Faustina Augusta


On June 22, my trench (A6) discovered a coin resting between clumps of clay.  The coin rested in a pile of disturbed soil with only the eye-catching green hue drawing our attention and halting our trench’s progress. We removed the coin from the trench and began inspecting it, looking for visible details to date the coin and pondering what the coin’s discovery meant for our trench. Both sides of the coin had a layer of clay build-up covering portions of the images but the clay did not hide the word AVGUSTA. At first, I was excited to have an artifact in my trench with text but after clearing the clay away we discovered a more interesting detail. With a steady hand (and a dental pick), the clay layer on the obverse was removed, revealing the name FAVSTINA and a female profile (Figure 1). The reverse side of the coin featured a female figure holding a staff in her left hand and a bird to her right (Figure 2).

The woman featured on the obverse side of the coin is Faustina the Younger (AD 128 – 175), daughter of the emperor Antoninus Pius and wife to Marcus Aurelius. Faustina is identifiable by her wavy hair pulled into a bun which hangs low on the back of her neck and her hooked nose. Faustina’s low bun hairstyle did not come until later in her life, after AD 160, so this coin portrays an older Faustina. She was the only child of Pius to reach adulthood and the birth of her first child – the Antonine heir –  was a big deal and led to her receiving the title of empress before her husband was named emperor. The birth of her first child after only a year of marriage showed that the line of succession was secure. It was then that Faustina received the official title Augusta, an honorary title few empresses prior to her were grantedfrom the Senate.  While there is much to be said about this coin, the most important takeaway from its discovery is what the coin can tell us about our site. With the coin dating to AD 161 to 175, we know that the clay fill we were digging in my trench dates to AD 161 at the earliest.

Bust of Faustina the Younger

The reverse side of the coin (Figure 2) shows Juno holding an offering bowl in her right hand, a scepter in her left hand, and her symbolic animal, the peacock on her right. Faustina began appearing on Roman coins in association with Juno, the goddess of marriage, protector of children, and wife of Jupiter; Juno’s image emphasized Faustina’s status as Augusta and her relationship to the previous emperor Antoninus Pius and the current emperor Marcus Aurelius. By the end of her life, Faustina and Aurelius had twelve children. The fertility of the couple was celebrated in a time when most Romans struggled with infertility, which further solidified her association with Juno as a protector of children. While Faustina is not the first Roman woman to be compared to Juno, she established herself as a dutiful Roman wife when she ensured the line of succession of her family by giving her husband an heir and accompanied Aurelius when he went on campaigns (Faustina was named mater castrorum, “mother of the camp”).

Of course, other coins of Faustina the Younger are not limited to only images of Juno on the reverse side. Faustina is often portrayed with what are considered the traditional Roman goddesses — Diana, Venus, and Juno — along with the personifications of joy, concord, happiness, and mirth. On some coins, Faustina is even shown holding one or more of her children. These images help reinforce her piety and motherliness.

I have rarely seen images of ancient women without their husband’s profile next to or overlapping their own on coins. The coin of Faustina the Younger shows an older woman, well established among her people, and representing hopes and ideals of the Roman people. The Senate’s naming of Faustina as Augusta before her husband became emperor is especially interesting. Finding this coin at our site reinforced my interest in the portrayal of women in antiquity and sparked a fascination in a form of art I had not previously considered — coins.

Works Cited

“Aureus (Coin) Portraying Empress Faustina the Younger, AD 161/175, Issued by Marcus Aurelius.” The Art Institute of Chicago. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/5648

Boccaccio, Giovanni. 2003. Famous Women. Harvard University Press.

Burns, Jasper. 2006. Great Women of Imperial Rome: Mothers and Wives of the Caesars. New York: Routledge.


Destruction and Reconstruction: Rebuilding Ancient Pottery from Fragmented Remains

Imagine yourself stepping into a museum where you’ve been promised fantastic displays of ancient pottery.  Now, picture the pottery itself.  It’s likely that you’re envisioning interestingly decorated, seemingly complete artifacts.  If you take a closer look at museum pottery, though, you may notice that many of the ceramics are actually a patchwork of old and new material.  This realization struck me as I wandered through archaeology museums in Chiusi and Chianciano.  You see, unless you’ve been blessed by some otherworldly deity, most pottery that you uncover as an archaeologist comes up looking like an expert-level jigsaw puzzle (see figure A).  How, then, do these fragmented remains become pristine-looking museum displays? This transformation occurs through the meticulous process of ceramic conservation and reconstruction.

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Figure A: Here’s an example of pottery found at our site.  Here, we’ve just finished washing and Laying out pieces to dry.
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Figure B: Etruscan funeral vase from the 7th century BC displayed in the Museo Civico Archeologico in Chianciano Terme, Italy.  Photo courtesy of Sam Petri.

The story of ceramic conservation and reconstruction begins with a single question: why?  In the case of museum display, conservators complete ceramic reconstructions for educational, commercial, and practical reasons.  Educationally, a complete artifact provides viewers with a more concrete idea of the item’s use and purpose.  Most museum-goers are not experienced archaeologists, so fragmented bits of pottery hold little meaning; therefor, complete artifacts better cater to the general public.  Additionally, completed ceramics result in a more impressive spectacle; thus, they attract larger crowds.  While putting on a show isn’t really the main goal, museums must consider the commercial logistics of hosting exhibits.  If no one tours museums, they won’t stay open.  From a more practical standpoint, ceramic reconstruction helps to stabilize artifacts.  Especially in cases where there are heavily fragmented sections or missing parts, reconstruction serves to protect pottery from falling apart by providing structural support (See Figure B: notice the lighter, reconstructed sections.  Without these additions, the vase would be unable to stand on its own).

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Figure C: Etruscan funerary urn from the 7th century BC displayed in the Museo Civico Archeologico in Chianciano Terme, Italy.  Photo courtesy of Sam Petri.

After understanding why we reconstruct pottery, one must consider a few basic principles when it comes to reconstruction.  As Professor Schindler explained to me, with ancient ceramic restoration, modern additions must be distinguishable and removable from the original artifact.  The practice of having differing new and old materials ensures that reconstructed fills remain unmistaken for ancient ones, and alerts viewers to the possibility that new additions may not necessarily be 100% accurate (See Figure C: note the highly distinguishable orange fill that contrasts with the ancient, much grayer ceramic material).  The ideology of distinguishability wasn’t always the case, though, which is why some older reconstructions don’t follow this practice.  Another important principle to bear in mind is artifact safety.  New additions must not compromise the original artifact, and should be thoroughly considered before approval.

In regard to the process of restoration itself, techniques are highly subjective to individual pieces, but there are a few overarching steps.  Interestingly, ceramic restoration dates back to the Romans themselves.  Archaeologists have found evidence of the Greeks and Romans using “clamps, dowels, and rivets” to repair pottery- techniques which were used until the 20th century (Koob 1998, 50).  Fortunately, ceramic restoration for museums no longer uses these practices.  The first step involves identifying the type and material of your artifact. From there, you can then select appropriate adhesives and fillers.  Although you are working with ceramic material, you should never use heat during the restoration process (Larney 1971, 69).  In most cases, ceramic reconstruction does not involve traditional pottery-making methods.  After examination and identification, you should thoroughly clean and dry your artifact. While most pieces have been washed before being sent to a conservator, reconstruction requires a more precise cleaning.  If you are reconstructing a previously conserved piece, it’s necessary to remove old adhesives and repairs (Larney 1971, 70).  Following cleaning comes bonding, which involves a trial run (often using Sellotape) and a final application of adhesive, which depends upon the type of ceramic material (Larney 1971, 71).  From bonding, one moves through the processes of reinforcing, filling, and retouching, with reinforcing being mainly necessary before long-distance travel (Larney 1971, 74-75).  Throughout these steps, you should use bonders and fillers that do not expand or contract when dried.  Check out figure D to see an example of a finished display with reconstructed pottery.

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Figure D: Black-figure and red-figure pottery, as well as  Etruscan black-figure pottery from the 6th and 5th Centuries BC displayed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Chiusi, Italy.  Photo courtesy of Nicole Roenicke.

So, what does ceramic restoration look like at our site?  Currently, we’re still in the digging and research phase, so we’re primarily focused on fieldwork (See Figures E and F).  As we gather ceramic material, we wash, record, and process finds.  Eventually, we plan to construct our own museum displays based on the research we’ve completed.  Reconstructed or not, ancient ceramics are pretty cool.

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Figure E: Here’s a photo from my group’s tench, A7, where we’ve been uncovering lots of interesting pottery (and other cool finds)!
Figure F: Check out some of the ceramics (and bone) we’ve uncovered in A7 this season. Later, we’ll clean and process the finds.


Koob, Stephen. 1998. “Obsolete Fill Materials Found on Ceramics.” Journal of the     American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 37, No. 1(Spring, 1998), pp. 49-67. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3179911

Larney, J. 1971. “Ceramic Restoration in the Victoria and Albert Museum.” Studies in Conservation, Vol. 16, No.2 (May, 1971), pp.69-82 //www.jstor.org/stable/1505454

The Truth About Bones

Over the last few weeks of digging, I have had first-hand experience in finding an array of materials such as pottery, glass, bronze coins, an iron key, wall plaster, tiles, bricks, and bones. Personally, the most interesting material to find are the bones because they come in all different shapes and sizes, belong to different animals, and provide evidence for the daily lives of the Romans in terms of what they ate and manufactured from animals.

Prior to the dig, I did not think about bones very much and had not really seen many of them in my everyday life. My main interaction with bones was watching TV crime shows and scientific documentaries. So, for me, this dig made me curious about living animals and their interactions with the Romans on our villa. The three main questions I have pondered are: What types of animals would one expect to find on a villa? What effect do these animals have on the Romans, meaning are the animals eaten, kept as pets, or used in some other way? Finally, what challenges are associated with analyzing bones in the present to understand what is happening at a given site?

The first question is more basic and thus is easier to answer. This is due to extensive research on the subject matter, and we have also found a lot of animal bones on our site. Some of the bones found on site have been identified as being from cows, wild boar, and horses. We have also found bones that are a lot smaller that could have been from hares, foxes, deer, pheasants, quail, or mice. It would have also been common for the Romans living on this villa to have had fish and shellfish, considering how close we are to a lake, although it was probably a river in antiquity. Another animal that was on our site is a dog.

Additionally, we can use the present to understand the past, meaning we can infer from the fauna we see today, what could have been around in the past. Today, we see many different types of birds around our site due to Lago di Chiusi being so close. We also have had mice that have nested in our trenches. The professors have encountered hares on their way to the site. Also, if we went down to the lake, we would find fish. Understanding all of that, we can posit that animals like the ones we see today could have thrived in this warm and humid environment.

Mollusk shell found in trench A7 at Gioella-Vaiano archaeological dig site.

My next question had to do with how the Romans used these animals. To understand this, I had to analyze the bones closely as we dug and do some research to understand what interactions Romans had with animals and what Romans ate. 

As we were digging, we came across a cow bone with butcher marks on it. Basically, the butcher marks are cuts deep into the bone that could not have been made by the bone being fragile and cracking. This indicates that the Romans ate cows because they were slicing the meat off the bone. Many studies have analyzed how Romans ate cows.

Such studies also indicate that pork was more widely eaten, probably because pigs are smaller than cows, so they are easier to transport; pigs also breed more efficiently. Archaeologist Anthony King, in his study of mammal bone patterns in regions of the Roman empire, remarks that “the pork-rich diet seems to be a remarkably consistent dietary pattern that was normal and desirable in the region around Rome itself…” (King 5). On our site, we have found tusks from wild boar and part of the mandible of a pig. 

In addition to these animals, a single horse tooth has been found. Horses would have been used for transporting people, such as to Chiusi or Rome. There are also indications that horses were eaten in Roman times. This animal may have also been used for farm labor. However, it is more likely that an ox would have been used for heavy plowing; people would of course have done much of thedaily work on a farm

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Horse tooth found among the rubble at the Gioiella-Vaiano archaeological dig site.

A dog would not have been a source of food. A sculpture found in Pompeii depicts a fierce-looking dog watching over people as they work. The idea of dogs protecting people is not a new concept because they are loyal and strong. Last year, on site, tiles were found with a dog’s paw imprinted into them while they were drying before firing

Another interesting way of utilizing an animal is to fashion items out of their bones once they have died. Evidence of this has been found on our site in the form of a needle and a hairpin, both made of bone. The importance of this is that it emphasizes that Romans, in their everyday lives, did not waste materials; they fashioned them into items of utility and beauty.

Example of worked bone, in this case a hairpin. This was found in the A6 trench at the Gioiella-Vaiano site.

The final question I had deals with the present day finding of bones and the challenges associated with understanding their usages. Unfortunately, bones are brittle, so they tend to break over time. When we are pickaxing and troweling, it is not uncommon for us to break a bone into pieces which can sometimes be hard to analyze on site. Another problem is that it can be hard to reconstruct what happened to an animal since we often only find one bone. This means that we must surmise what happened, using others’ opinions as well as our own.

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A split bone found during digging the A7 trench at the Gioiella-Vaiano site.

Finally, the most difficult problem to comprehend is the context of bones. On site, we work stratigraphically, meaning we remove artifacts, clay, and soil in layers. This allows us to reconstruct a sequence of events. However, it can be hard to distinguish between debris that was created in antiquity and what happened in modernity because of natural deposition events, and human factors that can change the landscape, such changing land-use patterns and industrial plowing.  

Overall, bones help us betterto understand the everyday life of Romans on our site through the animals with which they interacted. One main interaction was between Romans and the animals they utilized for food, including cows, wild boars, and mollusks. The other main interaction was about utilizing animals to manipulate and protect their landscape, such as horses and dogs. These ancient interactions are communicated to us in the present through ancient documents and,critically, through the analysis of bones. 


Beard, Mary. Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. London: Profile, 2009.

King, Anthony, trans. Diet in the Roman World: A Regional Inter-Site Comparison of the Mammal Bones. Master’s thesis, The University of Winchester, 1999. Journal of Roman Archaeology, 1999.

Passing The Flame: Pottery Oil Lamps

Working on an excavation site takes a lot of determination, energy, and wide array of skills. It requires extensive manual labor in the blistering heat, attention to detail, a very specific set of rules and regulations, and, to properly maintain and successfully operate an excavation site and team, a vast collection of historical knowledge. There are rewards, however; if you have a yearning for knowledge, and a desire to touch a piece of history, the extensive effort is worth it. The location of this project doesn’t hurt either.

Even on the most grueling days, while the sun is bearing down on me and I’m hauling a wheelbarrow full of dirt and clay onto the spoil heap, I take a second to look around and remember where I’m standing. I look at the stalks of wheat which surround our site, bending and forming waves in the breeze. I see the calm waters of Lake Chiusi just below us, and the city of Chiusi, itself, atop the hill across the lake, and it places me in the historical context of our site, standing near one of the most important cities in Etruscan history, and at the gateway to the lifestyle of the wealthy villa owners and agriculturalists who lived there. Excuse the corny sentiment, but the beautiful scenery and these momentary reflections soothe me and give me the motivation to continue trying to unearth some amazing finds. The prior commentary after all, is not to discourage, but instead to paint a realistic portrayal of a day at the site.

This area of which I speak is the site of the Gioiella-Vaiano Villa in Castiglione del Lago. I’ve had the great opportunity of attending the Trasimeno Archaeological Field School and excavating this beautiful site under the instruction of Dr. Foss and Dr. Schindler, professors at DePauw University in Indiana. A typical day in the field involves proper sectioning, elevation measurements, pick-axing, troweling, articulating, and cleaning. Common finds include potsherds, brick, and tile, among less common bones, tesserae, and metal. One item that was particularly intriguing was a near completely intact clay lamp. This discovery was made by our trench mates, and immediately piqued the interest of all our group members, resulting in a team huddle and history lesson by Dr. Foss. I was able to connect to history tangibly, and understand what led to the item’s creation.

Aside from my own personal pleasure in being part of a team that’s discovering these items, it helps construct the timeframe and historical context of our site and its inhabitants, this being the overall goal. Therefore, intact pieces are extremely valuable to archaeologists, since analyzing their material, style, and maker’s marks or inscriptions allows a date to be established. For example, the lamp we found has an inscription at the bottom that is likely the mark of an established lamp maker, which can show us the origins of its creation by tracing their other handiworks found elsewhere, as well as getting a date of manufacture. Aside from the maker’s mark, much can be learned from the materials within the clay itself, as it varied upon location. In addition, the lamp can also vary by style, markings, designs, color and texture. All of these features can indicate where the lamp was produced. Not only this, but it can give you a window into the culture of a particular society, and even more so, can display the status of its users, which is safe to assume were of high class at our site.

These lamps are important for archaeologists today, but they were obviously particularly important functionally for the Romans, and others in the Mediterranean, back then. Artificial light was common, and its use was widespread all across Rome. These pottery oil lamps were seen as an advancement from the traditional beeswax or tallow candles that were used beforehand. They were more expensive, but they, of course, lasted longer. The way these lamps were used was by adding oil into the central hole, and then lighting a wick placed in the nozzle of the lamp. These wicks were usually made of linen, and sometimes flax or papyrus. Olive or vegetable oils were the source of fuel for the lamps.

There were three different ways to construct pottery oil lamps: handmade, wheel made, or by mold. Molds became the popular choice later on since they offered an easier and more efficient way to make large quantities, while keeping manufacturing organized and standardized. Molds were made using either clay, or the preferred plaster, since it can be left out to dry rather than fired like the clay. The mold would be in two halves, into which the clay would be pressed and then the halves pressed together, and afterwards left to dry. Following the drying process, the mold would be removed and wet clay added to the seams to make it appear neat. The holes would then be cut out, forming either the filling, wick, or air hole, and then the handle would be added or shaped. Finally, the lamp would be left to air dry before being fired in a vertical kiln.

Pottery oil lamps come in many shapes, ranging from simple round and oval, to elaborate animal shapes. The lamp we found on our site is a discus-style lamp, which was the dominant style between the first and second century A.D. The number of nozzles can also vary, but the lamp we found, although missing its nozzle, only possessed one. The type and amount of decoration can also differ, based on size and shape limitations. Some contained particular scenes or depictions that related to the culture or history, while others, like our lamp, have more simple embellishments, such as raised circles and dots around the central hole, forming a cornucopia.

Aside from the simple function of lighting a dark room, these oil lamps served additional purposes, as well. They were used as a source of illumination for businessmen inside and outside of their shops to attract customers, by soldiers in their forts or camps, by fisherman to light their boats when fishing at night, and they were even used on galleys to indicate their positions to other ships. Even the entertainment industry made good use of these lamps by illuminating sporting events, or as special effects for their theater shows. And of course they were used ritualistically to light temples and shrines, or even as ritualistic offerings, since light was considered a blessing. It was used for burial practices, as well, “in order to light the way into the afterlife.”

Regardless, each style and function provides a different story for archaeologists to interpret, and with enough evidence, add another chapter to the history books. So although they may appear to be only simple objects, their diverse utility in the past and narrative forming capabilities in the present, make them complex and valuable pieces at an archaeological site. Unearthing this, among the many other objects found in our site, in conjunction with all the schooling, museums, and field trips, has provided me with an enriching experience which is a great starting point for any prospective archaeologist and historian.

“Description and History of Oil Lamps | Milwaukee Public Museum.” Oneida Culture – Indian Country Wisconsin. Accessed June 25, 2018. https://www.mpm.edu/research-collections/anthropology/anthropology-collections-research/mediterranean-oil-lamps/description-and-history-oil-lamps.

Finding Flora: How Archaeologists Study Ancient Environments

Understanding the environment is useful in archaeology for multiple reasons. It is necessary to answer research questions regarding the landscape, layout, and function of a site. There are various methods of examining the ancient environment, including, on Roman sites, carbon analysis and art historical examination. Carbon analysis provides solidly scientific evidence, as remains can be identified down to exact species. While art historical examination can be accurate and specific as well–and more cost effective–it can be difficult to be as precise if the art is not well-preserved.

Carbonized plant remains are typically preserved well in the Italian environment, as at our Gioiella Roman Villa site. In particular, we have found a substantial amount of carbonized wood remains, which I find particularly interesting because even after several centuries it is still visibly identifiable as wood. When samples such as these are submitted to a lab, they are studied under a microscope so the cell structure is visible. This allows researchers to identify the species of tree or shrub.

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H. Schweingruber, Fritz & Börner, Annett. (2018). Fossilization, permineralization, coalification, carbonization and wet wood conservation. 183-192. 10.1007/978-3-319-73524-5_13.

However, carbon analysis is not limited to wood. For instance, at Pompeii, 24 species of plants were identified from seeds, nuts, grains, and fruit carbonized during the destruction of the city by a volcanic eruption. There are no such examples at the Gioiella site, and if there are non-wood samples to be found they certainly won’t be as expansive as in Pompeii. These hypothetical samples would most likely be seeds and they would most likely be found in a kitchen area, which has not been located yet (but you never know).

Alternatively, examination of artistic depictions of flora is a more traditional approach to ancient environmental research. Several major works of art have been intensely studied in order to identify all of their vegetation. One example that I saw on our group trip to Rome was the Ara Pacis Augustae, an altar dedicated to Augustan Peace. It is ornately decorated with people, animals, and plants all living in harmony. The simple, yet effective, museum in which it is housed featured a comparison between the art and what the plants look like in reality, which gave me a new appreciation for the art historical approach–some of the plants are more recognizable than others.

Another famous example is the garden frescoes at the Villa of Livia in Prima Porta. It is one of the best visual examples we have of Roman gardens due to the exceptional quality and sheer volume of plant life. Research has been “based on the most diagnostic morphological aspects, such as the general habit of the plants, typology, shape, size, and color of the fruits and flowers, if present, and the morphology and layout of the leaves” (Caneva, Giulia & Bohuny, Lorenza 2003), which is a complicated way to say that the scholars examined all the aspects of the plants in the frescoes and then compared them to actual plants.

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Villa of Livia at Prima Porta, Garden Frescoes, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

I get to see an example of plant life popular in Roman art and still visible across the Italian landscape today while I eat my lunch at the dig site. It is an acanthus plant, also known as Bear’s Breeches, which was the model for the capital on Corinthian columns.

Seeing and experiencing the broad differences in ancient floral analysis has only ignited my passion further. I have always been enthusiastic about archaeology and plants, but they weren’t so deeply connected. Now that I have gained firsthand experience of the excitement of pulling a particularly beautiful piece of carbonized wood out of the ground, or recognizing a plant that I see everyday in the art that I admire, I’m becoming more and more excited for my future career.

Works Cited

Caneva, Giulia & Bohuny, Lorenza. (2003). Botanic analysis of Livia’s villa painted flora (Prima Porta, Roma). Journal of Cultural Heritage – J CULT HERIT. 4. 149-155. 10.1016/S1296-2074(03)00026-8.

H. Schweingruber, Fritz & Börner, Annett. (2018). Fossilization, permineralization, coalification, carbonization and wet wood conservation. 183-192. 10.1007/978-3-319-73524-5_13.

Meyer, Frederick G. “Carbonized Food Plants of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Villa at Torre Annunziata.” Economic Botany 34, no. 4 (1980): 401-37. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4254221.

Stuart, Revett. (1827). Antiquities of Athens, Plate VII, Chapter III, Volume 1.  http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/stuart1827bd3?sid=8461e29284ea86dce8e8fc722cdd5306&ui_lang=eng

Wall Text, Ara Pacis Museum. Rome, Italy

Roman Bathhouses in Private and Public Settings

As a member of trench D2, I have learned A LOT about Roman bathhouses in the past couple of weeks. Trench D2, located on the eastern side of the dig site, has revealed itself to be the location of the bathhouse in our villa. We know this for several reasons: first, we are finding massive amounts of construction debris, which tells us that there was definitely a building there. Next, we are also uncovering tons of broken tubuli. Tubuli are hollow rectangular tubes “which carried the hot air provided by the furnaces” (Cartwright 2013). Finally, we have also found several examples of pilae, which are pillars that held up the raised floor (suspensurae).

Examples of tubuli (image credit: Kelly Kobashigawa)
Roman Baths Floor, ButrintExample of pilae and the suspensurae (image credit: Mark Cartwright)

So how exactly did heating the bathhouse work? It’s actually very ingenious. The Romans used an under-floor heating system (the hypocaust system). An underground furnace sent warm air all throughout the suspensurae and warmed both the floor and the baths. The walls provided heating from the tubuli. Furthermore, Roman bathhouses were typically positioned in a way that allowed southern sunlight to pass through the windows so that the rooms could be heated naturally as well. Since our villa was occupied from the late 2nd century BC through at least the 3rd century AD, the bathhouse probably underwent some changes as new technology came about.

Typically, Roman bathhouses included several rooms that had various purposes. The frigidarium was the cool room and was unheated, the tepidarium was the warm room and was indirectly heated, and the caldarium was the hot room where the heating system was located. At larger bathing complexes, several more features were also common; for example, exercise rooms (palaestrae), open-air swimming pools (natationes), toilets, libraries, and outdoor gardens (Trueman 2015).

An example of one of these larger bathing complexes is at Pompeii: the Stabian Baths. I had the fortune of visiting and seeing a massive bathing complex first hand. Of course, much of it is in ruins, but it is still amazing to imagine what it would have been like when it was in full swing. It would have been full of life, a great place to socialize, and beautifully decorated with sculptures, paintings, stucco, and mosaics.

Bathing was a major part of Roman life and culture. Therefore, bathhouses were extremely important socially, politically, and economically. Public baths acted as business and trade centers because of all the socialization going on through both athletic activities in the gymnasium and intellectual activities in the libraries. Politically, elaborate bathhouses had the opportunity to show off the wealth and power of Rome and its sponsors. Economically, large-scale bathhouses had the ability to employ large amounts of workers during their construction and operation.

However, the bathhouse at our villa was not public. Despite its privacy, it likely operated in its social, political, and economic functions on a lesser scale. It still would have been a place for members of the household to socialize with guests, and the complexity of the rooms still depicted their wealth. On our site, we are finding examples of painted walls (no statues yet), and are getting a better sense of the wealth of the owners of the villa.And we do have a fragment of the mosaic floor.

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Mosaic floors are common in Roman bathhouses. So far, in the bathhouse area, we have only found white, black, and grey tesserae. A tessera is a small square of stone, tile, glass, or other material that is used to make up the mosaic. So far, we have one fragment large enough to tell the pattern of our mosaic floor–it is a geometric design, a black and white checkerboard.

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Two examples of tessera found in the D2 trench

Overall, bathhouses were extremely important to Roman culture. Whether public or private, they were a key component of the daily routine. I feel so fortunate that I get to work in the bathhouse area of our villa! We’ve found so many amazing examples, and it still is surreal to hold ancient artifacts in my hands. So much is left to be discovered in the short amount of time we have left!

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. 2013. “Roman Baths.” Ancient History Encylopedia. https://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Baths/

Kobashigawa, Kelly. 2013. “Time Tested Applications of Solar Energy in Rome.” Engineering Rome. https://engineeringrome.wikispaces.com/Time+Tested+Applications+of+Solar+Energy+in+Rome

Truman, C. N. 2015. “Roman Baths.” The History Learning Site. https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ancient-rome/roman-baths/

Roman Mosaics

In Roman times, mosaics were a popular way for wealthy elites to decorate their private villas and show off their status. Throughout our time in Italy, we have seen numerous examples of mosaics and have gotten a taste of how prevalent they were in the lives of the elite. The mosaic collection at the Palazzo Massimo in Rome was particularly effective in demonstrating not only the huge variety of mosaics but how elites used them ostentatiously to decorate their homes.

Looking at this collection, you can’t help but imagine the time and the craftsmanship required to lay hundreds of tiny square stone tesserae in each of these pieces. The intricacies of every piece are astounding, especially ones that appear to have used even smaller tesserae to create a shading effect. At the same time, you can also imagine the excitement of owners choosing their designs, colors, portraits they wanted to display, and getting to show off their unique mosaics to their guests.

Much like modern day fashion, the popular style of mosaics evolved over time, from black and white geometric patterns to realistic portraits of people, animals, and everyday life. The collection at the Palazzo Massimo fully captured this range, though the mosaics pictured above stood out to me. The mosaic of Dionysus automatically caught my eye because its impressive use of shading. This technique, opus verticulatum, used smaller tesserae and was intended to mimic the realistic look of a wall painting [1]. Each of these mosaics were also impressive for their use of blue and green colors. The mosaics of Pan and the satyr are actually both part of a larger mosaic that uses teal tesserae, which are not featured in any other mosaic in the collection. Specially colored tesserae were made out of glass and had to be imported, which made them much more expensive than traditional black and white tesserae that could be cut from stone or marble within the country [1]. Clearly, the owner of these mosaics wanted to make known their access to prestige materials.

These mosaics also depict figures that originate from Greek mythology. As we have learned throughout the course, the Greeks had a major influence on both the Romans and the Etruscans, starting with their establishment of colonies in Italy around the 8th c. BC. Trade around the Mediterranean was the major catalyst for the exchange of cultural ideas. The Romans highly admired the Greeks and infused many of their ideas into their culture. This is visible especially in Roman art and architecture. Roman mosaics probably evolved from Greek Hellenistic style mosaics. Greek mythology was also adopted by the Romans, though most gods and heroes were given Latin names. The adoption of Greek gods was an easy transition, mostly because Italic peoples did not have definite personified gods prior to this [2]. The god Dionysus, called Bacchus by the Romans, is pictured in the first mosaic [3]. He is known as a god of the earth, wine, ecstasy, and festivity [2]. Dionysus was a popular god to be depicted in Roman art, and it would make sense to find his depiction in a Roman villa, simultaneously used for production and leisure. In the second mosaic, Pan, known as the shepherd’s god, was often depicted with horns and goat’s feet and played a flute of reeds [2]. Satyrs were mythical creatures of the wild and like Pan, they also had goat features. Satyrs were often depicted with Dionysus [2].

Seeing the mosaics at Palazzo Massimo were especially helpful in contextualizing the mosaics we have been finding at our site. In trench D2, where the bathhouse was, we have found many single pieces of black and white tesserae, as well as a large intact piece still connected at the lower end of our trench. We hope that we have found enough of the mosaic intact so that a pattern maybe recreated in the future, but much of the pre-existing mosaic has been disturbed by extensive plowing in the area. During the past week in trench A6 and A7, we also have found blue glass pieces of tesserae laid in mortar, for wall decoration. This was a surprising find and shows that the owner of the villa had enough wealth to import these colors.


[1] Cartwright, Mark. “Roman Mosaics.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 June 2013.

[2] Hamilton, Edith. “Mythology Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes.” Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, Anniversary addition, 2017.

[3] The editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Dionysus Greek Mythology.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018.

Abandon, Bury, Recycle

When I first began taking archaeology classes I learned about sites all over the world, ranging from small hunter-gatherer fire pits to the large ancient city of Cahokia. Both types of sites, no matter the size, presented a question for me. One that would sit in the back of my mind, unanswered until I would take a trip to Italy. The question was: how did these sites get abandoned and buried underground or forgotten in the forest for archaeologists to unearth? Small sites associated with mobile people, like the Willandra lakes sites in Australia, were an easier pill to swallow because those people only stayed at there for a short time. The seasonal special purpose sites such as Vaeget Nord, Denmark were somewhat understandable because they were not occupied all year round. However, this site was chosen for its environment suited for hunting. Why would the people of Vedback want to give up an area that was so helpful to their survival? The biggest confusion came with large cities and monuments of the ancient world. If a society spent so much time, money and effort on a construction why would they leave it? For example, how did the citizens of Rome let their symbols of power fall into such disrepair that they ended up buried, forgotten, thirty feet under? Thirty feet! Even small villas populating the countryside were left to crumble.

I was not left alone to question the behavior of ancient peoples. Every time I would mention my interest in archaeology, one of the first questions asked of me was how all that “old stuff” ended up underground. The only answer I could give was the site must have been under attack at some point, forcing the residents to flee and leave behind their broken pottery for some poor archaeologist to find. However I knew this answer only applied to a small set of sites.

On my trip to Italy I am working to uncover a Roman villa. Finally I had the perfect opportunity to answer my burning questions first hand. As it happens, the answer was so much easier to grasp than I ever made it. In the case of our Roman villa on the hillside of Gioiella, one theory is that it began when Roman veterans of the Second Punic war were settled in the area. The villa is believed to have been a site of production for the big three food products: olives, wine, and grain; and maybe pottery as well. It had a prime location for trade, being only a day’s ride away from Perugia, Cortona and Chiusi.

View of farm land and lake from Gioiella Site

The site continued to operate until the third century CE when the environment changed. The river that ran at the bottom of the hill began to silt up—maybe due to deforestation—creating a swampy area filled with mosquitoes carrying malaria. People began dying so the area began to depopulate. The main path of trade along the river could not be used and transport prices over land were very expensive. This answered one part of my inquiry: why this site was abandoned. It is understandable to leave your home behind if the environment is no longer suitable. Changes to the environment can have a drastic affect on the ability of a site to be desirable for people to stay there. Now I had two possibilities for site abandonment.

By the thirteenth century Perugia was in control of the area around the villa. Since no one lived in the area, the city was unable to collect taxes from it. Perugia began large-scale land reclamation to bring people back to the area. When medieval people were settled on our site they had to build their own house. Instead of trying to find their own materials they stole from the abandoned Roman building decaying on their farm. Of course at the time these medieval people may not have known this was a Roman villa they were so haphazardly stealing from. Hundreds of years had passed since its latest residents, allowing for their history to have been lost. Unused pieces were knocked over and covered over with soil to make more land for farming. Who knew they were recycling even in the medieval period! This explains why the villa was destroyed and how it ended up underground.

Gioiella Villa Showing Missing Stones on the Steps

People used this practice of reusing building materials of previous constructions for their own needs for centuries before and do so even today. It makes complete sense too. Why go find your own materials when perfectly usable ones are sitting on your land? This happened even with huge monuments such as the Forum of Trajan in Rome. In the medieval period the Forum was transformed into an area filled with small farms and shops. The farms used the protection of the walls and used fallen materials to build their homes.

Recycling could also be symbolic, as in the case of Augustus’ obelisk in Rome. An Egyptian pharaoh, Psammetichus II, originally constructed the obelisk in the seventh c. BC, but after Augustus conquered Egypt he had it moved to Rome to be used as a sundial. It is a symbolic representation of his domination over the Egyptian people because it is Egyptian in origin. In fact, both rulers dedicated the obelisk to the sun. By reusing the material of an earlier construction Augustus was able to draw upon the power of the past glory of Egypt and equate it to himself.

Augustus’s Obelisk

Many leaders of Rome used the idea of embodying the glory of other cultures by using their style of architecture. This process is how many temples were preserved; materials and sacred land were reused as churches when that religion began to dominate Europe. It was a symbolic way of banishing the pagan religion and Christianizing the region.

Church Reusing a Roman Temple’s Columns

Ancient sites can be abandoned, destroyed, buried and forgotten for many reasons, from something as simple as recycling material to the complicated effects of environmental changes. However a site was preserved, it allows future archaeologists to uncover its secrets and understand the intricate world of these ancient people.

Collection of Coins in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

Amid the hustle and bustle of the city of Rome, filled with its huge archaeological sites and churches to which tourists flock, stands the relatively unknown (while we were there, at least) Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. This museum, also known as the National Roman Museum, contains finds from the Roman Age and contains such sculptures such as Boxer at Rest and The Discus Thrower. Despite these works being some of the most significant works of art from the Ancient Romans, to me the most interesting section in this museum was the coin vault on the bottom floor.

The reason I believe that this vault was such a positive experience is two-fold: the layout of the museum and my interest in history. The layout of this section was interesting and comprehensive. The vault was lined with the coins around the sides in a ‘U’ formation. When entering the vault, the coins begin with Early Roman Coins that are all bronze (See Figure 1). Each section of coins continues forward from this period and so there are coins of the Middle Republic, Late Republic, Civil War Period, and so on. The coins are also organized by imperial periods, whether that be the Crisis of the Third Century or imperial dynasties such as the Flavian Dynasty (See Figure 2). As shown in these pictures the coins have progressively more gold, showing off the wealth of the Romans. However, the coins did not end with the collapse of the Roman Empire; they continued with the Ostrogothic Kingdom (Figure 3) and the Byzantines. Following these periods, coins then feature the later kingdoms of Italy until they reach the modern era. This display I feel like is effective since it displays the coins in a chronological format that is easy to follow and understand. By displaying them in this way it is easy to tell the high wealth periods of the Italian peninsula since coins are gold some of the time and bronze, silver, and other metals other times. Another interesting feature of this vault was that they would show both sides of the coin if they had multiple copies, allowing people to see both the obverse (face) and reverse of the coins allowing for better viewing—this was not available for every coin. However, there was one issue of this section of the museum and that was that the entrance to the vault was also the exit to the vault, for security. Despite this, I believe the area could be better organized, with a more linear flow from beginning to end without back tracking, if there was a way around the central decorative wall that was within the vault separating the Roman coins from the post-Roman coins. Despite this minor inconvenience, the layout was amazing since it allowed a chronological approach to the collection and a fantastic viewing of the artifacts.

The other reason I thought that this section of the museum was interesting was because of its historical aspects. As with most coins, Roman coins depicted the leaders when the coins were minted. From this the history of Rome and even Italy can be shown by showing the rapid change of emperors, signifying instability, the minting of multiple coins in the same period, showing civil wars, less gold showing less wealth, and other signifiers. However, this in-depth analysis would not be as interesting to people not as involved or interested with the Roman history. As a way to have the general public still interested in this section I felt that the museum tried an interesting trick in the layout by titling each section with a recognizable person or period such as the ‘Augustan Era’ or ‘Caesarian Era’ which will get people interested just because they know the names of the people featured in these coins.

Overall this museum section was quite a sight to behold, and I would recommend anyone to see this museum for themselves since it contains such a large collection of artifacts that many people would appreciate, such as the mosaics and sculptures. Yet, the most interesting display in this museum for me was the coin vault which is both informative and displayed well for both ancient historians and the public alike.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Caleb. Pictures Taken at National Rome Museum. Digital images. June 17, 2018.

Terra Sigillata and Its Relationship to our Villa

From the moment I excavated and held my first little piece of Terra Sigillata, to the time we found a piece of it proudly displaying the fingerprint of its maker, I knew that I had to learn more.  In certain areas of our Roman villa located between Umbria and Tuscany, dating to the 2nd century BC to the 3rd century AD, Terra Sigillata is a relatively common find.

What is Terra Sigillata?

There are two classes of pottery in the Roman world, coarse wares and fine wares. Terra Sigillata is a type of fine ware pottery commonly used as tableware in the Roman world.  It would have been used for everyday eating and drinking. The words “Terra Sigillata” translate to “stamped earth.” This name is used because it is made in a mould that gets impressed with stamps. This standard fine tableware usually appears either orange, terracotta, or red.  The color of the vessel can depend on where it is made or how it is made.  This type of pottery was mass produced, as it appeared all over the Roman world, even in places as far as Africa and Britain.  Terra Sigillata was typically produced and popular anywhere from the 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD.

Terra Sigillata was produced in different places at different times.  One of the first places it was produced was in Arezzo, Italy, about 55 km. north of our villa.  This Italian-type Sigillata produced in Etruria also had a branch of factories in Pisa.

Arretine Ware

Emma Watts-Plumpkin, Terra Sigillata, 2013, https://www.world-archaeology.com/features/roman-mediterranean-stamping-ground/

Ca. AD 60, Gaul took over the production until the 1st or 2nd century AD, when North Africa took over production.  It was produced in Tunisia from 2nd century AD to the 6th century AD.

Sigillata Africana

Laurent Gasca, Sigillata Africana, 2012, http://aruqeomed.blogspot.com/2012/10/la-ceramica-sigillata-africana.html

The different areas in which this gloss pottery was produced varied slightly in their production types and formulas, allowing for Sigillata to be dated more easily.  The location of production can also be identified by its color and style.
Römische Terra Sigillata


How Does this This Relate to our Site and our Roman Villa?

Terra Sigillata is being found at our site and in our trench (A7) that my group is excavating this summer.  This finding allows us to better date a stratum, giving us a Terminus Post Quem (the date after which a stratum had to have been deposited). The stamps and type of Sigillata allow for easier dating as well.  On our site as a whole, Arretine Ware has been found, as well as African Red Slip Ware.  So far, Sigillata from Gaul has not been found.  As well as dating, the location where this tableware is found allows us to see its possible relationship to the location and the consumption or creation of food.  If found in a large concentration, it is possible that the area was used for either function.  In trench A7, a few small pieces of African Red Slip Ware as well as Arretine Sigillata have been found, not enough to indicate function.  The other thing Terra Sigillata can tell us about is the trade, economy, and everyday life in the Villa during the Roman Empire.  The fact that African Red Slipware has been found shows that commonly used items were traded long distance across the Mediterranean to our site.

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Terra Sigillata Ware.” Encyclopædia Britannica. March 24, 2011. Accessed June 19, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/art/terra-sigillata-ware.

“Everyday Dining: Terra Sigillata.” Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. Accessed June 19, 2018. http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/object-stories/the-roman-house-at-hopkins/everyday-dining/.

“History of Terra Sigillata Ceramics.” The Spruce Crafts. Accessed June 20, 2018. https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/history-of-terra-sigillata-ceramics-4071467.

“North African Red-slipped Ware – Potsherd.” Accessed June 19, 2018. http://www.bing.com/cr?IG=67EDE49C7DF945CD88AD79685814C9E3&CID=115A1BDC593962072BEC17CF58C4636C&rd=1&h=oAaWNNd9hcgCtDge6FjhpIsIzN6Z7qXC3ExEH-15LwM&v=1&r=http://potsherd.net/atlas/Ware/NARS&p=DevEx.LB.1,5120.1.

“Roman Period Pottery.” 99 Red Balloons | Object Retrieval. Accessed June 19, 2018. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/pottery/samian.html