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San Lorenzo - the Roman Villa

The Roman villa at San Lorenzo was first identified in 1896 by Persichetti on the occasion of the construction of a cemetery alongside the church of San Lorenzo, itself identified through documentary sources as early as the 10th century AD. During the work several tombs were discovered, swiftly followed by numerous architectural pieces, including a column and a capital, along with several fragments of coloured marble. Whilst the existence of the site has remained in literature, often cited as the location of a villa rustica, no systematic work was ever undertaken on the site. Therefore, in the summer of 2007, after a successful geophysical survey earlier in the year, excavation begun of what was discovered to be the northern range of the villa.

The structures were arranged on terraces descending from west to east, in the direction of the plain in front crossed by the river Velino and the via Salaria. The eastern sector of the villa, where the entrance was probably situated, was occupied by a large courtyard, with a portico on at least the northern and western sides, attested by the presence of a series of in situ bases and the remains of brick columns. Immediately to the west an area free of structures seems to correspond to a garden, and was perhaps associated with a perfectly preserved drain paved with tiles. The main residential sector was situated to the north, where the excavation brought to light a series of five rooms, each decorated with white mosaic pavements with the exception of a larger central room which had a luxurious floor in opus sectile, with a range of precious imported marbles. Finally, at the north-eastern limit a small calidarium was discovered adjoining the pars urbana.

In the 4th century AD the western range of the site was reoccupied, at least in part, and was readapted for use as a kitchen and workshops. Its use was confirmed not only by the lava grindstones, small silos (from which various types of grains were recovered: barley, wheat etc) and bronze vessels that were found here, but also by the nature of the large amount of pottery found, mostly kitchen wares. The site was finally abandoned in the 6th century A.D. when it was destroyed by a fire; the various rooms were covered and sealed by the roof collapse leaving substantial remains of carbonised beams and tiles.

It is still not possible to identify the building, although its chronology, size and the luxurious appearance of the residential sector suggest that its owner was of high economic and social standing. The possibility of attributing it to the gens Flavia (and thereby identify it as Vespasian’s birthplace) is tempting, even though a dolium stamped with the name L. Octavius Calvinus suggests otherwise.

The excavations, which were conducted for a month long period each year between 2007 and 2011, were concluded in the summer of 2011 and will be followed by a full publication of this important villa high in the Sabina.