The University of Colorado/Kalamazoo College Excavations at the Villa of Maxentius, Rome, Italy:  Report on the 2005 Excavation Season

Diane A. Conlin

University of Colorado

Anne E. Haeckl

Kalamazoo College

This paper reports on the first season of archaeological excavation conducted by the joint University of Colorado/Kalamazoo College 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 the Circus of Maxentius and the Tomb of Romulus, comprised the most ambitious suburban construction project of the self-declared emperor Maxentius, who controlled Rome from 306-312 C.E.

While the Circus of Maxentius and the Tomb of Romulus have been excavated and consolidated, less scrutiny has been paid to the villa proper. Earlier Italian excavations of the villa conducted in the 1960s identified four major construction phases for the villa buildings. Two phases of opus reticulatum walls indicate a late Republican residence that was further embellished during the early imperial period. The third phase of construction coincided with the acquisition of the property by Herodes Atticus. Under his patronage, the villa was significantly expanded in the mid-second century and included additional structures, such as an ambulacrum and a nymphaeum.  The substantial walls constructed in opus vittatum represent the final major phase of construction dated to the early fourth century. Attributed to the emperor Maxentius (306-312 C.E.) by means of epigraphical evidence, the early fourth-century phase of the complex included construction of the large apsidal hall and an extension of the ambulacrum in order to connect the vaulted walkway to the pulvinar of the Maxentian circus.  However, despite the documentation of the successive building phases, the earlier Italian explorations did not establish a stratigraphic sequence of phases of use for the villa buildings. As a result, the original functions and post-Tetrarchic history of the villa remain unclear and are the two of the major questions addressed by our multi-year investigations. 

The 2005 excavation season concentrated on the monumental apsidal 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. In order to record the occupation layers and the architectural history of the structure, the CU/Kalamazoo team opened two large excavation units in the area of the apsidal hall.  The first trench, approximately 3.5 by 7.75 meters, was located in the SW interior corner of the hall. A second trench, measuring approximately 9 by 9 meters, included an area east of the SE corner of the hall, as well as a section of the interior of the NE corner of the adjacent vestibule. Stratigraphic excavation in these two trenches revealed a relatively consistent pattern of use and destruction levels across the southern span of the large building.  These phases include an early twentieth century leveling of the site with debris-laden fill from some location on the Via Appia, the fourth-century abandonment of the hall, and several potential post-Constantinian robbing episodes. The lack of occupational debris suggests that the apsidal hall was never consistently used. In further support of this hypothesis, we noted that many openings at the bottom of the niches containing tubuli for the hypocaust heating system were deliberately blocked with mortar soon after the Maxentian construction.   Finally, the low quantity of roof tiles discovered during the 2005 season points to the possibility that the construction of the apsidal hall was never actually finished prior to Maxentius' death in 312 C.E.


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