Via Appia Antica near the reconstructed tomb of the "Naked Hero"
The first section of Via Appia was called Antica after the opening in 1574 of a new road which started at Porta S. Giovanni and joined the old one before it reached Albano. Usually in Italian a thing which has to be distinguished from a new one is called vecchia (i.e. Via dei Banchi Vecchi), but in this case the added adjective was antica, owing to the many ancient monuments aligned along the road.
The archaeological and historical value of Via Appia Antica was recognized at the beginning of the XIXth century during the pontificate
of Pope Pius VII and the French annexation of Rome and the first excavations and repairs were supervised
by Antonio Canova.
At that time the rigorous criteria which are followed by the majority of today's archaeologists were not yet developed and the public expected the outcome of a campaign of excavations to yield "nice to see" results. This approach continued until the end of WWII: a certain number of monuments were reconstructed on an hypothetical basis or were slightly relocated; pines and cypresses were planted to add to the evocativeness of the site; the ancient basolato (the large flat basalt stones on the surface of a Roman road) was covered with asphalt to allow important foreign guests who landed at Ciampino Airport to reach Rome by Via Appia Antica and impress them with the view of its monuments.
Painted cupboard at Biblioteca Vaticana showing Via Appia Antica near Villa dei Quintili in ca 1860
Today, after a never-ending quarrel with the private owners of the villas at the sides of the road, the section of Via Appia Antica covered in this page (between Cecilia Metella and Torre in Selci) is practically reserved to pedestrians, as the ancient Roman basolato has been unearthed again and it effectively discourages the use of cars.
(above) Mosaic depicting a grapevine growing from a "Kantharos", a cup used for drinking wine (see a more elaborate mosaic showing the same subject in Tunisia); (below-left) geometric mosaic;
(below-right) relief on the wall of a farm built near the site of the baths
Herodes Atticus was a Greek rhetor who was highly regarded by Emperors
Hadrian and Antoninus Pius to the point that he was entrusted with the education of future Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. He was a very wealthy man and he became wealthier by marrying Annia Regilla, a member of an
ancient and rich Roman family; her dowry included a large estate in Valle della Caffarella
and also some land along Via Appia.
Archaeologists are in the process of unearthing the remains of baths built by Herodes Atticus near Cecilia Metella; some interesting mosaics have been found.
Sepolcro Rotondo (round tomb)
The general form of those tombs on the Appian way is a cylinder or a truncated cone, with a cubic base, and a convex top. This combination conveys the idea of a funeral pyre, and has some tendency to the pyramid, the figure most appropriate to a tomb, as representing the earth heaped on a grave, or the stones piled on a military barrow.
Joseph Forsyth - Remarks on Antiquities, Arts, and Letters in Italy in 1802-1803
Roman Law forbade the construction of funerary monuments within the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city, which initially coincided with its walls. Because during the Republican period cremation was the ordinary way of disposing of a dead person's body, this prohibition had more to do with preserving the Republic, than with hygienic worries; it was seen as useful to prevent the return of the monarchy or the development of forms of personality cult because it said that no one deserved to be celebrated with a monument inside the city.
The Romans who wanted to show their affection to their deceased relatives had to build tombs outside the pomerium and many of them chose Via Appia, which the Romans called Regina Viarum, because it granted the maximum possible visibility.
While the pharaohs built pyramids, the Romans, with the exception of Caius Cestius and a few others, preferred to build round monuments. Emperors Augustus and Hadrian chose this shape for their mausoleums; along Via Appia, Cecilia Metella and many other tombs are round; the bodies of the dead or their ashes were kept in an underground chamber (hypogeum).
The most imposing monuments were built in opus caementicium and then faced with travertine or marble slabs (see a page on Roman construction techniques). In most cases the decoration has been stolen thus uncovering the structure of the building.
During the Ist century AD the manufacturing of fired bricks underwent a technological advancement; bricks were produced in different shapes and colours; in the following century bricks were no longer used just for the structure of a building, but to decorate it with pillars, capitals and different shades of red (the so called Tempio della Salute, a mile from Via Appia Antica is another fine example of a brick monument, as well as Sepolcro di Annia Regilla).
The museums have stripped these populous
cemeteries of their memorials. (..) A more judicious plan has lately
been adopted at the instance of the Marquis Canova, who has adjusted some of the fragments, and the inscription of the sepulchre of the Servilian family and raised them where they were found.
John Cam Hobhouse - Dissertations on the Ruins of Rome - 1818
The small reconstructed monument to M. Servilius marks an important change in the approach followed in dealing with newly discovered decorations of ancient buildings. From the XVth to the XVIIIth century columns, capitals, friezes were taken away from where they had been found and were used for giving an "ancient touch" to churches, palaces, villas and gardens.
Antonio Canova, who found the remains of this monument in 1808, insisted, and obtained agreement from the papal authorities that they should not be removed but instead kept where they had been found; this approach was followed for some other monuments; eventually, given the risk of theft, the originals of many reliefs, statues and inscriptions found along Via Appia Antica have been replaced by copies. The Servilii had Horti (gardens) near Porta S. Sebastiano.
Inscriptions on tombs of "liberti" (that on the right has a reference to Velabro)
Verba volant, scripta manent (spoken words fly away, written words remain) is an ancient Latin say which explains why the
Romans were so keen on lengthy inscriptions. Those along Via Appia Antica give insight into everyday life in Rome:
from them we learn about the jobs of the dead or where they lived; in many inscriptions a series of names is
interrupted by L. or P.L.; the names before L. are those of the master, the name after L. that of the libertus, a
slave who was manumitted (released from slavery) through a formal legal process.
In Rome it was customary to free educated and trained slaves; liberti added to their name those of their former masters (P. stands for Pater or Patronus), who often belonged to important families. Depending on the form of manumission, liberti could acquire the status of Civis Romanus (Roman Citizen), which granted them more rights than those reserved to many other inhabitants of the Roman Empire (until Emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship throughout the whole empire).
Via Appia was so crowded with tombs and other monuments that some of them were built behind the first line and now are in the fields to the sides of the road. The picturesque ruin shown above is thought to have been a Temple to Jupiter, rather than a funerary monument.
Depending on the importance of the tomb, the dead was mentioned in an inscription, or portrayed in a relief or remembered by a natural size statue; one of the finest and most puzzling reliefs is that portraying an aged couple with a young woman, Usia, first priestess of Isis; the size of her head is smaller than that of the aged couple, so it is thought the original head represented another member of the family; at a later time it was reworked to portray Usia between two symbols of Isis; the sistrum, a musical instrument (which you can also see in the image used as background for this page) and a ritual cup. No clues have been found to explain the rationale behind the change.
The reliefs portraying the dead followed a fixed pattern, but in some instances the affection between wife and husband was so deep that they were portrayed while repeating dextrarum iunctio, a gesture they did on their wedding day, as if they wanted to give courage to each other in another crucial passage of their lives. Apart from its emotional impact the relief sheds some light on the role of women in Roman society; they did not have political rights, but within the family they were respected and were honoured after their death. The Roman matrona has become a symbol of a married woman who is dignified and staid. You may wish to see Cato and Porcia, an impressive funerary monument of a couple re-enacting their dextrarum iunctio.
Many tombs were completely robbed of their decoration and over time because of their circular shape they became small mounds. Three such mounds were associated with heroes
of early Roman history; Rome was founded by settlers from Alba Longa (near today's Albano), but at one point a war broke out between Rome and Alba Longa; in order to minimize bloodshed, it was decided that the result of the war would depend on the outcome of a battle between the Horatii, three Roman brothers and the Curiatii, three brothers from Alba Longa.
At the end of a first phase of fighting two Horatii were killed, while the Curiatii were wounded to a different degree; Publius, the last of the Horatii, started to run away, not to flee, but just to force the Curiatii to chase him; they did so, but at a different pace so that Publius Horatius was able to engage them one by one and kill them all; because the site is almost half way between Rome and Alba Longa, two mounds were thought to be the tombs of the two Horatii and a third one of the three Curiatii, but also an ancient monument at Albano is named after the Curiatii.
(left) Torre del Casale di S. Maria Nuova; (right) "Pyramidal tomb"
A tall medieval tower built above an ancient cistern is the first indication of Villa dei Quintili for those who walk from Rome along Via Appia; immediately after they see the bare structure of a very large monument which was probably part of the villa.
The wealthy brothers Quintili built in the IInd century AD a large villa which included baths and a hippodrome. The remains of the buildings, together with those of nearby Villa dei Sette Bassi, were scattered over such a vast area that they were given the name of Roma Vecchia (Old Rome) in the assumption that they belonged to a very ancient town.
The two Quintili brothers were appointed consuls in 151 AD, during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius, which shows that they were on good terms with him. Unfortunately for them, Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius who became emperor in 180, was envious of their richness. Two years later the brothers were charged with plotting against the Emperor and were sentenced to death. Commodus confiscated their properties and enlarged and embellished the villa.
(left) Frigidarium (cold room); (right) Calidarium (hot room) with a pool
Unlike the ancient monuments inside the city of Rome which started to be maintained and restored over a period of time, but which all were under some sort of legal protection by the beginning of the XIXth century, Villa dei Quintili did not receive adequate attention until 1985, when the area was acquired by the Italian State. The most impressive buildings are the two main halls of the baths; a series of smaller rooms between the two are thought to constitute the tepidarium (warm room).
The remaining marble floor of the frigidarium shows a very "modern" design and special attention to combining different coloured marbles.
(left) Exedra (semicircular square); (right) marble inlay floor
Archaeologists have recently uncovered a semicircular square near the frigidarium. The size of the square was reduced when a series of small rooms was built on it. Both the square and the rooms had marble floors with different colours and patterns.
(left) Small baths for the guards; (right) mosaic near the private apartments
The use of traditional black and white mosaics was rather limited. They have been found inside small baths near Casale di S. Maria Nuova, in a passage leading to the frigidarium and near the private apartments.
(left) Round cistern; (inset) drawing by Giovan Battista Piranesi (ca 1760); (right) view from the roof of the cistern towards Casale di S. Maria Nuova
Villa dei Quintili was supplied by its own aqueduct. Water was stored in three cisterns one of which was very large. In November 2014 the archaeological area of Villa dei Quintili was enlarged to include Casale di S. Maria Nuova, a small barracks and the cistern (which had been turned into stables).
A small museum is housed in what was the farm of an estate; it contains recent findings inside Villa dei Quintili and other
artifacts found in this section of Via Appia Antica; they show the relevance which eastern beliefs
acquired in Rome between the IInd and the IIIrd century AD.
The statue of Hercules is probably linked to the veneration Emperor Commodus had for this demigod, who was very popular among the Romans (you may wish to see the striking bust of Commodus as Hercules at Musei Capitolini).
Section of the villa for meeting/entertaining important guests
In 2015 Antiquarium di Via Lucrezia Romana, a small museum, was opened not far from Villa dei Quintili to house ancient statues, frescoes and mosaics which were found when building a ring road encircling Rome.
Casale Rotondo (round farm) ends this section of Via Appia. It is one of the largest tombs and its top is occupied by a small farm which at some point replaced a medieval tower. Part of its decoration was reassembled on a nearby wall.
Details of the decoration based on "candelabra"