Of all the Roman ruins that populate what is now a pleasant landscape of pines and meadows, under the distant gaze of the Alban Hills, Villa Quintilii is perhaps the most impressive – almost a city in miniature, covering up to 24 hectares.
Located on the ancient Appian Way, as it stretches southeast from Rome, the villa had its own theater, a chariot racing arena and a complex of baths with walls and floors lined with sumptuous marble, writes The Guardian.
The story of the villa, whose origins are in the 2nd century AD, became even more impressive with the discovery of a complex wine cellar of unparalleled sumptuousness in the Roman world.
The winery included a series of luxurious dining rooms overlooking fountains of fresh wine. There were also marble-lined areas where workers trampled the freshly picked fruit while the emperor looked on, presumably feasting with his retinue.
The winery, located beyond the city limits of ancient Rome, was located in what was once a landscape of orchards and farmland, dotted with monumental tombs – and the villas of the very rich.
“Villa Quintilii was a stunning mini-city complete with a luxury wine cellar for the emperor himself to indulge his Bacchic tendencies,” said archaeologist Dr. Emlyn Dodd, deputy director of the British School at Rome and an expert on ancient winemaking. He published the archaeologists’ findings in an article for the scientific journal Antiquity.
The discovery of the ancient Roman winery came by accident, when archaeologists from the Italian Ministry of Culture were trying to find one of the starting points for the villa’s arena. The racetrack that was built by Emperor Commodus, who reigned from 177-192 AD. It turned out that the later winery was built over one of these starting gates.
Commodus, known for his violence, was the one who killed the original owners of the villa, the Quintilii brothers, in 182-3 AD. After that, the imperial rulers became the personal owners of the complex, expanding and modifying it over the centuries.
The fact that the name Gordian is imprinted on a vast wine collection vat means that the emperor probably either built the wine cellar or renovated it. This would almost certainly be Gordian III, which gives a date of AD 238-244, as the first and second emperors of that name only reigned for a few days.
After being pressed, the crushed grapes were taken to the two mechanical presses, with a diameter of 2 meters, which were located nearby. The resulting grape must was then sent to three fountains, which gushed from semicircular niches located in the wall of the courtyard. There were actually five wells, with two outer mouths producing water.
The must, after cascading from the wells, was then poured along open channels into vast dolia, or ceramic storage vessels, sunk into the ground—a standard winemaking technique in ancient Rome, as they created a micro -stable environment in which the fermentation took place.
Covered dining rooms, with wide and open entrances, were located on three sides of this open courtyard. Dodd’s hypothesis is that here the emperor would have feasted and enjoyed the entire theatrical spectacle of wine production.
Only one of these dining rooms has been excavated.
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