Italian archaeologists have revealed a sumptuous Roman residence adjacent to the Colosseum. Within is an unparalleled mosaic adorned with shells, marble, and precious glass, according to an announcement by the culture ministry.
The mosaic depicts three grand ships navigating waves toward a coastal city, characterised by walls punctuated with small towers and porticoes. The decoration hints at the victorious past of the homeowner of this more than 2,000-year-old dwelling, known as a domus. Dating from the second half of the 2nd century BC to the end of the 1st century BC, the building is deemed “an authentic treasure” by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano.
Initially discovered in 2018 after the identification of a series of walls, the domus spans multiple levels. Archaeologists have uncovered only a fraction of its rooms so far. It is expected to extend into 2024.
An example of ‘luxuria’
The domus, spanning multiple levels, represents an early example of “luxuria,” showcasing wealth and status through opulent villas and lifestyles. The central area of the domus surrounds an atrium, featuring a main room designed as a grotto banquet hall. A senator was most likely the homeowner, entertaining visitors with elaborate water games facilitated by lead pipes integrated into the embellished walls.
It aligns with historical sources detailing the expansive residences of prominent Roman senatorial families in the north-western area of the Palatine, one of the seven hills of the city.
The Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, says “the discovery then has an important scientific value which makes the domus even more relevant.
“After the reopening of the Domus Tiberiana and the improvement of the accessibility of the Flavian Amphitheatre, with the inauguration of the lift which now reaches the third level, the heart of Romanity has therefore revealed an authentic treasure, which we will take care to safeguard and make accessible to the public.”
Unparalleled mosaic in the domus
The most remarkable aspect of the discovery is a wall adorned with a mosaic, unparalleled in terms of both chronology and scene complexity, as stated by the ministry. The mosaic comprises different types of shells, Egyptian blue tesserae, precious glass, and minute flakes of white marble or other stones. It depicts a “complex sequence” of scenes that include trumpets, warships, tridents, vines, lotus leaves, and piles of weapons.
The scenes are currently interpreted as symbolising a dual triumph—both terrestrial and naval—of the domus owner. A captivating landscape is portrayed, featuring a coastal city and cliff crafted with travertine rock, overlooking a sea navigated by three large ships, one of which has raised sails. The ministry suggests that the depiction of a coastal city may allude to a victorious conquest by the aristocratic owner, presumably of senatorial rank.
Additionally, archaeologists uncovered a high-quality white stucco in an adjoining reception room. Alfonsina Russo, head of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, said work would continue:
“This is an important result which repays long study and research work, and which falls within one of the priority objectives of the Park, that of knowledge and its diffusion. The archaeological excavation will conclude in the first months of 2024 and we will subsequently work intensely to make this place, among the most evocative of ancient Rome, accessible to the public as soon as possible.”