Herodotus Returns

Piece of roof of Nero’s Domus Area collapses in Rome
March 30, 2010, 10:54 am
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The 66-square meter section of the Domus Aurea’s ceiling did not injure any tourists when it caved in, but will obviously raise questions about the site’s fragile state. This is the worst of a number collapses which have taken place at the 1st AD villa, but archaeologists understand that this type of damage is inevitable. The photo of the massive gash in the park area above the villa brings on something of the apocalyptic doesn’t it? Strangely, this is how it was discovered in the first place: in the 15th century, a young Roman boy walking with two friends in the park suddenly fell through a hole in the earth. When he came to, he was in the main hall of the Domus Aurea, looking up at perfectly preserved ceiling frescoes.

Some 60 square meters of the baths built on top of the Golden House by the emperor who succeeded Nero, Trajan, came down because of seepage from recent heavy rains, civil protection experts said.

The area where the collapse occurred, a tunnel that was once part of the baths, has been cordoned off because it is close to the entrance to public gardens above it, they said.

“Now we’re trying to seal it off so no more rain will get into the hole,” they said. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno said he was “very worried” about the state of the structure, one of Rome’s most celebrated tourist attractions.

The special commissioner for the site, Luciano Marchetti, said “more collapses were possible”. The situation, he said, is “one of extreme alarm”.

The Domus Aurea, built by Nero soon after the great fire in Rome in 64 AD, has been shut since 2005 for work to make it more stable.

More on the collapse at the Domus Aurea.


2000-year-old Roman aqueduct discovered
January 28, 2010, 10:14 am
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A father-son documentary team has discovered what they believe is the source to an aqueduct built by Emperor Trajan outside Rome.

The underground spring lies behind a concealed door beneath an abandoned 13th century church on the shores of Lake Bracciano, 35 miles north of Rome.

Exploration of the site has shown that water percolating through volcanic bedrock was collected in underground grottoes and chambers and fed into a subterranean aqueduct, the Aqua Traiana, which took it all the way to the imperial capital.

Centuries later, it provided water for the very first Vatican, after Rome began to convert to Christianity under the Emperor Constantine.

The underground complex, which is entangled with the roots of huge fig trees, was discovered by father and son documentary makers Edward and Michael O’Neill, who stumbled on it while researching the history of Rome’s ancient aqueducts.

More on the discovery of Trajan’s aqueduct.

East Asian skeleton unearthed in Roman cemetery
January 28, 2010, 9:58 am
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Archaeologists excavating the Roman cemetery of Vagnari were surprised to find remains of a man with East Asian ancestry. This is the first record of an East Asian man in Rome. Given the way he was buried – beneath another burial and with only one grave good – it appears he was a slave.

Vagnari was an imperial estate during this time. The emperor controlled it and at least some of the workers were slaves. One of the tiles found at Vagnari is marked “Gratus” which means “slave” of the emperor. The workers produced iron implements and textiles. The landscape around them was nearly treeless, making the Italian summer weather all the worse.

The man with East Asian ancestry may well have been a slave himself. He lived sometime in the first to second century AD, in the early days of the Roman Empire. Much of his skeleton (pictured here) has not survived. The man’s surviving grave goods consist of a single pot (which archaeologists used to date the burial). To top things off someone was buried on top of him – with a superior collection of grave goods.

Much of the cemetery has yet to be excavated, but indications so far suggest that his contemporaries were mostly local individuals. Archaeologists have dug up 70 skeletons from the Vagnari cemetery and oxygen isotope tests have shown that more than 80 per cent of the people were born at or near this estate.

More on the East Asian slave/ambassador to Rome.