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Chapter 2: The Villa At Site 10 - General Information

Very little has been published so far concerning the Villa at Site 10. Its location was established by Ward Perkins/Kahane in their article in the 1972 volume of The Papers of the British School at Rome: "the plateau between the Fosso di Tor Bella Monaca and its nameless eastern tributary, south of the ancient road cutting at Pt. 61 and north of the boundary of the modern estate." Yet by 1976, when we arrived at our Via Gabina sites, the surface evidence previously recorded for all three had disappeared. It was from air photographs taken in 1979 that the walls of the Villa at Site 10 were revealed beneath the recently cut erba medica. Digging began in the summer of 1980, two seasons after the first work at the site, and continued through 1989. 20 As guessed by Ward Perkins/Kahane, the villa's walls extended over an area some 100x100 meters. 21

The plateau or platform on which the villa was constructed was likely leveled by prior quarrying of the soft, gray, tufa bedrock. A cuniculus system was found to underlie the villa and to connect to at least two large below-ground chambers on the western slope of the site ( see "Site 10: Villa - Plans and Reconstructions"). These chambers were hard to define with any precision because their tufa vaults had collapsed and centuries of hard- packed, ploughed material filled whatever depressions were left. When discovered all the cuniculi passages were also packed with rubble and pottery shards from the Republic through the 3 rd century A.C. Their vaults, however, were intact although in places reinforced by rough concrete or roof tiles forming an inverted "V".

There are few clues on which to date the initiation of the cuniculi, even whether or not they represent a one time effort. 22 But their consistency of fill and the presence of 3rd century A.C. shards throughout indicate they were abandoned and closed off at the same time the villa was allowed to decay, around the 2nd or 3rd decade of the 3rd century A.C. (See the “Speculations” section of this report.) Dates for the creation of the below-ground chambers of the western slope are as ambiguous as those of the cuniculi.

The function of the cuniculi is another debatable issue and not necessarily static over time as facilities with new requirements are added to the villa. For example, the shallow tanks and vats of the late fulonica on the southeast all drain into the southern network of passages, but this fact does not rule out their pre-existence with a different role. These cuniculi were not certainly conduits for large quantities of water during the lifetime of the villa, if ever this had been their function, often a standard interpretation elsewhere in Italy going back as early as the Etruscans. Instead, they provide easy communication for persons (slaves ?) to various parts of the villa, especially those involved in agricultural industry. The bedrock-cut chambers on the west probably served as places for the fermentation of the must obtained from both treading and pressing of grapes (see below). When these chambers were abandoned remains unknown.

I have chosen to divide the reworking and elaboration of the Villa at Site 10 into two major periods (Period 1 and Period 2), the latter period into four phases (Phase 2A, Phase 2B, Phase 2C and Phase 2D). However, the presumption of a Period 1 is based solely on large quantities of pottery shards at lower strata dating from as early as the 3rd century B.C. 23

If Site 11 can be taken as a precedence for the changing use of materials in local construction (see below "Site 11"), here too at Site 10 there would be a shift from large tufa blocks in semi-ashlar to faced concrete (reticulate) by the Augustan Age. The only tufa block masonry present for the Villa at Site 10 in what I term Period 2, is that which defines Room 2, the oecus with the Hylas Emblema (see below). The rest of the villa's walls are concrete construction. This is so for all the phases of Period 2. Often the reticulate facing is framed by bricks. Again, using the analogy of Site 11 as well as the identification and quantity of stamped tiles or bricks, dates for the phases of the Villa at Site 10 fall nicely into place (see Anderson's contribution "Brick Stamps"). Stratified pottery only confirms what the stamped tiles and masonry technique tell us:

Phase 2A Augustan; Phase 2B Julio- Claudian, perhaps c. 50 A.C.; Phase 2C Domitianic; and Phase 2D Hadrianic (see the "Site 10: Villa - Plans and Reconstructions" section of this report).

While the Villa at Site 11 began as a "U" plan farmhouse and then evolved into a standard two storied atrium type structure, the Villa at Site 10 seems always to have had a peristyle. Certainly this was the case throughout Period 2. 24 Only the southwest quadrant of Site 10's Villa was likely two or more stories, possibly even a tower pavilion during phases 2C and 2D. 25 The final two phases (Phase 2C and Phase 2D) of the Site 10 Villa provide a luxurious suburban residence combined with a significant villa rustica, all within the same architectural form. Although the villa is not constructed on any kind of concrete or artificial platform, its natural hillside elevation would have afforded a stunning view of the surrounding rural landscape and even something of the city of Rome to the west. 26 This view back to Rome is emphasized and made more important by the villa's western portico, first an "L" in Phase 2C and then a "U" in Phase 2D. 27 The portico was composed of Doric columns constructed from pie-shaped tiles covered by fluted plaster. Both tiles and large fragments of the Doric fluting were found in the villa's destruction material. The portico also formed one side of an enclosed western garden. Because this garden was terraced downward, its western wall would not have interfered with the long-range view from the villa's portico. 28 A structure, perhaps even a narrow, inward- facing portico, bounded the garden on the south; only a stub remained of its northern wall.

For purposes of description and analysis the Villa at Site 10, Phase 2D, can be divided into quadrants: the northwestern quadrant accommodated dining and bathing; the northeastern quadrant wine production; the southwestern quadrant residential rooms (including at least a double-storied tower?); and the southeastern quadrant wine pressing and treading and also a fulonica; the villa's eastern extension perhaps quarters for slaves and storage.

Characteristics of the quadrants include:

G10 Phase 2D: Rooms with hypocaust - 25,28, 30, 31, 61, 71,72,77 and 32?
Service rooms for hypocaust system - 29, 62,79

G10 Phase 2C: Rooms with hypocaust - 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 26? 32?

G10 Phase 2B: Rooms with hypocaust: parts or all of Area 17, Room 18

G10 Phase 2D: Rooms or areas involved in the production of wine - 4, 49, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56

G10 Phase 2C: Rooms or areas involved in the production of wine - 49

G10 Phase 2D: Rooms or areas providing elements of a fulonica - 74, 75, 78

G10 Phase 2D: Rooms or areas with evidence of floor mosaics - 2,12, 13, 25, 28, 30, 31, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41,42,43, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 63, 64, 65, 66, 77

G10 Phase 2D: Rooms or areas with opus sectile floors - 26, 27, 35

G10 Phase 2C: Rooms or areas with opus sectile floors - 35, 26? 27?


All text and images copyright © 2002 by Walter Widrig and Rice University. Last updated May 2007 by