The Kalamazoo College/University of Colorado Excavations at the Villa of Maxentius, Rome, Italy:  Report on the 2003 Preliminary Season

Anne Haeckl, Diane A. Conlin, and Gianni L. Ponti

This paper reports on the first season of archaeological fieldwork conducted by the joint Kalamazoo College/University of Colorado Project at the Villa of Maxentius, the least-understood component of a vast Tetrarchic complex located on the Via Appia, approximately three km. outside the Aurelian Wall of Rome.  Working under the auspices of Prof. Eugenio La Rocca, Superintendent of the Sovraintendenza ai Beni Culturali of the Comune di Rome, the project has three co-directors, a faculty member from each sponsoring American institution and an Italian archaeologist partner.  The focus of investigations is an imperial residential/ceremonial unit that, together with a circus for chariot-racing and a dynastic mausoleum, comprised the most ambitious, and most personal, suburban construction project of the self-declared emperor Maxentius, who controlled Rome from 306-312 CE.

Since 1943, the Circus of Maxentius and the Tomb of Romulus (Maxentius’ untimely dead nine year old son) have benefited from systematic archaeological excavation and interventions by architectural conservators.  The Circus of Maxentius has long been the centerpiece of an archaeological park on the Appian Way, and a new site museum in the mausoleum sector is currently being prepared for public presentation.  In contrast, after limited exploratory excavations in the 1960’s, the villa block was allowed to return to nature, with the result that decades of invasive vegetation have now effectively rendered this important section of the Maxentian complex inaccessible to both researchers and the public.  The ultimate goal of the K College/CU-B project is to reclaim the overgrown Villa of Maxentius as part of the cultural patrimony of the Via Appia, while also 1) completing earlier efforts to define the overall plan of the building; 2) clarifying its physical and functional relationships to circus and mausoleum, and within the larger funerary and religious context of the Via Appia; and 3) establishing the fate of the complex after Maxentius fell to Constantine at Saxa Rubra on October 12, 312.  Results promise to shed valuable light on Maxentius’ imperial ideology, political agendas and religious sympathies, especially as they related to the various pagan, Jewish and Christian sects that constructed tombs on the Via Appia.  New evidence should also lead to a better understanding of key developments in Late Roman architecture, such as the sudden vogue for including circuses and mausolea in Tetrarchic palaces and villas.

The 2003 preliminary season concentrated on the monumental apsidal audience hall of the Villa of Maxentius, the first area to be cleared as part of the Comune’s long-term commitment to deforesting the site.  Using technical equipment and database management systems that did not exist when previous excavations were carried out, the project began a comprehensive archaeological survey that imports data collected digitally by Electronic Total Station (ETS) into a Geographic Information System (GIS) template designed for the project by Technical Manager Geoffrey Compton.  Compatible forms for recording excavation data from future digging seasons will integrate as completely as possible all three-dimensional coordinate data about topography, architectural and occupational features, soil stratigraphy and artifact finds.  This integrated ETS/GIS system of recording, managing, representing and disseminating archaeological information streamlines analysis of synchronic and diachronic relationships, and should ultimately yield a vivid four-dimensional “virtual view” of the natural and social processes that created the archaeological record of the Villa of Maxentius and its environs along the Appian Way.

Back to the Meeting Program

[Home] [ About] [Awards and Scholarships] [Classical Journal] [Committees & Officers]
[Contacts & Email Directory
] [Links] [Meetings] [Membership] [News]