Villa delle Vignacce (2006-2009)

The Villa delle Vignacce archaeological excavation project, made up of a multi-disciplinary team of specialists – archaeologists, conservator-restorers, architects, engineers, and scientists – was authorized by the Sovraintendenza ai Beni culturali del Comune di Roma.

The Villa delle Vignacce project was funded by the AIRC and its sponsors and donors.  The AIRC owes a great debt of gratitude to the first private sponsor of the project, who wishes to remain anonymous, the American Express Foundation for its support of the project in 2006 and 2007, and the contributions in time, labor, and the contributors and project volunteers who provided much-needed financing.

The Site

The Villa delle Vignacce complex, built in the 2nd century AD, was the property of Quintus Servilius Pudens, a friend of the Roman emperor Hadrian. The villa is located in a park famed for the well-preserved aqueduct channels that stretch for miles along the Via Appia Antica and was first explored by archaeologists in 1780.

These investigations yielded statues that are now in the Vatican Museums, yet no drawings or documentation were made of the remains. It is only now that this ancient Roman villa and surrounding area in the middle of a suburban park is being properly excavated, documented, and preserved.


The American Institute for Roman Culture began excavations at the site in 2006, and work to date has unearthed the ground floor of the villa, nearly four meters beneath the modern level of the park grounds, as well as parts of subterranean floor space below ground level. Discoveries include a lavish bath complex with beautifully preserved mosaic floors, marble columns and capitals, marble veneer, marble-lined fountains, intact heating system, rare glass-paste mosaics in the original vaulting, and statuary. Each of these rare treasures attests to the site’s singular importance as a vehicle for studying and preserving an example of Roman architecture and culture.

At present, the AIRC is working to publish in the coming year the materials from four years of excavation, extending over an area of five acres. A future geophysical exploration and current work with architects active on site will reconcile the relationship between the newly-discovered bath complex and the previously known bathing facilities of the sprawling villa complex and relate the history of the villa to what is known about Rome’s suburbium.

Interested in three-dimensional survey methods as an advanced means of documenting cultural heritage sites at risk, the AIRC commissioned a scan of the areas excavated between 2006-2008 using advanced laser technology. Gabriele Guidi, Professor of Reverse Engineering, Politecnico di Milano and a leader in the application of 3D scanning technology to cultural heritage, helped the AIRC create a laser plan of the bathing complex, “virtualizing” the research conducted to date. The results of this scan and the model created were presented at the CAA conference last fall in Williamsburg, VA. An e-Publication will follow shortly. Some of this exciting imagery can be viewed in an animated video.


Images of the Villa delle Vignacce excavations on AIRC’s Flickr page.

A poster about Villa delle Vignacce presented at the 17th International Congress of Classical Archaeology sponsored by AIAC (International Association for Classical Archaeology) held in Rome in 2008.


The results of the first season were both impressive and unexpected. Excavations near the standing remains of the so-called bath complex of the Hadrianic structure unearthed the ground floor of the villa, nearly four meters beneath the modern street-level, as well as parts of a subterranean floor-level beneath it in two main trenches. Finds included a beautifully preserved bath complex, with mosaic floors, marble panels on the walls, intact ancient heating system, and rare second century AD glass-paste mosaics in the original vaulting, which had collapsed onto the marble floor.


The season was very productive, as we proceeded to unify the two main trenches from season one. In the debris from the rooms, we discovered a well-preserved Hadrianic column, several large fragments of marble columns, and some fragments of statuary and statue bases. The rooms themselves are extremely well preserved, with several phases of mosaic floors. The dating of the structures is difficult, as the stratigraphy is not very well preserved; the villa in this area was heavily mined for decorative and building material in the medieval period.

However, it has been possible to ascertain through our continued work in the Fall 2007 a first phase (second century AD), when the rooms were not used for a bath complex. They were subsequently converted for use as a bath complex in the second century. Finally, the third main phase (possibly third century) saw the abandonment of the northern rooms as a bathing facility, when the bathing activity was shifted to the rooms in the south, where the caldarium proved to be very well-preserved.


This brief season (September-November), with Institute staff, collaborating archaeologists, and one workman, entailed final documentation of the excavation from the summer, as well as continued exploration of the site to answer certain unresolved questions. This led to the discovery that the initial phase of the structures date back to the first century AD. The main areas were not initially part of the bath complex; they were converted into baths in the second century. They were then transformed into spaces for other uses, including a large latrine, in the third phase, and the baths were shifted to the west, where we uncovered the marble-inlaid rooms of the caldarium. In addition, we uncovered part of a very large fountain, inlaid with white marble arranged in an opus spicatum (herring-bone) pattern.


This continued to explore the areas uncovered in summer 2007 and fall 2007. In order to uncover the praefurnia (furnace rooms) that heated some of the hot rooms and to determine the size of the bath complex we extended Trench At to the south and east. During the course of the excavations, we discovered another intact, circular caldarium (caldarium 2). In addition to the second caldarium, we uncovered evidence of more praefurnia. The previously identified fountain was totally uncovered. Instead of a fountain, it most likely was a cold plunge bath with more marble opus spicatum floor. In the drain of the plunge pool, a small cache of coins emerged. Nonetheless, dating structures continues to be problematic as spoliation of the complex began soon after its abandonment in the sixth century. A.D. Fragments of marble indicate that the hot rooms were lavishly decorated.

To the east of Trench A we also found outlines of more apsidal rooms that remain unexcavated.

In the area of Trench B we extended the trench to the north and east. To the north we found part of what was, in its last phase, a large hall that may have connected this area to the extant remains still further to the north. Again, the stratrigraphy was not well preserved because of rebuilding late in the life of the villa. However cuts in the fourth century floor (?) allowed us to excavate below the floors through the fill debris left by the builders. In the debris we discovered a head of a god (either Aesculapius or Zeus Sarapis), a Roman copy in fine Greek marble that dates to the Hadrianic period, a fine, white marble pilaster capital, fragments from other statues. Because of the cuts, we were able to excavate down to tufa bedrock where we found a drain that intersected with part of the hypogaeum found during the 2007 season. This part of the complex does not appear to have been heated at any period.

On the east side of Trench B, we uncovered part of a corridor (n-s) that was later closed off. The walls of the corridor were covered in yellow and bright read frescoes, which had ancient graffiti incised on the walls. Small white tesserae mosaic floor was still in situ, except where it was cut for a later drain that joins a large one found in the 2007 excavations. The drain runs along one of the earlier walls of the complex in this area.


In season 4 the Institute enjoyed its most successful season ever. Successful, for the devotion and drive of the students, who were really enthusiastic about all of the new details gleaned from the excavation. Successful, for the further discovery of impressive statuary and marble veneer decoration left behind by looters at the end of the long life of the bath complex. The previous year’s stunning Aesculapius/Zeus Serapis head was followed this year by an almost perfectly preserved red marble Marsyas statue. Measuring almost 1.5 meters (missing feet, base) from ankles to raised arms, the statue was found resting on mosaic pavement still attached to a massive marble tree brace, essential to the myth of Marsyas’ punishment by Apollo. The statue is now currently on permanent disply in the the Centrale Montemartini (part of the Capitoline Museums collection).  There is more evidence for the extensive bath complex, to the south (where exploration started in seasons 2006-2008), and now to the north, we began exploring around the series of standing structures, always visible in the park. It was here that we found the rich deposit of marble decoration and statuary.

Ostia Antica, collaborATIVE PROJECTS

The American Institute for Roman Culture collaborated with the University of Texas at Austin on a four-year program in Ostia Antica, the ancient port city of Rome (2003-2006). The Ostia Synagogue-area Masonry Analysis Project (UT-OSMAP) was a multi-year archaeological field project under the direction of Dr. L. Michael White, working under the auspices of the Superintendency of Archaeology for Ostia Antica. The goal of the project was to reevaluate the area around the ancient synagogue of Ostia Antica, which was rediscovered in 1961, and to excavate its remains. Learn more at the OSMAP, which is an ongoing investigation.  AIRC also began collaboration with Dr. Michele Raddi and the direzione di Ostia Antica along the ancient coast (Prospetto al Mare2) and cleaned and examined shops along the Via della Foce in 2009/2010. Finally, in 2010, AIRC collaborated with the University of Bologna on their excavation of a bath complex near Porta Marina. 


In 2003, The Italian Ministry of Culture (Italian Ministero per i Beni ed Attività Culturali) gave the Institute permission to explore and document this important commercial zone known as “Post Aedem Castoris,” situated behind the Temple of Castor and Pollux, as well as the related area on the adjacent Vicus Tuscus.  AIRC, partnered in this endeavor with archaeologists and students from Stanford and Oxford Universities. The principal aim of the excavation was to examine the articulation of public, religious and commercial space on the edge of the Roman Forum in the Republican, Imperial, and late Roman periods, specifically between the Temple of the Castors and the Horrea Agrippiana.

  • American Institute for Roman Culture
  • Oxford University, Institute of Archaeology
  • Stanford University, Department of Classics
  • Co-Directors
  • Darius A. Arya, PhD
  • Andrew Wilson, PhD
  • Jennifer Timble, PhD

The Forum in Rome was the heart of the ancient city and the Roman empire. It constituted the political, religious, commercial, and legal center of the city.
The section that the American Institute for Roman Culture excavated includes is one of the central, high-rent shopping districts, located behind one of the Forum’s most prestigious and noteworthy temples, the Temple of the Castors (the patron gods of the Roman knights), surrounded by important shrines.
Plentiful inscriptional evidence has described the area to be explored as a place in which luxury goods, such as jewels, incense, and dyes, were sold (Papi 2002).
The excavation complements previous exploration in the vicinity, tying into important work of other scholars and foreign institutions, including l’Università La Sapienza di Roma, the Norwegian School in Rome, the Finnish School in Rome, the British School in Rome and the American Academy in Rome.
The project analyzed the commercial activity in the Forum through stratigraphic excavation and explored the interactions of the commercial, religious, and political spaces there. Through detailed documentation of the various building phases, the project also addressed important topographical issues in an area known to be filled with important shrines and monuments, but exact locations had remained elusive.

In 2004, the American Institute for Roman Culture and Oxford and Stanford Universities continued with the second season of the the ‘Post Aedem Castoris’ excavation in the Roman Forum. The team examined the area between the Temple of the Castors and the Oratory of the Forty Martyrs, and the area in the Horrea Agrippiana. The focus of the project included:

* Investigation of structures of Roman, late Roman, and early Medieval date previously excavated in 1900 by G. Boni. Boni published a plan without further documentation (A, D, E, F, G).
* Investigation of structures which pre-date the standing remains of the Domitianic Portico, as well as documentation of the evidence for later conversion of this space into possible commercial structures, through two separate trenches (B and C).
* Investigation of structure against a brick pier, which was originally faced in marble. The structure was a monumental entrance to the Vicus Unguentarius (Street of perfume sellers) or possibly part of a structure of unknown use (D, F).
* Excavation along the Vicus Tuscus to investigate the late Antique / early Medieval shops lining the road, and the extent to which the road was maintained in the Medieval period. On the far end, study of the relationship between the road and the Horrea Agrippiana (E, G, H, I).

In 2005, the Project concluded with examination of the previously mentioned trenches, and added an investigation of the piers flanking the nearby public restroom, probable site of the Temple of Vortumnus. 

AIRC and co- directors are working to conclude study and publish a long article on the investigations in 2017.  Please support our publication efforts! Take Action today.