Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Vestibolo Di Polifemo room


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa Romana del Casale (Sicilian: Villa Rumana dû Casali)
Villa romana di Piazza Armerina - Sicilia - tigre.JPG

mosaic from the Big Game Hunt
Villa Romana del Casale is located in Italy

Villa Romana del Casale
Shown within Italy
Location Piazza ArmerinaProvince of EnnaSicilyItaly
Type Roman villa
Area 8.92 ha (22.0 acres)
Founded First quarter of the 4th century AD
Abandoned 12th century AD
Periods Late Antiquity to High Middle Ages
Cultures Roman
Site notes
Archaeologists Paolo Orsi, Giuseppe Cultrera, Gino Vinicio GentiliAndrea Carandini
Ownership Public
Official name Villa Romana del Casale
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii
Designated 1997 (21st session)
Reference no. 832
Region Europe and North America

The Villa Romana del Casale (SicilianVilla Rumana dû Casali) is a large and elaborate Roman villa or palace located about 3 km from the town of Piazza ArmerinaSicily. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world,[1] for which the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[2] The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD.

The over 3000 sq. metres of mosaic and opus sectilepavement are also almost unique in their excellent state of preservation due to the landslide and floods which covered the remains.

Although less well-known, an extraordinary collection of frescoes covered not only the interior rooms but also the exterior walls.


Plan of the villa

The visible remains of the villa were constructed in the first quarter of the 4th century AD on the remains of an older villa rustica, which are the pars dominica, or master’s residence, of a large latifundium or agricultural estate.[3]

Three successive construction phases have been identified; the first phase involved the quadrangular peristyle and the facing rooms. The private bath complex was then added on a north-west axis. In a third phase the villa took on a public character: the baths were given a new entrance and a large latrine, and a grand monumental entrance was built, off-axis to the peristyle but aligned with the new baths entrance and in a formal arrangement with the elliptical (or ovoid) arcade and the grand tri-apsidal hall. This hall was used for entertainment and relaxation for special guests and replaced the two state halls of the peristyle (the “hall of the small hunt” and the “diaeta of Orpheus”). The basilica was expanded and decorated with beautiful and exotic marbles.

The complex remained inhabited for at least 150 years and a village grew around it, named Platia(derived from the word palatium (palace).


In the 5th and 6th centuries, the villa was fortified for defensive purposes by thickening the perimeter walls and by closing of the arcades of the aqueduct to the baths. The villa was damaged and perhaps destroyed during the domination of the Vandalsand the Visigoths. The outbuildings remained in use, at least in part, during the Byzantine and Arab periods. The settlement was destroyed in 1160-1 during the reign of William I. The site was abandoned in the 12th century AD after a landslide covered the villa. Survivors moved to the current location of Piazza Armerina.

The villa was almost entirely forgotten, although some of the tallest parts of the remains were always above ground. The area was cultivated for crops. Early in the 19th century, pieces of mosaics and some columns were found. The first official archaeological excavations were carried out later in that century.[4]

The first professional excavations were made by Paolo Orsi in 1929, followed by the work of Giuseppe Cultrera in 1935-39. Major excavations took place in the period 1950-60 led by Gino Vinicio Gentili, after which a cover was built over the mosaics. In the 1970s Andrea Carandini carried out excavations at the site and work has continued to the present day by the University of Rome, La Sapienza. In 2004 the large mediaeval settlement of the 10-12th centuries was found. Since then further sumptuous rooms of the villa have also been revealed.

The latifundium and the villa

Ambulatory of the Big Game Hunt

In late antiquity the Romans partitioned most of the Sicilian hinterland into huge agricultural estates called “latifundia”. The villa’s latifundium is cited in the Itinerarium Antonini and is known as the Filosofiana. The villa’s pars rustica, or agricultural section, has been discovered to the west of the entrance area, as shown by a room divided in three parts by pillars for storage of agricultural products. The size of the villa and the amount and quality of its artwork indicate that it was the pars dominica of such a latifundium.

The owner’s identity has long been discussed and many different hypotheses have been formulated. The owner was probably a member of senatorial class if not of the imperial family itself, i.e. the absolute upper class of the Roman Empire. The most probable owner is of the Constantinian period, Lucius Aradius Valerius Proculus, governor of Sicily between 327 and 331 and consul in 340. The games he organised in Rome in 320 as praetor were so glorious that their fame lasted for a long time, and perhaps the depictions on some mosaics (the “Great Hunt” in corridor 25 and the “Games of the circus” in the baths) recall this event.

The villa was so large as to include multiple reception and state rooms which reflects the need to satisfy a number of different functions and to include spaces for the management of the estate as well as of the villa. This transformed the villa into a city in miniature. The villa would likely have been the permanent or semi-permanent residence of the owner; it would have been where the owner, in his role as patron, received his local clients.

The villa was a single-story building, centred on the peristyle, around which almost all the main public and private rooms were organised. The monumental entrance is via the atrium from the west. Thermal baths are located to the northwest; service rooms and probably guest rooms to the north; private apartments and a huge basilica to the east; and rooms of unknown purpose to the south. Somewhat detached, and appearing almost as an afterthought, is the separate area to the south containing the elliptical peristyle, service rooms, and a huge triclinium (formal dining room).

Palaestra – Two apses room

The overall plan of the villa was dictated by several factors: older constructions on the site, the slight slope on which it was built, and the path of the sun and prevailing winds. The higher ground to the east is occupied by the Great Basilica, the private apartments, and the Corridor of the Great Hunt; the middle ground by the Peristyle, guest rooms, the entrance area, the Elliptical Peristyle, and the triclinium; while the lower ground to the west is dedicated to the thermal baths.

The whole complex is somewhat unusual, as it is organised along three major axes; the primary axis is the (slightly bent) line that passes from the atrium, tablinum, peristyle and the great basilica (coinciding with the path visitors would follow). The thermal baths and the elliptical peristyle with the triclinium are centred on separate axes.

Little is known about the earlier villa, but it appears to have been a large country residence probably built around the beginning of the second century.

Recent excavations have found a second bath complex close to the storerooms at the entrance dating to the late antique phase and showing rare wall mosaics belonging to a basin or a fountain.

Monumental Entrance

Polygonal court mosaic

Access to the villa was through a three-arched gateway, decorated with fountains and military paintings, and closely resembling a triumphal arch. This gave onto the horseshoe courtyard surrounded by marble columns with Ionic capitals with a square fountain at the centre. On the west side of the courtyard was a latrine, and also separate access was given to the baths and to the rest of the villa.

The peristyle garden and the southern rooms

Diaeta of Orpheus

The elegant peristyle garden is decorated with a three-basin fountain, in the centre of which decoration featuring fish swimming among the waves can be seen. Rooms 33 and 34 were dedicated to service functions and have mosaics with geometric motifs while room 34 also features a mosaic installed above the original floor showing female athletic competitions giving it the name “the room of the palestriti”.

Also on the south side is the so-called diaeta of Orpheus, an apsidal room adorned with a remarkable mosaic featuring Orpheus playing the lyre beneath a tree and taming every kind of animal with his music. This room was probably used as a summer dining room or, considering its floor subject, for the enjoyment of music.

Basilica with marble panels

The Basilica

This grand apsidal hall was an audience hall and the most formal room in the villa, accessed through a grand monumental entrance divided by two columns of pink Egyptian granite. An exceptionally elaborate polychrome opus sectile floor consisting of marbles coming from all over the Mediterranean lies at the entrance and is the richest decoration in the villa; it also covered the walls. This type of marble, rather than mosaic, constituted the material of greatest prestige in the Roman world.

The excavations showed that the apse vault was decorated with glass mosaics.

Opus sectile floor – Basilica

Triclinium and elliptical peristyle

On the south side of the villa is an elliptical peristyle, the Xystus, with a semi-circular nymphaeum on the west side. In the open courtyard were fountains spurting from the mosaic pavement.

The Xystus forms a spectacular introduction to the luxurious tri-apsidal triclinium, the great hall that opens to the east. This contains a magnificent set of mosaics dominated in the centre by the enemies encountered by Hercules during his twelve labours. In the north apse is his apotheosis crowned by Jupiter, while to the east are the Giants with serpentine limbs and in their death throes, having been struck by Hercules’ arrows. In the south apse is the myth of Lycurgus who tried to kill the nymph Ambrosia, but was encircled by grapevines and attacked by a crowd of Maenads.


Bikini girls

The “bikini girls” mosaic, showing girls playing sports. To the left, a girl in a toga offers a crown and victor’s palmfrond to “the winner”

In 1959-60, Gentili excavated a mosaic on the floor of the room dubbed the “Chamber of the Ten Maidens” (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze in Italian). Informally called “the bikini girls”, the maidens appear in a mosaic artwork which scholars named Coronation of the Winner. The young women perform sports including weight-lifting, discus throwing, running and ball-games. A girl in a toga offers a crown and victor’s palm frond to “the winner”.[5]

The Little Hunt

Another well-preserved mosaic shows a hunt, with hunters using dogs and capturing a variety of game.

The Little Hunt mosaic




  • Petra C. Baum-vom Felde, Die geometrischen Mosaiken der Villa bei Piazza Armerina, Hamburg 2003, ISBN 3-8300-0940-2
  • Brigit Carnabuci: Sizilien – Kunstreiseführer, DuMont Buchverlag, Köln 1998, ISBN 3-7701-4385-X
  • Luciano Catullo and Gail Mitchell, 2000. The Ancient Roman Villa of Casale at Piazza Armerina: Past and Present
  • R. J. A. Wilson: Piazza Armerina, Granada Verlag: London 1983, ISBN 0-246-11396-0.
  • A. Carandini – A. Ricci – M. de Vos, Filosofiana, The villa of Piazza Armerina. The image of a Roman aristocrat at the time of Constantine, Palermo: 1982.
  • S. Settis, “Per l’interpretazione di Piazza Armerina”, in Mélanges de l’École française de Rome, Antiquité 87, 1975, 2, pp. 873–994.

Further reading


Giacobbe Giusti, Legio X Gemina

Giacobbe Giusti, Legio X Gemina


Giacobbe Giusti, Legio X Gemina

Marque en forme de sandale de la LEG(io) X G(emina) P(ia) F(idelis) trouvée à la fortification d’Ala Nova.

Giacobbe Giusti, Legio X Gemina

Schildbemalung der comitatensischen Legio Decima Gemina im frühen 5. Jahrhundert.

Roman Empire 125.png

Map of the Roman empire in AD 125, under emperor Hadrian, showing the LEGIO X GEMINA, stationed on the river Danube at Vindobona (Vienna, Austria), in Pannonia Superior province, from AD 103 until the 5th century
Active Before 58 BC to sometime in the 5th century
Country Roman Republic and Roman Empire
Type Roman legion (Marian)
Role Infantry assault (some cavalry support)
Size Varied over unit lifetime. Approx. 3,500 fighting men + support at the time of creation. Expanded and given the cognomen Gemina in 31 BC.
Garrison/HQ Hispania Tarraconensis (31 BC – c. 71)
Nijmegen (71 – 103)
Vienna (103-5th century)
Nickname(s) Equestris, “Of the knights” under Caesar
Gemina, “The twin” (since 31 BC)
Pia Fidelis, “faithful and loyal” (since 89)
DomitianaAntoninianaGordianaDecianaFlorianaCariniana (short-lived)
Pia VI Fidelis VI (after 260)
Mascot(s) Bull
Engagements Gallic Wars (58-51 BC)
Battle against the Nervians (57 BC)
Battle of Gergovia (52 BC)
Battle of Ilerda (49 BC)
Battle of Dyrrhachium (48 BC)
Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC)
Battle of Munda (45 BC)
Battle of Philippi (42 BC)
Battle of Actium (31 BC)
Batavian rebellion (70)
Second Battle of Tapae (101)
Bar Kokhba’s revolt (132-135)
Marcomannic Wars in Moravia(168-180)
Naissus (268)
Vexillationes of the 10th participated in many other campaigns.
Julius Caesar,
Mark Antony
Giacobbe Giusti, Legio X Gemina

Nero, Sestertius with countermark “X” of Legio X Gemina.
Obv: Laureate bust right.
Rev: Nero riding horse right, holding spear, DECVRSIO in exergue; S C across fields.

Legio decima Gemina (“The Twins’ Tenth Legion”), was a legion of the Imperial Roman army. It was one of the four legions used by Julius Caesar in 58 BC, for his invasion of Gaul. There are still records of the X Gemina in Vienna in the beginning of the 5th century. The legion symbol was a bull. Early on in its history, the legion was called Equestris(mounted), because Caesar once used the legionaries as cavalry.

In Republican Service

Gallic Wars

In the Gallic Wars, X Equestrisplayed an important role on Caesar’s military success and for this reason is sometimes said to be his favorite. In Caesar’s campaigns they were present in the battle of the Sabis, the invasions of Britain, and the battle of Gergovia. They remained faithful to Caesar in the civil war against Pompey, being present in the battles of Pharsalus (49 BC) and Munda (45 BC). In 45 BC Caesar disbanded the legion, giving the veterans farmlands near Narbonne in Gaul and in Hispania.


The legion was reconstituted in 42 BC and fought for Augustus (then Octavian), Lepidus and Mark Antonyin the Battle of Philippi against the murderers of Caesar. After this, they followed Mark Antony in his campaign against Parthia and were defeated with him at Actium. Augustus then took control of the legion and settled the veterans in Patras. The legion rebelled and lost its cognomen Equestris as punishment. Replacements were added from other legions, and the Tenth was rebaptized Gemina.

In Imperial Service

From about 30 BC the newly formed X Gemina was relocated to Petavonium in Hispania Tarraconensis, where Augustus was preparing a campaign against the Cantabrians. Their veterans were among the first inhabitants of modern Zaragoza and Emerita Augusta, modern Mérida.

The legion was sent to Carnuntum in Pannonia in about 63 AD (or a bit earlier) after legio XV Apollinaris left and went to the east.[1] During the brief reign of Galba (68-69), it was transferred back to Hispania.

Under the Flavian dynasty

Position of Roman legions in 80. X Gemina was in Nijmegen (mark 4), with XXII Primigenia.

However, its stay in Hispania was to be very brief. In 70, after the Batavian rebellion was suppressed by the new emperor Vespasian, X Gemina was sent to Batavia in Germania Inferior to police the lands and prevent new revolts. From 71 to 103, the legion was stationed at the base built by II Adiutrix at Oppidum Batavorum, the present day Dutch city of Nijmegen.

As part of the army of Germania Inferior, X Gemina fought against the rebellion of the governor of Germania SuperiorL. Antonius Saturninus, against Emperor Domitian. For this reason, the Tenth — as well as the other legions of the army, MinerviaVI Victrix, and XXII Primigenia — received the title Pia Fidelis Domitiana, “faithful and loyal to Domitian”, with the reference to the Emperor dropped at his death and subsequent damnatio memoriae.

2nd century

During the Trajan’s first campaign in Dacia, (101-102) the legion participated at the Second Battle of Tapae, fighting against the army of the Dacians led by King Decebalus.

In 103, it was moved to Aquincumand later to Vindobona (modern Vienna), in Pannonia Superior, which would be the legion’s camp until the 5th century.

Vexillationes of the X Gemina fought against the rebellion of Simon bar Kokhba in 132-135, in Iudaea, others participated in the Parthian campaign of Lucius Verus in 162. Another major campaign was the one fought against the QuadiMarcomanni and the Lombards, in Moravia, (Dyje-Svratka Vale) under the command of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (168-180). A garrison of Legio X GPF was found in the Czech Republic in Roman fortress in Moravia (Mušov)

Gemina supported its governor, Septimius Severus, in his bid for purple, and many men of the legion went to Rome to become part of the Praetorian Guard of the new Emperor.

3rd century

During the 3rd century, the legion fought for several emperors, who awarded the legion with titles showing the fidelity of the legion and the favour gained by the Emperor himself. The titles Antoniniana(awarded by Caracalla or Elagabalus), Gordiana (by Gordian III), Deciana (by Decius), Floriana(by Florianus), and Cariniana (by Carinus) were short-lived, however, and dropped after the death of the Emperor. For its support of Emperor Gallienus against Postumus, the Gemina was awarded the title Pia VI Fidelis VI, “six times faithful, six times loyal”.

4th century

At the time in which Notitia Dignitatum was written (late 4th century), the first detachment of Decima Gemina was under the command of the Magister Militumper Orientem, and was a comitatensis unit.[2] The other detachment was still in Vindobona, under the command of the DuxPannoniae primae et Norici ripensis.

Epigraphic evidence

  • – Lucius Lavius Luci filius Aemilia tri(bu) Tuscus Felicitis Iulia miles legionis X GeminaeVictricis- Porto (Portus), Portugal. AE 1953, 268.
  • – sacrum Caius Valerius Carusmiles legionis X Geminaevotum solvit libens merito. Lugo(Lucus Augusti), Spain. Hisp. Epi. 19118.
  • – Caius Iulius Sergia Hispali (f) Victor miles legionis X Gemina(centuria Fabi Celtiberi annorum XLII aerum / XVIII hic (…). Pontevedra, Spain. CIL II 2545.
  • – Iovi Augusto Ultori sacrum Lucius Valerius Paternus miles legionis X Geminae optio centuria Censoris exs (…). Pontevedra, Spain. AE 1908, 147.
  • – Gaius Iulius Primus miles veteranus legionis X Geminae / hic situs estsit tibi terra levis. Jaen, Andalucía, Spain. CIL II2/5, 5.
  • – Dis Manibus Gaio Urbanio Firmino militi legionis X / Iulius Ingenuus miles legionis. Jaen, Andalucía, Spain. CIL II 1691
  • – Capito Sunnae filius decurio equitum alae geminae legionis X Rustica Galli filia. Sevilla(Hispalis), Spain.CIL II2/5, 1136.
  • – Publius Talius Quinti filius Papiria (tribu) legionis X hic situs est sit tibi terra (…). Badajoz (Pax Iulia), Spain. Hisp. Epi. 23031.
  • – Marcus Aurelius Marci filius Galeria (tribu) Abbicus miles legionis X decimaeBadajoz(Pax Iulia), Spain. AE 1980, 562.
  • – Lucius Octavius Luci fillius Pupinia (tribu) Baeterensis Magius annorum XXXVII / aerorum XIX tubicen / miles legionis X Geminae(…). Astorga(Asturica), Spain. AE 1928, 163.
  • – Caius Pelgus Luci filius Scaptia (tribu) Clemensveteranus legionis) X Geminaevixit annos LVI hic situs est/ Caius Pelgus (…). Astorga(Asturica), Spain. CIL II 5076 = CIL II 5662 = AE 1904, 160.
  • – Caius Coelius Cai filius Papiria (tribu) Valens Narniense miles legionis X Geminae centuria Castellani annorum XXXV aerorum XIII (…). Astorga(Asturica), Spain. IRPLe 79.
  • – Marcus Persius Marci filius Pollia (tribu) Blaesus domo Hasta miles legionis X Geminaecenturia (…). Astorga (Asturica), Spain. AE 1904, 160.
  • – Lucius Herennius Luci filius) Galeria (tribu) Callicus domo Ugia miles legionis X Geminae / centuria Licini Clementis annorum / (…). Zamora, Spain. CIL II 5076 = CIL II 5662 = AE 1904, 180.
  • – Publius Cosconius Publi fillius / Galeria Arsensis / miles legionis X Geminae centuria Etrili annorum XXXI aerorum XI / hic situs (…). Zamora, Spain. AE 1928, 179.
  • – Marcus Cornelius Marci filius Aniensi Foro Iulii miles legionis X Geminae centuriae Terebrae annorum XXII aerorum (…). Zamora, Spain. Hisp. Epi. 15846.
  • – Rufus miles legionis X Geminae fecit. Zamora, Spain. AE 1997, 867.
  • – Marcus Volumnius Cai filius Aniensi / Cremona miles legionis X hic situs est. Zamora, Spain. CIL II 2631.
  • – Dis Manibus Tito Cassio Flavino centurioni legionis X Geminae Chrysampelus patrono optimo pecunia sua fecit. Tarragona (Tarraco), Spain. CIL II 4152.
  • – Severus Marci filius (…) miles legionis X Geminae centuriae (…). Burgos, Spain. Hisp. epi. 16472.

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa of the Papyri


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa of the Papyri

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa of the Papyri


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa of the Papyri


Giacobbe Giusti, Villa of the Papyri

Giacobbe Giusti, Villa of the Papyri

The Villa of the Papyri (Italian: Villa dei Papiri, also known as Villa dei Pisoni), is named after its unique library of papyri (or scrolls), but is also one of the most luxurious houses in all of Herculaneum and in the Roman world.[1] Its luxury is shown by its exquisite architecture and by the very large number of outstanding works of art discovered, including frescoes, bronzes and marble sculpture[2] which constitute the largest collection of Greek and Roman sculptures ever discovered in a single context.[3]

It is located in the current commune of Ercolano, southern Italy. It was situated on the ancient coastline below the volcano Vesuvius with nothing to obstruct the view of the sea. It was perhaps owned by Julius Caesar‘s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus.[4]

Plan of Herculaneum and the location of the Villa

In AD 79, the eruption of Vesuvius covered all of Herculaneum with some 30 m of volcanic ash. Herculaneum was first excavated in the years between 1750 and 1765 by Karl Weber by means of underground tunnels. The villa’s name derives from the discovery of its library, the only surviving library from the Graeco-Roman world that exists in its entirety.[5] It contained over 1,800 papyrus scrolls, now carbonised by the heat of the eruption, the “Herculaneum papyri“.

Most of the villa is still underground, but parts have been cleared of volcanic deposits. Many of the finds are displayed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

The Getty Villa is a reproduction of the Villa of the Papyri.


Ground Plan showing location of tunnels(brown)

Drunken Satyr, villa dei papiri

Aeschines, villa dei papiri, museo archeologico, Napoli

Sited a few hundred metres from the nearest house in Herculaneum, the villa’s front stretched for more than 250 m along the coastline of the Gulf of Naples. It was surrounded by a garden closed off by porticoes, but with an ample stretch of gardens, vineyards and woods down to a small harbour.

It has recently been ascertained that the height of the main floor in antiquity was no less than 16 metres above sea level, and the villa had four architectural levels underneath the main floor, arranged in terrasses overlooking the sea.[6]

The villa’s layout is faithful to, but enlarges upon, the architectural scheme of suburban villas in the country around Pompeii. The atrium functioned as an entrance hall and a means of communication with the various parts of the house. The entrance opened with a columned portico on the sea side.

The first peristyle had 10 columns on each side and a swimming pool in the centre. In this enclosure were found the bronze herma of Doryphorus, a replica of Polykleitos‘ athlete, and the herma of an Amazon made by Apollonios son of Archias of Athens.[7] The large second peristyle could be reached by passing through a large tablinum in which, under a propylaeum, was the archaic statue of Athena Promachos. A collection of bronze busts were in the interior of the tablinum. These included the head of Scipio Africanus.[1]

Dancers, da villa dei papiri, peristilio quadrato

The living and reception quarters were grouped around the porticoes and terraces, giving occupants ample sunlight and a view of the countryside and sea. In the living quarters, bath installations were brought to light, and the library of rolled and carbonised papyri placed inside wooden capsae, some of them on ordinary wooden shelves and around the walls and some on the two sides of a set of shelves in the middle of the room.[1]

The grounds included a large area of covered and uncovered gardens for walks in the shade or in the warmth of the sun. The gardens included a gallery of busts, hermae and small marble and bronze statues. These were laid out between columns amid the open part of the garden and on the edges of the large swimming bath.[1]

Resting Hermes

Ptolemy Apion

fresco, Villa dei Papiri

Works of Art

The luxury of the villa is evidenced not only by the many works of art, but especially by the large number of rare bronze statues found there, all masterpieces. The villa housed a collection of at least 80 sculptures of magnificent quality,[8] many now conserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.[1] Among them is the bronze Seated Hermes, found at the villa in 1758. Around the bowl of the atrium impluvium were 11 bronze fountain statues depicting Satyrs pouring water from a pitcher and Amorini pouring water from the mouth of a dolphin. Other statues and busts were found in the corners around the atrium walls.[1]

Five statues of life-sized bronze dancing women wearing the Doric peplos sculpted in different positions and with inlaid eyes are adapted Roman copies of originals from the fifth century BC. They are also hydrophorai drawing water from a fountain.

Epicureanism and the library

The owner of the house, perhaps Calpurnius Piso, established a library of a mainly philosophical character. It is believed that the library might have been collected and selected by Piso’s family friend and client, the Epicurean Philodemus of Gàdara – although his conclusion is not certain[4][9] Followers of Epicurus studied the teachings of this moral and natural philosopher. This philosophy taught that man is mortal, that the cosmos is the result of accident, that there is no providential god, and that the criteria of a good life are pleasure and temperance. Philodemus’ connections with Piso brought him an opportunity to influence the young students of Greek literature and philosophy who gathered around him at Herculaneum and Naples. Much of his work was discovered in about a thousand papyrus rolls in the philosophical library recovered at Herculaneum. Although his prose work is detailed in the strung-out, non-periodic style typical of Hellenistic Greek prose before the revival of the Attic style after Cicero, Philodemus surpassed the average literary standard to which most epicureans aspired. Philodemus succeeded in influencing the most learned and distinguished Romans of his age. None of his prose work was known until the rolls of papyri were discovered among the ruins of the Villa of the Papyri.[4]

Papyrus recovered from Villa of the Papyri.[1]

At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, the valuable library was packed in cases ready to be moved to safety when it was overtaken by pyroclastic flow; the eruption eventually deposited some 20–25 m of volcanic ash over the site, charring the scrolls but preserving them— the only surviving library of Antiquity— as the ash hardened to form tuff.[1]


The Bourbon excavations were halted in 1765 due to complaints from the residents living above. The exact location of the villa was then lost for two centuries.[10] In the 1980s work on re-discovering the villa began by studying 18th century documentation on entrances to the tunnels and in 1986 the breakthrough was made through an ancient well. The backfill from some of the tunnels was cleared to allow re-exploration of the villa when it was found that the parts of the villa that survived the Bourbon robbers were still remarkable in quantity and quality.

Excavation to expose part of the villa was done in the 1990s and revealed two previously undiscovered lower floors to the villa[11] with frescoes in situ. These were found along the southwest-facing terrace of about 4 metres height. The first row of rooms lying below the arcade was eveidenced by a series of rectangular openings along the façade.

Limited excavations recommenced at the site in 2007 to preserve the remains when beautifully carved parts of wood and ivory furniture were discovered. Since then limited public access became available.

As of 2012, there are still 2,800 m² left to be excavated of the villa. The remainder of the site has not been excavated because the Italian government is preferring conservation to excavation, and protecting what has already been uncovered.[12] David Woodley Packard, who has funded conservation work at Herculaneum through his Packard Humanities Institute, has said that he is likely to be able to fund excavation of the Villa of the Papyri when the authorities agree to it; but no work will be permitted on the site until the completion of a feasibility report, which has been in preparation for some years. The first part of the report emerged in 2008 but included no timetable or cost projections, since the decision for further excavation is a political one.[13] Politics involve excavation under inhabited areas in addition to unspecified but reported[14] references to mafia involvement.

Using multi-spectral imaging, a technique developed in the early 1990s, it is possible to read the burned papyri. With multi-spectral imaging, many pictures of the illegible papyri are taken using different filters in the infrared or in the ultraviolet range, finely tuned to capture certain wavelengths of light. Thus, the optimum spectral portion can be found for distinguishing ink from paper on the blackened papyrus surface.

Non-destructive CT scans will, it is hoped, provide breakthroughs in reading the fragile unopened scrolls without destroying them in the process. Encouraging results along this line of research have been obtained, which use Phase-contrast X-ray imaging. [15] [16] [17] [18] According to authors, “this pioneering research opens up new prospects not only for the many papyri still unopened, but also for others that have not yet been discovered, perhaps including a second library of Latin papyri at a lower, as yet unexcavated level of the Villa.”[19]

J. Paul Getty Museum

Bronze bust of Scipio Africanus, mid 1st century BC, found in the Villa of the Papyri

The original “Getty Villa“, part of the J. Paul Getty Museum complex at Pacific Palisades, California is a free replication of the Villa of the Papyri, as it was published in Le Antichità di Ercolano. This museum building was constructed in the early 1970s by the architectural firm of Langdon and Wilson. Architectural consultant Norman Neuerburg and Getty’s curator of antiquities Jiří Frel worked closely with J. Paul Getty to develop the interior and exterior details. Since the Villa of the Papyri was buried by the eruption and much of it remains unexcavated, Neuerburg based many of the villa’s architectural and landscaping details on elements from other ancient Roman houses in the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae.[20]

With the move of the Museum to the Getty Center, the “Getty Villa” as it is now called, was renovated; it reopened on January 28, 2006.

In modern literature

Several scenes in Robert Harris‘ bestselling novel Pompeii are set in the Villa of the Papyri, just before the eruption engulfed it. The villa is mentioned as belonging to Roman aristocrat Pedius Cascus and his wife Rectina. (Pliny the Younger mentions Rectina, whom he calls the wife of Tascius, in Letter 16 of book VI of his Letters.) At the start of the eruption Rectina prepares to have the library evacuated and sends urgent word to her old friend, Pliny the Elder, who commands the Roman Navy at Misenum on the other side of the Bay of Naples. Pliny immediately sets out in a warship, and gets in sight of the villa, but the eruption prevents him from landing and taking off Rectina and her library — which is thus left for modern archaeologists to find.

Sculpture from the Villa

Giacobbe Giusti, Column of Marcus Aurelius

Giacobbe Giusti, Column of Marcus Aurelius


Giacobbe Giusti, Column of Marcus Aurelius


Giacobbe Giusti, Column of Marcus Aurelius


Giacobbe Giusti, Column of Marcus Aurelius

Eretta nel 180 d.C. dall’imperatore Commodo (161-192) in onore del padre, l’imperatore Marco Aurelio, la Colonna Antonina presenta numerosi rilievi di cui alcuni dettagli sono stati fotografati in questa immagine: i soldati romani sono qui raffigurati nell’atto di un rituale per la pira funeraria. Marco Aurelio (121-180), noto per aver combattuto i parti, i quadi e i marcomanni (166-180), fu anche un filosofo stoico, difatti ci ha lasciato i Ricordi (o Colloqui con se stesso ). Sulla Colonna Antonina ci sono scolpiti gli episodi delle sue imprese.

The Column of Marcus Aurelius (Latin: Columna Centenaria Divorum Marci et Faustinae, Italian: Colonna di Marco Aurelio) is a Roman victory column in Piazza Colonna, Rome, Italy. It is a Doric column featuring a spiral relief: it was built in honour of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and modeled on Trajan’s Column.


Because the original dedicatory inscription has been destroyed, it is not known whether it was built during the emperor’s reign (on the occasion of the triumph over the Marcomanni, Quadi and Sarmatians in the year 176) or after his death in 180; however, an inscription found in the vicinity attests that the column was completed by 193.

In terms of the topography of ancient Rome, the column stood on the north part of the Campus Martius, in the centre of a square. This square was either between the temple of Hadrian (probably the Hadrianeum) and the temple of Marcus Aurelius (dedicated by his son Commodus, of which nothing now remains – it was probably on the site of Palazzo Wedekind), or within the latter’s sacred precinct, of which nothing remains. Nearby is the site where the emperor’s cremation occurred.

The column’s shaft is 29.62 metres (97.2 ft) high, on a ca. 10.1-metre (33 ft) high base, which in turn originally stood on a 3 metres (9.8 ft) high platform – the column in total is 39.72 metres (130.3 ft)[1] About 3 metres of the base have been below ground level since the 1589 restoration.

The column consists of 27 or 28 blocks of Carrara marble, each of 3.7 metres (12 ft) diameter, hollowed out whilst still at the quarry for a stairway of 190-200 steps within the column up to a platform at the top. Just as with Trajan’s Column, this stairway is illuminated through narrow slits into the relief.


German council of war – considered an early evidence to what would become known as the Thing (assembly).

The spiral picture relief tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ Danubian or Marcomannic wars, waged by him from 166 to his death. The story begins with the army crossing the river Danube, probably at Carnuntum. A Victory separates the accounts of two expeditions. The exact chronology of the events is disputed; however, the latest theory states that the expeditions against the Marcomanni and Quadi in the years 172 and 173 are in the lower half and the successes of the emperor over the Sarmatians in the years 174 and 175 in the upper half.

One particular episode portrayed is historically attested in Roman propaganda – the so-called “rain miracle in the territory of the Quadi”, in which a god, answering a prayer from the emperor, rescues Roman troops by a terrible storm, a miracle later claimed by the Christians for the Christian God.[2]

In spite of many similarities to Trajan’s column, the style is entirely different, a forerunner of the dramatic style of the 3rd century and closely related to the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus, erected soon after. The figures’ heads are disproportionately large so that the viewer can better interpret their facial expressions. The images are carved less finely than at Trajan’s Column, through drilling holes more deeply into the stone, so that they stand out better in a contrast of light and dark. As villages are burned down, women and children are captured and displaced, men are killed, the emotion, despair, and suffering of the “barbarians” in the war, are represented acutely in single scenes and in the figures’ facial expressions and gestures, whilst the emperor is represented as protagonist, in control of his environment.

The symbolic language is altogether clearer and more expressive, if clumsier at first sight, and leaves a wholly different impression on the viewer to the whole artistic style of 100 to 150 as on Trajan’s column. There, cool and sober balance – here, drama and empathy. The pictorial language is unambiguous – imperial dominance and authority is emphasized, and its leadership is justified. Overall, it is an anticipation of the development of artistic style into late antiquity, and a first artistic expression of the crisis of the Roman empire that would worsen in the 3rd century.



Giacobbe Giusti, ‘Defining beauty’ , ‘Power and Pathos’

Giacobbe Giusti, ‘Defining beauty’ , ‘Power and Pathos’


Belvedere Torso, 1st century BC. Copyright: Vatican, Museo Pio-Clementino

Reimaging the lost masterpieces of antiquity

Martin Gayford visits two tantalising – and jaw-dropping – new surveys of Greek and Roman sculpture at the British Museum and Palazzo Strozzi

Arts feature Martin Gayford 28 March 2015
For centuries there has been a note of yearning in our feelings about ancient Greek and Roman art. We can’t help mourning for what has irretrievably vanished. In 1764 Johann Joachim Winckelmann wrote that we have ‘nothing but a shadowy outline left of the object of our wishes, but that very indistinctness awakens only a more earnest longing for what we have lost’. In the same spirit, Power and Pathos, an exhibition of Hellenistic bronze sculpture at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, begins with an empty plinth.

It is the marble base of a statue, found in Corinth, on which are written the words ‘Lysippos made [this]’. The inscription is poignant for a series of reasons. The statue that once stood on that plinth has disappeared, probably melted down more than a thousand years ago. So has every other bronze made by Lysippos, of which there were — according to Pliny the Elder — once some 1,500. And Lysippos (born around 390 BC), by the accounts of Pliny and other ancient authors, must have been one of the greatest sculptors who ever lived, an artist who — like Michelangelo and Bernini — fundamentally changed the art he practised.
0065581DBelvedere Torso, 1st century BC. Copyright: Vatican, Museo Pio-Clementino
That, in a way, is what Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art at the British Museum begins and ends by doing. It has two of the most powerful first and last rooms any exhibition of classical sculpture can ever have mustered. It starts with a juxtaposition that would have blown Winckelmann’s mind, and finishes with one that would have given Michelangelo Buonarroti food for serious thought.We are in the odd position with Lysippos, and just about every other notable figure in ancient art, of having the art criticism and history but not the art. It is as if the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Fra Angelico and all the Renaissance masters had been destroyed in toto, leaving just the writings of Vasari and Bernard Berenson (plus a scattering of more or less mediocre later copies). It’s a tantalising situation, and one that has been extremely productive. Many great works of art have been made over the years by people trying to imagine what the lost masterpieces of antiquity could have been like.

You enter and see — straight ahead — ‘Illissos’ from the west pediment of the Parthenon (part of the Elgin Marbles), and to your right an almost completely intact classical bronze retrieved from the sea off the coast of Croatia in 1999. Nearby are copies of famed, but no longer existent, works including the ‘Discobolus’ (or discus-thrower) by Myron. Just before the exit there is a comparison between ‘Dionysus’, from the Parthenon, and the ‘Belvedere Torso’ (pictured on p35), one of the most celebrated antiquities in the Vatican collection, which has never previously been seen in Britain.

6 weeks for £6 + free cartoon

Each of these demonstrates the insights that can be obtained by temporary loans between museums (and so, every bit as spectacularly, does Power and Pathos). ‘Illissos’, of course, has just returned from the Hermitage, St Petersburg.

There are several conclusions to be drawn from these exercises in compare-and-contrast. One is that — leaving aside the unending discussion about the reuniting or not of the Elgin Marbles — the British Museum could be displaying them much better than they normally do.

The ‘Illissos’ looks particularly fabulous. There is a living, flowing quality to the skin of the marble that makes everything else in the room look a little dead. It outclasses even the bronze from Croatia, which is probably a later replica of a sculpture from the 4th century BC, known as the ‘Apoxyomenos’ (perhaps by Lysippos). But it in turn looks hugely more sensitive and subtle than another bronze, a copy made in Germany in 1920 of one of the most renowned works of antiquity, the ‘Doryphoros’ — or spear-bearer — by Polykleitos: scholarly and accurate but with the machine-tooled look of an item manufactured by Mercedes-Benz.

Surface is everything, that’s the lesson. But the paradox is that the exteriors of surviving classical works have been drastically altered by time. The marbles were painted, the bronzes in some cases gilded, with results that are hard to picture. Attempts to recreate these effects always look ghastly — as is unintentionally demonstrated in the second room of the BM exhibition.

This was one of the works that taught Michelangelo how a mighty visual drama could be made from dynamism of a single body (a drawing by Michelangelo for the Sistine Ceiling hangs on the wall to make the point). Perhaps I see it too much through Michelangelo’s eyes, but then we all do. That is one of the points of the exhibition: a great deal of western art has been created by people peering at, and reimagining, these fragments of antiquity.We have grown used to seeing works that are fragmentary and worn by time; in fact, may prefer them that way. The Parthenon ‘Illissos’ has perhaps been helped by the erosion it has suffered, giving a fluid surface to the body of this river god. But the Parthenon ‘Dionysius’ at the other end of the show, to my mind anyway, loses his competition with the ‘Belvedere Torso’. Both have been dreadfully battered, but the ‘Torso’, though minus head and limbs, retains the marvellously corrugated musculature of his chest largely intact.

This could — and should — have been the whole focus of the show. In between, Defining beauty tends to lose its way, meandering into ploddingly didactic displays about such subjects as childhood and ‘rites of passage’: in other words, everyday life in ancient times. This is an exhibition that should be seen for its jaw-dropping moments, but overall feels like an opportunity missed. In contrast, Power and Pathos, brilliantly conceived by a team from the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, to which it will move on, is utterly focused.

It sets itself the task of discovering more about what bronzes of the Hellenistic period — that is, from the era of Alexander the Great to the rise of the Roman Empire — really looked like. To that end, it has assembled something approaching half the surviving examples.
Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 12.36.55Portrait of a Man, 50–25 BC
The exhibits, sumptuously lit and often recently conserved, give a hint — and sometimes much more than a hint — of the sensuous realism of Hellenistic art: the copper lips and nipples, the inlaid eyes and even tear ducts. You leave feeling closer to Lysippos; beginning to imagine what was on that plinth. Perhaps this is deceptive. As Winckelmann noted, when it comes to classical art, ‘we are very much like those who wish to have an interview with spirits’. That hasn’t changed.The total of these is steadily, if slowly, ticking up. Sculpture in bronze, too valuable not to melt down, has suffered even more severely than marble. In later antiquity, however, it was the most prized material for sculpture. So much so that quantities of it were shipped westwards to Rome — rather as European old masters have been transported more recently to America. A number of these sank in shipwrecks and every few years one is recovered by underwater archaeologists.

‘Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art’ is at the British Museum until 5 July. ‘Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World’ is at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, until 21 June.