Contextualising the past in the Alban Hills (Colli Albani)

Contextualising the past in the Alban Hills (Colli Albani). Villa, tomb and sacred space from the 12th to the 18th milestones of the ancient Via Appia
B. Poulsen, Department of History and Classical Studies, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University; C. Manetta, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University, and F. Diosono, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich/University of Perugia in collaboration with Accademia di Danimarca, Rome, and Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l'area metropolitana di Roma, l'Etruria Meridionale e la provincia di Viterbo.
S. Aglietti, Independent researcher
B. Borg: University of Exeter
K. Bülow Clausen, Copenhagen University
C. Dupré: Proprietà della CENSE, Castelromano.
C. Fisker, Aarhus University
G. Ghini: Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l'area metropolitana di Roma, l'Etruria Meridionale e la provincia di Viterbo
G. L. Giovannucci: Proprietà della CENSE, Castelromano.
M. Moltesen: former curator, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
E. Mortensen, Aarhus University
A. Palladino, Independent researcher
G. Vatta, Tor Vergata University, Rome
2016: AIAS/AU Collaborative projects
2017: Classical Antiquity and its Heritage, School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University
The Project
The project investigates the relationship between villa, tomb, and sanctuary along the Via Appia Antica from the 12th to the 18th milestones from ca. 100 BC to AD 500.

Fig. 1 Map of the Ager Albanus (G. Lugli, 1917)
From the late 4th century BC the Via Appia made it easy to reach the Alban Hills from the metropolis. The Alban Hills have several advantages: they are cool during the summer with easy access to water and two deep volcanic lakes at Albano and Nemi. The hills were an important sacral place housing the famous Latin sanctuary of Diana at Lake Nemi, and they were also much favoured as a place for luxurious villas and tombs of the Roman elite, senators as well as emperors. It seems that from the time of Augustus the Julio-Claudian emperors had large properties in the region close to the political important sanctuary of Diana. But already Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) – and later Caligula (emperor AD 37-41) – had built a huge villa on the shore of Lake Nemi where also the two large floating palaces (luxurious barges) of Caligula were anchored. Domitian (emperor AD 81-96) had his villa at Lake Albano, the present-day Castel Gandolfo, now the summer residence of the Pope, and also several of the later emperors had villas in the Alban Hills. The region was therefore closely related to the political arena of Rome and the centre of power.
Travellers leaving Rome – then as today – along the Via Appia will notice the remains of a number of huge tombs on either side of the road. The majority has now been stripped of their revetment of precious stone and sculptural embellishment and only the opus caementicium (concrete) core now witness their size and importance. Many of these tombs have neither been studied nor measured and they have never been related to the surrounding building remains which in several cases have been identified as villas along the Via Appia Antica.
During recent years the archaeological activities have been intensified in the area around Lake Nemi, and the present team is establishing an international project focusing on this important and still less investigated environment. The project aims to contextualize older and more recent findings and investigate the relationship between villa, tomb and sanctuary. It will partly consider the archaeological remains partly combine these studies with the abundant unpublished documentation preserved in the archives.
The project involves several international scholars and partner institutions and includes fieldwork which combines multidisciplinary investigations and technology including Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT), 3D-models, and Georadar.
Case study: The so-called villa of Clodius on the Via Appia
As a case study we had the opportunity to conduct a short field campaign combined with geophysical surveys in the so-called Villa of Clodius standing at the 13th milestone at the Via Appia (May 2017). Publius Clodius Pulcher (93 – 52 BC), the Roman politician living during the tumultuous years of the late Republican period, has become well-known through his mortal feud with Marcus Tullius Cicero and Titus Annius Milo. He is in particular remembered for his scandalous intrusion in the religious festival of Bona Dea – a cult reserved exclusively for women – when the celebration was hosted by Pompeia, the wife of Caesar (in 62 BC; Cic. Att. 1.12.3; Plut. Caes. 10). Cicero relates that Clodius had an Alban villa close to the Via Appia (Cic. Mil. 19), and that he was murdered in the Via Appia near Bovillae, just in front of a sanctuary of the Bona Dea (18th January, 52 BC, Cic. Mil. 31). This is the reason why, for centuries, a large structure to the east of the Via Appia for centuries has been interpreted as the Villa of Clodius.
The Villa Santa Caterina, the site of these archaeological remains was from the 19th century owned by the Orsini, a wealthy aristocratic family, and is now in the private property of Proprietà della CENSE, Castelromano.

Fig. 2 Plan of the so-called Villa of Clodius (G. Lugli, 1914).
The site
The interpretation of the architectural remains at the 13th milestone has been much debated among scholars throughout the centuries, but since G. Lugli in 1914 no investigation has been conducted on the site. Scholars have partly interpreted the structure as the 'Villa of Clodius', partly as part of the large imperial estate of Domitian, the Albanum Domitiani. The structure clearly consists of recognizable elements: a road, an entrance, an atrium, a peristyle, cisterns and a large structure built of big ashlars (opus quadratum), so far explained as a substructure or a fortification.

Fig. 3 View of the road leading from Via Appia Antica to the building.
Our recent investigation conducted in May 2017 consisted of a thorough cleaning and documentation of the visible remaining structures combined with geophysical prospection on the site and its immediate surroundings. The results obtained were among others:
  • A new updated plan of the ancient structures (measured with total station) – the first since P. Rosa (1869) and G. Lugli (1914)
  • A detailed registration and description of all visible walls and floors as well as a photographic documentation
  • Documentation of the later (recent) reconstructions on the site, presumably made by the Orsini family

Fig. 4 View of the 'atrium'.
Considering the evidence from the literary sources previous scholarship has taken it for granted that the Sanctuary of Bona Dea should be located on the western side of Via Appia, but the recent investigations have indicated that the structures can no longer be identified as a villa but should instead be interpreted as a sanctuary, and probably the very one of Bona Dea. This sanctuary is known to have been within the estate of a certain T. Sergius Gallus (Cic. Mil. 31).

Fig. 5 View of the impressive structure built of big ashlar blocks, assumed to be the temple of Bona Dea.
More specifically, the overall plan of the complex shows similarities with one of the sanctuaries of Bona Dea at Ostia (IV 8.3, first half of the 1st/3rd century AD) and the one recently discovered in S. Gregorio da Sassola (2nd century BC – 2nd/3rd century AD). Sanctuaries of Bona Dea (Good Goddess, deity of fertility and health for the people, and protectress of the Roman state) are multi-functional complexes rather than ordinary temples, which may provide general comparisons with villas. In addition to the shrine (sacellum), these buildings traditionally contain a courtyard, a kitchen, a pharmacy, a porticus, a fenced area, as well as provision for water like fountains and cisterns.
This is a significant breakthrough, not only for a completely new understanding of these structures but also for our interpretation of the site and the ancient landscape in this area more generally.
The Volterra Collection of Antiquities
The project also includes the study of the antiquities originally collected by the famous Italian mathematician and Senator, Vito Volterra. This study has recently, thanks to the kind generosity of the Volterra family, been laid in the hands of the archaeologists, Mette Moltesen (Copenhagen) and Germana Vatta (Rome), in collaboration with Dr Giuseppina Ghini (Soprintendenza). The Volterra collection of antiquities is predominantly housed at the Villino Volterra in Ariccia, Rome which still is in the possession of the Volterra family (Fig. 6). Originally much richer and more extensive, the collection was heavily affected by raids and devastations occurring during the Second World War – when the Villa was first confiscated by the German army and subsequently used as a shelter for refugees – as well as thefts of more recent date. Today, indeed, only a small part of its original holdings of sculptures, reliefs, urns, sarcophagi, architectural marbles, and Roman inscriptions, is still visible in the gardens and the interiors of the villa (; VENEZIANI-VOLTERRA 2011). However, significant traces of the missing antiquities can be tracked thanks to the several old photographs, in which they appear (Figs. 7-8), and possibly more can be traced through the channels of the antiquarian market. While shedding new light upon the figure of Vito Volterra, not only an outstanding man of science but also a collector and a refined connoisseur of antiquities, the value of this collection also lies in identifying the provenience of the individual items. Probably most of the antiquities, in fact, come from the town of Ariccia and its surroundings. Archival documents indeed show that some of the ancient artefacts were found during the building of the villa itself in 1904. In addition, however, other antiquities have been acquired through the Roman antiquarian market (GRANINO CECERE 2011, 285, footnote 37). For example, a provenience from Rome has been ascertained for the funerary urn CIL VI 29384 (TAGLIETTI 2014, 433). The impact of the Volterra collection of antiquities within the framework of our project is therefore evident. This study will clearly enhance our knowledge of the monuments, which probably originally stood along the 16th mile of the Via Appia, and of sculpture in general (not only from a funerary context) but also contribute to the social history of the investigated area in the Roman period. The Volterra collection of antiquities is unpublished except for two items: the alter of the Imperial libertus Macrinus, procurator of the XX hereditatium regionis Tarricinensis, probably dated to the Hadrianic period (GRANINO CECERE 2011, 283-288) and the sarcophagus with Nekya, which probably comes from the territory of ancient Aricia (GASPARRI 2013, 201-220; TAGLIETTI 2014, 433-459).
Works cited:
GASPARRI 2013: GASPARRI, C., Un nuovo sarcofago con Nekyia tipo Villa Giulia, in MDAIR 119, 201-220.
GRANINO CECERE 2011: GRANINO CECERE, M.G., Nuovi dati sulla vicesima hereditatium da un documento epigrafico nel territorio aricino. In G. Ghini (ed.), Lazio e Sabina 7. Atti del Convegno (Roma 9-11 marzo 2010). Roma, Quasar, 283-288.
TAGLIETTI 2014: TAGLIETTI, F., Un nuovo sarcofago con scene dell'oltretomba ad Ariccia. Qualche riflessione, in ArchClass 64, 433-459.
VENEZIANI-VOLTERRA 2011: VENEZIANI, R. –VOLTERRA, V., Il villino Volterra di Ariccia. Roma, Palombi.

Fig. 6 Ariccia, Villino Volterra, old photograph, 1930 ca. (Property of the Volterra Family, from Veneziani-Volterra 2011).

Fig. 7 Ariccia, Villino Volterra, garden with antiquities. Old photograph. Courtesy of the Volterra family.

Fig. 8 Ariccia, Villino Volterra, a corner of the sitting room with various antiquities. Photograph, ca. 1930 (Property of the Volterra Family, from VENEZIANI-VOLTERRA 2011).
Further perspectives
The main idea of the project has already been presented at the international conference recently organized by the Dutch Institute in Rome. A preliminary publication of the recent investigation in the Villa Santa Caterina will appear in the forthcoming number of Analecta Romana Instituti Danici.
Sincere thanks to the present owners of the site, the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per Area Metropolitana di Roma, la provincia di Viterbo e l'Etruria Meridionale, and the Accademia di Danimarca, Roma.
June 2016: Workshop hosted by Aarhus University/AIAS
5-7 January 2017: Workshop hosted by the Danish Academy in Rome
9 February 2017: F. Diosono, C. Manetta, B. Poulsen: Contextualising the Past in the Alban Hills: Places for Life and Death, for Production and Otium, at the international workshop: Tra Appia e Latina: dinamiche insediative e sviluppo del territorio alle pendici dei Colli Albani hosted by the Reale Istituto Neerlandese di Roma
10 February 2017: Preliminary survey of the so-called Villa of Clodius, Villa Santa Caterina, Castel Gandolfo
May 2017: Fieldwork and geophysical survey in the so-called Villa of Clodius