Thursday, June 26, 2008

Commemoration of 1600th Anniversary of Alaric's Sack of Rome taking shape for August 2010

I received an email yesterday from Dr. Daniel Costa, who recently wrote "The Lost Gold of Rome: The Search for Alaric's Treasure". He and his friend Luigi di Girolamo are trying to encourage a group of us Roman history enthusiasts to meet in Rome August 24 - 27, 2010 (year after next - on a no-host basis) to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of Alaric's sack of Rome. Among those who have indicated an interest in participating are Professor

Andreas Schwarcz from the University of Vienna, Professor Michael
Kulikowski of the University of Tennessee and author of Rome's Gothic
Wars: The Third Century to Alaric and Professor Emeritus Ludovico
Gatto, former department head of medieval studies at the University of
Roma La Sapienza. I think it would be wonderful to discuss the
complex events that helped precipitate the "fall" of the imperial
administration in the western Roman Empire and explore how these forces are at work today and what the modern consequences might be awaiting us all.

Dr. Costa would like to incorporate a group visit to major sites in the city that were impacted by the sack and activities relating to the late imperial period and early dark ages. A possible agenda is still very much in the planning stage. Some of the sites might include Piazza Fiume, where Porta Salaria, the point of entry of the Goths, used to stand; Porta Pinciana, as example of a still surviving ancient gate of the Aurelian Wall; St. Peter's; St John in Lateran; St. Paul's; the Coloseum; The Arch of Constantine (many of the riches donated by him to the new Christian churches ended up in the hands of the Goths); St Mary of the Angels (formerly the Baths of Diocletian) stormed by the Goths, the Roman Forum with Basilica Aemilia (hoping that the authorities might remove for us the wooden cover protecting the marble slab with the marks left by coins melted by the fire started by Alaric's Goths); the Arx ( which is now home to St. Mary in Aracoeli); the Temple of Jupiter (which has been replaced by Palazzo Caffarelli); St. Clement with its fascinating Mithraic temple, inscriptions and frescoes; St. Pudenziana (depicting the Apostles dressed as senators); the Jewish and Christian catacombs, both ravaged by the Goths; the Jewish district of Trastevere and Saint Mary in Trastevere.

Although Dr. Costa and his friend are attempting to obtain sponsorship from the Universita La Sapienza so we could possibly have access to a formal meeting space, their sponsorship is not yet assured. So, for the time being, the gathering is very much just a “confluence” of interested people, each paying their own travel expenses. There are also several activities that may be arranged if anyone is interested. This may sound funny coming from a soon-to-be retired woman but I, for one, would love to spend a day at the gladiator school out on the Via Appia. Although I am still recovering from two torn rotator cuffs after a bad spill in Naples last year, I think I could still wield a gladius. I would also like to see if we could possibly gain admission to Cinecitta Studios and tour the sets that were used in HBO’s “Rome” miniseries. I had read that Cinecitta was planning to open a Universal Studios-type theme park around their “backlot” in 2010 but haven’t heard anymore about it since.

Anyway, I hope to attend such a gathering. If any of you are interested please let me know so I can advise Dr. Costa. My direct email address is

Monday, June 16, 2008

Underground in Tunisia

Nice piece in Mother Earth News about the energy efficiency of underground Roman villas in Tunisia


Interestingly enough, most of Caesar's subjects who settled in Bulla Regia used one of three basic floor plans: [1] a vestibule running along three contiguous main rooms whose rear windows opened — in common — onto a large, deep air shaft, [2] a central courtyard, or peristyle, surrounded by rooms that had aboveground windows and openings in their ceilings, and [3] a hallway with shallow rooms on either side that incorporated windows set high in the upper walls. (The basement dwellings, though often smaller than those on the surface, frequently duplicated portions of the structures' ground-level floor plans.)


The "House of Amphitrite" is a large version of the first design. (In addition to the three main rooms, it has two tiny chambers situated across the vestibule.) This residence, the floor of which is almost 17 feet below ground level, still retains some stucco wall panels and mosaics.

The inlaid lobby floor — picturing a female face framed by a leafy border — is in a state of excellent preservation, and visitors can still see where a marble fountain was once embedded in a nearby wall. The large central dining room has two columns facing the entryway, a vaulted ceiling, and a pastel floor mosaic portraying the "Triumph of the Marine Venus". (Years ago, an erroneous identification of the pictured goddess as Amphitrite, wife of Neptune, gave the house its name.)


A dwelling known as the "Hunting Palace" is typical of Plan Two. Below the spacious courtyard (almost 27 by 32 feet) on the main floor, eight 16-foot-high Corinthian columns support the ground-level ceiling ... which is pierced with hexagonal openings to serve as air and light sources for the underground peristyle.

The rooms open to the north and west. Three bays, which are separated by two large columns, give access to a large dining room, whose decorated floor covers a circular storage cistern more than four feet in diameter. Baked earthen pipes in the ridged molding of the arched ceiling empty into the reservoir.

Simple mosaics and raised platforms indicate the one-time placement of beds in three sleeping chambers, which are copies of those upstairs. (Most of the rooms are rectangular, with two ceiling holes apiece to admit light and air.)


One good example of the third floor plan is the "House of the Peacock". Fourteen steps descend about ten feet . . . to a passageway with rooms on both sides. The first chamber to the left is a sleeping room: It was identified as such on the basis of the bed platform against the back wall. The large room to the right opens — on the south side — to a smaller chamber which has an apse with an almost effaced peacock mosaic.

(Across the road from "the Peacock" is another interesting Plan-Three house. Its ingenious owner simply transformed two pre-existing deep cisterns into rooms when the family decided to "move down".)"


More on Bulla Regia (Great Photos!!!)

Roman Archaeology Timeline