxurious late Imperial residence
at Piazza Armerina in Sicily, either belonging to Imperial high class functionary or
to the emperor (opinions vary), the Late Antique villa at Patti, near Messina and the
“villa del Tellaro” outside Noto, smaller than Piazza Armerina but similar in typology
216 chapter eight

villas in Northern Italy in the area of Lake Garda or the territory

between the modern cities of Brescia and Bergamo show monumental
architectural phases in the third and fourth centuries, comprising bath
quarters, large reception halls with apses, etc.57
Furthermore, vessels recovered in villas and related to foodstuffs
imported from overseas seem to be connected with phases of occupa-
tion by squatters in an unsatisfactory way. What are we to understand
when we read that a villa was taken over by squatters?
Nowhere in these publications is an explanation given of what the
term “squatters” signies in this particular context. Are we meant to
understand that people used the structures illegally and temporarily as
living quarters? Or that they settled in them for the long-term, cultivat-
ing land neglected and forgotten by the property owner? What kind of
resources did these “squatters” have? Were these impoverished people
living from hand-to-mouth?
The vessels of imported goods recovered at villa-sites indicate that
the people living there were able to participate in the commercial
transactions necessary to acquire such goods, an element that does not
seem to be symptomatic of economic crisis. For instance, pottery nds
from villas in Umbria pertaining to the later Imperial period show the
acquisition in considerable quantities of imported goods such as garum,
other sh products and olive oil, provincial goods that were easily
distributed in this area from Rome via the Tiber. The villa at Poggio
Gramignano showed rich evidence of imported foodstuff for the fourth
and fth centuries, when part of the structure seem to have been in
ruin and an infant cemetery was installed in another section of the
villa; but, as also pointed out by A. Martin, the data indicate that the
community on that site was still able to participate in a wide-ranging
commercial network, leaving the label of this phase as that “of squatter
occupation” rather unsatisfactory.58

and in rich polychrome mosaics, or the later phases of occupation of the villa at S.
Giovanni in Ruoti, modern Basilicata.
For instance the villas at Desenzano, Sirmione—via Antiche Mura, Monzambano,
etc. See Mancassola and Saggioro 2000: 316–317, and Rofa 1997.
A. Martin, “Amphorae” in Soren 1999: 329–362 (see also his contributions in the
same volume on African red-slip and lamps). See also Marzano 2005 for a treatment
of this topic in relation to villas in Umbria and the Catalogue in this volume for data
on the villa sites.
the chronology of villas 217

The villa of Settenestre near Cosa, very often taken as the model
for the evolution of villas in the area of Central Italy, appeared to have
been largely abandoned by the Severan period, after a phase of intense
re-modeling of the mansion under Trajan, when the bath quarters
and the large courtyard (“slave quarters”) discussed in Chapter 5 were
built. But the nearby large villa of Le Colonne, although not excavated
as extensively as Settenestre, shows a more complex and less linear
occupation history.59 The phases of the villa, as reconstructed by the
material nds, appear to indicate alternating phases of occupation and
break of occupation that largely coincide with the moment of decline
and revival of the town of Cosa itself. The villa, whose construction
is dated by Dyson to the late second/early rst centuries b.c., shows a
rst break of occupation as early as the rst century b.c., followed by a
renewal in the Augustan/Tiberian period; another break of occupation
(as attested by the evidence of recovered coins) occurred in the mid-
rst century, in conjunction with serious damage caused by earthquake.
Renewed occupation occurred and continued for much of the second
century, with the next break of occupation dated to the mid-third, fol-
lowed by a revival in the Constantinian period that continued down to
the sixth an possibly seventh centuries, as attested both by coin nds
and abundant African red-slip ware.60 These dates seem to coincide
with the development followed by Cosa: break of occupation after the
probable sack by pirates in the 70s b.c.; revival under Augustus; damage
by earthquake in 51 a.d.; intense economic activity in the Antonine
period, as shown by coins and pottery;61 decline again in the Severan
period, with vain Imperial attempts to revive the community, but with
some kind of occupation continuing until the sixth century.62
Although the structural changes that occurred in the villa of Le
Colonne in the later periods showed no sign of the luxury typical of
the earlier phases and were mostly utilitarian in nature, Dyson rejects
the model of squatter occupation, pointing out that the numerous and

The two villas of Settenestre and Le Colonne have similar architectural typology
(e.g. wall with fake turrets enclosing the garden area, etc.) and it is supposed that the
same architect(s) may have designed them; Dyson 2002: 222.
Dyson, cit.: 222–223.
Dyson, cit.: 224.
Fentress 1994: 212–218; in the forum, the shrine to Bacchus was used throughout
this period and Cosa seems to continue its existence as a small service centre for sur-
rounding rural communities.
218 chapter eight

varied artifacts recovered attest to the persistence of household rituals,

such as formal dining. He reaches the same conclusions that I have
delineated above, stressing that “whoever the people were who were
living at Le Colonne from the second to the fth/sixth centuries a.d.
they were still deeply involved in the Roman market economy, selling
their agricultural goods and purchasing products of the Roman con-
sumer culture.”63
The different picture of villa occupation that emerges from two sites
so close to each other, Settenestre and Le Colonne, and how these data
have been differently related to the wider social and economic history
of Roman Central Italy, warns us again against simple generalizations.
In this respect I wonder to what extent the construction of the negative
picture of decline in rural estates rested not only on the architectural
and archaeological evidence discussed above, but also on the concept
of a villa’s self-sufciency, acquired from the ancient sources, from
Cato onward.64 In other words, I wonder if the presence of imported
foodstuffs at country villas was, more or less consciously, seen as a sign
of decay because the villa was “supposed” to produce these products,
not to acquire them on external markets. This idealistic expectation,
combined with evidence of simpler living conditions at once luxurious
villas, may have induced scholars to explain the phenomena with a
concept of crisis and squatter-occupation rather than to posit a change
in the mode of estate-management practiced by the landowners.
The frequent presence of burials within the structures of villas in
the late Imperial periods—starting in the third century with increased
frequency in the fourth, fth and sixth centuries—needs further discus-
sion, since this evidence is problematic if we are to consider villas, if
not as elite residences, then at least as being occupied by people that
dwelled there regularly. The presence of burials within the walls or
grouped around habitation structures, blurring the classical separation
between areas for the living and those used for burials,65 has been
exploited as the strongest evidence that people living in precarious
conditions temporarily occupied abandoned buildings.

Dyson 2002: 224.
On the idea of rural villas self-sufciency in ancient sources see Chapter 3.
In early Rome, continuing a practice attested for the Iron Age, infants were often
buried in the house.
the chronology of villas 219

This phenomenon is not limited to Central Italy, but occurs in the

rest of the peninsula and outside Italy as well: between the fth and
seventh centuries the practice is attested in villas in Gaul, the Rhine-
Danube region, Britain and Spain.66 In Chapter 1 we discussed the
role of villas as places of memory and the choice made by members
of the elite to have their monumental tombs and mausolea built on their
estates, but the Late Antique burial practice, of placing tombs in one
or more rooms of a villa, is very different from earlier customs. In the
former case the tombs of the villa personnel or the monumental tombs
of the owners were located at a distance from the habitation quarters
or along the road that lead to the villa.
How then are we to account for burials within villas in the late
Empire? Some recent studies have proposed explanations that do not
necessarily see in this practice signs of abandonment and decline.
T. Lewit, focusing on villas in the West in the fth and sixth centuries,
has argued that rural elites were still inhabiting villas, even if these
structures no longer looked like the elegant pars urbana of the classical
Roman villa. By drawing comparison with urban dwellings, which
in the same chronological period show similar changes in usage and
typology (downsizing, creation of workshops in habitations, disregard
of elegant features such as mosaic oors, use of poor building materi-
als, burials,67 etc.), she argues:
(this) evidence reveals a widespread disregard for the classical aesthetic
and lifestyle in both towns and villas. With the fading of Roman power
such cultural forms were no longer relevant. Roman buildings continued
to be used, but they were used in new ways that suited a new mentality.
(. . .) we must reject the equation of non-classical forms with decline or
Since we know that both urban and rural elite continued to exist,69
Lewit’s rhetorical question “where did they live?” is justied, because
one does not nd many residences showing evident elite status. There

Lewit 2003: 262, notes 6–9 for bibliographical references on individual sites in
the provinces.
Also in Rome one nds, in the fth and sixth centuries, burials within the city;
Di Gennaro and Griesbach 2003: 124.
Lewit 2003: 271.
For instance Lewit, ibidem: 263, note 19, cites the case of wealthy rural burials in
monolithic sarcophagi with luxury items such as jewelry and glass contemporaneous
with the disappearance of villas in N Gaul and Rhineland.
220 chapter eight

are a few cases where archaeological evidence shows, in a clear man-

ner, that owner occupation continued alongside burials in villas. For
instance the villa of Mienne-Marboué had a pars urbana with a fth
century mosaic giving the name of the possible Frankish owner and
other elegant architectural features, while the former pars rustica was
occupied by high-status burials.70 But in most cases architectural décor
is absent, perishable building materials are used, as shown by traces of
wooden posts, and parts of the villa that had had a fundamental role
in the Roman social and daily practices, such as the bath quarters are
converted to burial ground or utilitarian use.71 Even when the tomb
shows that the deceased had economic means and was not an impov-
erished person, as in the case of the sarcophagus found in the baths
of the villa at Mola di Monte Gelato, the surrounding structures do
not show a typology that we would associate with elite status.72 Hence,
Lewit stresses the deep social and cultural changes which occurred in
the West with the transformation of the Roman Empire into the so-
called Romano-barbarian kingdoms, the role of Christianity (for this
period, capital investment in long lasting structures employing mosa-
ics and marbles is found in churches and baptisteries), and the use
of archaeologically invisible material such as tapestries and painted
stucco to decorate residences built in re-used bricks, timber or wattle
and daub.73

Lewit 2003: 270.
Ibidem: 261–262, and notes 3, 5, 6. Among the various villas showing tombs in
the former baths are Grand-Couronne, Plasnes, and Menneval in N Gaul; at Séviac
(Aquitania) a grain silo was installed in the bath quarters. For examples of villas in
Latium where tombs were placed next to the villa’s hydraulic infrastructure, usually
related to the baths (thus indicating that the bath quarters had already fell into disuse)
see Di Gennaro and Griesbach 2003: site 6 and 20 in their gazetteer.
T. W. Potter, “Towns and territories in southern Etruria” in Rich and Wallace-
Hadrill 1992, 191–209.
Lewit, ibidem: 268, quotes as examples the large building in Toulouse, possibly
the Visigothic palace, which was built re-using building materials and whose walls
were decorate with polychrome frescoes preserved only in small fragments and the
elite settlement at Yeavering (sixth and seventh centuries), built entirely in wood and
revealed only through aerial photography. To these building practices, one must add
the use of friable, and difcult to date, local pottery.
the chronology of villas 221

Lewit’s observations for the fth and sixth centuries in the western
part of the former Roman empire74 are valid to a certain extent,75 but
cannot be easily applied to the preceding centuries. As noted above,
signs of “decadence” appear in Italian rural villas starting in the third
century, in some instances as early as the second century, as in the case
of Settenestre. If the change in the mode of the administration of
land property and the concentration of land and villas in the hands
of fewer proprietors, that we outlined above, can in part explain the
transformation in the physical appearance of villas in the period, the
presence of burials remains problematic.76 In the previous periods, even
in the case of farmsteads and vici, there was always a clear demarcation
between habitations and necropoleis; thus, positing that some villas were
just used “as is” with poor quality repairs and given to coloni does not
explain the phenomenon of burials within the walls of villas.
It seems to me that one could suggest two possible explanations. We
could hypothesize that practical considerations were behind it: since
not the whole of a villa was used for habitation it was preferred to use
these areas as cemetery, leaving the elds free of burials—it is to be
remembered that in the Imperial period inhumation was the prevalent
practice—to be used for cultivation. But the fact that in this period the
intense network of land-works and irrigation systems that characterized
the landscape of Republican and early Imperial Italy (terracing walls,
dykes, drainage channels, etc.) fell into disuse seems to be against an
interest in intense agricultural exploitation. Alternatively, we should
explain the phenomenon as the result of a profound change in the

The study of Roman villas in the eastern part of the empire (especially Greece,
where research has privileged the Classical period, neglecting Roman phases and
Asia Minor, where studies on villas have addressed art historical matters) has only
recently started to interest scholars; it would be very interesting to ascertain whether
in these regions late Imperial villas follow a different patterns from the ones in the
West. Griesbach (Di Gennaro and Griesbach 2003: 137, n. 21) mentions that there
are examples of the phenomenon also in the East, but we do not yet have the same
amount of data as for the West.
See Bowes and Gutteridge 2005 for a discussion of the lack of an adequate deni-
tion of the term ‘elite’ in Lewit’s article and for the failure to pick up in certain examples
a new sociology of occupation (i.e., multiple family groups living in the structures of
villas, but whose new focus of aggregation is a church built on site.
Cases of Imperial burials occupying earlier structures are also known (i.e. in the
territory of Fidenae tombs of the Imperial age occupied Republican structures, Di
Gennaro and Griesbach 2003: 138), but in these cases tombs are not next to or in
residential quarters as for the Late Antique examples.
222 chapter eight

spiritual beliefs of the time that affected the established relationship

between living and dead. In fact, recent studies, focusing in particular
on the territory of Rome and on the practice of burials in villas, have
stressed the radical change in spirituality brought about by Christianity.77
Death is no longer feared but is celebrated as the occasion of eternal
life; in the same way as burials are placed in paleo-Christian churches
or are physically connected to basilicas in relation to the cult of the
martyrs (mausolea retro sanctos) and a new funerary cult arises, so could
the burials in villas indicate the desire, of the people living there, to
have a stricter connection with the departed ones, perhaps mediated
by a physical connection within the same architectonical structure.78
Indeed late antiquity is also the period when mausolea are incorporated
into villas and Imperial residences, as in the case of the villa ad duos
lauros, where in the fourth century the Severan mausoleum is included
in the residential complex, or of the mausoleum of Diocletian in the
palace at Split, which was included in the complex protocol of the
ofcial ceremonies.
To recapitulate, although we can say that in certain areas in the
mid- and late Empire some rural villas ceased to be used as elite resi-
dences, thus showing a transformation in what used to be one of the
primary functions of villas (together with production of goods for the
commercial market), they ceased neither to be part of the organization
of agricultural exploitation of the land nor to participate in the wider
system of exchanges of the Roman economy. Factors determining the
falling out of use of certain villas as elite residences, or practices such
as burials in villas, can be better explained in the context of changed
social, political and religious conditions, such as the establishment of a
new capital, the absence of the emperor in a given area or the spread
of Christianity, rather than with the crisis of Italian agriculture caused
by provincial competition.

Di Gennaro and Griesbach 2003, with a catalogue of villas with burials in Latium,
especially in the suburbium of Rome, but also comprising some examples in other Italian
regions; the catalogue includes also unpublished data.
Ibidem: 146.

The aim of this book has been to examine the role and function of
elite villas in Roman society and economy, bringing together literary
and archaeological data, in the regions of Central Tyrrhenian Italy,
where villas had a great diffusion from the late second century b.c.
The rst point that emerges from this study and that needs to be
stressed is the intensity of human intervention on this natural landscape
in the Roman period and the high degree of investment, in capital and
labor, that we can observe. This phenomenon has become more and
more clear with the completion of new topographical research, and
makes Central Italy somehow stand out as atypical in the Mediterranean
context. It is a phenomenon that comprised not only the construction
of numerous villas and farms, and the centuriation of the land, but also
major land and hydraulic works. Terracing of hill-sides against erosion,
monumental drainage works—just think of the thousands of Dressel
amphorae laid in the plain of Fondi to drain the soil from excess water
in conjunction with wine production—construction of dams, cisterns
and channels for water supply and irrigation, are some examples of the
works aimed at the intensication of agricultural production.
In some areas the signs of intense cultivation, such as the trenches
for vines dug in the tufa plateau discovered in various areas around
Rome, date back as early as the sixth/fth centuries b.c. It was, how-
ever, only from the mid-Republican period onwards that this type of
intervention on the landscape reached an intensity that points to notable
investment of capital and labor. It has been noted that, in the area that
in antiquity constituted southern Etruria, the degree of exploitation of
the land by humans was much higher in the Imperial period that it is
nowadays, as shown by the many villa sites identied in areas currently
covered by dense woods.1 Capital and labor, however, were not only
channeled into the agricultural sector and rural establishments. The
number of maritime villas equipped with elaborate shponds, which

Carandini and Cambi 2002: 142; intense deforestation occurred in this area until
the third century a.d. Horden and Purcell 2000, ch. VII for discussion of human
exploitation of the environment.
224 conclusions

needed specialized labor not only for their construction, but also for
their daily maintenance, points in the same direction.
Recently, an invitation to be prudent in seeing the emergence of all
villas as a direct consequence of increasing agricultural intensication
has been put forward. Terrenato pointed out that, while some of the
villas intended for display may also have been a form of investment
for money amassed through more hazardous enterprise, there is little
direct indication that they were source of their owners’ afuence.2 This
observation rests in part on the fact that the increase in agricultural
exploitation, signied by amphora production, precedes by ca. 150
years the appearance of elite villas in the same areas, and can be
instead related to sites that have been classied as Hellenistic farms.
From this perspective, villas can be seen as an architectural fashion,
rather than as a “system” of land exploitation. It is undoubtedly true
that agricultural intensication preceded the appearance of elite vil-
las with rich residential quarters and production areas, but if we take
into account the evidence for production quarters attested at most of
the sites, and consider not just agricultural exploitation among the
production activities that occurred on villa estates, the fact that these
properties generated wealth for the owner cannot be underestimated.
It was certainly not the only source of wealth, as elite investments had
always been diversied. The fact that the works of Varro and Colu-
mella on agriculture theorized and systematized the idea of villas as
production units, while certainly indicative of the authors’ ideas and
agenda, shows that they had an audience receptive to the idea that
the villa and its production was meant to generate wealth. Whether
in most cases the owner was successful in managing his/her villas we
cannot say, but elite expectations in this sense persisted, as shown by
the case of the two Quintilii brothers, owners of the famous villa on
the Via Appia, who in the second century a.d. wrote a work (now lost)
on agriculture in Greek.
The second point I would like to raise is that the variation in the
settlement patterns between the three regions, which has the number of
villas recorded for Latium immensely outnumbering those for Tuscany
and Umbria, with all the caveats about the status and quality of the
evidence which I have outlined, shows Roman trends in the occupation
of the territory as much as it also reects modern research activities in

Terrenato 2001a: 27.
conclusions 225

the area. The antiquities of the Campagna Romana, although the area
underwent large-scale urban development and increased agricultural
exploitation in the aftermath of World War II which destroyed much of
the archaeological evidence, have been the object of numerous studies
since the days of the Grand Tour. Paintings, drawings and souvenir
prints produced by and for travelers at the time offer a precious glimpse
of ruins that were once standing in the Roman countryside and have
since disappeared.
The great attention focused on the territory of Latium is reected
also in the number of volumes in the Forma Italiae series devoted to
areas in this region, much more numerous than what was done for
Tuscany and Umbria, although other projects, such as M. Toarelli’s
Atlante dei siti archeologici della Toscana (Rome, 1992) have attempted to
redress the balance.3
The analysis of the body of archaeological data assembled in this
book for the regions of Tuscany, Latium and Umbria—albeit fragmen-
tary—has shown the deep discrepancies which exist between the “idea”
of villas, as constructed in literary works, and the “reality” of villas, as
revealed by the physical evidence. This aspect is most evident in the case
of maritime villas, where analysis of a sample large enough to highlight
trends and patterns illustrate the degree to which coastal villas and
surrounding estates offered advantageous settings for a variety of eco-
nomic enterprises—from sh-breeding and wine-making to quarrying
and iron-mining. The idea that these villas, represented in the ancient
texts as luxurious, costly, and extravagant leisure retreats for the upper
classes, were relatively unproductive is corrected by the archaeological
record, which indicates the existence of production quarters in these
complexes. It is perhaps the very fact that maritime villas would offer
a varied array of possible remunerative economic activities, beyond
agriculture, that led to the downplaying of their economic role in the
writings of the ancient authors.
On an ideological level, agriculture remained the only respectable
way of investing capital for a member of the upper classes, and the only
way to gain respectability for those who made their fortunes through
different pursuits; other forms of investment, even if common among

Nontheless, inland Etruria remains not intensively surveyd, and studies had to rely
heavily on place names and epigraphic evidence in order to reconstruct the type of
settlement patterns in the territory, for instance Chellini 1993.
226 conclusions

the elite, were not openly discussed in literary works, and the country
villa remains the focus of the Roman upper-class ideology of prot.
Nevertheless, in the case of coastal estates, the desire of members of
the elite to possess villas in certain geographical locations was not just a
matter of choosing fashionable vacation spots and locations command-
ing dramatic views of the landscape. In some cases, maritime villas,
combining the possibility of exploiting various natural resources with the
ease of shipping by sea, had more to offer than did rural estates. Thus,
it is important to re-evaluate, in a systematic way, the economic role
played by coastal villas in the overall scheme of upper-class economic
investments. It seems that studies on villas in the provinces have been
quicker to recognize the existence of economic activity at maritime
villas, a trend exemplied by J. G. Gorges’s study of villas and salting
installations in Hispania.4
If the villa set in the countryside and engaged in agriculture is pre-
sented in literary works as the place of production, both production of
goods and intellectual production, the constructive otium discussed in
many texts,5 maritime villas had a different and ambivalent ideological
dimension. On one hand the villa maritima had the potential to symbolize
the control and order imposed over a wild natural landscape, with its
owner as “civilizer.”6 On the other hand, any excess or exaggeration in
the architecture of maritime villas, could be viewed as a subversion of
the natural world in an immoral manner, re-proposing the old literary
topos of hubris, as in the case of Lucullus and his building projects in
the Bay of Naples.7
This dimension can be fully understood only when data from a large
number of sites are compared. The long-lasting prevalence in certain
modern studies of the same idea originally put forward by the ancient
literary sources—namely, that maritime villas best embodied the con-
spicuous consumption and extravagant habits of the upper class—was
in fact the result of partial excavations, which in most cases focused only
on the lavish residential quarters, neglecting the service areas of the
complexes. Starting with John D’Arms’ realization that even the luxury
villas that dotted the Bay of Naples, always described in the ancient

J. G. Gorges, Les villas hispano-romaines, Paris 1979.
Think also of the many literary works in dialogue form that are set in rural
Cf. Stat., Silv. 2.2.
Vell. Pat. 2.33.4.
conclusions 227

literary sources as the ultimate examples of luxus, were not completely

devoid of economic aspects, but incorporated series of satellite farms
engaged in agricultural production both for the main villa and for the
market, more attention has increasingly been given to the “economic
dimension” of maritime villas.8
Where sites have been more completely excavated and consideration
given also to their location in relation to the immediate surroundings,
the connection between maritime villas and economic activities has
emerged. As we have seen, topographical studies in the area of ancient
Alsium or of Castrum Novum have outlined the connection between
large coastal villas and inland medium and small-sized farms, which
were part of the fundi controlled by the larger settlements. In this area,
sites such as the villa at Marina di S. Nicola or the one at Punta della
Vipera, equipped with presses and storage facilities, remind us how the
processing of agricultural produce could take place in what were also
very elegant and lavish residences. In southern Latium, particularly
in the area of Torre Astura, the relationship between large villa sites,
shponds and kilns for the production of amphorae, perhaps used for
the packaging of sh products, offers another example of the economic
dimension of maritime villas.
There is also a noticeable opposition between the literary and archae-
ological evidence relating to country villas, though it is not nearly as
pronounced as in the case of maritime ones. The ideology of villa
life—encompassing study, hunting, the enjoyment of the landscape and
the immersion in the ars topiaria—is placed rmly in the foreground
of accounts such as the one given by Pliny the Younger about his villa
in Tuscis, while practicalities such as those revealed by the excavations
(the pars rustica and the addition of a large covered working area and
a new trading vat) are either left unmentioned or consigned to the
The economic issues surrounding rural estates, as well as their
interrelation with architectural forms and typology are quite complex.
Modern scholarship has tended to focus on their association with the
introduction of a new mode of production, constituting a linear tran-
sition from family-run estates and an economy of self-sufciency, to
investment agriculture for the production of cash-crops, based on the
intensive exploitation of slave labor. The spread of this villa-system,

Lafon 2001.
228 conclusions

based on increasingly large estates—the latifundia that according to

Pliny the Elder’s famous passage “ruined Italy”9—determined the
progressive disappearance of small- and medium-sized property and
free farmers.
Villas excavated in Central Italy have often been framed in this
context. The exceptional character of the villa of Settenestre (one
of the very few villas in Italy to have been fully excavated following
stratigraphic methodology) has caused it to be proposed as the para-
digm of a model that has too often been mechanically applied at other
sites with similar architectural features to the one of Settenestre. For
this reason, in the area discussed in the ancient texts in relation to
slave-staffed villas, modular rooms arranged around a courtyard are
too often identied as slave quarters. The reinterpretation of the data
from Settenestre offered in this study shows that, in the case of these
supposed slave quarters, the interpretation of the data by Carandini and
his team is questionable. Both ancient literary testimony and modern
models proposed for the Roman economy appear to have inuenced the
current analysis of the data from Settenestre. As has been said, that
interpretation was a supposition, resting on what the ancient agrono-
mists tells us.10 It is rather surprising that this interpretation was never
questioned; so surprising that one might ask how much the inuential
personality of Andrea Carandini contributed to the acceptance and
longevity of the Settenestre model in villa-studies. Without deny-
ing the presence of slaves on the Settenestre estate, a multi-purpose
function for the complex seems more probable, since nothing in the
archaeological record undoubtedly points to an interpretation of the
whole of that courtyard-complex as slave-housing. The implications
of this re-assessment are important, since this villa ceases to be a valid
model for the interpretation of other villa-sites. The villa of the Volusii
Saturnini at Lucus Feroniae is a clear illustration of the scholarly desire
to nd archaeological evidence for slave quarters on rural estates, even
where particular architectural features speak against it.
It seems to me that this desire to nd evidence for slave quarters has
led to the underestimation of two possibilities. One is the possibility
that such dwellings were built using perishable materials, such as wood,
and that therefore they left no traces in the archaeological record. After

Plin., NH 18.35.
Purcell 1988: 197.
conclusions 229

all, it makes more sense to posit the existence of subsidiary buildings

around the villa than to imagine fettered slaves living in a colonnaded
courtyard located next to the pars urbana, as in the case of the Volusii
villa. In reality, the possibilities for the usage of space in villas were
numerous, and no doubt much more exible than the writings of either
Varro or Columella indicate.
The second underestimated possibility is that villas employing slave
gangs, the Tusca ergastula reported in the literary sources, were less wide-
spread than most have thought,11 and that a combination of slave labor,
hired seasonal workers and tenants should be posited in the management
of many estates. Although the dubious nature of the “proof ” offered
by the evidence from Settenestre with regard to slave quarters in villas
does not necessarily imply that current assumptions about the Roman
economy and the slave mode of production are incorrect, it should
warn us that in this geographic area rural land-management strategies
were more varied than the Settenestre excavation and the survey of
the Valle d’Oro initially suggested.12 In fact, peasant small-holdings and
slave-staffed villas were mutually dependent, and, as Rathbone put it,
“the villa system did not operate as a straightforward slave mode of
Concerning the geographical distribution of villas, I have tried to
overcome the polarity emphasized in many modern studies between
the countryside on the one hand, and Rome on the other, focusing
instead on the topographical relationship of villas to their immediate
surroundings. The location of a villa is always related to infrastructure,
i.e. roads, aqueducts, harbors and so on; but the most signicant fac-
tors in determining the number of elite villas in a given area are the
presence and proximity of towns and, in Imperial times, of residences
belonging to the emperor.
Indeed, large elite villas appear to be more numerous in those geo-
graphic areas, like Latium and southern Tuscany, which present a
higher degree of urbanization; and the presence of Imperial residences
in a given territory was important in determining the maintenance of
villas as aristocratic residences. As the cases of Albano and the litus

See the observations on this issue in Wilson 2004.
See Carandini and Cambi 2002 for the presentation of a more complex and
variegated picture regarding settlement patterns and agricultural exploitation in a
large area around Cosa.
Rathbone 1981: 13.
230 conclusions

Laurentinum show, many elite villas were located in close proximity

to an Imperial residence. The importance of maintaining social and
political connections with the emperor and his court, in addition to the
prestige that came to those who could boast a villa in the same area as
the emperor’s, had a key role in determining the up-keep of villas in
given areas; together with the fact that often such areas would present
better infrastructures, i.e., aqueducts or better roads.
Tibur exemplies this situation well. The intensity of building activity
at villas in Tibur under Hadrian is clearly connected to the construction
of Hadrian’s Villa and to the presence of the emperor at this residence.
In fact, although beautication of villas is a widespread phenomenon in
the second century, various villas in Tibur present architectural phases
dated precisely to the Hadrianic period. While aristocratic villas in the
area were thus re-furbished and improved to offer their owners every
comfort during their frequent visits, they also remained central to the
management of the region’s economic exploitation. In these areas, vil-
las ceased to be used as elite residences only after the presence of the
emperor became less and less constant. In Albano, the fact that villas
ceased to be used as elite residences (but not as units of agricultural
production) after the Severans seems to be linked to the increasingly
infrequent presence of the emperor at his palaces there.
The close proximity of many villas to urban centers, as in the well
known case of the Volusii villa at Lucus Feroniae, points to a change
that occurred in the Imperial period in the ideological perception of
the villa’s architectural space. Just as the involvement of villa-owners
in local affairs changed through the institutions of patroni and curatores
civitatum, so did the way villas were seen. During the Republic, villas
were status symbols, displaying wealth and power (especially maritime
villas) and the maximization of economic returns (especially rural
ones). Under the Empire, to these aspects we can add the idea that a
villa reected the owner’s public persona, just as his domus in Rome or
another city did. The architectural space of a villa became the proper
frame for the display of one’s achievements in politics and public life.
It is in this sense that I read the evidence proffered by the so-called
lararium in the Volusii villa, displaying several marble inscriptions with
the cursus honorum of various members of the family, which were at
the time of the discovery an unexpected nd in a private context; or
by the honoric statues of the Neratii, copies of those voted by the
decuriones of Saepinum for the forum and placed in a villa belonging
to the gens Neratia.
conclusions 231

The typology of villa architecture in the mid-Empire may also reect

a change in the social function of villas. The addition of larger dining
halls and larger baths, with bathing by this time considered part of
the banqueting ritual, indicates that these sorts of entertainment were
offered on a regular basis and to a larger number of people. Under the
Empire the involvement of villa proprietors in the patronage of local
communities and the promotion of local notables, as in the case of Pliny
and his protégés at Comum, resulted in a new type of social interaction
taking place within villas. While for the Republic we know from Cicero’s
letters about clientes crowding his villas in Cumae and Formiae to pay
him morning visits, it does not seem that in general large numbers of
people, including local notables, were invited to villas on a regular basis
(though there are, of course, exceptions to this). If my interpretation
of evidence such as the statue bases of the gens Neratia is correct, the
fact that the villa’s architectural space became an acceptable frame for
the display of one’s achievements in public life can be related to the
involvement of villa owners in neighboring urban centers and to the
presence of local notables among their guests.
In the later centuries of the Empire, rural villas in general contin-
ued to be retreats for the practice of otium and places for agricultural
production, although changes in the social and political background
saw an increasingly more centralized organization and the rise of the
colonatus.14 As discussed in Chapter 8, with the move of the capital from
Rome to Northern Italy, the focus of the villa-owning elite seems to have
moved northwards. In Latium, with the exception of the immediate
suburbium of Rome where large villa complexes such as that belong-
ing to the Quintilii developed, many sites show signs of decline in the
quality of their architectural décor, which implies that they were no
longer used as elite residences. However, these signs—subdivision into
smaller living quarters, crude repairs, burial within the walls, etc.—do
not necessarily indicate that the villas ceased to function as units of
production altogether. They suggest only that a villa was no longer
used as an aristocratic residence; it might very well have continued to
be used by families of coloni, for instance. Besides the weight that the
presence or absence of the emperor may have had in determining
which villas would be maintained as aristocratic residences, other fac-
tors were instrumental, such as the ownership of contiguous estates.

Vera 1995.
232 conclusions

But what ought to be stressed is that villas, building complexes serving

both residential and economic purposes, did not disappear completely
in this period. Most coastal villas continued to perform both these
functions until at least the fth century a.d., and in the countryside
we even have examples of luxurious villas built ex novo in the fourth
century a.d. (e.g., S. Giovanni in Tuscia).
The nature of Late Antique occupation at many villa sites has often
been seen as an indication of total social and economic decline of
the region in that period (i.e., occupation by squatters). Recent studies
have stressed how these changes are better explained, for instance, in
the context of the new sensibility towards the deceased brought about
by Christianity, and I fully subscribe to the recent move, which has
occurred in “villa studies”, away from a discourse focusing on the crisis
of the villa to one dealing with its transformation.
In all three regions the peak in villa construction/occupation occurs
in the rst century a.d. However, these data must be considered with
great caution, since in several instances they have been drawn from
preliminary excavation reports covering only the rst phases of a site’s
occupation or from sites excavated in the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries, when focus was placed on the recovery of works
of art and not on documenting all of the occupation phases of a site.
Furthermore, in many instances, those villa sites that were occupied
continuously throughout the centuries were during the Middle Ages
obliterated by churches and/or monasteries in the countryside, and by
forts/watch towers along the coast. This fact implies that only a very
partial archaeological knowledge of the Roman structures is possible,
preventing in most cases a complete reading of the subsequent chrono-
logical phases. The number of sites with late Imperial occupation is
probably larger than the current data indicate.
Villas, maritime or rural, had complex ideological and economic
dimensions, which evolved and shifted through the centuries. If in later
periods some of the villas lost their original function as elite residences,
while retaining the productive function, this reected not a demise of
the villa per se or a generalized economic crisis, but rather important
socio-political changes. While the ideological dimension of villas as
places for otium remained substantially unaltered in the Imperial period,
in late antiquity villas progressively became more and more autono-
mous in their organization, perhaps, ironically, better incorporating
the ideal of self-sufciency that had been put forward centuries earlier
than their late Republican or early Imperial predecessors. The scene
conclusions 233

Figure 22. “Dominus Iulius” mosaic. Late 4th century mosaic depicting villa
life. Bardo Museum, Tunis (Koppermann, Neg. D-DAI Rome 1961.1532).

on the mosaic from a North African villa, now at the Bardo Museum
in Tunis, depicts the all-producing villa universe, enclosed by walls and
centered on the gures of the dominus and the domina (Figure 22). This
brings us back to the villa-city equation and the concept of villas as
metaphors of order and civilization that we have witnessed in operation
since the late Republican period. As exemplied by the villa of Torre
Gianola near Formia, with its monumental tumulus/nymphaeum carefully
oriented according to the cardinal points and with its vault decoration
depicting the heavens, the villa was a focal part of the ancient cosmos
as much as of the “landscape of production.”

The following catalogue constitutes the body of archaeological data

assembled for the geographic area under consideration and discussed in
the previous chapters. In the following pages information on villa sites,
either partly or completely excavated or known only from surface nds
and eld surveys, has been gathered and classied. Only villas of the
elite (the term elite refers to moneyed elite and is by no means limited
to senatorial or equestrian gures only) have been included herein,
that is to say rural or maritime establishments showing evidence of a
residential part with some kind of luxurious features, such as mosaics,
marble veneer, sculptures et similia. Except in some cases, when the
villas were very partially investigated or are known only from surface
nds, usually these complexes have also a pars rustica for production/
utilitarian activities; the combination of a residential part for leisure
with a utilitarian part for production is what constitutes an elite villa
in the present work. There are few sites that do not fully match these
criteria, but whose inclusion seemed relevant for the discussion on villa
distribution patterns in the territory, land exploitation, land owning
system, and the economy. Villas built and planned ex novo as a residence
for the emperor have been omitted. Only those villas once owned by
members of the Roman or local elites, which at a later epoch became
part of the imperial scus, have been included in the present catalogue.
For this reason one will not nd Trajan’s villa at Arcinazzo Romano in
this list, but will nd the so-called Imperial Villa of Albano, which had
a Republican phase and may have been the villa owned by Pompey
before becoming the property of the Julio-Claudian emperors.
The entries have been organized into three large groups, accord-
ing to the modern Italian regions of Latium, Tuscany, and Umbria.
Within these sections, areas where villa remains have been identied are
presented in alphabetical order, according to the modern name; each
site has been labeled with the initial letter of the region it belongs to
(L stands for Latium, T for Tuscany, and U for Umbria) and a progres-
sive number. When the ancient place name is also known, it follows
the modern one in the entry’s title—e.g.:
238 introduction to the catalogue

ALBANO (Albanum)

In the case of multiple villas located in the same area, a sub-category,

alphabetically ordered as well, is given—e.g.:

L2 – Cavallacci


L3 – Ercolano

When general data about settlement pattern and land use in a given
area are available, such as in the cases of Blera or Tusculum, a brief
description of the territory is given in an introductory paragraph. In
some instances, comprehensive monographs on ancient sites in a given
territory exist, such as in the case of the volume of the Forma Italiae
series. In these cases, to make the identication of sites between differ-
ent works easier, the original number assigned to a villa site in other
catalogues is given next to the bibliographical reference.
All those sites located in the territory enclosed within a radius of ca.
15 km from modern Rome have been grouped under a specic sub-
group of Latium labeled “Suburbium”. Suburbium was a rather exible
category for the Romans; without going into too much detail, sites that
were usually considered to be suburbani could be easily reached within
a few hours of travel. Although Pliny the Younger considered his villa
in Laurentum as suburbana, since he could reach it by evening after
having attended his business in the city, and literary references name
at times other locations much farther than 15 km as suburbanae,1 I have
decided to adopt a practical categorization of suburbium by choosing an
area that was certainly considered to be suburbana at the time. Since the
concept of suburbium varied according to epoch and situation, this seems
a better criterion than trying to determine the maximum extension of
what could have been the suburbium.

See Mayer 2005.
introduction to the catalogue 239

In the case of the many villas located in what was the Ager Tusculanus,
instead of distributing the sites according to the municipal boundaries
of the modern towns of Frascati, Monte Porzio Catone, etc., I have
kept them together under the heading TUSCULUM ; since the sites were
within the boundary of the territory of the famous and popular town,
it seemed appropriate in this case to follow the ancient territory rather
than the modern one. Some villas, which are always referred to in the
literature under a specic name (e.g., a town name, “villa of Frascati”),
have been listed under the individual town name to make cross-refer-
encing easier.
Other possible criteria for the organization of the material in the
catalogue, such as following territorial division according to the Augus-
tan regions, as in the case of the Forma Italiae series, have been put
aside in consideration of more pragmatic issues concerning an easier
localization of modern localities on geographical maps. In addition to
this, the Augustan regional division is not necessarily a more “histori-
cally” correct way of grouping villa sites and would have resulted in
an anachronism, since most villas were built before the institution of
this administrative reform about which, incidentally, we know relatively
little. To allow a comparison between the modern regional administra-
tive borders and the limits of the Augustan regions, Map 1 has been
The catalogue summarizes the data known for each given site and,
when available, it includes a plan of the remains described. At the end
of each entry, bibliographical references indicate the source of informa-
tion. The entries and plans are meant to give a quick overview of the
nature of the evidence, and are complementary to the discussion carried
out in the chapters. The reader who seeks the full detail and informa-
tion on certain sites should always refer to the original publication. For
instance, De Franceschini 2005 not only offers detailed information
and thematic charts on the various villa structures and nds, but also
presents an excellent graphic apparatus including plans of various
phases of occupation, photographs, etc. The limited scope of this book
does not allow for the representation of the whole of the archaeologi-
cal evidence recorded in a given area. For more detailed information
about a particular region or the distribution of settlement patterns the
reader is advised to refer to the detailed regional investigations such as
the Forma Italiae volumes, Carandini and Cambi 2002, etc.
240 introduction to the catalogue

Map 1. Central Italy: The Augustan regions with superimposition of modern

borders (A. Marzano).

Although I have attempted to offer as complete a list as possible of

known villa sites, a series of factors—the delay between archaeological
investigations and publishing of the reports; the difculty in locating
information when it is published in local journals, as in the case of
research carried out by regional archaeological clubs; survey data pub-
lished in a preliminary form that does not allow the identication of
the precise location of sites, etc.—makes me aware that this catalogue
does not constitute a complete list of all the villas known for the three
introduction to the catalogue 241

Um bria, 28,
Tuscany, 50,

Latium , 384,

Figure 23. Number of Villa Sites by Region.

The catalogue lists a total of 462 villas. Latium comprises 384 entries,
followed by Tuscany with 50 entries, and Umbria with only 28 entries.
In 49 cases (37, 7, and 5 villa sites for the three regions, respectively),
no clear dating element is available. (Figure 23)
The difference in the number of attested sites in the three geographic
areas in part reects settlement patterns in the Roman period, but is also
the result of modern research activities in the territory and of the degree
to which collected data were accessible and usable. For instance, precise
information was not available for many of the villas indicated only on a
map of Umbria published in Ville e insediamenti 1983 (Map 23, p. 710),
but not discussed elsewhere; we are not informed on the precise nature
of the nds, on the criteria followed in the eld survey in deciding
whether to classify a site as a villa or not, on the place name where the
discovery occurred, and so forth, so that a catalogue entry could not
be prepared. Similarly, various sites identied as villas in the recently
published data from the survey carried out in the 1980s in the area of
Cosa, Saturnia, and Heba do not appear in this catalogue due to the
extremely synthetic information on the nature of the remains/nds
pertaining each of them (e.g. “structures”), given in the tabulation added
at the end of the volume.2 When the discussion by the various contribu-
tors to the volume adds information on the nature of the remains at a
given site, or when they were known from previous bibliography, then
the sites have been included in the present catalogue.

Carandini and Cambi 2002.
242 introduction to the catalogue







2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD

Latium 81 218 290 196 110 71 27

Tuscany 9 29 40 33 20 14 13
Umbria 2 8 21 12 12 6 2


Figure 24. Villa-occupation in the three regions.

The much higher number of sites attested for Latium with respect to the
other two regions also makes the presentation and comparison between
them and the trends they display in villa occupation and chronology
problematic (Figure 24).
Since the sample for Latium is so much greater than the other two,
a comparison by percentage of sites can offer a better understanding of
what the trends for the three regions were (Figure 25). Nonetheless, the
smaller sample available for Tuscany and Umbria posits some perplexi-
ties on the degree to which we can see their trend as truly representa-
tive of the region. Needless to say, these data show the chronological
phases of occupation known for each site, and it is evident that in the
case of unexcavated or partially investigated sites, the data are partial
and subject to possible changes.
We can observe that according to the available evidence, in all three
regions the peak in villa occupation occurred in the rst century a.d.,
an element well in line with the intensication in public building activity
introduction to the catalogue 243



Villas %




2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD
Latium 8 22 29 20 11 7 3
Tuscany 6 18 25 21 13 9 8
Umbria 3 13 33 19 19 10 3


Figure 25. Villa-occupation in the three regions (in percentages).

attested in towns of Central Italy starting with the Augustan period. The
diagram shows a progressive drop in the number of sites with attested
phases of occupation in all three regions from the second century a.d.
onwards. Interestingly, the number of villas in Umbria remained stable
between the second and the third centuries a.d., while in Tuscany and
Latium it continued to decrease.
If we organize the data differently, according to start and end date
of occupation, i.e., the number of sites that were built or ceased to be
used in a given century, we can see that the three regions show different
patterns. In Latium and Tuscany the concentration in the number of
sites that were built in a given period is greatest for the rst century
b.c., whereas in Umbria the increase in number occurred in the rst
century a.d. (Figure 26). In this case, although Umbria is the region
with the smallest sample, the trend ts what we know of the general
socio-political development of the region, with the appearance, dur-
ing the triumvirate and the Augustan period, of villa proprietors from
other geographic areas, often involved also in the local administration
of towns as duoviri, as seen in the case of the senator Granius Marcel-
lus, who owned the villa near Tifernum Tiberinum that later belonged
to Pliny the Younger.
244 introduction to the catalogue

Number of Villas

Number of Villas
100 15
60 10

0 0
2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD 2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD
Centuries - Latium Centuries - Tuscany

Number of Villas


2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD
Centuries - Umbria

Figure 26. Number of villas and attested beginning of occupation for Latium, Tuscany and

As concerns the end date of occupation (Figure 27), in Latium the

highest number of sites that go out of use is attested for the rst century
a.d., followed by the second century; in Tuscany the highest number
of sites that ceased to be occupied occurred in the second century,
followed by the fth century (villas that ceased to be occupied in the
sixth century or later will still show in this chart an end of occupation
in the fth century); nally, in Umbria we have the rst century, fol-
lowed by the third century. In this case one would have expected to
see a more general trend, even if with minimal regional variation, but
instead, the pattern followed by the three regions varies greatly.
In Chapter 8, I have analyzed the possibility that the high number
of sites which ceased to be occupied in Latium may reect the normal
pattern in “occupation habits” and the great increase in the number
of villas constructed in the period. If the same possible connection
between an increase in the number of sites (14 villas) and ‘abandoned’
ones (seven villas) could be seen for rst century a.d. Umbria, the other
introduction to the catalogue 245

120 15

Number of Villas

Number of Villas
80 10


40 5


0 0
2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD 2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD
Centuries - Latium Centuries - Tuscany
Number of Villas

2 BC 1 BC 1 AD 2 AD 3 AD 4 AD 5 AD
Centuries - Umbria

Figure 27. Number of villas and attested end of occupation for Latium, Tuscany and Umbria.

high number of villas for the available sample that go out of use in the
third century a.d. may instead reect a natural disaster, for instance
the earthquake of 242 a.d., which affected the region.3
It is not clear how to read and interpret these data due to the prob-
lem with the sample highlighted above, which invites great caution in
attempting generalizations, but it seems nonetheless important to point
out these variations between the three geographic areas.

The villa U20 presented clear structural damages caused by earthquake, but the
excavation could not clarify whether the damages were caused by the earthquake of
242 or of 346 a.d.
Map 2a. Villa sites in Latium (A. Marzano).
Map 2b. Overview of detailed maps for Latium (A. Marzano).
catalogue: latium

Figure L1. Acilia, Malafede-Fralana (after Chiarucci 2000).

latium: acilia 251

ACILIA (Acilia) (see Map 7, p. 312)

L1 – Malafede-Fralana
The remains discovered near Acilia, in the territory of Ostia, relate to a
villa rustica. Most of the existing structures date to the mid-Empire, but a
late Republican phase and late Imperial restorations were also detected. A
small necropolis is located about 250 m from the villa. Most of the tombs
date to the 2nd century a.d. The partially investigated villa (the excavated
area measures ca. 24 u 10 m) consists of some rooms of the pars rustica,
located on the E side of the complex (not indicated on the plan). In this
sector the torcular and vats were identied and dated to the 2nd century
a.d. In a later phase the opus spicatum oors of this sector were covered
by a crude cocciopesto. Some rooms of the residential part were also
identied, with black and white geometric mosaic oors [A] and walls
in opus mixtum, resting on tufa blocks of the Republican phase. The villa
was occupied until the 4th/5th century a.d. In the area of Malafede-
Fralana three other rural buildings dated between the late Republic
and the mid-Empire are known. It seems that all the villae rusticae in the
area were also of medium size in the Imperial period; each villa had
its necropolis and aqueduct. This site was close to Rome and the Vicus
Augustanus Laurentius, and it does not seem to have been abandoned
in the mid- or late Empire.

Pellegrino 1995; De Franceschini 2005, #92

252 catalogue: latium

Map 3. Albano (A. Marzano).

latium: albano 253

ALBANO (Albanum)
The ager Albanus coincided with the territory to the west of Monte
Cavo, including the whole Albano Lake, and the area crossed by the
Via Appia. Cassius Dio talks about Domitian’s choice to have his villa
in Albano (67.1). Before building this residence the emperor used the
“old Imperial villa” there (66.9). Many elite members had villas in the
area of Albano starting in the Republican period. Illustrious names of
proprietors known from literary evidence include Q. Aurelius, Sulla (Plut.
Sull., 31), P. Terentius Afer, C. Scribonius Curio (Cicero’s friend, see Cic.
Ad Att., 9.15.1), M. Iunius Brutus, who also had a property in Privernum
(Cic. Pro Cluent. 51.141), T. Sergius Gallus (the battle between Clodius
and Milo took place ante ipsum sacrarium bonae deae, quod est in fundo T. Sergii
Galli, Cic. pro Mil. 31), Pompey (who was buried there by his 5th wife
Cornelia), Seneca (Ep. 123), Statius (Silv. 3.1) (from Lugli 1915: 257).
About Falcidius’ villa, for sale in 59 b.c., see Cic., Pro Flaccus, 91.

L2 – Cavallacci
A villa was located in 1975 between Via Verdi and Via Mascagni, and
partially investigated starting in 1986. The villa was organized on three
different terraces on a position dominating the surrounding landscape
(to the south are the plain and the Mediterranean Sea; to the north
the woods on the slopes of Mount Albano). The villa was conveniently
located in proximity to the routes of the Via Appia, Via Albana, Via
Antiatina, Via Ardeatina, and Via Cavona.
The rst phase of the villa dates to the late Republican or Augustan
period. The building technique used is opus reticulatum. The cubilia of the
rst phase walls measure 8.5 u 8.5 cm, similar in size to the third phase
walls of L4 – albano imperial villa, a villa attributed to Pompey the
Great, and dated by Lugli to the early 1st century a.d. The rst phase
oors consist of a crude sort of opus signinum decorated with large white
marble pieces, forming a grid, as for instance in Room [A], or mosaic
oors, both monochrome or with geometric patterns in black and white
tesserae. Material culture belonging to this phase consists of black glaze
pottery, and Italic sigillata. Some brick stamps have also been recov-
ered; a rectangular one reads Fuevei Erotis between a palm branch and
a winged caduceus. Traces of wall decoration were found in Room [B]
(monochrome light blue background with white stucco decoration), and
in Room [A] (gurative panels among garlands on a white background).
The villa underwent many restorations and enlargements and was used
for a long time.
The second phase is dated to the mid-1st century a.d. and consists of
opus sectile oors (often covering previous mosaic oors, like in Room [A]),
numerous “Campana” terracotta slabs, fragments of many revetment
slabs in precious marbles (in total twenty different types of marble have
254 catalogue: latium

Figure L2. Albano, Cavallacci (after Chiarucci 2000).

Figure L3. Albano, Ercolano (after Lugli 1915).

latium: albano 255

been documented at this site), brick stamps (Cuspi Melichrysi), and a marble
head, identied as a portrait of Tiberius Gemellus. The pars rustica may
have been located towards the southeast, since in that area a vat faced
in opus signinum was discovered.
A third phase, dated to the 3rd century, is indicated by a large num-
ber of African pottery and amphorae, and by changes in the villa plan,
like the retrenching of Room [C] by new walls built using small bricks,
typical of the Severan period. To a late Imperial phase, dated between
the late 3rd and the 5th centuries, belong the moving of a staircase,
crudely done repairs, and many tombs recovered in some rooms of the
villa. Chiarucci suggests that maybe this phase is to be related to the
demographic and socio-economic crisis caused by the abandonment of
the castra Albana by the II Legio Parthica Severiana in the mid-3rd century.
At a certain point in the early Middle Ages many walls of the villa were
intentionally cut and the terrain leveled with debris and covered with soil
transported from nearby locations to create an agricultural terrain.

Chiarucci and Gizzi 1990; Chiarucci 2000

L3 – Ercolano
Ancient remains pertaining to a large Republican villa were visible
in Villa S. Caterina, once property of the Orsini family, at mile XIV
of the ancient Via Appia. The villa had massive substructures in opus
quadratum in peperino and it is traditionally identied with Clodius’ villa
mentioned in the literary sources. Lugli observed that possibly other
structures identied in the so-called “Vignole Barberini”, near km 13
of the modern Via Appia, were to be related to the same villa. These
remains were also substructures.
The villa was close to the Appia and had a paved diverticulum leading
from the main entrance on the southeast side of the villa to the Appia.
The private road was between 3 and 4 m wide. Another entrance,
probably for carriages, was on the northeast side, in correspondence
with corridor [A]. An atrium with impluvium with Doric columns was in
alignment with the entrance. On the northwest side of the atrium were
three rooms, the central one [B] labeled as a tablinum. Room [C] was
in a later phase transformed into a probable nymphaeum, with the walls
articulated in round and square niches. This is the only room where opus
latericium was detected. All the other remains are built in opus reticulatum.
Rooms [D] and [E] on the east side of the atrium had mosaic oors in
white tesserae. The function of a pipe, which seems to have brought water
into Room [E], is not clear.
At a lower level, to the west of the atrium, was a large peristyle (26.7 u
26.7 m), with 19 columns per side in Ionic style (Lugli reports this infor-
mation in his text but the plan he published has 16 columns). On the
east side this peristyle presents a series of cellae. Their height reaches the
above level where the atrium is, and it seems that they had two stories,
256 catalogue: latium

Figure L4. Albano, Imperial Villa (after Lugli 1915).

latium: albano 257

one with the rooms opening onto the lower peristyle, the other with the
rooms opening onto the atrium. Water pipes have been detected in different
points of the villa, together with various openings to the underground
wells/cisterns (indicated as [F] in the plan). The property possibly passed
to the Imperial scus at some time. An inscription found in the area (CIL,
XIV.2261) mentions an Imperial freedman, possibly of Commodus or
Lucius Verus (on the basis of the freedman’s praenomen Lucius).

Lugli 1915

L4 – Imperial Villa, also “Villa Comunale”, so-called
The remains located in the modern Villa Doria in Albano have been
included in the catalogue since it is believed that the villa belonged to
Pompey the Great before becoming an Imperial residence. This proposal
was rst made by Lugli, who excavated the site in 1923–24, but not
everyone agrees (e.g., Coarelli 1981: 83).
The villa was oriented toward the southwest, following the slope of the
terrain, and presented massive substructures, with large cisterns in the
substructures on the east side. It seems that the villa was on at least two
levels: the lower was organized around a garden area; the upper one
around a peristyle [A]. To the south, the exterior of the back wall is
articulated in round niches and is to be dated to the mid-Imperial period.
In an old plan published by Lugli a long terracing wall with nymphaea, a
round building, and a possible portico or gymnasium are reported. New
building activity was started under Hadrian and included the construction
of new baths. Lugli was of the opinion that this estate may have been
one of the Imperial properties sold by Trajan and Hadrian.
New excavations undertaken in 1984–86 discovered new structures
with mosaic oors. Finds from these campaigns include fresco fragments,
marble, stucco decoration, architectural pieces, gilded stucco (acanthus
leaves), antessae, “Campana” plaques, and two statue fragments: a female
head carved in local stone and part of a female body in Greek marble.
Both pieces have been dated to the late Republic. One of the “Cam-
pana” plaques depicts a winged female gure amid vegetal elements,
a well-known iconography usually found in Imperial properties or in
properties of members of the Julio-Claudian family. Chiarucci suggests
that maybe this fact could support the attribution of this villa to Pompey.
Once it was conscated after Pompey’s death, a new décor embedded
with Augustan symbolic meanings alluding to victory, immortality, and
eternal rebirth was commissioned for the villa.

Lugli 1915; Coarelli 1981; Chiarucci 2000

258 catalogue: latium

Figure L7. Albano, villa on the Lake (after Chiarucci 1981).

latium: albano 259

L5 – Palazzolo
The villa had already become part of the Imperial scus by the reign
of Augustus. Lugli saw only a few remains of walls in opus reticulatum,
but reported a description of the ruins written in 1462, mentioning
columns, marble, fountains, and statues. The remains of the villa must
have been greatly destroyed in the 12th century, when the Church of
S. Maria de Palatiolis was built on this site, using columns, marbles,
and other building material from the ancient site. According to Lugli,
the paved diverticulum discovered in 1903 between the modern road to
the left of the Cappuccini convent and the one leading to Palazzolo is
related to this villa.

Lugli 1915

L6 – Train Station area
This villa has been known since the end of the 19th century. Most of it
was destroyed by the construction of the train station of Albano. The
destroyed structures consisted of an imposing basis villae with cryptopor-
ticoes, bath quarters, and a peristyle with rooms. The villa had a paved
diverticulum connecting it to the Via Appia. In 1883, fragments of a
stamped stula aquaria (CIL, XV.9309) were found. The pipes came from
a large cistern built on the slope of the hill, about 500 m away from the
train station. Lugli records three different building techniques employed
at the villa: opus quadratum, reticulatum, and latericium. He also attributes a
room measuring 3 u 7 m and paved in black and white mosaic to a bath
suite of the rst phase. Remains of opus sectile oors displayed porphyry
and granite. Marble fragments and pottery are still recovered with any
building activity in the area. Two interesting nds discovered recently are
a fragment of a terracotta “Campana” plaque depicting a female gure
and a stamped tile ([D]omiti), dated to the 1st century a.d.

Lugli 1915; Chiarucci 2000

L7 – “Villa on the Lake”, so-called
In a 1915 article Lugli wrote about a villa along the shore of the Albano
Lake called “villa on the lake”. He refers to a study of the remains pub-
lished in 1912 by the engineer Giovannoni, which I could not consult.
Lugli’s description is synthetic; more recently Chiarucci surveyed the
remains, and was able to conrm, and in part correct, what Giovan-
noni and Lugli had recorded. The villa had a large portico, 200 m long,
with arches, semi-columns and peperino pillars [A]. The portico had two
stories. At both ends two wings protruded towards the lake [B]. Behind
the portico, there was a building with a semi-circular plan [C], probably
an exedra, large rooms and corridors. On the hill slope 260 m from the
260 catalogue: latium

main part of the villa is a cistern. Chiarucci recorded part of a retaining

wall for an upper terrace; the building technique employed in the various
structures is opus reticulatum with bondings in small tufa blocks, dated by
him to the mid-1st century b.c. In the central area of the villa Chiarucci
was able to record completely a structure, whose function remains unclear
[D]: ve long, barrel vaulted rooms, communicating by means of small
openings; in one of these rooms was a circular space, formed by two
exedrae with niches. The walls were covered with thin white mortar. In
the 19th century, a statue, a copy of a Greek original by Teisicrates, was
found and was at rst attributed to this villa, but Chiarucci indicates that
the nd spot was another structure, probably a small temple/sanctuary
on the lake shore. Lugli thought that this villa was later incorporated
into Domitian’s palace, since the docks in opus quadratum that ran along
the shore from Domitian’s villa reached this site.

Lugli 1915; Chiarucci 1981

latium: albano – ariccia 261

L8 – Poggio Ameno
The remains of the villa consist of a cryptoportico in opus incertum, and
of walls to the E of it. The cryptoportico formed the substructures of the
villa, as indicated by the remains of two different types of oors recovered
on the hillside, right above the starting point of the vault covering the
cryptoportico. One oor was paved with large pan tiles, one bearing the
stamp CNAEVIPMRIL; the second oor, covering the previous one and
about 0.6 m higher in elevation, was in opus sectile. Many fragments of
polychrome stucco decoration, probably belonging to the rooms above
the cryptoportico, have been recovered.

Chiarucci 2000

Albano – Ariccia
L9 – Via Cipressetti
The villa remains are located near the boarding school Istituto PP.
Somaschi, in the outskirts of Ariccia. Large blocks of peperino, probably
belonging to the substructures, were accidentally recovered, together with
numerous fresco and marble fragments, which included Carrara, green
serpentino, alabaster, and red porphyry. One antessa with a gorgon head
and palm leaf has been dated to the mid-1st century a.d.

Chiarucci 2000
catalogue: latium

Figure L10. Anguillara Sabazia, Albucetto-Tragliatella (after Soprintendenza per l’Etruria Meridionale).
latium: anguillara sabazia 263


The area of Anguillara Sabazia, in particular the shores of the Lake
Sabatino, presented various villas in antiquity, but not many sites have
been properly identied. This situation is in part due to the variation in
the level of the waters of the lake; ancient ruins of various nature are
currently submerged. The appeal of the area might have rested also in
the potential offered by the exploitation of the lake resources. We learn
from Dig., 18.1 that a certain Rutilia Polla bought the lake Sabate or the
rights to sh in the lake (de contr. emtione Rutilia Polla emit lacum Sabatenem
Angularium . . .). On the basis of this passage, it is assumed that she also
owned a villa there.

Anguillara Sabazia
L10 – Albuccetto-Tragliatella
A villa with an impluvium [A] was partially excavated by the Soprinten-
denza to recover mosaic oors in black and white tesserae: one depicting
a marine scene, another presenting a geometric design. A bath complex
came to light, possibly with a round laconicum [B].

Archives of the Soprintendenza per l’Etruria Meridionale

catalogue: latium

Figure L11. Anguillara Sabazia, Mura di S. Stefano, plan and elevation of inner S wall (after Painter 1980).
latium: anguillara sabazia 265

Anguillara Sabazia
L11 – “Mura di S. Stefano”, so-called
The rectangular structure in brick-faced concrete, dated to the 2nd cen-
tury, has been variously interpreted as mausoleum, tomb, or villa rustica.
It has been suggested that the building was a tower, part of an elite villa
complex, with an apartment in it, like the one described by Pliny for
his Laurentine villa. The structure, in fact, belongs to a larger group of
buildings, only partly investigated. The recovery of fragments of sunken
dolia in a rectangular room at rst labeled as a “cistern” suggests that in
reality this was a storage space. Traces of occupation stop after the early
4th century, until a church was built on site in ca. the 9th century.

Lyttelton and Sear 1977; Painter 1980

catalogue: latium

Figure L12. Anguillara Sabazia, Villa dell’Acqua Claudia (after Vighi 1940).
latium: anguillara sabazia 267

Anguillara Sabazia
L12 – Villa dell’Acqua Claudia
A late Republican villa was partially excavated in 1934. The complex
was by some interpreted as a public bath complex or possibly a valetu-
dinarium. The excavated part consists of a very large hemicycle with a
covered corridor for ambulatio. Of the main part of the villa only some
rooms are known, distributed on two terraces. The hemicycle (ø 82 m)
looked into a garden and at both ends had nymphaea [A]. It has niches
between semi-columns; at the center of each niche is an opening in
the wall, and large terracotta vases were placed in correspondence with
these openings. Since the niches are faced with hydraulic mortar, water
jets probably came out of the openings. Two Late Antique burials were
discovered, and lamps dated to the 4th/5th centuries.

Vighi 1940, 1941a; Mielsch 1987; Di Gennaro and Griesbach 2003

268 catalogue: latium

Figure L14. Anzio, villa Mastrella (after De Meis 1986).

latium: anzio 269

ANZIO (Antium)
L13 – “Villa di Nerone”
In the late Republican period on the central part of the cliff of modern
Anzio, between the lighthouse and the Arco Muto, was a large villa with
a frontage ca. 200 m long. The architectural façade on the sea side was
characterized by a hemicycle front, with semi-columns protruding into
the sea. These features are scantly preserved due to the erosion of the
coastline. It is believed that the villa originally belonged to the Octavii
and later became part of the Imperial scus through Augustus. This Impe-
rial residence is attached especially to the gure of Nero, who, accord-
ing to literary sources, undertook major works at the port of Antium
(Suet., Nero, 6.9). The villa had a very long architectural history, and its
surviving parts have not been comprehensively studied yet. It may have
been built in the 2nd century b.c., and then enlarged in the 1st century
b.c. During the Julio-Claudian period the complex was modied; other
building phases date to the reigns of Domitian (baths in opus latericium, on
two levels), Hadrian (opus mixtum), Septimius Severus, and Caracalla. The
substructures belonging to the Imperial phases rest on the above mentioned
hemicycle. The complex may have had a private theater, reported in a
plan dating to 1727, but the existence of the theater is disputed. If the
architectural feature seen in the 18th century was indeed a theater, it was
located to the west of the caldarium of the baths built by Septimius Severus.
The famous statue of the “fanciulla d’Anzio” discovered in 1878 and the
Artemis Lansdowne type were found in this villa, in niches belonging to
an articial platform along the beach frontage.

Coarelli 1982; Brandizzi Vittucci 2000; Tosi 2003

L14 – Villa Mastrella
The remains of this maritime villa are located not far from L13 – Villa
di Nerone and in antiquity were outside the town of Antium. They
are in private property along the modern street Via di Villa Neroniana.
The structures date to the 2nd century a.d., but a pre-existing nucleus
built in opus reticulatum was identied; it is not clear whether these earlier
structures date to the late Republic or to the Augustan period, since no
excavation data are available. The 2nd century structure consists of an
atrium with impluvium [A], which features a mosaic in black and white
tesserae with a pattern of intersecting circles. The walls of the atrium had
cipollino marble revetment. To the southeast of the atrium is a partially
uncovered room with traces of cocciopesto oor; to the west, remains of
walls with facing in reticulate and in brick are visible. A small room with
a curved wall may have been an exedra [B]; traces of marble crustae and
red painted plaster are visible on the walls. To the east of the atrium are
rooms interpreted as service quarters, including a large room paved with
tiles and one paved with bessales, with walls in opus latericium. This room
presents a circular vat (ø 2 m; h. 0.4 m) faced with brick. No traces of
270 catalogue: latium

Figure L16. Artena, Pian della Civita (after Brouillard and Gadeyne 2003).
latium: aquino – artena 271

pipes or channels were noted; the channel-like feature departing from

the vat is a feature added at a later time and unclear in function. Below
this room was another room connected to a corridor and barrel vaulted
structures, probably the substructures of the villa. A stamp recovered at
the villa bears the name C. Malle; a similar stamp is known also from the
theater of Antium, and has been dated to the 1st century a.d.
Another possible villa was located where now Villa Spigarelli stands.
Villa Spigarelli was built in 1922 in an area with various remains belong-
ing to an aqueduct, a probable water distribution tower, and other
structures interpreted as belonging to a villa. A large cistern, used as
substructures for the modern villa Spigarelli is also known. It seems that
the Roman villa unfolded on various terraces on the south and west sides
of the hill, where remains of rooms and a hypocaust system were noted.
The aqueduct is dated, on the basis of building technique, to the 2nd
century, while the villa-complex was in use at least until the 4th century
a.d., as indicated by numerous restorations. The building technique
used in the re-modeling of the eastern part of the complex, featuring
various rooms of which one presents good quality wall paintings and
rich marble ooring, has been dated to the 4th century. The existence
of other underground rooms on the western part of the complex, with
a tunnel that would have led to the sea, is also reported.

De Meis 1986; Brandizzi Vittucci 2000

L15 – S. Pietro a Campea
In the area of S. Pietro in Campea remains of substructures in opus
polygonale indicate a basis villae. Attempts to link the villa to the poet Juve-
nal have been made on the basis of a dedicatory inscription recovered
in the area of Aquino.

Coarelli 1982

L16 – Pian della Civita
1 km to the south of the modern town of Artena, at the north end of
the Monti Lepini range, are the remains of an ancient town (4th/early
3rd century b.c.). The town, whose ancient name has not yet been
discovered, was abandoned sometime before the end of the Republican
period, and a villa was built on the large terraced area.
The terrace where the villa was built measures ca. 166 u 90 m. The
part of the villa so far brought to light is in the middle of the terrace. The
structures, oriented northeast-southwest, cover an area of ca. 1,000 m²
272 catalogue: latium

(23 u 46.5 m). The plan unfolds around the atrium tetrastylum, with rooms
symmetrically placed to the east and west of the atrium. On the south
side, there is a large peristyle [A], provided with an underground, two-
nave cistern in opus caementicium (10 u 11 m). In the northwest corner
of the villa is the bath suite [B], comprising praefurnium, caldarium, and
frigidarium. The frigidarium has a white tesserae mosaic oor with a black
band; fragments of fresco decoration were recovered in both caldarium
and frigidarium. Next to the baths is a large room [C], whose use is not
clear: it had a 0.07 m thick layer of clay covering the oor. On the east
side of the atrium is the torcular room [D]. The area of the press measures
7.5 u 6 m; the vat is 1.6 u 1.7 u 1.65 m deep. It was not determined
whether it was a torcular olearum or vinarium.
The rst phase of the villa is dated to the 1st century b.c. The peri-
style and bath suite were added in a second phase, and were dated on
the basis of stamped tiles and coins to the 1st/2nd century a.d. During
this same phase the internal partitions of some rooms were changed,
creating larger rooms, which are suggested by the excavators to have
been for storage. The rooms on the north side of the peristyle were at
a certain moment lled with building material from the villa, like mosaic
fragments and stones from the opus reticulatum walls. Also, in the area next
to the bath suite some walls were built re-using building material from
the villa. It is not yet possible to date this phase.
During the 1998 campaign, at a higher elevation, remains of an
underground aqueduct were excavated for a total length of 70 m. The
aqueduct, with an inclination of 2.5–3% was connected to a large cistern
on the top of the mountain. It is not clear whether this structure is to be
put in relation to the Roman villa or to the second phase of the town
settlement. The excavators note that the absence of calcareous deposits
in the canal might indicate that the aqueduct was never in use; however,
this depends on the source feeding the cistern. If the cistern were col-
lecting rain water, then one would not have the formation of calcareous
deposits, which would occur if the cistern were fed by an aqueduct, or
if it were tapping a spring.

Brouillard and Gadeyne 2003

latium: astura 273

Map 4. Astura (A. Marzano).

The Astura area was surveyed by Piccarreta in the 1970s for the Forma
Italiae survey series. As for the other studies in this series, sites are usu-
ally mainly dated by their building technique. Various pottery scatters
were also recorded, but as no systematic sampling of these scatters was
carried out, only very generic dates were assigned. The Pontine Region
Project (PRP), a long term reseach program of the Groningen Institute
of Archaeology, starting from the late 1990s has conducted surveys and
mapping projects in the Fogliano area, the Astura valley and the coast
near Nettuno. Among the ca. 200 sites mapped by Piccarreta, the PRP
revisited 46 sites that were still accessible in order to retrive more precise
dating evidence. A preliminary note on their ndings mentions that many
of the villa-sites have post-Archaic and/or Archaic predecessors and some
of them yielded red slip ware which indicates that they functioned well
into the 3rd century a.d.

Attema and van Leusen 2004; Attema and De Haas, “Villas and farm-
steads in the Pontine region between 300 b.c. and 300 a.d.: a landscape
archaeological approach”, in Santillo Frizell and Klynne 2005, 97–112 (see
esp. 104 f.)
274 catalogue: latium

Figure L18. Astura, La Banca: shpond (after Piccarreta 1977).

latium: astura 275

L17 – La Banca, Villa
In the area called La Banca, ca. 2 km northwest of L24 – torre astura
are the remains of two coastal villas. The site was very scantily preserved;
Piccarreta saw surface scatters of tiles, bricks, amphorae, ceramic, marble
fragments, black and white mosaic tesserae, and painted plaster. Of the
structure proper, only the nucleus of a conglomerate wall emerged; in
the sea in front of the villa he saw a dock in opus caementicium at least
20 m long.

Piccarreta 1977, #4

L18 – La Banca, Villa
The second site is located ca. 250 m to the northwest of villa L19.
The most visible feature was a rectangular shpond, built on a large
rock-shelf. The walls of the pond had a nucleus in tufa conglomerate
and facing in opus reticulatum. The remains recorded by Piccarreta pre-
sented a pond with two rectangular tanks (ca. 10 u 9 m and 10 u 10 m),
with a covered opening between the two. One of the tanks showed a
later phase in brick. The southern tanks had in the middle a reticulate
wall; to this structure at a later phase was added a semicircular exedra
[A] in brick. The bottom of the shpond that was visible in this spot
was paved with large terracotta tiles. The external mole, built in opus
caementicium, continued towards the beach before disappearing under the
sand. However the shpond must have been larger and more complex
in design, as one can see from the sketch by Lanciani that Piccarreta
published (1977: 13).
A 14 m long wall with reticulate facing ran parallel to the coastline
ca. 200 m northwest of the shpond and probably belonged to the ter-
racing structure of the villa. In the area two gray marble columns (one
4.30 m long) and white marble capitals were found. 50 m inland from
this spot, ancient structures were incorporated as a cellar in a modern
building, the so-called “Casa Banca”. The Roman feature consisted of
two barrel vaulted rooms; few spots where modern plaster was lacking
showed a reticulate facing for the walls. Piccarreta suggested that these
may have been cisterns. A large area was covered with surface scatter:
cubilia; bricks; pan and cover tiles; amphorae; pottery; white, giallo antico,
gray, and cipollino marble fragments; sectile tiles. A date within the Augustan
period is proposed on the basis of the reticulate structures, with a later
Imperial phase shown by the brick addition in the shpond, but nothing
more can be said about the period of occupation of this villa.

Piccarreta 1977, #5
276 catalogue: latium

L19 – Colle Falcone
Colle Falcone is one of the two rural sites, together with L21 – pantano
dei frati that Piccarreta classied as “villa” in the Astura region, the
others being surface scatters of pottery difcult to classify into settlement
typology. The bulldozing of part of the hill revealed in section walls
and oor of a villa; on the remaining part of the hill Piccarreta saw a
dense scatter of fragments of tiles, bricks, amphorae, dolia, black glaze,
thin-walled ceramic, sigillata, and kiln slags. Parts of reticulate wall and
opus signinum oors indicate a late 1st century b.c/early 1st century a.d.
date. Fragments of black and white tesserae mosaic, columns (in bricks),
travertine, marble opus sectile elements, etc. attest that the villa had a
well-appointed residential part. The presence of opus sectile may indicate
a phase in the Imperial period, although the type of marble use for the
tiles is not indicated in the publication.

Piccarreta 1977, #112

L20 – Le Grottacce
This maritime villa was rather large, although sea erosion has greatly
damaged the structures. Piccarreta saw retaining walls in tufa conglomer-
ate forming the basis villae, preserved up to 3 m high; a reticulate wall on
the terrace formed by the substructures, with a tufa threshold, running
for 30 m perpendicular to the coast, before disappearing into the sand
dunes. On the beach front the collapsed structures and substructures
had a 50 m frontage, up to a group of rooms which appeared of have
been the bath quarters.
The walls that are visible in a hall with an apse show different tech-
niques: good quality opus incertum dated to the 1st century b.c. and opus
latericium, dated in the Imperial period. The hall was heated as shown by
the recovery of tubuli and suspensurae. The oor of this hall also shows two
phases: on a white tesserae mosaic a terracotta-tile oor was laid. Part of
another room with a white mosaic oor and walls in opus latericium (modulus
0.32 m), resting on reticulate walls, was seen. Near the bath complex,
Piccarreta saw in section on the sea side a deposit of kiln wasters that
he suggested may have been used to raise the level of a structure. The
wasters are near a structure with pillars and reticulate facing interpreted
as a drying room connected to the kiln. Recent investigations by The
Pontine Region Project suggest that the kiln produced amphorae for
oil. The majority of the diagnostic sherds collected belong to unknown
amphora types that, judging from the handles, were small in size with
a rim reminiscent of early Tripolitanian amphorae. In the 19th century
the presence of an underground aqueduct was reported. Local sher-
men reported that in the 1960s vaulted rooms with stucco decoration
latium: astura 277

and painted plaster were still standing on the shore. Piccarreta observed
numerous marble and mosaic fragments scattered around.

Piccarreta 1977, #15; Attema, de Haas and Nijboer 2003; Attema and de
Haas, cit. p. 275, in Santillo Frizell and Klynne 2005

L21 – Pantano dei Frati
As far as concerns rural villas in the area of Astura, Piccarreta recorded
few villae rusticae, but many surface scatters of pottery and building mate-
rial. The remains at Pantano dei Frati he classied as “villa”, relying on
the accounts of local people that remembered standing structures and
mentioned the existence of vaulted rooms in reticulate alternated with
brick courses, called locally “Grotte dei Frati”. However, the site was so
poorly preserved that it is difcult to determine whether it was a small
farm or a well-appointed villa rustica. Piccarreta observed on the surface
only amphora fragments, some with mollusk incrustations, and pieces
of cocciopesto oor.

Piccarreta 1977, #65

278 catalogue: latium

Figure L22. Astura, La Saracca: shpond (after Higginbotham 1997).

latium: astura 279

L22 – La Saracca, also La Chiesola
The remains of this maritime villa and its shpond are located 2.1 km
northwest of L24 – torre astura. Sand dunes cover most of the remains
of the villa and not much can be said about its layout. However, the walls
present the same concrete core and facing in good quality reticulate as
the walls of the pond, and therefore the construction of the shpond
and villa are considered contemporaneous.
It appears that the villa was constructed on barrel vaulted substruc-
tures, creating a basis villae. The area covered with surface scatter (marble
fragments, tiles, amphorae, etc.) measured ca. 100 u 50 m. The vaulted
rooms and the terrace have walls in opus reticulatum, dated to the late 1st
century b.c./early 1st century a.d. A barrel vaulted room located in
correspondence with the middle of the shpond was locally known as
“la Chiesola”; the room was lled with sand up to the beginning of the
vault, which had a stucco coffered ceiling with oral motifs. Repairs and
additions to the villa built in concrete walls faced in opus vittatum (bricks
and tufa blocks) were identied, thus indicating that the villa was in use
also during the late Empire.
The shpond is clearly visible and interesting in its typology. It was
constructed on a rock shelf and linked to the villa on the shore. As is
the case with other shponds in this area, it was built where the rock
shelf emerges from the sea bottom. The circle based piscina proper (ø 90
m) was protected by a 3.5 m wide mole. Several openings into the mole
allowed sea-water circulation; the largest opening was connected to an
external channel [A]. Piccarreta recorded that the secondary openings
in the mole were blocked at a later time, and the hexagonal tank [B]
added to the main protruding channel, as attested by the fact that it
cuts some of the tanks of the rst two rows. Remains of an aqueduct
carrying fresh water from the shore to the pond are located on the east
side. The piscina was divided in three rows of rectangular tanks; in most
cases the rock shelf was left as the bottom of the tanks. A network of
covered channels allowed water exchange in the individual tanks. The
external channel, according to Higginbotham, had a twofold purpose:
1) to improve water exchange within the pond by increasing the force
of the ow directing the surf and tide through a narrow pathway; and
2) to act as a sh-trap.
The shpond is built in opus caementicium; the mole and the long sides
of the tanks were faced with tiles placed vertically and covered with
a thick layer of cocciopesto. On top of the perimeter mole was a small
concrete wall with reticulate facing, decorated with small protruding
pillars ending with attached brick columns. This faux portico looked
towards the interior of the shpond, and therefore towards the villa. It
is preserved only on the east side of the shpond. At a later stage the
openings between the pillars were blocked with walls using broken tiles.
Other repairs to the shpond are in bricks and opus vittatum, indicating
that the shpond was used in the late Imperial period.

Piccarreta 1977, #7; Higginbotham 1997

280 catalogue: latium

Figure L23. Astura, La Saracca (L23) (after Piccarreta 1977).

latium: astura 281

L23 – La Saracca, Villa
Less than 200 m northwest of the site L22 – la saracca, la chiesola,
Piccarreta recorded another site (Site 8), in part exposed by marine
erosion of the coastal sand dunes. The terracing walls forming the basis
villae came to light, made in opus caementicium with no facing. Fragments
of polychrome geometric mosaics with black, red, yellow and green
tesserae, stucco decoration, painted plaster, opus signinum oor with white
tesserae, and marble indicate the high level of décor that the pars urbana
had. Portions of visible walls show opus reticulatum technique, with the
joint between the walls made by 6–7 cm long tufelli blocks.
One hundred meters northwest of this villa Piccarreta recorded struc-
tures of uncertain interpretation, labeled as Site 9 in his publication,
which might be another villa. He saw a wall made in tufa conglomerate
with an opus latericium facing (modulus 0.30 m), which ran parallel to the
shoreline, and inland from this one part of a reticulate wall. A attish
area behind the coastal dunes was covered with fragments of building
material and pottery.
In the portion of coast between this site and the villa L20 – le grottacce,
Piccarreta recorded four other sites (labeled 11 to 14), located at ca. 50 m
from each other. The nature of these settlements is not clear; Site 11
presented a kiln and scanty structures in conglomerate; the surface scat-
ter showed cubila and many amphora fragments around the kiln (type
of amphorae not recorded). Site 12 presented on a small area a scatter
of tiles and bricks and part of an opus caementicium wall; at Site 13 the
action of the sea eroded the archaeological deposit, showing in section
a deposit of pottery 200 m long, 0.60 m thick, extending inland up to
the coastal dunes for about 50 m. The fragments belonged mostly to
large dolia, dated by Piccarreta to the Iron Age. Recent excavations by
the Groningen Institute of Archaeology revealed a late Bronze Age settle-
ment in connection to production of salt or salted sh. Finally Site 14
presented another Roman kiln with fragments of amphorae, tiles, bricks,
but the amphora types were not recorded.

Piccarreta 1977, #8–14; Attema and Leusen 2004: 88

282 catalogue: latium

Figure L24. Astura, Torre Astura: shpond (after Piccarreta 1977).

latium: astura 283

L24 – Torre Astura, also “Cicero’s Villa”, so-called
The villa is located on the promontory of Torre Astura. The rst phase of
the villa is late Republican. It became part of the Imperial property, and
the rst three emperors used to stop here on their journeys to Campania.
During this time the harbor, clearly visible in aerial photographs, was
added. Only scanty remains of the main part of the villa exist, covered
by sand dunes and pine trees.
Piccarreta recorded a retaining wall forming the basis villae made with
a conglomerate core and opus vittatum facing, clearly not belonging to the
rst phase of the villa. The terrace thus formed had a mosaic in white
tesserae for paving and a staircase leading to the sea. Near to this part of
the villa Piccarreta saw in section a kiln, perhaps to be connected with
the enlargement of the villa in the Imperial period. From this section a
bridge-aqueduct [A], rst built in the late Republic, judging from the opus
reticulatum in tufa, led to an articial island [B] with a pavilion, maybe a
cenatio, overlooking the large piscina. Around 100 a.d., and then again in
the late Empire, the living quarters on the articial island were enlarged,
incorporating as foundation part of the walls of one of the compartments
of the shpond (the lozenge-shaped tank). One of these rooms had an
opus sectile oor. In the rst phase, the residential part built on the island
measured 6,000 m²; two staircases on the east and north corners of this
platform allowed someone coming from the bridge/aqueduct to reach
the shpond without walking through the pavilion.
Piccarreta reports the abundant presence on the beach, promontory,
and in the sea of marble revetment and opus sectile tiles in giallo antico, verde
antico, rosso antico, pavonazzetto, africano, red porphyry, alabaster, white and
gray marble. The columns currently in Palazzo Braschi were found at this
site, and also a statue depicting a comic actor dressed as Papposilenus.
The shpond, the only feature together with the bridge aqueduct that
is clearly visible today, is the largest known Roman shpond, measuring
15,000 m².

Schmiedt 1972; Piccarreta 1977

L25 – Valle di Foglino
Near the Valle di Foglino, ca. 2.5 km northwest of the villa L20 – le
grottacce, were the scanty remains of a maritime villa. Walls in opus
caementicium with no facing, pertaining to the substructures were seen
by Piccarreta; above the terrace created by the substructures he saw an
opus signinum oor with white tesserae, and scatter of amphora fragments,
tiles and coarseware.

Piccarreta 1977, #54

catalogue: latium

Map 5. Bassano di Sutri and Capranica (A. Marzano).

latium: bassano di sutri 285

BASSANO DI SUTRI (Vicus Matrini)

In the Forma Italiae survey dedicated to the area of Vicus Matrini few
of the sites are reported as villas because of the poor preservation of
the archaeological evidence, but the number of surface scatters (build-
ing material and pottery), cisterns, and monumental tombs identied
and listed in the volume is a sign of the diffusion of villas in this area.
In most cases nothing can be said on the chronology and the type of
settlements (i.e., farms vs. villas). Please also refer to other entries under

Bassano di Sutri
L26 – Castellina
The remains of the villa covered a large area on the top of a hill. Part
of a conglomerate platform was seen, with a portion of oor in opus
spicatum (2 u 1.40 m); a wall with facing in opus incertum and latericium was
to the west of the platform, with a cocciopesto oor in phase with it. Mosaic
tesserae and marble fragments were also seen nearby. A few meters to the
north of these structures, modern construction revealed tufelli, bricks for
columns, dolia fragments, opus spicatum bricks, and cocciopesto fragments.

Andreussi 1977, #37

Bassano di Sutri
L27 – Pecugliaro
The large and rich villa was discovered in 1912 and then backlled. A
diverticulum of the Via Clodia-Cassia was probably near the site. The
walls were preserved only to a height of 0.5 m; many rooms had mosaic
oors. Two separate nuclei constituted the villa, the original one probably
being the north part, which featured reticulate walls and restoration in
bricks, whereas the southern part was completely built in opus latericium.
These later additions to the villa belonged to bath quarters. At the time
of the excavation the nicest of the mosaics were cut and removed; only
three fragments are preserved. The mosaic depicts, in black and white
tesserae, subjects common in baths: erotes and a Nereid on a hippocampus;
another fragment presents a Triton and various shes. The mosaic is
dated to the 3rd century. Many lead stulae were also recovered, with
the stamp P. Clodius Venerandus fec(it).

Andreussi 1977, #98

Bassano di Sutri
L28 – Prato Casale
The villa was discovered in 1889, and the remains no longer stand. It
had mosaics and marble revetments.

Andreussi 1977, #60

286 catalogue: latium

Map 6. Blera (A. Marzano).

latium: bassano di sutri – blera 287

Bassano di Sutri
L29 – S. Pietro
On the western side of the Foglietti Mountain the remains of a consid-
erable villa were recorded. On the northwest side of the site was a tufa
conglomerate terracing wall 18.50 m long, with facing in tufa blocks.
Mosaic fragments, opus spicatum, marble, and a probable statue fragment
in black marble indicate a moderately rich residential part. Sherds of
Dressel 2/4 and sigillata chiara A and D were also seen.

Andreussi 1977, #72

The territory of Blera had three major roads: Via Clodia, Via Cassia, and
the Via Tarquiniense. Secondary roads created a capillary communica-
tion system in the territory. Blera and Forum Cassii were the two urban
centers. Numerous settlements have been identied on the territory by
eld survey. In general we have villae rusticae or farms, marked by surface
concentration of tile fragments, dolia, amphorae, coarse pottery, and the
remains of walls using local material such as yellow tufa and limestone.
The use of bricks is uncommon, probably showing economic and practi-
cal reasons, preferring the use of local natural resources, rather than a
chronological feature. With the exclusion of some cases, remains of villas
consist of only small to medium sized sites, usually underground-built
cisterns. S. Quilici Gigli in her survey identied the remains of only
one aqueduct feeding the cistern of a villa, and this is a striking datum.
These villas usually were built on a single terrace and, in comparison
with other areas, not particularly monumental. From surface nds, most
of the sites offer a date between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century
A.D. Poorer surface nds scattered in the areas around the villas seem to
indicate a network of farms, houses, and huts, built in perishable material
but roofed with tiles, the only feature identied during the survey. Many
tombs have been identied in the area, mostly alla cappuccina, but some
villas also have monumental tombs built along the major access routes
to the villa, a possible indication that the current status of the evidence
is failing to show the elegance and monumentality that these villas may
have had. S. Quilici Gigli noticed that the density and distributions of
establishments, pointing in the direction of small and mid-sized agricul-
tural estates, is in contrast to what sources say about large latifundia in
southern Etruria. The recovery of parts of torcularia proves the produc-
tion of wine and/or oil. The following list of villa sites reports only the
most prominent ones.
288 catalogue: latium

Figure L31. Blera, Conserva (after Quilici Gigli 1976).

latium: blera 289

L30 – Casale Valle Falsetta
In the valley one can observe a large quantity of tile fragments, pottery,
white marble fragments, together with the remains of brick walls. In
the past, the remains must have been much more conspicuous, since
the antiquarian Serani wrote of “ruine antiche che paiono castelli interi”.
The site is dated broadly to the Imperial period. A group of tombs is
located nearby.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #39

L31 – Conserva
The villa 1.5 km west of Blera, partially excavated by the Swedish
Institute of Classical Studies in Rome, was built on a tufa spurn, close
to the Via Tarquiniense (500 m) and the Via Clodia, going from Blera
to Luni sul Mignone (300 m). The rst trench opened by the excavators
uncovered a small room (2.50 u 2.50 m) with hypocaust and suspensurae,
marble slabs and painted stucco. Then the excavation focused on the
west wing of the villa, probably the pars rustica. Thirteen rooms and
parts of two additional rooms were uncovered. Rooms [A] and [B] had
thresholds showing the holes for hinges and for a vertical latch, and
were supposed to be storerooms. In the middle of Room [C] was a well,
excavated to 1.15 m in depth. An underground rectangular space was
labeled by the excavators as “silos” (contra Quilici Gigli, who considers
it a cistern, as is usually the case in villas). Three accesses to it from the
above rooms were also located. A sewer/drain in opus caementicium oriented
from south-southwest to north-northeast collected waste from Room [D],
where a vat was. Most of the objects found in the excavation, fragments
of architectural terracottas, lamps, razor, needles, glass fragments and
many animal bones, came from this drain.
Although in the brief report of the Swedish Institute published in
Quilici Gigli there is no systematic attempt to distinguish different
chronological phases for the villa, it seems that a homogeneous occupa-
tion dated to the 1st century a.d. is suggested. Some important points
should, however, be kept in mind:
1) Only the perimeter walls were excavated, with some limited exceptions.
This fact precludes any information on the original ooring of the
rooms, if preserved, and on material nds within the rooms.
2) The only material nds come from the refuse deposits in a drain.
3) It is not clear on what basis Room [E] was proposed to be the original
press room.
In Room [F ] traces of some kind of metal working activity have been
found: a kiln and metal slag (compare with T14 – Ossaia). We lack any
information from the east part of the complex, where only the small room
with hypocaust was uncovered, thus precluding any further consideration
about the chronology.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #297

290 catalogue: latium

L32 – Fornaci
The ruins of the villa consist of different terracing walls, a cryptoportico,
and architectural elements, such as column parts in peperino, a Tuscan and
a Doric capital. Remains of mosaics were also recovered. The front of the
basis villae measured at least 120 m. Three different building techniques
are present: opus incertum, opus reticulatum and polychrome opus reticulatum.
This last type does not seem to have been commonly used in the area.
There were at least two phases, one dated to the 1st century b.c., and
the other to the 1st century a.d.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #77

L33 – Marchionato
In the area known as Marchionaro are remains of a villa, which include
cisterns and a cryptoportico. Surface pottery scatter was also noted by
Quilici Gigli, who, however, is of the opinion that the remains belong to
a group of small villas and farms, rather than to one unitary complex.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #68

latium: blera 291

L34 – Pian della Creta
Only the terracing wall and a long rectangular cistern of a villa located
about 200 m east of km 28 of the modern road Aurelia-bis remain.
Walls in opus reticulatum emerge from the ground, one of which has an
apse. The villa is dated between the late 1st century b.c. and the 1st
century a.d.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #46

L35 – Pian della Noce
This villa, on the right bank of the small stream Fosso di S. Antonio,
was once quite large and rich. It had a monumental terrace overlooking
the valley; different structures and abundant architectonic and building
material emerged from the ground: tiles, bricks for opus spicatum, coarse
pottery, one black glaze fragment, one sherd of 4th century sigillata, plaster
fragments, white revetment marbles, fragments of mosaic in blue glass
paste tesserae, and paving stones. Two building phases are identiable,
one in yellow tufa opus reticulatum and the other in brick. Many stone
elements of torcularia were found in addition to a circular press bed. The
black glaze fragment and the sigillata can give a chronological span for
the occupancy of the villa from the late Republic to the 4th century.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #54

L36 – Piscina
To the north of Cerracchio farm a concrete pond is visible (1.60 u 5.80 u h
1.20 m). It has in the middle of one of the long sides a protruding podium
(1.30 u 0.35 m). At the beginning of the 20th century two rooms were
found, paved with black and white mosaics on suspensurae (3.40 u 3.20
m). One room was connected to a semicircular room. Re-used in the
construction of the villa, a peperino slab was found with the inscription:
Q. Iunius Ca Vhcus/sibi et.Iuniae Eglogen/colibertae suae. Also two stamped
tiles and a stula were found (CIL XI, 2.2, p. 1404 n 26: GLC).

Quilici Gigli 1976, #122

292 catalogue: latium

L37 – Poggio delle Cerquete
The most prominent visible feature of this villa, situated in the area
called “Muraccioli”, was the cistern, situated on the southeast end of
the complex, built in conglomerate with a facing of peperino blocks. To
the north were the remains of two walls in opus reticulatum, one using
limestone and the other tufa cubilia. To the west, and overlooking the
valley, were the remains of a large basis villae. The preserved part of the
terrace is 26 m long. The terracing wall was probably a double wall with
cryptoportico, since Quilici Gigli identied a collapsed wall with a series
of windows. Numerous pottery fragments were visible on the terrain. A
mill-stone was also recovered.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #399

L38 – Poggio di Formello
A large villa was located on the top of the hill, where the cistern was
visible. On the south slope were remains of terracing walls and an
underground cistern. To the east, next to the modern road, was a
monumental round tomb, an architectural type used in the late Republic.
The terracing walls of the villa used three different building techniques,
probably signs of three chronological phases. The rst wall used large
stones and no mortar; the second had a concrete core with a facing of
square limestone blocks; the third was of limestone conglomerate. With
the construction of the new terracing walls, the frons of the terrace was
advanced, thus enlarging the platform.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #258

latium: blera 293

L39 – S. Giovanni in Tuscia
A very large villa was identied under the town of Villa di S. Giovanni
in Tuscia, during public and private works in different parts of the town.
A rough calculation gives a gure of about 75 u 75 m for what seems
to have been only the residential part. The datable evidence points to
the late Empire. Two rooms, probably a bath suite, have been identied.
The rooms are built in opus latericium, the oors present mosaics dated
on stylistic grounds to the early 3rd century a.d. A barrel vaulted large
cryptoportico in opus caementicium with a wall facing of tufa blocks and
mosaic paving in black and white pebbles was also discovered. Other
nds include a statuary group of Eros and Psyche and an African lamp,
both dated to the 4th century. From this partial data it seems that the
large villa was built in the 3rd century, although the cryptoportico may
refer to a previous phase of the villa, later lavishly enlarged, but no clear
evidence is available to determine when the villa was constructed.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #358

L40 – S. Mariano
The extent of remains identied in this area indicates a large villa. The
only standing structures are the long cryptoportico and two rooms, incor-
porated in the ruins of a 17th century villa; the building technique is
tufa opus reticulatum. Traces of a Roman road have been located between
S. Mariano and Madonna del Ponte.

Quilici Gigli 1976, #83

294 catalogue: latium

Figure L41. Blera, Selvasecca (after Terrenato 2001b).

latium: blera 295

L41 – Selvasecca
The excavators have dated this villa to the 2nd century b.c., but Ter-
renato proposes a much earlier date for the villa. The layout presents
a central peristyle [A] with eight columns, and on the northeast side a
long, rectangular room [B] divided into two naves by pillars. The walls
are built in well-executed ashlar masonry. Many architectural terracot-
tas dated to the 5th and 4th centuries b.c. were recovered, and also a
few molds.

Terrenato 2001b
296 catalogue: latium

Figure L42. Boville, Casal Morena (after Coarelli 1981).

latium: boville 297

BOVILLE (Bovillae)
L42 – Casal Morena
The villa, commonly known as “Villa of Casal Morena”, in antiquity
was located near the VIII mile of the Via Latina, southeast of Rome.
The rst phase of the villa dates to the late 1st century b.c.; the complex
was restructured several times: under Domitian, under Hadrian and
again in the 4th century a.d. It seems that after the 4th century the
villa was no longer in use. The complex was rst discovered in 1740,
when it was reported that several statues were discovered. Among the
identied statues coming from this villa are an Athena bust, now in
Monaco, philosophers’ heads, and a group with Dionysus and a satyr (see
Neudecker 1988). The unearthing of the villa occurred in 1929 on the
initiative of the land owners; in the 1970s De Rossi studied the surviv-
ing remains. The surviving part of the villa was, in the rst phase, part
of the substructures of the complex; above them was the upper terrace
of the villa with the residential part proper, of which only scanty traces
were identied. These substructures were in part lled with soil and in
part used as cisterns (all the rooms on the eastern side of the complex
were originally cisterns). In the 1st century a.d. the substructures were
transformed into living quarters. The cisterns were abolished and the
rooms covered with barrel vaults. The ponds [A, B, C, D] continued
to contain water and have been interpreted by De Rossi as shponds
for shbreeding. In the 2nd century the bath quarter was added, with
walls built in opus mixtum [E], and new mosaic oors were laid. In the
rst phase of the villa on the west side was a garden, surrounded on
three sides by cryptoporticoes [F]. In a second phase the garden was
transformed into a covered hall, illuminated by windows opening in the
east wall. Above the vault covering the former garden, mosaics with veg-
etal scrolls on white background were found, dated to the 2nd century.
Another garden was on the south side of the villa [G], surrounded by
a portico, probably barrel vaulted.
In the northern section of the villa was a courtyard [H] with central
pillar, probably to hold wooden roong or a pergola. The pillar had an
octagonal base and, on each of its faces, a fresco depicting a large dolium
with a lid; on the four faces of the pillar were human gures, probably
related to a Dionysiac train (one identied gure was a dancing Maenad).
On the walls were other frescos depicting agricultural chores: men and
women picking grapes; pitching dolia; perhaps the personication of
a Season; and tools related to wine making. The paintings have been
dated to the 3rd–4th century a.d., and probably were illustrations of the
menologia rustica, agricultural calendars related to seasons. De Franceschini
suggests that the pars rustica of the villa probably had a wine press, con-
sidering the emphasis on wine making in the decoration of area [H];
she also suggests that perhaps the vats for shbreeding in reality related
to the processing of grapes.

De Rossi 1979; Coarelli 1981; Carandini 1985b; Neudecker 1988; De

Franceschini 2005: #85
298 catalogue: latium

Figure L43. Boville, Centroni (after Cozza 1952).

latium: boville 299

L43 – Centroni Villa
The villa is located on the hills to the left of the Via Anagnina (km 12),
not far from casal morena. Built on different terraces, it dates to the
late Republic/early Empire. The building technique used in the villa is
opus incertum. A complex system of underground rooms created the sub-
structures for the upper platform of the villa. Most of these rooms had
vertical shafts communicating with the upper level for ventilation. Some
of these rooms were in fact cisterns [A]; for others a use as storerooms
has been proposed.
The villa had a monumental natatio (33.18 u 9.60 m), with three
different levels of depth [B]. Two staircases, added in a second phase,
provided access. Towards the hill side at the level of the natatio is a
retaining wall with a series of arches and openings for water channels.
The water, coming from the cisterns, would have fallen into the pool in
a series of small cascades. In the ll of this pool, fragments of stucco,
wall paintings, and mosaic elements (sea shells and glass paste tesserae)
were found. According to Lavagne the structure of the walls of the natatio
is clearly late Republican; Mielsch dates it to the Augustan period. A
private aqueduct, coming from nearby springs and cisterns provided the
large water supply needed. Two public aqueducts run in the proximity,
the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. The villa had cryptoporticoes and a
nymphaeum. In 1926, structures possibly belonging to farmsteads and/or
the pars rustica of the villa, also comprising a deposit of wine amphorae,
were discovered at the bottom of the hill where the villa stood.

Paribeni 1926; Cozza 1952; Devoti 1978 (for the cisterns); De Rossi 1979;
Carandini 1985b; Mielsch 1987; Lavagne 1988
300 catalogue: latium

CANTALUPO (Ager Foronovanus)

L44 – Colle Tulliano
The site, in antiquity part of Sabina, was in the territory of Forum
Novum. Only scanty remains of structures in opus reticulatum are visible.
The antiquarian tradition related this villa to Cicero, on the basis of the
place name Tulliano, and of an inscription found in the area mentioning a
freedman of the gens Tullia, Tulius Epaphra (CIL, IX.4840; XV.1441).

Coarelli 1981; Sternini 2004

L45 – Oppitola
A modern farmhouse incorporates a buttressed opus reticulatum wall, clearly
part of a terracing structure. The wall seems to delimit also an impluvium
but no other structures are visible.

Sternini 2004

L46 – S. Adamo
A survey carried out in 1985 identied the presence of ancient structures
around the Church of S. Adamo, including remains of walls in opus
caementicium re-used in a modern farm. These remains can be related to
the discovery of various fragments of columns and statues during works
for a modern road, and should refer to the villa described by Ashby. In
his description, reported by Lugli, we nd mention of a wall in opus
latericium dated to ca. 2nd century a.d. In the 1600s various statues were
discovered around the Church of S. Adamo, and in the 19th century a
portion of a paved Roman road was visible in front of the church. All
these elements are indications of a villa with a certain degree of décor,
and not of a simple farm.

Sternini 2004
latium: cantalupo 301

L47 – S. Stefano
On the S. Stefano Hill are the remains of a villa, currently poorly pre-
served as it was used as a source of building material in the past. Besides
the remains of walls, one can observe an intense pottery surface scatter,
but the presence of fragments of columns, statues, and entablatures used
as building material in the nearby farms indicates that it was a villa. The
only chronological indication comes from tombs and coins recovered in
the area, dating to the Republican and Imperial periods.

Sternini 2004

L48 – S. Vito
The villa in the area of S. Vito was already described in the 19th century
when Guattani recorded a tower in opus reticulatum, probably a castellum
aquae. Lugli wrote about impressive remains, especially the basis villae
with retaining walls in opus reticulatum and a cistern in the middle of the
substructures. The remains of the villa were converted into a convent
in the Middle Ages.

Sternini 2004
catalogue: latium

Figure L49. Capena, Giardino (after Potter 1979).

latium: capena – capranica 303

CAPENA (Ager Capenas) (See Map 10, p. 364)

L49 – Giardino
This villa, located near S. Oreste, was organized on three terraces, mea-
suring ca. 200 u 70 m. It is dated on the basis of building technique
and material nds to the 1st century a.d., with traces of changes and
restorations in the 2nd century a.d. The lower terrace [A] was never
excavated and presents only terracing walls. Potter suggests that the pars
rustica is to be located here. It is also possible that a garden occupied this
terrace, since this is usually the architectural type occurring in other rural
villas. The second terrace [B] had several water cisterns on its southern
side. Another big cistern [C] (ca. 63 u 5 m) separates this terrace from
the upper one. The upper terrace [D] has remains of oor mosaics and
a hypocaust system.

Jones 1962; Potter 1979

L50 – Monte Canino
An early Imperial villa with a wine press was discovered at Monte Canino.
The villa was probably built over an earlier, late Republican farm/villa,
since a wall in tufa blocks in association with black glaze pottery was
discovered. In the Imperial period the villa was enlarged. The known
part of the villa measures ca. 70 m² and has large rooms decorated in
stucco and marble veneer.Two side wings probably unfolded around a
central courtyard. In the southwest wing a wooden press was found.
Other structures are located to the southeast of the building, possibly a
courtyard with barns. The nds recovered show an occupation down to
the late Empire. Later the area was used as a cemetery. In Mazzi 1995:
77, the site of the villa, located by Jones towards Monte della Casetta, is
instead located to the immediate east of Ponte della Madonna, along the
southern boundary of the municipal (modern) territory of Capena.

Pallottino 1937; Jones 1962; Potter 1979; Mazzi 1995

CAPRANICA (Vicus Matrini) (See Map 5, p. 284)

In the Forma Italiae survey dedicated to the area of Vicus Matrini, few
of the sites are labeled as villas because of the poor preservation of the
archaeological evidence; however, the number of surface scatters com-
prising building material and pottery, combined with the cisterns and
monumental tombs identied and listed in the volume, indicates that the
diffusion of villas in this area was high. In most cases nothing can be
said on the chronology and the type of settlements (i.e., farms vs. villas).
Please refer also to villas listed under Bassano di Sutri.
304 catalogue: latium

L51 – Fonte del Lupo
The site presented only scanty remains of a villa known since 1940. Part
of a mosaic oor with black, white and red tesserae was uncovered in the
northeast corner of a room. About the structure, archive documents
report only that the wall discovered was part of a “building polygonal
in shape”.

Andreussi 1977, #253

L52 – Muracciolo
Remains of a villa and a cistern have been located in the area known as
“Muracciolo”, 250 m northwest of the Via Cassia. The structures of the
villa were partly uncovered by clandestine excavations, which revealed a
reticulate wall, painted plaster fragments, and a oor. The oor had two
phases: a white tesserae mosaic was later covered by a cocciopesto oor.

Andreussi 1977, #176

L53 – Oriano
A surface scatter of building material indicated the presence of a villa
at Oriano. Besides numerous tile and common ware fragments, spicatum
bricks, mosaic tesserae, marble and lead pieces were also seen; tufa ashlar
blocks and column shafts were re-used in modern constructions nearby.
The local population also remembered the existence of a circular cistern
connected to a tank.

Andreussi 1977 #206

L54 – Poggio Cavaliere
This villa was recorded by Duncan, who saw a surface scatter of tufa
blocks, bricks, white marble and blue glass paste mosaic tesserae. Andreussi
reported the testimony of local people, who said that during agricul-
tural works part of a mosaic was uncovered (and destroyed). The oor
apparently had two phases: a polychrome mosaic was covered by one
with blue tesserae.

Andreussi 1977, #232

L55 – Vico Lake
On the hill crest of the crater lled by the Vico Lake large terracing walls
in opus caementicium, belonging to a villa, were recorded. The presence of
walls both in reticulate and in opus latericium indicates two chronological
latium: casperia 305

phases. Red plaster fragments, tufelli, tiles, marble, Italic sigillata and
amphorae were seen. The villa had a cistern.

Andreussi 1977 #228

L56 – Paranzano
Nowadays only some walls in opus reticulatum are visible, but in 1871
a nymphaeum with a series of niches for statues and an opus sectile oor
featuring giallo antico, africano and other marbles was discovered. Two
statues depicting female gures were found; one is currently in Geneva,
the other in Copenhagen. The gures were holding in one hand shells
showing traces of water spouts; also the belly button of the statues were
shown to have housed water spouts. Many stamped stulae referable to
Antonia C. L. Pallantiana were found, together with brick stamps reading
ex g. Pallant. Caes. N. opvs doliare, perhaps an indication of ownership of
the villa, also in consideration of the modern place name, which seems
to derive from Pallantianus. Brick stamps recovered during the 1871
excavation date to the 1st century a.d. and in one case to 133 a.d., as
indicated by the name of the consuls for that year. The size and nature
of the ruins seen by Lugli made him consider the possibility that the
remains belonged to more than one villa. Portions of reticulate walls
were described in various parts of Paranzano, and also fragments of
black and white tesserae mosaics. The church itself is built over a previous
structure, probably Roman. An area measuring ca. 100 u 80 m can be
related to the platform of the villa. Also a structure in opus mixtum dated
to the 2nd century a.d. was recorded.

Sternini 2004

L57 – S. Maria in Legarano
The villa was quite large and its structures have been in part incorporated
in the Church of S. Maria. On the south and east sides the retaining
walls of the basis villae are still visible, built in opus incertum with buttressing
walls of brick. It seems that the villa had two terraces. Two mosaic oors
are visible; one with geometric pattern with white, black and red tesserae
is located in the church; the other mosaic is outside the church. Other
remains include a room and a vat paved in opus spicatum. In addition to
these elements, granite and porphyry columns, marble capitals, a statue
and a block belonging to a press indicate that the villa had both a pars
urbana and a pars rustica. The substructures are dated to the early Empire.
In an undetermined date the villa became Imperial property, since it was
included in Constantine’s donation to Pope Sylvester.

Migliario 1988, Sternini 2004

306 catalogue: latium

Figure L58. Castel Fusano, La Chiesola (after Lauro 1998).

latium: castel fusano 307

CASTEL FUSANO (Ager Laurentinus) (See Map 7, p. 312)

L58 – La Chiesola, also “Villa del confine”, so-called
The remains of this villa have been labeled “Villa del Conne” or
“boundary villa” because part of the ruins is located in the presidential
estate of Castelporziano and part in the city park of Castel Fusano. The
portion in the estate of Castelporziano was really never excavated or
studied, whereas the part in the park of Castel Fusano was cleaned from
vegetation and recorded in 1954 under the direction of A. Colini.
At least three distinct units, connected with each other, formed the
complex. The building technique is opus latericium, indication of a con-
struction in the 2nd century a.d. Some walls built in opus reticulatum show
a previous phase for the complex. The northeast portion of the villa,
measuring 60 u 20 m, presents a series of long, parallel walls, which
could be porticoes, corridors or gardens, ending on the north side with
a hall with apses [A], like a triclinium. On the sea side this hall is anked
by probable service rooms. On the southeast side, the Via Severiana
deviates slightly, possibly showing that the villa extended to this point.
The area occupied by the villa in the Castelporziano estate shows a great
quantity of building material. The chronology of the complex goes from
the 1st century to the 3rd century a.d.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #B1

catalogue: latium

Figure L59. Castel Fusano, Villa Plinio (after Ramieri 1995).

latium: castel fusano 309

Castel Fusano
L59 – Villa Plinio, also Palombara
Possibly this is Pliny’s Laurentine villa. The excavated part of the villa
consists of essentially two blocks. The rst block is a large quadri-portico
in opus reticulatum with two series of columns, enclosing a garden [A] with
a curvilinear fountain/pond; baths are located in the west corner [B].
One of the rooms of the baths has a mosaic oor depicting Neptune
and hippocampi. Another rectangular block constituted the residential
quarters [C], with a cryptoportico in its southeast end. Most likely
another cryptoportico was located also in the southwest, completing the
substructures for the residential part.
The two parts were linked by some rooms in opus reticulatum on the
southwest side, similar to the one used for the quadri-portico and dated
to the mid-1st century. These rooms [D] show constant repairs and
usage up to Severan times. Traces of ooring in precious marbles were
recovered. It seems that the main entrance to the villa was from the sea
side and not from the Via Severiana.

Ramieri 1995; Ramieri 2002

310 catalogue: latium

Figure L60. Castel di Guido, Colonnacce (after De Franceschini 2005).

latium: castel di guido 311


L60 – Colonnacce
In the territory of Castel di Guido, at km 16.8 of the modern Aurelia
(mile XI of the ancient Aurelia) part of an elegant villa was excavated.
Ancient sources mention that the Antonine family had a villa in Lorium;
whether this site should be related to the Imperial property or not is
not clear.
A central peristyle [A] was excavated along with some rooms unfolding
around it. The villa was built in the 2nd/1st century b.c., as indicated
by walls in opus incertum; in this phase it presented the typical atrium [B]
with impluvium. In the 1st century a.d. it was enlarged, with the construc-
tion of the peristyle, the rooms on the south side, and the free standing
cistern [C] (10 u 6 u 3 m). From one of these rooms [D], rectangular
in plan, barrel vaulted and with two doorways, come over 3,000 frag-
ments of nely executed wall decoration in the Third Style, which has
recently been reconstructed and restored. The paving of this room was
a polychrome mosaic oor with an elaborate geometric pattern, dated
to the early 1st century a.d. Rooms [E] and [F] had an opus sectile oor.
The villa also had an underground cistern, dug in tufa, made by a net-
work of tunnels, which belongs to the earlier phase of the building. On
the north side of the peristyle were the press rooms [G and H], where
the press bed was found, three vats and some dolia; room [I] was a stor-
age area. This part of the villa existed already in the rst phase. Brick
stamps reading L. Coelius Nicephorus have been recovered, and since they
are currently attested only in this villa it has been suggested that maybe
he was the owner. The excavators report that the villa was used until
the 3rd century a.d., but the nds recovered in the excavation have not
yet been published.

Sanzi Di Mino 1990; De Franceschini 2005, #54

catalogue: latium

Map 7. Castelporziano (Ager Laurentinus) (A. Marzano).

latium: castel giuliano – castelporziano 313


L61 – Quarticcioli
On a small hill along the valley of Fosso del Tavolato remains of a
Roman villa are located on different terraces. The villa was rst dug by
clandestine excavators, and later investigated by the Soprintendenza in
1989. Field survey identied pottery fragments and building material
spread over an area of 1 ha. In the nearby area are several mineral
springs. The villa, dated to early Imperial times, was close to two roads:
the road that connected Rome to southern coastal Etruria, between the
Clodia and the Aurelia; and the road that connected the area of the
Sabatino Lake with Cerveteri. Five rooms have been identied, but
the research focused on a single room (only 35 m² have been excavated)
with a mosaic oor with central emblema. No oor plan is published in
the article. The walls of this room are built in small blocks of red tufa
and mortar.

Adinol and Carmagnola 1991

CASTELPORZIANO (Ager Laurentinus)

L62 – Fosso del Pantanello
Immediately to the south of the villa L63 – grotte di piastra are the
unexcavated ruins of a villa. The remains are L-shaped, covering an
area of 120 u 175 m, and seem to be oriented east-west. The modern
channel del Pantanello cuts the remains in two. One can see walls in
opus mixtum and in opus latericium and a notable quantity of building
material. The orientation of these remains and of those of grotte di
piastra seems to indicate that in antiquity there was a bay. The site is
generically dated to the 2nd century.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #C4

catalogue: latium

Figure L63. Castelporziano Grotte di Piastra (after Castelporziano 1985).

latium: castelporziano 315

L63 – Grotte di Piastra, also Villa Magna
The ruins of the so-called Villa Magna at Grotte di Piastra are, accord-
ing to Salza Prina Ricotti, to be identied with Pliny’s Laurentinum. The
identied area of this U-shaped complex measures ca. 180 u 165 m. The
walls are in good quality opus reticulatum dated to the late 1st century b.c.;
some poor quality walls are dated to the late Empire.
Two nuclei, protruding towards the sea, are the main features of the
complex [A and B]. Nucleus A rests on substructures formed by bar-
rel vaulted rooms. The rooms on this platform present various phases,
dating from the 1st century b.c. to the 3rd century a.d. In one of these
phases, dated on the basis of brick stamps to 123 a.d., the baths were
built [C], obliterating the previous area of the cryptoportico and terrace
overlooking the sea. A probe trench found another bath suite, a little
inland from the front of the villa. Salza Prina Ricotti believes that these
are the baths with spheristerion described by Pliny.
Area C, connecting the two main parts A and B, shows walls dated to
the 2nd and 3rd centuries, whose layout is difcult to interpret. Area B
was not excavated, but mounds regularly oriented indicate the presence
of walls. Only 50 m away from Villa Magna is a site showing a regular
square shape (ca. 100 u 100 m). The base of a pillar built in brick emerges
from the ground. It seems that this was a quadri-portico.

Castelporziano 1985
catalogue: latium

Figure L64a. Tor Paterno, Imperial Villa: E4–5 (Castelporziano 1988).

latium: castelporziano 317

L64 – Tor Paterno, Imperial Villa
This villa, Imperial in date (late 1st century/early 2nd century a.d.), is
located at Tor Paterno and was identied as Pliny’s Laurentinum by some
scholars. Currently, it is widely accepted as the Imperial residence of
Laurentum, but because of the past identication with Pliny’s villa it has
been included in the catalogue.
The villa had an aqueduct, which ran partly underground and partly
in elevation. In recent years the aqueduct has been restored and stud-
ied. It was fed by springs located at La Santola and was connected to a
complex system of water management structures, denitely organized
in the Imperial period (see Bedello Tata 1995). The ow capacity of the
aqueduct was calculated to be 149 l/s and it is possible that, although
built for the needs of the Imperial residence, it also fed other residential
villas (Lauro 1998: 66 ff.). The various cisterns known in the area must
have been connected to the aqueduct, although studies are still in prog-
ress. The discovery in 1990 of a long pipeline still in situ also shows the
complexity of management of the water supply. The pipeline runs north-
east, with an inclination towards Tor Paterno. The stulae present several
stamps of Ti. Claudius Pompeianus, Marcus Aurelius’ son-in-law, and of
C. Ostiensis Felicissimus, the owner of the pipe factory in Ostia.
Several sectors of the Imperial residence are known, over a large area,
but the complex was never excavated as a whole. About 80 m away
from the modern Via del Telefono, moving northeast, a series of rooms
is visible, probably excavated in the early 1900s. One can distinguish
two parallel corridors and various rectangular rooms. The discovery of
fragments of ne stucco decorations, polychrome mosaics, marble, etc. in
these rooms identies them as residential quarters. Traces on the terrain
show that the structures continue in unexcavated areas. The rst phase
of this sector, labeled E4, is to be dated to 160 a.d. on the basis of brick
stamps. Later building phases were also detected, in opus latericium and
opus listatum, dated between the 3rd and the late 4th centuries.
318 catalogue: latium

Figure L64b. Tor Paterno, Imperial Villa: E6 (after Lauro 1998).

latium: castelporziano 319

L64 – Tor Paterno, Imperial Villa, CONT.

On the opposite side of E4 is a bath complex, labeled E6, dated to the
second half of the 2nd century, and constituting the westernmost limit
of the Imperial villa on the sea side.
The ruins visible 250 m to the right of Via del Telefono and labeled
F1 must also have been part of the Imperial villa. A hall with an apse
is visible, with traces of marble revetment. Numerous fragments of
marble are visible (giallo antico, alabaster, African marble, etc.), together
with remains of walls.
catalogue: latium

Figure L64c. Tor Paterno, Imperial Villa: F3–4 (after Lauro 1998).
latium: castelporziano 321

L64 – Tor Paterno, Imperial Villa, CONT.

Not far from this site are the baths F3, drawn by Lanciani, but then
later by mistake published by Lugli as referring to buildings at Portus
Traiani. These were large and monumental baths. The entire layout is
preserved as well as many walls in elevation. The frigidarium [A] was a
large rectangular room, in the Lanciani plan divided by a colonnade.
From here one would pass to two tepidaria with pools with apses [B],
and to the rooms of the caldarium [C]. One end of the natatio [D] also
presented an apse.
The southern part of this complex was built later than the nucleus just
described. The exedra [E] visible in this southern part on the plan was
also a later addition, both having static structural purposes and offering
a spectacular façade on the sea side. Below the frigidarium were some bar-
rel-vaulted rooms, possibly service rooms. The position and orientation
of the complex seem to indicate that the baths were on the coastline in
correspondence with a cove. The complex dates to the 1st century a.d.
with restorations until the 4th century. Possibly to be considered part
of F3 are the so-called Terme Lanciani (F4), a small bath complex, partly
excavated and showing phases form the 1st to the 4th century.
322 catalogue: latium

Figure L64d. Tor Paterno, Imperial Villa: F12 (after Lauro 1998).
latium: castelporziano 323

Other baths are located to the southeast of the previous structures

(F12). The whole layout of the bath quarters, the foundation level and,
in some spots, also part of the walls are preserved. Not far from the
baths is a very large, rectangular cistern.

Bedello Tata 1995; Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998

L65 – Tor Paterno, Villa and NYMPHAEUM
It is not clear whether this villa, labeled F15, was part of the large
complex of the Imperial residence or not. The remains were discovered
in 1985–86 during construction and consist of a series of walls in opus
reticulatum belonging to the rst phase of the villa (1st century a.d.), later
cut and in part obliterated by other walls. In the south portion, after the
rst phase, several rooms with hypocaustum were added. Building phases
span from the 1st to the 4th century a.d. In conjunction with this villa
is another complex. A small nymphaeum, labeled F16, is visible, as well
as a cistern, built on top of previous structures very likely belonging to
a villa rustica.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #F15 and F16

L66 – Villa
This villa, never excavated, is located between L58 – castel fusano, la
chiesola villa and the ancient settlement of Vicus Augustanus. The area
occupied by the remains emerging from the ground measures 50 u 80 m.
Bricks, tiles and cubilia cover the surface. The side inland is intersected
by a modern road, Via del Telefono, but the portion on the sea side
presents opus latericium walls, it seems circularly shaped, and might have
been the bath complex. It is possible that this site was in some kind of
architectonical relationship with the Vicus, since one portion of the Vicus
shows the same alignment as these structures. Surface material gives a
chronology from the 2nd to the 3rd century a.d.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #B3

324 catalogue: latium

L67 – Villa
Located between the ancient site of Vicus Augustanus and L63 – grotte
di piastra, the area covered by the ruins of this villa measures ca. 140 u
80 m. The modern Via del Telefono cuts the ruins almost in the middle.
The portion on the sea side presents an L-shaped mound, rising above
ground level for 3.50–4 m, and measuring ca. 82 m and ca. 40 m, which
may be the remains of a portico. This mound and the area next to it
are covered by tiles, bricks, tufa cubilia, and pieces of cocciopesto. Also,
a column fragment in white marble from Luni was seen. The surface
material offers a generic date of the 2nd century a.d. It seems that in
the 3rd century phase dated under Septimius Severus the villa belonged
to M. Antonius Balbus.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #C1

L68 – Villa
This site is in alignment with, and close to, villa L69 and villa L70.
The area where traces of ancient walls, 3–4 m high, can be seen mea-
sures 175 u 90 m. In the section opened by the cut of modern Via dello
Chalet one can see structures in opus reticulatum and fragments of painted
plaster. The structures are dated to the 1st/2nd century a.d.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #D3

latium: castelporziano 325

L69 – Villa
The site shows a rectangular form (80 u 40 m) with a central area at
a lower elevation. Traces of walls in opus reticulatum can be seen in two
spots: along the southeast side, in relation to a piece of mosaic oor,
with black and white tesserae dated to the late Republic/early Empire.
Other portions of the wall present larger cubilia, possible indication of
two phases. At the moment no phases later than the 1st century a.d.
are known.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #D5

L70 – Villa
This site is very similar to villa L69. The square area, measuring 80
u 40 m, was probably the peristyle. Traces of walls in opus reticulatum
are visible.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #D6

326 catalogue: latium

Figure L71. Castelporziano-Capocotta G2 (after Lauro 1998).

latium: castelporziano – capocotta 327


L71 – Villa
The bath quarters of this villa are visible, constituting the northernmost
extension of a large villa. The structures show three building phases from
the 1st century to the 4th century a.d. and consist of a frigidarium with
a rectangular pool [A] and heated rooms. Behind the baths remains of
walls and of paving stones, probably pertaining to the Via Severiana, are
visible on the surface. The southern part of the villa was never excavated,
but traces of walls in opus reticulatum are visible.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #G2

328 catalogue: latium

Figure L72. Castelporziano-Capocotta: Discobolos villa (after Lauro 1998).

latium: castelporziano – capocotta 329

Castelporziano – Capocotta
L72 – Villa of the Discobolos
This large villa was partly excavated in the early 1900s. The complex
consisted of two main parts separated by a garden. The northwestern
part, excavated in 1906, measures 22 u 24 m, and its rst phase was
dated, on the basis of brick stamps, to 142 a.d. However, the presence
of an underground cistern [A] in opus reticulatum below the colonnaded
terrace indicates an earlier phase. Other phases down to the 3rd century
were identied. The name of the villa comes from the discovery of a
copy of Miron’s Discobolos [B], now in the Museo Nazionale Romano.
The plan of the northwest part published by Lanciani shows a colon-
naded terrace on the side of the Via Severiana, and three accesses by
staircases on the sea side. The rooms unfold around a large central hall,
with a curved wall in the center delimiting an alcove [C]. The hall had a
black and white tesserae mosaic oor, except in front of the alcove where
there was opus sectile.

Lauro and Claridge in Lauro 1998, #G3

catalogue: latium

Figure L73. Castro dei Volsci, Casale di Madonna del Piano (after Laurenti 1990).
latium: castro dei volsci 331


L73 – Casale di Madonna del Piano
Part of a villa, built on at least three terraces, was excavated in 1984
ca. 1 km away from the bank of the Sacco River, between the ancient
urban centers of Fabrateria Vetus and Fabrateria Nova, modern Ceccano
and S. Giovanni Incarico. An area measuring 60 u 20 m was uncovered.
The villa plan presents a series of rooms on three sides of a corridor
[A], which surrounds a rectangular courtyard. Only part of the south,
west and east sides of the courtyard were excavated. Twelve rooms are
located on the south side of the corridor, which has a mosaic oor in
black and white tesserae.
On the northwest side of this corridor another corridor [B] was found,
in relation to two large semi-circular rooms. The interpretation of the
function of these rooms is problematic. In a previous phase Rooms [C,
D], and [E–L] were connected to each other; subsequently the door-
ways between Rooms D, E, F, and G were blocked. All the rooms had
mosaic oors, except Rooms E, F, I, L, and [M], which had opus sectile
oors. In Room K and L fragments of the marble crustae from the walls
were also found. During the phase of demise of the villa, numerous
fragmented marble crustae and other marble pieces from various parts of
the villa were piled up in Room G. Corridor B did not have any oor-
ing preserved. A stula ran through this corridor, coming from Room
[N], where there was a vat faced in bricks and cocciopesto. The ooring
of the room was in opus signinum. It is not clear for what kind of service
activity or production this room was used. Another room south of this
one also had two vats.
Only a preliminary study of the nds was completed; at the moment
the villa appears to have been built in the 2nd century a.d.; the mosaic
in Room L is dated to the late 3rd century, together with the new marble
decoration of the walls. Maybe at this same time the apse at the end of
the corridor was added. Among the pottery nds are numerous frag-
ments of Palichet 47 amphorae. Many fragments of spatheia and African
kitchen ware were recovered in the upper part of the ll of the drains
and indicate use of the villa until late antiquity. In the late 4th–early
5th centuries a religious building was erected in one of the courtyards.
13 Late Antique burials (6th–7th centuries) were discovered along the
walls of the pars rustica, with luxury items such as gold jewelry and glass
A cistern was located 30 m to the east of the complex and is possibly
related to an aqueduct that was discovered in the area years ago. Perhaps
the Roman structures known in the area as the “baths of Nerva” also
belong to this villa.

Laurenti 1985; 1990; Di Gennaro and Griesbach 2003

catalogue: latium

Map 8. Circeo (A. Marzano).

latium: circeo 333

CIRCEO (Circeii)
catalogue: latium

Figure L74. Circeo, Casarina (after Lugli 1928).

latium: circeo 335

CIRCEO (Circeii)
L74 – Casarina
On the southern shore of the Lake of Paola, at the end of a promontory,
was a large villa, of which the bath complex was identied. A large hall
with apses and windows [A], later incorporated into a medieval mon-
astery, presented walls in opus incertum and in opus vittatum. Not far from
this site Lugli lists another villa, although it is possible that the remains
of walls in opus mixtum he saw emerging from the vegetation belong to
the same complex as the baths.

Lugli 1928: 51, #14–15

L75 – Grotta dei Banditi
Scanty remains of a villa were recorded by Lugli in this location. He saw
a platform with retaining walls built in opus incertum and in the middle of
the substrucutre a vaulted cistern measuring 16.05 u 1.86 m.

Lugli 1928: 38, #42

L76 – Grotta della Carella
On the northern side of Circeo, Lugli noted remains of a two-nave,
vaulted cistern and retaining walls in opus incertum forming the platform
for a villa.

Lugli 1928: 34, #35

336 catalogue: latium

Figure L77. Circeo, Grotta della Sibilla (after Lugli 1928).

latium: circeo 337

L77 – Grotta della Sibilla
A platform formed by a retaining wall in opus incertum was the basis for
a villa. A vaulted cistern [A] was part of the substructures (20 u 2.60
m; h. 2.70 m, to the start of the vault). The cistern seems to have been
fed by a nearby stream. Fragments of opus sectile tiles and tufelli showed
chronological phases subsequent to the one represented by the opus
incertum of the retaining wall.

Lugli 1928: 34, #36

338 catalogue: latium

Figure L78. Circeo, Imperial Villa (after Lugli 1928).

latium: circeo 339

L78 – Imperial Villa
Domitian’s residence on the shore of the lake was built on a spot occu-
pied by an earlier villa; Lugli suggested that the villa was where Augustus
conned his colleague M. Lepidus (Svet. Aug 16). Domitian re-used part
of the earlier structures, which included a courtyard with a portico or
ambulatio with reticulate walls and with a rectangular pool [A] in the
centre (59 u 32 m), curved at the northeast end. The wall enclosing this
space was decorated with engaged pillars and semi-columns, plastered
in imitation of marble veneer. On the lake shore was a building with
a semicircular plan [B]. Radial walls departed from the inner circle
towards an outer wall which Lugli saw only in a few places. He judged
that these radial walls were not visible in antiquity, since they had no
nishing; hence the uncertainty about the nature of the building. A ter-
racing wall in opus incertum and a cistern also belong to the earlier villa.
To the south of this nucleus is the sector built under Domitian [C]. A
generic 1st century b.c. date was assigned to the Republican nucleus on
the basis of building technique.

Lugli 1928: Imperial villa #11–15

L79 – Monte Circeo
Lugli described remains of a villa located about midway from L86 –
torre moresca and Torre Cervia, on the southern side of the Circeo
peninsula. He identied an ancient platform made of two walls abut-
ting each other (l. 6 u h. 1.5 m). One wall, built with stone footing and
triangular bricks is dated to the late 1st century a.d.; the other, employing
only small limestone chips, is dated to the Republican period. To the west
of this structure was a court paved in opus spicatum, and in the middle of
it a masonry fountain basin (2.60 u 2.75 m) with rounded angles. On
the surface Lugli observed fragments of tiles, bricks, dolia, and limestone
columns. Two cisterns were recorded not far from the villa, according
to Lugli fed by the stream coming from the Valle Caduta. One cistern
(5.95 u 2.50 m; h. not recorded) was divided into two naves and was
covered by a barrel vault; the second cistern, probably an open-air tank,
had a circular shape (ø 6 m).

Lugli 1928: 26, #29

catalogue: latium

Figure L81. Circeo, Murone (after Lugli 1928).

latium: circeo 341

L80 – Monte di Leano
To the east of the Sisto River, on a hill at the foot of Monte Leano, Lugli
recorded a large villa built on an articial platform. On the north side
of the platform the retaining wall was buttressed and had large arched
windows, which illuminated the barrel vaulted rooms on the upper level.
Lugli saw on the walls the sockets for the wooden posts that created the
two levels of the villa. On the west side of the complex the retaining
wall and cryptoportico were mostly in ruin. Cisterns were located to the
north of the platform, and probably in the middle of the platform as
well. On the surface of the articial terrace Lugli saw large walls and
fragments of vaults. The walls were built in opus incertum, dated by the
scholar to the period between the Gracchi and Sulla.

Lugli 1928: 62, #44

L81 – Murone
The remains of this villa were identied between the town of S. Felice
al Circeo and the coast, and consisted of a building on an articially
attened rock spur, with two porticoes ( porticus in gamma). The north
side of the portico measured 54.70 m and was built in opus incertum
with small stones. The lower part of this wall had blind arches. The
west side, built with a similar technique and design, measured 29.70 m.
Lugli noted large fragments of collapsed vaults and two stone blocks, in
situ, with protruding rectangular elements, possibly belonging to pillars
of a portico or atrium, paved with opus spicatum. He reported seeing on
this oor “in alcuni punti si trovano incastrati dei cerchi fatti con frammenti di
coppi messi per taglio, a somiglianza dell’opera spicata stessa”. I wonder if these
“circles” might be related to press beds, but unfortunately no measure-
ments or record of the number of circles was given. This site is not far
from the villa L90 – villetta.

Lugli 1928: 9, #10

342 catalogue: latium

L82 – Peretto
The scanty remains of this villa were located to the northwest of S.
Felice; the villa was built on an articial platform, and Lugli could see
the walls emerging from the ground. At a higher level was a two-nave
cistern, already partly destroyed when Lugli surveyed it.

Lugli 1928: 38, #43

L83 – S. Maria della Sorresca
The Church of S. Maria della Sorresca, on the shore at the north end of
the lake of Paola, was built in the 6th century a.d. by the Benedictines
on a spot previously occupied by a villa. Various architectural elements
and columns are re-used in the church walls. Nearby was a cistern (6 u
4.5 m) in opus mixtum, dated to the late 1st/early 2nd century a.d.

Lugli 1928, #31–32

latium: circeo 343

L84 – S. Vito
In the middle of what was once the marsh area inland from the Circeo
peninsula, in the vicinity of the Church of S. Vito, a large villa rustica
was recorded. The little church was in part built using the Roman
structures as the foundation, and used a cistern of the villa as a crypt.
Farmers reported nding walls and black and white mosaic tesserae when
ploughing their elds.

Lugli 1928: 54, #27

344 catalogue: latium

Figure L85. Circeo, Torre del Fico (after Lafon 2001).

latium: circeo 345

L85 – Torre del Fico
Remains of a shpond together with some structures on the coast were
recorded in a small cove on the south side of the Circeo peninsula. The
structures were badly damaged by a quarry, which cut the hillside creat-
ing a theater-like shape. In the past some scholars and travelers were
misled by this shape and mistakenly identied the remains as belonging
to a theater. The shpond was rectangular (50 u 30 m), sub-divided into
two circular tanks on the sides and a rectangular one in the center [A].
Other rectangular compartments seem to have been on the sea side. Lugli
reported that the construction was not of good quality; the foundation
and core of the walls were in conglomerate which used large limestone
and tufa pieces, possibly with a facing in opus incertum. On the shore, scanty
remains of walls in opus incertum were visible, including, on opposite sides,
two trilobal apses [B], maybe part of the bath quarters. Two sites listed
by Lugli as villas are located ca. 200 m from this shpond, very close
to each other (19 and 20). In both cases the articial platform forming
the basis villae is visible. At Site 19 the surviving platform measured 16
u 30.20 m and was built in opus polygonale; Site 20, located 120 m to the
northeast of the previous one, had at least two terraces. One measured
32.10 u 36.40 m, and was also built in opus polygonale.

Lugli 1928: 13, #18–20; Lafon 2001

346 catalogue: latium

Figure L86. Circeo, Torre Moresca (after Lugli 1928).

latium: circeo 347

L86 – Torre Moresca
Only the terraces and the cisterns belonging to this villa were visible when
Lugli surveyed the area located immediately inland from where Torre
Moresca once stood. On the upper terrace was a rectangular cistern
(17.20 u 5.90 m; h. not recorded) [A] in opus incertum, with an inow
made of roof tiles. Lugli recorded two other terraces at a lower level,
with retaining walls in opus incertum, of which the bottom one measured
30.70 u 32.60 m. On this terrace was another cistern, smaller in size
(6 m. long; width and height not given) [B].

Lugli 1928: 26, #30

348 catalogue: latium

Figure L87. Circeo, Torre Vittoria (after Lugli 1928).

latium: circeo 349

L87 – Torre Vittoria
Remains of a maritime villa were identied by the sea, right under Torre
Vittoria. Immediately inland Lugli saw a rectangular enclosure (57.20 u
32.90 m) [A] and a possible portico or corridor [B], which ran under a
modern farmhouse. The walls had footings made with large stones and
were built in opus reticulatum.

Lugli 1928: 7, #8

L88 – Villa
Two villas were identied by Lugli on the shore of the lake between the
L74 – casarina site and the large L78 – imperial villa. At the rst site
he saw the retaining wall built with triangular bricks and, on the platform
above, rooms in opus mixtum with polychrome reticulate walls.

Lugli 1928: 54, #19

L89 – Villa
The second of the two villas identied by Lugli between the L74 – casa-
rina site and the large L78 – imperial villa presented walls in opus mixtum
protruding towards the lake. Lugli judged it a fairly large villa, but could
not examine the ruins closely because of the thick vegetation.

Lugli 1928: 54, #20

350 catalogue: latium

Figure L90a. Circeo, Villetta: rst terrace (after Lugli 1928).

Figure L90b. Circeo, Villetta: second terrace (after Lugli 1928).

latium: circeo 351

L90 – Villetta, also I Quattro Venti
The maritime villa, close to L81 – murone, had a very large basis villae
formed by multiple substructures. Two parallel retaining walls created
the platform, connected by perpendicular walls every 5.90 m. Because
of the morphology of the terrain, the south side of the platform is not
straight; the resulting triangular space was probably a garden, where at
a later epoch a circular nymphaeum was built. The entrance to the villa
was on the northwest side, on the third terrace (Lugli seems to discuss
four levels for this villa).
The rst terrace had a vaulted portico which ran around it [A] and
two cisterns in the middle [B], the remainder of the platform being lled
with soil. A small barrel vaulted corridor, ending with six steps, connected
the cryptoportico to the second terrace. On this terrace was an atrium
[C] (17.60 u 10.55 m), paved with local stone slabs and surrounded by
a portico featuring pillars, measuring 0.60 u 0.45 m each. Although it
did not have a proper impluvium, a water channel ran around it, collect-
ing water from the roof and sending it into the cisterns below. A few
rooms of the pars urbana were discovered on this terrace, some featuring
black and white tesserae mosaics and frescoes. The villa was built in very
regular opus incertum, using stones of the same size and with little mortar.
Lugli dated it to the late 1st century b.c., and attributed the ownership
of the complex to some rich person from Circeii.
On the coast, there are remains of two breakwaters in conglomerate,
in two coves next to each other. The largest of the structures is 45 m
long and has foundations more than 1 m wide. Very likely the structure
belonged to a small private harbor which was part of this villa.

Lugli 1928: 8, #11

catalogue: latium

Map 9. Civitavecchia and S. Marinella (A. Marzano).

latium: civitavecchia 353

CIVITAVECCHIA (Centumcellae)
In his study on the territory of Civitavecchia published in 1939, Bas-
tianelli recorded the presence in the territory of fty villae rusticae or
more, usually located on the tops of hills and surrounded by walls built
a secco delimiting the property. In most cases the surface nds consisted
only of cover tiles. In one instance, at Campo Reale, Bastianelli also
documented the discovery of fragments of columns. He recorded that all
the villas had presses, and that one could see remains of the calcatorium
and of the vats. In S. Francesco di Paola a large villa rustica had also two
sunken dolia recovered in situ.
354 catalogue: latium

Figure L91. Civitavecchia, La Mattonara (after Lafon 2001).

latium: civitavecchia 355

L91 – La Mattonara
The promontory of La Mattonara is located 3 km northeast of Civita-
vecchia. The remains of a villa, including also a harbor and shpond,
were located here. Almost nothing is known of the villa structures. The
shpond was cut into the rock shelf projecting around the promontory
and was nished with concrete walls, faced in opus reticulatum. It is divided
into three tanks, the main one (25 u 30 m) being rectangular, with traces
of further internal divisions. The other two tanks, smaller in size, are
trapezoidal in plan, and are to the west of the main tank. The seaward
(western) side of the enclosure is connected to the sea by two channels
cut into the rock bed. Higginbotham suggests that the smaller of the
trapezoidal tanks was used as a holding tank for selected sh or shellsh.
The small port was protected by a long rocky arm protruding into the
sea (115 m). At the end of this arm, cut into the rock, there is another
pond, circular in shape (ø 7.6 m), the so-called “Buca di Nerone”, maybe
also used to hold sh. The shpond has been dated to the third quarter
of the 1st century b.c. on the basis of the type of opus reticulatum.

Schmiedt 1972; Higginbotham 1997; Lafon 2001

L92 – Punta del Pecoraro
The villa, already completely destroyed by Bastianelli’s time by the
construction of a sports complex, had a sea front of ca. 60 m, mosaic
oors, and a shpond. Gianfrotta saw along the shore remains of con-
glomerate walls, collapsed brick structures, and two opus reticulatum walls
with hydraulic mortar running parallel to each other towards the open
sea, probably related to one of the channels of the shpond. Remains
of other structures in opus signinum were visible in the sea at low tide.

Bastianelli 1939; Bastianelli 1954; Gianfrotta 1972, #117

L93 – Punta S. Paolo
The site, 1.7 km north of Civitavecchia, was much disturbed by modern
construction. In the sea, just off the south end of the small promontory
Punta S. Paolo, was a square shpond divided into four tanks, partially
cut into the rock shelf and nished with concrete walls. The northwest
corner of the pond was buttressed by a concrete pier, which possibly
also served as anchorage for boats stocking the pond. The possibility
that this pier was the base of a watchtower also needs to be considered.
Higginbotham did not detect any datable element for this shpond.
Bastianelli, describing the no longer existing remains of the villa on
the shore wrote of a “large villa”, with “lavish mosaic oors”. One of
these mosaics featured polychrome tesserae and depicted Nereides on
dolphins. Bastianelli also described remains of opus reticulatum walls and
356 catalogue: latium

large terracotta pipes in addition to a portico/terrace with stuccoed

columns on the sea side.

Bastianeli 1939; Bastianelli 1954; Schmiedt 1972; Higginbotham 1997

L94 – Torre S. Agostino
Bastianelli documented a maritime villa in this location; he saw scanty
remains, consisting of walls employing small tufa blocks with layers of
bricks, and in the sea two granites columns, one of which was ca. 8 m

Bastianelli 1954

Figure L95. Civitavecchia, Torre Valdaliga: shpond (after Schmiedt 1972).

latium: civitavecchia 357

L95 – Torre Valdaliga
Torre Valdiga is located just north of ancient Algae, 4.5 km northeast
of Civitavecchia. On the seashore the poor remains of a Roman villa
are visible. The villa was largely destroyed in 1616 during the construc-
tion of the tower by Pope Paul V. In front of the villa, on a rocky shelf
extending into the sea, are the remains of a shpond. The piscina was
built in a large natural cove of volcanic rock, which is easily eroded by
the sea, with walls faced in opus reticulatum. At least six channels supplied
the pond with seawater. The northwestern part of the pond has concrete
walls dividing it into three separate tanks. Remains of a concrete vault
and tesselatum oor indicate that these walls also supported a terrace or
platform, which covered almost a third of the pond. Another cove was
used as a private harbor for the villa. An early 1st century b.c. date for
the construction of the villa is inferred from remains of walls in opus
incertum, with a major phase of construction in the third quarter of the
1st century b.c. Opus reticulatum walls with stone blocks for corners and
opus signinum oors with tesserae of limestone are dated by Bastianelli to
this period. The villa in this phase occupied at least 3,000 m² and had a
terrace-belvedere on the sea side with columns faced with stucco. Brick-
faced walls and vaults attest restorations during the Empire.

Bastianelli 1954; Schmiedt 1972; Higginbotham 1997

catalogue: latium

Figure L96. Cottanello (after Sternini 2000).

latium: cottanello 359

COTTANELLO (Ager Foronovanus)

L96 – Cottanello
The villa, which has an excavated extent of 37 u 45 m, is located in the
territory of ancient Forum Novum in modern Vescovio, in the province
of Rieti. The town became a municipium in the 1st century a.d., and had
a forum with a basilica, and an amphitheater, recently discovered.
The villa very likely belonged to the gens Cotta (see place name and
infra). Literary sources mention properties of this family in Minturno and
Ostia. M. Aurelius Cotta Messalinus may have owned a villa on Elba
Island, as inferred from Ovid (Ex Pont., 2.3.83–90, referring to their last
meeting on Elba before Ovid’s departure for exile).
The Cotta mentioned on a stamped dolium (M. Cottae) found at the site
was possibly Maximus Cotta Messalinus, cos. in 20 a.d., a gure close to
Tiberius and the author of two books on agriculture. The excavation
carried out by the Soprintendenza in the early 1970s unearthed remains
of the atrium [E], bath suite [F], cryptoportico [D], peristyle [A], and
rooms with black and white tesserae mosaics, some with an insertion of
polychrome tesserae. Some of the mosaic oors were lifted, consolidated
and then replaced in the original position. Three chronological phases
were identied:
(1) 3rd–1st centuries b.c.: Probe trenches opened in the atrium and the
bath suite revealed an earlier phase in opus incertum. Traces of oors
in opus spicatum, scutulatum and painted plaster were also found. It is
impossible to reconstruct the plan of the building in this phase.
(2) 1st century b.c.–2nd century a.d.: In this phase the villa was of con-
siderable size with rooms placed around the atrium, and a peristyle
court with a large room [C] facing it. This room may have been an
oecus. To the west of the atrium is the bath suite F, added in phase
2b.To this phase belong also the mosaics and possibly the architectural
terracottas recovered. An exedra [B], with elaborate mosaics constitutes
the elegant entrance to room C. The oor mosaic of the room forms
a pattern of white squares with a lost emblema in the middle. It is a
design similar to the one in Room 18 of the volusii villa (L106).
The walls are in opus reticulatum, the foundation in opus incertum.
(3) 2nd century a.d.—unknown: It is not clear when the villa was aban-
doned. Despite of pottery of the 4th–5th centuries, Sternini expresses
doubts as to whether the villa at this time was still functioning as a
residence or was in ruin.
The pottery nds date from the end of the 2nd century b.c. to the 6th
century a.d. and include: Italic wine amphorae dated from the 2nd cen-
tury b.c. to the 2nd century a.d. (Dressel 2–4 and Spello); garum amphorae
from Baetica and Lusitania dated to the 2nd century a.d.; North African
amphorae and sigillata dated to the 3rd–6th centuries a.d. The African
sigillata does not go beyond the mid-5th century. The pottery dated to the
6th century belongs to a class with a wide chronological range; therefore,
the 6th century date is not certain. No black glaze pottery is attested,
but Sternini notes that some boxes containing pottery recovered in the
old excavation were lost.
360 catalogue: latium

Two funerary inscriptions were also found, one mentioning a scriba rei
publicae Foronovanorum; the other, dated to the 2nd century, is dedicated
to Iulia Felicitas by her husband Ulpius Florentinus.
Velocia Rinaldi alludes to a stula found in Cottanello stamped with
L. Cotta’s name, but Sternini 2000 does not mention this nding in her
publication. She also mentions that an ergastulum was excavated in the area
of S. Paolo dei Cavalieri, but I could not locate any further information
about this. Sternini 2004, reports a recent discovery of an underground
aqueduct, probably a private aqueduct for the villa.

Velocia Rinaldi 1994; Gaffney et al. 2000; Sternini 2000; Sternini 2004
latium: crocicchie 361

L97 – Crocicchie
Three buildings were identied on a hill along the Via Clodia; two of
them are known only from surface nds. In the early Imperial phase, the
complex was probably a modest villa, with a possible barn, dated to this
age on the basis of the opus reticulatum technique and Arretine sigillata.
Some cisterns are located in the proximity. In the 3rd century, however,
a bath-house with mosaic oors was added. It consisted of ve rooms,
including a caldarium with an apse.

Potter and Dunbabin 1979

362 catalogue: latium

L98 – Cures, Monte Elci
This site is located along the ancient Via Salaria, in the Fosso di Corese,
on the border between the territory of Cures and that of Trebula. At the
foot of Monte Elci, between the route of the Via Salaria Nuova and the
Via Salaria Vecchia, about 600 m up the hill from Osteria di Nerola, is
an articial terrace which formed the platform for a villa. The terrace
measures 70 u 70 m (= 2 actus) and is partly built in Third Type opus
polygonale. No superstructure pertaining to the villa is visible, only scattered
material brought to the surface by ploughing, such as tile and amphorae
fragments, plaster fragments, etc., dated by Quilici to the Imperial period.
The establishment of the villa is dated to the second half of the 2nd
century b.c. A series of retaining walls along Valle delle Fontanelle is
interpreted by Quilici as forming small terraces for pasture (nowadays
the area is still used for horse-pasture). Quilici notes that the villa had
large and expensive installations, and it showed planning in the agrarian
techniques used, indicating specialized cultures and the availability of
a large supply of manpower. He thinks that the production was market
oriented, very likely serving Rome’s needs, through the Via Salaria.

Quilici 1995

Fara in Sabina
L99 – Cures, Zara Madonna
This villa was built sometime in the late Republican period. Before the
excavation of the villa, in that same area a dedication to L. Iulius Mari-
nus Caecilius Simplex (AE 1947: 156) was found, giving his full cursus
honorum. Simplex was legatus of Trajan in Lycia and Pamphylia in 96–7
a.d. and consul in 101 or 102 a.d. An inscription with the same text
recovered here was also found in the nearby town of Canneto Sabino
(CIL IX.4965 = ILS.1026). It seems that the villa was abandoned due to
the barbaric invasions and then reoccupied, re-using building material
from Cures, such as architectural pieces, and a fragment of Constantin-
ian sarcophagus. Several tombs dated post-3rd century were dug in the
deposits lling the rooms of the villa.

Marella Vianello 1944–1945; Muzzioli 1980

Fara in Sabina
L100 – Passo Corese
Only the nding of a stula may indicate that Sex. Baius Pudens, the
governor of Mauretania Caesariensis in 167 a.d., had a villa here. He
is also mentioned in an inscription from Tofa, in the province of Rieti
(CIL, IX.4964).

Paribeni 1928
latium: fianello 363

L101 – Fianello
The villa is located near the church of S. Maria in Fianello and had a
pars urbana and a pars rustica. Many examples of its Hellenistic sculptural
decoration, now in the Museo delle Terme in Rome, were recovered in
the 1950s in a pit intended for the making of lime. Most of the sculp-
tures date to ca. 100 b.c. and come from Delos, although some statues
of Imperial date were also found. The statues, although in fragmentary
status, were well preserved; some still showed traces of painting, and it
is assumed that they were housed in the villa until the construction of
the paleo-Christian church in the 5th century, when they were removed.
This discovery led to the excavation of the villa. Two rooms were found,
one of which had cocciopesto facing on the walls and a ooring made
with marble slabs, on which were fallen fragments of painted plaster.
At the end of the room the oor was inclined slightly towards a stula
connected to a drain. In 1972 a probe trench under the left apse of the
church recovered a torcular room paved in opus spicatum, with the sockets
for the arbores and the circular press bed. Two mosaics were also found,
giving the rst phase of the villa a date of the late Republic. The other
rustic parts date between 1st and 2nd century a.d.

Sternini 2000; Sternini 2004

364 catalogue: latium

Map 10. Fiano Romano (A. Marzano).

Figure L102. Fiano Romano, Baciletti (after Fontana 1995).

latium: fiano romano 365

FIANO ROMANO (Lucus Feroniae)

Fiano Romano
L102 – Baciletti
This villa had two major phases. In the rst phase the building mea-
sured 40 u 30 m and had a press room and portico on the west side,
featuring a kiln. The second phase of the villa, generically dated as late
Imperial, consisted of a building measuring 50 u 30 m, with a portico
on the west side and, in front of it, a barn. In this phase the press room
was transformed into a rectangular room (30 u 10 m), maybe used as a
stable or a storeroom. The villa was abandoned in the 6th century a.d.
Among the nds were kitchen knives and eastern containers, which have
been dated to the late Empire.

Poster in the museum of Lucus Feroniae

366 catalogue: latium

Figure L103. Fiano Romano, Prato La Corte (after Fontana 1995).

latium: fiano romano 367

Fiano Romano
L103 – Prato la Corte
Starting in 1982 remains of a large villa were discovered in the area of
Le Cese—Prato la Corte, located 1.2 km from Lucus Feroniae. In con-
nection with the villa were three kilns for lime production [C]. When the
kilns fell out of use, the villa was enlarged, partly obliterating them. The
paved road that connected Lucus Feroniae with Capena was identied
40 m south of the production area. A diverticulum ran between the villa
and the production area; another private road (via glareata) ran along the
south side of the kilns. The width of both of these roads was 3.68 m.
Only part of the peristyle garden of the villa was excavated [D], an
area in later times transformed into a necropolis, as well as part of a
rectangular pond, located to the south of the kilns. The largest kiln is
on the west side of the excavated area; next to it are three rooms [A]
which must have been connected with the production process. Two of
these rooms pre-date the kiln, since their walls are in part cut by the
kiln structure. The two other kilns were obliterated by three rooms [B],
dated to the Imperial age.
Preliminary studies of the pottery recovered date the rst phase of the
complex to the mid-1st century b.c. (Italic sigillata and Dressel 2–4) and
the abandonment of the large kiln to the early 2nd century a.d.

Fontana 1995
catalogue: latium

Figure L104. Fiano Romano, Villa “della Standa” (after Gazzetti 1992).
latium: fiano romano 369

Fiano Romano
L104 – Villa “Della Standa”
The villa was built in an area that belonged to the grove sacred to Fero-
nia and had a life span from the 2nd century b.c. to the 5th century
a.d. To the rst phase belong an impluvium (later obliterated by walls), a
cubiculum with oor in cocciopesto decorated with small square marble tiles,
and a larger room with cocciopesto oor decorated with marble lozenges
(later divided into two rooms). The building technique is opus incertum
employing local limestone. The villa is delimited on the northeast side
by a wall in opus incertum, along which ran a paved road. It seems that
an original area with a portico was in a second phase provided with a
torcular olearium, a torcular vinarium with lacus, an olive-mill, a room paved
in opus spicatum, and a courtyard with a drinking-trough.
The residential part of the villa was enhanced ca. 40–30 b.c., the third
building phase of the villa, by the addition of a bath suite (including
apodyterium, frigidarium, tepidarium, caldarium), black and white mosaics with
geometric patterns, and opus sectile. The walls belonging to this phase are
in opus reticulatum. A garden peristyle with central open air cistern or pool
was located in the eastern part of the complex. From this area, which was
divided into smaller rooms in a later phase, come planting pots. In the
west corner of the garden peristyle was a kiln and a well. On part of the
garden in a Late Antique phase a building with an apse was also added
(not in plan). The enlargement of the structure to the south, with the
addition of several rooms around the paved courtyard also seems to date
to Phase 3. The function of these rooms is not certain; they could have
been stables or storerooms for tools (the excavation report lists the nding
of tools but does not specify the type). The villa had a paved diverticulum
leading to it on the southwestern side, and the travertine threshold and
jambs for the gate at the end of the diverticulum were found.
Finds include: an inscription mentioning a Volusius, which could be
not in situ, considering the closeness of this site to the L106 – Volusii
Saturnini villa, black glaze fragments (Campana B), Dressel 1 amphorae,
Italic sigillata, “Campana” plaques, ne and coarse ware, small marble
slabs, metal laminae, nails, bosses, tools, rings, glass fragments, a loom-
weight, fragments of an olive-mill, a small marble Minerva head and a
double headed herma of Bacchus; brick stamps date between the 1st and
3rd centuries a.d. The pottery dated to the end of the 1st/beginning
of the 2nd century a.d. includes ceramics from southern Gaul. African
sigillata D, spatheia, and a follis of Constantine show an occupation of the
villa in the 4th century.

Brunetti Nardi 1981; Carandini 1985b; Gazzetti 1992; De Franceshini 2005,

#98; Poster in the Museum of Lucus Feroniae
catalogue: latium

Figure L106. Fiano Romano, Volusii Saturnini villa (after Sgubini Moretti 1998).
latium: fiano romano 371

Fiano Romano
L105 – Villa Nocioni – Gigliotti
This villa was built along the Via Capenatis about 1 km from the Porta
Capena of Lucus Feroniae. It was a large complex, but as a consequence
of agricultural work, poorly preserved.
Three major chronological phases were identied: late Republican,
Augustan, and late Imperial (4th–6th centuries). A limestone quarry, lled
with waste and pottery fragments dated to the end of the 2nd/begin-
ning of the 1st century b.c., was identied below a terracing wall in opus
incertum, dating to the Sullan period. In the Augustan period the villa
was enlarged and the enclosed area to the west, delimited by a wall in
opus reticulatum, was transformed into a garden where many planting pots
were recovered. In an undetermined later period the area delimited by
the walls in opus incertum and reticulatum was used for burials. In this same
period an olive press was installed; the villa had also a torcular vinarium,
whose lacus was found along the south wall of the peristyle, but it is
unspecied to which phase of the villa it refers. The villa was connected
to the main road by a paved diverticulum. Between the late 4th and the
early 6th centuries a.d., a new building was erected on the front on the
Via Capenatis. This building used earlier building material taken from
the villa and the necropolis; it was probably a taberna, then divided into
two sections in the 5th century, and possibly used for different purposes,
judging from ne materials and marble revetments of this phase. In this
period, the production area to the north of the villa was restored and
another one was probably built on the north side of the peristyle.

Brunetti Nardi 1981; Gazzetti 1992

Fiano Romano
L106 – Volusii Saturnini villa
The villa of the Volusii Saturnini featured a pars urbana [A], a pars rustica
and the so-called “ergastula”, the peristyle courtyard with modular rooms
added in the Augustan phase [C]. The villa was probably built by Q.
Volusius around 50 b.c., as shown by the opus incertum building technique,
and later restored and enlarged by his son under Augustus (building phase
in opus reticulatum). The villa rested on a basis villae with cryptoportico and
in its original phase comprised a hortus and press rooms [B] to the east of
the residential part. The recovery of an oil mill indicates oil production,
but possibly the press was used for both oil and wine, since the villa also
featured a storage area with dolia defossa, typical of wine production. In
the Augustan phase a large garden [D] was added, the west side of which
had an exedra [E] with three niches, where statues of Heracles, Euripides,
and Menander were found. A wall surrounded the villa, which occupied
about 1/3 of the enclosed area. Other constructions were located along
this enclosing wall. The complex [F] featuring a small press room, near
the exedra, has been interpreted as a possible farmhouse for a colonus and
tentatively dated to the 2nd century.
372 catalogue: latium

The last members of the Volusii Saturnini family attested are the
two brothers who lived under Domitian; since pottery nds and coins
go down to the 4th century a.d., it is believed that this villa became
part of the Imperial scus probably during Domitian’s reign or by the
time of Trajan at the latest, who is mentioned as restitutor coloniae in an
inscription recording the restorations of the Augusteum and basilica of
Lucus Feroniae. Some of the mosaics in the residential part have recently
been re-dated to the 2nd century (De Franceschini 2005: 274 ff.). In the
3rd and 4th centuries poor quality restorations are attested; some tombs
alla cappuccina were recovered in the rooms, dated on the basis of their
typology to the 3rd–4th centuries. A marble head of Sabina, wife of
Hadrian, was recovered at the villa site.

Volusii Saturnini 1982; Sgubini-Moretti 1998; Di Gennaro and Griesbach

2003; De Franceschini 2005, #99

FONDI (Fundi)
For villas in this area see sites listed under Sperlonga. Fundi was traversed
by the Via Appia, and this fact was important for the economic life of the
town. It received full citizenship in 188 B.C. and also remained prosper-
ous after the colonial deduction carried out under Augustus. Near the
modern village of Monte S. Biagio, in the area of Portella, was thought
to be a villa owned by Frontinus on the basis of mention in an 18th
century work of the recovery of stulae stamped Sex.Iul. Frontinus. In the
area only a portion of a wall in opus reticulatum is visible, and whether it
belongs to a villa is uncertain.

Di Fazio 2006

L107 – Gaviniano, Colli Rotti
The basis villae of this complex was a platform made with conglomer-
ate, buttressed retaining walls. The architectural elements visible in the
area of the modern cemetery, such as column drums and capitals, were
related to this villa.

Sternini 2004

L108 – Gaviniano, S. Maria Assunta
The presence of ancient remains in this area has been noted since the
19th century; in documents of the time there are various references to
mosaic oors and “antichità”. Recent restoration works in the church of
S. Maria Assunta have discovered a wall in opus quasi-reticulatum, which
offers the only chronological element available for this site.

Sternini 2004
latium: forano – formia 373

L109 – Gelsetta
Not much is known about this villa; the area was excavated in 1827, and
the discovery of statuary and brick stamps is reported, but no descrip-
tion of the structures. Some of the stamps date to Domitian; also dated
to the 1st century a.d. is the fragment of an inscription mentioning a
member of the gens of the Cocceii Nervae together with a member of
the gens Flavia.

Sternini 2004

L110 – Le Fornaci, also Colle dei Gradini
The area where the villa stood was rich in surface scatter consisting of
painted plaster and marble fragments; Lugli had observed remains of
barrel vaulted substructures and at a lower level, probably in the garden
of the villa, an open air circular cistern (ø 40 m), with nearby a oor
in opus spicatum.

Sternini 2004

FORMIA (Formiae)
L111 – Torre Gianola
Ancient ruins covered a large area on the promontory of Gianola, in
the Gulf of Gaeta, at the east end of Formia (near Scauri). P. Mattei
described the remains of the villa in 1845. Previous scholars like Pratilli
in 1745 (bibliographical references in Ciccone 1990: 5) interpreted the
ruins, without any grounds, as a temple to Janus. An interesting piece
of information in one of these antiquarian sources is the mention of a
paved road departing from the Via Appia (km 148.350), in alignment
with the “temple”, evidently a diverticulum for the villa. The cove of Porto
Gianola is indicated in a document of 1391 as portum Janule prope Scaulum,
(the oppidum Pyrae in Plin., NH,