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This webpage reproduces an article in
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 15, No. 3 (Jul.‑Sep. 1911), pp386‑402.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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 p386  Privernum

III. Roman Remains in the Territory of the Roman Colony

In the article which dealt with the Volscian remains in the territory of Privernum, I pointed out that nearly all the "polygonal" walls in this region probably belong to the Roman period.1 As the "polygonal" walls were fully described in that article, I shall not discuss them further, but I shall confine myself, in this last article of the series, to an account of the remains not previously described, the Roman origin of which is beyond question.

These remains, for the most part, mark the sites of villas which were built between the time of Sulla and the end of the first century A.D.; in two places, S. Davino and S. Eramo, there are also ruins of tombs, and on Monte S. Angelo are the walls of a temple, all of which were built during the same period. Occasionally we find later Roman buildings, or signs that a villa was occupied in mediaeval times.

These ruins of Roman buildings are found in all parts of the territory which I explored. I shall begin with the sites farthest to the north, in the hills and mountains to the north of the plain of the Amaseno, then discuss those in the plain itself, and conclude with a description of the important remains on the hills between the plain and the Pontine Marshes, and on the borders of the Marshes themselves.

[image ALT: A map of a small area with many small hills, some crowned with villages. Between the hills, a plain is crisscrosed by a few roads and a railroad ec tracks the only large stream. It is a map of the area around Piperno, a small town in Italy.]

Figure 1: Map of Piperno and Vicinity, showing Roman Remains.

(Adapted from the Government Staff Map, Foglio 159.)

[A fully readable large version opens here.]

Below the great terrace walls of Mura Saratte (Fig. 12, 1) are traces of a large Roman reservoir of concrete which extends along the hillside. Although it has been destroyed to the level of its floor and is partially covered with earth, the length of the eastern side, 27.30 m, can be ascertained, and the northern and southern ends can be traced for 7.70 m and 11 m respectively,  p388 to the points where the earth hides them. A notable feature of the construction, which we shall see later at S. Davino, is the use of buttresses of concrete to strengthen the outside of the end walls. This site was inhabited in mediaeval times also.

There are remains of another Roman villa on the terrace walls of Li Cattivi (Fig. 1, 2). One wall of concrete faced with a coarse opus incertum of limestone starts at a point 19.50 m from the beginning of the second terrace wall and extends outward at right angles to it for 1.20 m. Another wall faced with finer opus incertum (which I shall call a) follows the entire course of the terrace wall which is farthest up the hill, except for 2 m at its southern end. A wall similarly faced (which I shall call b), 2.50 m in length, forms a right angle with the southern end of a. In the angle made by a and b is a concrete foundation which can be traced for at least 6.60 m out from the hill; on this there are remains of a well-laid pavement of opus spicatum. At a distance of 3.20 m to the north of what appears to be the southeastern corner of the concrete foundation, is a bit of another wall like a and b, which runs parallel to b; and to the south of the concrete platform is a small reservoir which measures 2.30 m by 1.85 m. Finally, at the northern end of a is a room in the hillside, with inner dimensions of 3.15 m by 3.70 m, the walls of which are faced with opus incertum. All these walls have the same orientation, and they all belong to the late Republican period, with the exception of the reservoir, which is of the late Roman or mediaeval period.

The highest point of Monte S. Angelo is occupied by the ruins of a monastery that was abandoned many years ago by the monks from whom this region received the name Li Cattivi (Fig. 1, 3). These monks incorporated in the side walls of their church two ancient walls of concrete, faced with the finest opus incertum of limestone which I have seen. The southern wall now stands less than 0.60 m above the ground; its course can be traced for 10.10 m. The northern wall is 4.20 m distant; its greatest height is 2.70 m, and its length is 8.60 m. The western ends of both walls, which are directly opposite each other, have a facing of small squared stones.

This building must have been erected at a time when Sulla founded the colony of Privernum. It certainly was not a villa,  p389 for the site is totally unfitted for a dwelling. On the other hand, since it is located in an isolated position on a mountain top, and since it was turned into a church at an early period, I believe that this was some important shrine or temple. It is impossible to say to what divinity it was dedicated.

Most of the sites of the Roman villas which I found in the plain of the Amaseno are to the west of the Roman town of Privernum at Piperno Vecchio. Two of these villas (Fig. 1, 45) I have seen only from a distance, so that I cannot give any description of the remains. On one site, according to Director Thomas Ashby, of the British School in Rome, only a reservoir is left (Fig. 1, 5); on the other site (Fig. 1, 4) are extensive remains, which, to judge from a brief notice in the Notizie degli Scavi,2 must date from the second century A.D.

The same article in the Notizie degli Scavi states that Roman remains of various kinds were discovered all over the surface of the platform at Ceriara (Fig. 1, 6), when it was excavated in 1893.3 When I visited the spot in April, 1910, the only trace of Roman remains which I found was a mosaic pavement on the southeastern corner of the terrace. It has a pattern of hexagons, diamonds, and squares, outlined in black on a white ground; the fine, thin tesserae and the good quality of the workmanship indicate that it was laid during the last years of the Republic, or in the Augustan Age.

There was another Roman villa 2 km to the east of Ceriara at the foot of the Colle Sugheretto (Fig. 1, 7). Only the ruins of a reservoir of concrete, 10.60 m in length and 4.50 m in width, are left; adjoining them on either side are traces of other reservoirs.

The very scanty Roman remains on the terrace at the Madonne delle Grazie (Fig. 1, 8) apparently belong to another villa. A battered mass of opus signinum, perhaps the floor of a reservoir, and a bit of wall made of concrete faced with opus incertum, are all that can be identified.4

 p390  There are no ruins of importance to the east of the Roman town. In the Rione S. Salvatore, about 200 m to the south of the Ponte del Carciofo (Fig. 1, 11), a good-sized reservoir stands by itself in the fields (Fig. 1, 10, Fig. 2).5 Its outer dimensions are 12.80 m by 8.40 m; its inner dimensions, 7.50 m by 3.90 m. The walls are preserved to a height of 3 m; they are made of concrete, faced (on the outside) with opus reticulatum of limestone varied with bands of brick, and, on the inside, with brick. The outside is strengthened by buttresses, the arrangement of which can be seen in Figure 2. Between the buttress at the northeastern corner and the one to the south of it, a round basin of concrete, connected with the reservoir by an opening, is set in the ground; above it the space between the two buttresses was arched over, so as to form a kind of second story. The brickwork of this reservoir is so poor that I hesitate to assign it to a period earlier than the fourth century. A smaller reservoir of like construction at S. Eramo (see p398) is certainly of a later date, as its level is above that of a mosaic pavement which dates from the third  p391 century A.D. or a later period. Of course, this site at S. Salvatore may have been occupied by a villa long before the reservoir was built, as was certainly the case at S. Eramo.

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Figure 2: Reservoir at S. Salvatore.

Somewhat over 2 km to the northeast of Piperno Vecchio, in the Contrada Spadelle, I saw a fragment of another reservoir; probably there was another villa here.

The only other point of interest that I have noticed in the plain of the Amaseno is near the new electric plant, at a distance of over 2 km to the east of Piperno Vecchio. Here a number of paving blocks are lying on the ground, while near by are other stones and bits of tiles, and some mediaeval walls. We seem to have here another section of the ancient road that passed through the Roman colony at Piperno Vecchio.6 In that case, it is strange that no other traces of the road are visible between Piperno Vecchio and this point, except for a few scattered blocks at the Ponte del Carciofo (Fig. 1, 11) and in the cuttings of the modern road to the east of that bridge, which are not necessarily in situ.

I have found the ruins of three villas on the hills between the plain and the Pontine Marshes; two of them, situated respectively at S. Davino and S. Eramo, are of some importance.

The top of the hill of S. Davino is a plateau of more than 300 m in length (Fig. 1, 12). Toward its southern end are the remains of a circular building 6 m in diameter. Only the first course of the structure is left; it was composed of seventeen blocks of limestone, of which sixteen are still in situ. The blocks, which vary considerably in length and in thickness, have a heavy moulding on the outside (Fig. 3, a), but are left quite rough on the inside. The holes for the clamps which connected the blocks are still visible; five blocks have also slight depressions in their upper surface to receive the blocks of the course above. The only other trace of the original structure is a cornice block (Fig. 3, b), which lies partially buried in the ground near by. To judge from the architectural details, this  p392 building was erected at the same time as the "colony arch,"7 or a little later, that is, between the time of Sulla and the Augustan Age. From its form it might be either a shrine or a tomb; it is probably the tomb of the owner of the villa.

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Figure 3: Profiles of Mouldings from S. Davino (ab) and S. Eramo (c).

 p393  Of the structures which compose the villa proper, only a reservoir is left. It stands entirely above ground; one chamber and the spring of the arch of another are preserved. The outer dimensions of the reservoir are 13.40 m by 7.80 m, and the inner dimensions of the chamber are 10 m by 4.60 m. The walls, which stand to a height of 3 m from the ground, are made of solid concrete without facing, and are strongly buttressed on the outside. Although there is no indication of the exact date of this reservoir, it is surely Roman. Two other underground reservoirs, to the north and south of this one, are mediaeval.

The ruins of the villa at S. Eramo (Fig. 1, 13; Fig. 4) are almost as extensive as all the other Roman remains taken together. The site, too, is the most magnificent in the district; to south and west it commands a view of the Pontine Marshes, Monte Circeo, and the sea; to the north and east, of the hills and valleys toward Piperno, the town of Piperno, the plain, and the Volscian Mountains beyond.

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Figure 4: Plan of Remains of Villa at S. Eramo.

As one ascends the hill of S. Eramo from Pozzi Reali, one  p394 reaches first a rectangular building in ruins to the right of the path (Fig. 4, a; Fig. 5). It is built of huge blocks of limestone fitted together without clamps. It is 6.05 m in width at the front, where the blocks are somewhat displaced, and 5.50 m in width at the back; the sides measure 5.20 m in length. The walls are standing in places to a height of four courses, or about 2.19 m; the course above the foundation course has a moulding on its outer surface (Fig. 3, e). In the front an opening for a door is cut through this moulding and the course above it to a width of 0.83 m and a height of 1.56 m. The deep cutting in the lintel and the doorposts for the reception of the door itself, the holes for the pivots in the threshold and in the lintel on the northern side of the door, and the hole in the doorpost on the southern side, intended to receive a bar, are all plainly visible.

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Figure 5: Front of Ruined Tomb at S. Eramo;
Chamber 6 of Reservoir (
b) in the Background.

This structure may well belong to the first century A.D., if it is not of an earlier date. It may have been a small temple; but as it is too massively constructed for a temple, and as it is placed in front of the villa, as are so many of the tombs on the Via Appia, I believe that it is rather the tomb of the original owner of the villa.

Thirty-one meters to the northwest of this tomb is the northeastern  p395 corner of a series of reservoirs which formed a great foundation for ancient buildings that have now disappeared (Fig. 4, b). There were certainly eight chambers, and there may have been nine; I could not ascertain whether there was a very heavy wall between the last two chambers or another very narrow chamber. The front was originally closed by a wall of concrete faced with opus reticulatum of limestone, which remains in front of chambers 7 and 8; it is 40 m in length (Fig. 6). The wall at the southern end of the series of chambers can be traced for its entire length of 12.70 m, and has a facing like that of the front wall.

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Figure 6: Chambers 4‑8 of Reservoir (b) at S. Eramo.

In mediaeval times the reservoirs were used to support a building of which traces still exist. This extended, for at least 6 m, to the north of the line of ancient reservoirs, and for 7 m to the south, where it ended in a corner which still stands to an imposing height.

In the interior of the reservoirs the side walls, up to the  p396 spring of the vault, and the end walls are faced with a very irregular opus reticulatum; the concrete of the vault, of course, had no facing (see Fig. 7). The original coating of opus signinum is preserved only at the back of chambers 6 and 7. In mediaeval times the end walls of several chambers were repaired at the top, where openings had been made, and new linings were put into chambers 5 and 8 (see Fig. 7).

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Figure 7: Interior of Chamber 5 of Reservoir (b),
showing Mediaeval Repairs.

The interior dimensions of the chambers vary. The length of all that could be entered is the same, about 11.05 m. Chambers 1 and 2 are of the same width, 4.20 m; 4 m from the rear of 1, and 2.30 m from the rear of 2, are traces of a cross-wall. Chamber 3 is in too bad a condition to examine, and chamber 4 is so filled up that only its length and its width (3.60 m) can be ascertained. Chamber 5 has a width of 3.70 m; the lining which was added in mediaeval times forms a ledge of 0.50 m in width on three sides (see Fig. 7). Between 5 and 6, and also between 6 and 7 and 7 and 8, there was an arched opening through the side wall, near the front of the chambers; that between 5 and 6 was later blocked up with a rough brick wall. Chamber 6 has practically the same dimensions as 5. Chamber 7 has a width of only 2.05 m. In this chamber it is possible to measure the full height; this is 3.90 m, of which the distance to the spring of the arch, 2.20 m, is coated with opus signinum. The interior of chamber 8 can be seen, but I could not enter it.

The facing of opus reticulatum gives us a clue to the date of these reservoirs. As it is still coarse and rather irregular and has no bands or corners of brick, it can hardly be later than the first century A.D., and I judge that the tomb and the reservoirs were built at about the same time.

Of the same period are fragments of four walls (Fig. 4, c, d, e, f), the nearest of which is 42 m away from the northwestern corner of the reservoirs. The length of wall c is 10.50 m. Wall d, which is 11.60 m distant from wall c, can be traced beneath a modern wall for 6.50 m. Wall e, which is 5.70 m to the north of wall d, is visible for 9.80 m (see Fig. 8). Wall f, which is 13.60 m from wall d, can be followed for 4.70 m, until it is intercepted by the corner of the modern house. These walls apparently separated various rooms of the villa.

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Figure 8: S. Eramo.

(Wall (e) behind the standing figure, modern house built over mediaeval reservoir at the extreme right: the position of the mosaic is marked by the X.)

 p397  I found a portion of the mosaic pavement of another room at the point marked g in Figure 4 (see also Fig. 8, where the position of the mosaic is marked by the cross). This mosaic is much later than the other remains, as its coarse, thick tesserae of limestone, poorly laid, show that it is not earlier than the third century A.D.

A depression about 5 m to the northeast of this mosaic seems to indicate an opening into an underground reservoir; and, in fact, if we follow for 28 m a line of mediaeval wall that begins 5 m beyond this depression, we find the remains of a series of four reservoirs, with the beginning of a fifth, which have a total width of 12 m (Fig. 4, h).8 All these reservoirs are now filled up, and none of the facing of the walls is to be seen, but  p398 their orientation seems to show that they were part of the same plan as the other series of reservoirs.

Another wall faced with opus reticulatum of limestone completes this group; it lies at a distance of 70 m down the hill, and can be traced for about 29 m to the southeast (Fig. 4, i). It seems to have been a lower terrace wall.

This part of the villa was also built over in mediaeval times. Besides the mediaeval wall just mentioned, there is a mediaeval reservoir, like that of S. Salvatore in outward appearance, on which the modern house is built (Fig. 4, j). It is 8 m in length and 7.50 m in width. I could not get into the interior, which is now used as a sty.

The most remarkable ruin at S. Eramo stands about 200 m farther up the hillside, just beneath the first steep slope of Monte Sajano. This is a huge reservoir of a type not found elsewhere in this vicinity (Fig. 4, k).

The exterior (Fig. 9) is far from imposing, as it projects only a short distance above the ground. Its length from north  p399 to south is about 23.50 m; the width is difficult to measure, but on the north side, where a small chamber projects outward, it is about 21.50 m. The outer facing of the reservoir is so battered that its original appearance cannot be determined.

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Figure 9: Portion of Exterior of Large Reservoir at S. Eramo.

The small chamber is connected with the main chamber by a single tiled opening in its roof. The interior measures 3.15 m in length, 1.12 m in width, and 4.80 m in height. The walls under the opus signinum have a facing quite different from any other which I have previously described; it is composed of triangular  p400 bricks with a strip of opus reticulatum of yellow tufa at the bottom of the wall. Adjoining this chamber were two other little chambers; these had a facing of opus reticulatum of limestone, with bands and corners of brick, as shown in Figure 9. At the southern end of the large chamber there are traces of another small chamber; here the corners are not of brick, but of small blocks of limestone.

The spacious interior of the main chamber (Fig. 10) has a length of 20.50 m, a width of 15.25 m, and a height of about 6.50 m. The roof is supported by six square piers in two rows; the piers measure 1.50 m by 1.35 m, and the rows are at a distance of 4 m to 4.10 m from one another and from the four walls. The side walls of the chamber, under their coating of opus signinum, have a facing of opus reticulatum of yellow tufa, which must have been imported from the vicinity of Rome, with bands and corners of brick; the piers are faced entirely with brick. The style of this facing enables us to assign the reservoir to the end of the first century A.D. or to the early part of the second century A.D.

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Figure 10: Interior of Large Reservoir at S. Eramo.

The architectural history of this villa, as we have seen, covers a considerable period. The tomb of the owner (Fig. 4, a) and the main group of buildings (Fig. 4, b‑i) seem to have been built in the early part of the first century A.D.; as the locality was very deficient in water, an unusually large number of reservoirs was provided for the storage of rainwater. Even these facilities soon proved to be inadequate, and in less than a century the great reservoir (Fig. 4, k) was added which gave a certain amount of pressure because of its elevated position. The villa thereafter was kept in repair, as the mosaic pavement (Fig. 4, g) shows; and in mediaeval times an important castle stood here, to judge from the extensive repairs made to the old reservoirs and the construction of a new one (Fig. 4, j).

A local tradition, at least three centuries old, calls this the villa of Sejanus,9 and in accordance with this tradition the mountain above it has been named Monte Sajano. Practically all the writers on Privernum have accepted this tradition as a  p401 fact; the latest authority to do so is Frothingham, who quotes the shepherd's song, which is still heard in this vicinity, as evidence.10 But there is no statement in the ancient authors that Sejanus had a villa here, and the remains themselves do not give us any conclusive proofs that he built the villa. Until further evidence is forthcoming, therefore, we must question the authenticity of the tradition, attractive though it may be.

The other villa which I have found in these hills is situated near Campo del Pozzo, on the slope which faces S. Davino (Fig. 1, 14). There remains a reservoir of two chambers joined end to end, with the spring of the vault of other parallel chambers. The length of the entire reservoir is 31.50 m, and the outer width, 4.70 m. The western chamber can be entered; it is 14.80 m in length, and 4.20 m in breadth. All traces of the facing have disappeared, leaving only the concrete walls. Thirty metres down the hill are other pieces of concrete which may belong to a foundation.

Along the Pontine Marshes I have seen only one place in the territory of Privernum where there are walls that are surely Roman.11 In the walls of a little bakery opposite the famous church of Fossanuova (Fig. 1, 17) is incorporated a part of a Roman nymphaeum or some other ornamental structure. I omit a detailed description of it, but give instead a plan drawn to scale (Fig. 11).12 Outside of the bakery are other walls and one end of a reservoir, as indicated in the plan. The inner facing of the nymphaeum has something of a decorative character, as it is composed of opus reticulatum laid in alternating rows of light-colored limestone and the dark-colored stone which resembles sperone;13 there are also bands and  p402 corners of brick. The outer facing of most of the walls of the nymphaeum is of opus reticulatum of limestone only, with the usual corners of brick; the inside of the reservoir is faced with brick. This style of construction, like that of the great reservoir at S. Eramo, cannot be earlier than the end of the first century A.D., or the early part of the second century A.D.14

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Figure 11: Plan of Remains at Fossanuova.

About 3 km to the south of Fossanuova, in the Rione la Ficuccia, are the remains of another villa which I have not visited. A trial excavation was made here by the Italian government in the spring of 1910, but it was not continued long, as it is said that nothing but a reservoir was found. The government inspector at Piperno, Signor Jannicola, has a number of tesserae of colored and gilt mosaic from this spot; these, however, belong to a building of the mediaeval period. Farther to the south and east, along the railway, there are still other Roman villas;15 but these are outside of the territory of Privernum.

Henry H. Armstrong.

Princeton, New Jersey,

March 29, 1911.

The Author's Notes:

1 Above, p56.

2 1899, p92.

3 l.c.

4 For the sake of completeness, I mention two fragments of concrete, faced with opus reticulatum, which are near Piperno Vecchio, about 50 m to the west of the field road which connects Piperno Vecchio with Piperno (Fig. 1, 9). These probably belong to some villa or private building, as they lie outside of the limits of the Roman town.

5 The photographs from which Figures 2 and 5‑10 were made were taken by Mr. J. H. Ten Eyck Burr.

6 Above, p179.

7 Above, pp175‑176.

8 The dimensions assigned in Figure 4 to all of these reservoirs, except that which is farthest to the northwest, are largely conjectural, because exact measures could not be taken.

9 See the quotation from an oration of Favonio Leo, delivered in 1620, in Valle, La regia et antica Piperno, città nobilissima di Volsci nel Latio (Naples, 1637), p30.

10 Roman Cities in Italy and Dalmatia (New York, 1910), p73. The song is: "Marciano, Marciano, Tutte le pecore son' di Sejano."

11 Of course, many of the walls described in my previous article as existing at Castello Valentino (Fig. 1, 15), and elsewhere along the Marshes, may belong to the Roman period (see above, p56); and the walls and reservoirs which I have called mediaeval at Castello Valentino may date from late Roman times. Above the spring of Gracilli (Fig. 1, 16), too, I saw a piece of concrete, which might be Roman, lying on the hillside.

12 On this plan the dotted lines indicate places where the ancient wall has been replaced by modern masonry; the shading is used where the thickness of the walls can be determined.

13 I have seen at Terracina a wall of opus reticulatum, similarly laid with alternate courses of limestone and tufa, in some shops excavated in 1910, opposite the Albergo Reale.

14 Paccasassi, Monografia del Monumento Nazionale di Fossanuova presso Piperno (Fermo, 1882), p2, says there was a villa of Septimius Severus at Fossanuova!

15 Cf. the discovery noted in Not. Scav. 1910, p293.

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