Via Appia Antica near the relief of the "Heroic Nude"
A little beyond the tomb of Caecilia Metella we
meet a short tract of the Appian way, which still preserves part of its ancient pavement, and is about fourteen feet wide.
Rev. Jeremiah Donovan - Rome Ancient and Modern - 1843
The first section of Via Appia was called Antica after the opening in 1574 of Via Appia Nuova, 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 (e.g. Via dei Banchi Vecchi or Civitavecchia), but in this case the added adjective was antica, owing to the many ancient funerary monuments which were aligned along the road.
Painted cupboard at Biblioteca Vaticana showing Via Appia Antica near Villa dei Quintili in ca 1860, which however cannot be regarded as a real depiction of its ancient monuments; it rather calls to mind Via dei Sepolcri at Pompeii
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 stated 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, the main highway to the seaports of south-eastern Italy, and thus to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean provinces.
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. 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 noticeable results. This approach led to removing the remains of some tombs from their original location and placing them at the very side of the road.
Pines and cypresses were planted to add to the evocativeness of the site in 1909-1913 in the course of a general restoration of the assumed ancient aspect of the road. Archaeologists noted a slight curve in the otherwise straight line which characterized Via Appia (also beyond its initial stretch to Albano, e.g. at Terracina). It is possible the curve was made to avoid crossing an existing holy site. In 1924 Ottorino Respighi composed a symphonic poem dedicated to the pines of Rome and its last theme, a march tempo, was inspired by those along Via Appia Antica.
After WWI the ancient basolato (the large flat basalt stones on the surface of a Roman road) was covered with asphalt to allow cars to reach Rome by Via Appia Antica and impress drivers and passengers with the view of its monuments. The farms along the section of the road nearest to Rome were turned into luxury estates and villas. Today, after a never-ending quarrel with the landlords of these residences, the section of Via Appia Antica covered in this page is almost completely reserved to pedestrians and cyclists, because the ancient Roman basolato has been unearthed again in many places and it discourages the use of cars.
Baths of Herodes Atticus
At the third mile was the Triopium or tenement
of Annia Regilla, which passed by dowry to her husband
Herod Atticus, a learned Greek of large paternal property, who was appointed by Antoninus Pius praeceptor to his adopted sons Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, and obtained the consulate A. D. 143. Donovan
Herodes Atticus was a Greek rhetor who was highly regarded by Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. 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 Pagus Tropius, a large estate in Valle della Caffarella and along Via Appia. Archaeologists have recently unearthed the remains of baths which were built for the villa where the couple lived when in Rome.
(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) and a symbol of Dionysus/Bacchus; (below-left) geometric mosaic;
(below-right) relief on the wall of a farm built near the site of the baths
While the wealthy landlords of the provinces embellished their villas with coloured mosaics (see those in the museums of Tunis, Sousse and Antioch) the Roman Úlites continued to prefer the black and white ones. The rooms for the guests at Villa Adriana had only black and white mosaics similar to those shown above.
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
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 cinerary urns or the sarcophagi of the dead were kept in an underground chamber (hypogeum).
At frequent intervals along the roadside, up rises the ruin of an ancient tomb. As they stand now, these structures are immensely high, and broken mounds of conglomerated brick, stone, pebbles, and earth, all molten by time into a mass as solid and indestructible as if each tomb were composed of a single boulder of granite. When first erected, they were cased externally, no doubt, with slabs of polished marble, artfully wrought, bas-reliefs, and all such suitable adornments, and were rendered majestically beautiful by grand architectural design.
Nathaniel Hawthorne - The Marble Faun - 1859
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 was taken away thus uncovering the structure of the building.
Reconstructed monuments to: (left) M. Servilius Quartus; (right) to the children of Sextus Pompeus Justus (consul in 14 AD and a distant relative of Pompey)
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
We meet to the left a piece of modern masonry, in which are inserted several ancient fragments with the following ancient inscription: M. SERVILIVS QUARTVS (a freedman) DE SVA PECVNIA FECIT The inscription and fragments were found by Canova in 1808, and placed here at the public expense. Donovan
The small reconstructed monument to M. Servilius Quartus marked 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 obtained agreement from the papal authorities that they should be kept near 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 concrete copies. The Servilii had Horti (gardens) near Porta S. Sebastiano.
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 in Valle della Caffarella and the Barberini tomb along Via Latina).
In 1887-1880 Forte Appio, one of a series of new fortresses outside the walls of Rome, was built in the proximity of the southern side of Via Appia. A number of ancient tombs were found and most of their inscriptions, reliefs and statues were moved to a small museum inside Castello Caetani. A relief caught the attention of the archaeologists and it was placed along the road. It was not unusual for the Romans to erect statues of commanders, magistrates and even of emperors as young men in heroic nudity. See other examples at Formia, Ostia, Herculaneum and Perge.
Inscriptions on tombstones of "liberti" (freedmen); that on the upper left corner 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 inscriptions. The epitaphs 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(ibertus). or P(atronus). L.; in general the names before L. are those of the master (Cacurius), the name after L. that of the libertus (Philocles), 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 masters, who often belonged to important families. They maintained some form of dependency from their former masters, but many of them became wealthy enough to become local magistrates or to own shops and businesses and even to write history books, e.g. Flavius Josephus.
Other sepulchres wear a crown of grass, shrubbery, and forest trees, which throw out a broad sweep of branches, having had time, twice over, to be a thousand years of age. Hawthorne
Via Appia was so crowded with tombs and other monuments that some of them were built well 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 patera, a ritual cup. No clues have been found to explain the rationale behind the change.
(above) "Doric" monument (thus called because of its simple frieze based on metopes and triglyphs) and fragment of a relief which decorated it, most likely a scene of boar hunt; (below) Sepolcro di Ilario Fusco
The oldest monuments had a simple stone decoration; the majority of them were replaced by more elaborate ones. That shown above calls to mind the sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus and another monument near Porta Maggiore.
The reliefs portraying funerary busts (which in some instances were placed inside a clipeus, a niche resembling a round shield) were sometimes used to decorate churches (e.g. at Trieste and Benevento) and houses (e.g. that of Lorenzo Manilio in Rome).
(left) Sepolcro dei Festoni and Sepolcro del Frontespizio; (right-above) detail of Sepolcro del Frontespizio; (right-below) detail of Sepolcro dei Festoni showing a popular decorative pattern, also in paintings
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.
(left) A small triumphal arch in an olive grove; (right) a fresh grass hay bale near an ancient tomb
We wandered out upon the Appian Way, and then went on, through miles of ruined tombs and broken walls, with here and there a desolate and uninhabited house: (..) away upon the open Campagna, where on that side of Rome, nothing is to be beheld but Ruin. Except where the distant Apennines bound the view upon the left, the whole wide prospect is one field of ruin. Broken aqueducts, left in the most picturesque and beautiful clusters of arches; broken temples; broken tombs. A desert of decay, sombre and desolate beyond all expressions; and with a history in every stone that strews the ground. (..) The fierce herdsmen, clad in sheepskins, who now and then scowled out upon us from their sleeping nooks, were housed in ruin.
Charles Dickens - Pictures from Italy - 1846
At approximately the fifth mile of the Appian way, the secluded luxury villas are replaced by farmed land which is not fenced by high walls. Some ancient monuments at a distance from the road retain the aspect they had in the early XIXth century, including the spontaneous vegetation which made them appear so picturesque to the eyes of foreign travellers.
The Villa Quintiliorum, the picturesque remains of which are now called S. Maria Nova, from the church and monastery of that name, which owned them in past ages, has been excavated at least eight times, with such good results that a section of the farm is actually called Statuario, "mine of statuary." (..) Having myself surveyed the site of the villa on more than one occasion, I have persuaded myself that the mine is by no means exhausted.
Rodolfo Lanciani - The Destruction of Ancient Rome - 1899
The ruins called Roma Vecchia are situate between the ancient and modern Appian way, five miles from the ancient porta Capena. They run along the ancient Appian way for about 100 yards,
and for nearly the same length along the present road,
being contained within a circuit of about two miles. (..) That they had been an ancient villa appears, as we shall
see, from the connection of its parts, the uniformity of
their construction, and their destination. That they had
been erected for the most part in the time of the Antonines is certain from the marks on the bricks discovered in 1828 and 1829, all bearing the names of Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. (..) The Casale di Roma Vecchia, now the property of the Torlonia family, is situate on an eminence, which commands the Campagna and
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.
(left) Torre del Casale di S. Maria Nuova; (right) "Pyramidal tomb"
Entering by a gate-way that crosses the road we observe to the left an imposing pyramidal mass: the ruins at a distance to the left as we advance belong to the villa of the Quintilian brothers. (..)
We shall commence our walk through its ruins at
the casale di S. Maria Nuova, at its remotest extremity
to the north, situate on the ruins of an ancient reservoir, built of excellent brick work of the time of Adrian.
To the south of it is an area, on which stands an ancient massive pyramidal tomb. Donovan
Another characteristic of the land, which cannot fail to impress the wayfarer, is the great number of towers and fortified farmhouses, witnesses of an age of unrest and insecurity in which the holding of property in the Campagna depended more on brute force than on hereditary rights.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Wandering in the Roman Campagna - 1909
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.
(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
To the east of the pyramidal tomb is a large reservoir consisting of five chambers,
not unlike the Sette Sale. (..) That the villa belonged to the two famous brothers
Condinus and Maximus Quintilius is satisfactorily proved by the numerous inscribed leaden conduits found in
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).
Nymphaeum along Via Appia Antica
To the south of the reservoir are remains of the aqueduct that supplied the great ruined fountain neer it on the ancient Appian way. (..) In the middle ages it had been converted into a small fortress; but the original construction is still distinguishable. (..) Dion, who lived near their time, informs us that the Quintiliani brothers were put to death by order of Commodus on account of their wisdom, their military prowess, their concord and their wealth. (..) Both had been consuls together A. D. 151, under Antoninus Pius. Herodian informs us that, after their death, Commodus, who seized their property, spent much of his time in this suburban villa. Donovan
niche of the fountain had been adorned with five statues,
in as many smaller niches, including two lateral ones. Donovan
Commodus confiscated the properties of the Quintili brothers and built the grand entrance to the villa from Via Appia. Between the mid of the IVth century and the mid of the Vth century some facilities of the southern part of the nymphaeum were used to store and sell materials taken from the main buildings and in the XVth century a fullonica, a workshop for cleansing cloth, was established in the same site.
(left) "Frigidarium" (cold room); (right) "Calidarium" (hot room) with a pool
Directing our steps to the north, and having passed by
several shapeless ruins, we reach a magnificent hall,
which formed a nymphaeum, adorned with statues, near
which were found the leaden conduits already mentioned, and in which was discovered the torso of a recumbent
nymph, together with broken columns, and fragments
of sculpture representing Bacchic subjects. Between
this nymphaeum and the great bathing hall were found
the remains of several baths. The great hall is the best
preserved part of the ruins. It is square towards the
road; its interior is surrounded with seats, which had
been covered with marble and it had been lighted by
a large window in the centre, two smaller lateral ones,
and an upper window, and to the north and south by
a large and small window at each side. The other ruins
are non-descript. Donovan
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).
Main hall of the "frigidarium"
Unlike the ancient monuments inside the city of Rome which were under the care of the Conservatori, the upkeep of Villa dei Quintili did not receive adequate attention until 1985, when the area was acquired by the Italian State. Archaeologists were then able to partially reconstruct the original aspect of the "frigidarium" and of other facilities. In 2000 Villa dei Quintili was opened to the public.
(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 in the barracks near Casale di S. Maria Nuova, in a passage leading to the frigidarium and near the private apartments.
Section of the villa with a large paved courtyard for meeting/entertaining guests
Other imposing ruins characterized the public part of the villa, whereas the private one consisted of small cubicula (bedrooms) behind them.
(left) Exedra (semicircular square); (right) marble inlay floor
Recent archaeological campaigns have unearthed a semicircular square between the frigidarium and the paved courtyard. 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.
Views of "Teatro Marittimo": (above) with the "calidarium" behind it; (below) from high ground near the "frigidarium"
Other recent excavations near the calidarium brought to light parts of an elliptical building, the purpose of which is still to be fully understood. It has been named after a highly peculiar round building at Villa Adriana.
The oldest search dates from the pontificate of Innocent VIII, more precisely, from April 16, 1485. (..) Several inscriptions, sarcophagi, and sepulchral monuments came to light on that occasion. (..) Winckelmann, who was present at the excavations of 1762 made by Cardinal Alessandro Albani, describes the finding of a beautiful marble basin, thirty-five palms in circumference, with the Labours of Hercules in alto-relievo. (..) Here also, in 1780, Giovanni Volpato discovered several columns of bigio and breccia corallina. (..) About the same year an Englishman and a Scotchman, Thomas Jenkins and Gavin Hamilton, tried their luck in the section of the same villa called Roma Vecchia. They found a bust of Lucius Verus, another of Diocletian, etc. (..) The best portion of these marbles was purchased by Pius VI for the Vatican Museum, who at the same time ordered fresh excavations to be made on his own account. These excavations lasted from 1789 to 1792, and led to the discovery of the following items: (..). Carlo Torlonia purchased the grounds at the beginning of the present century, and undertook other excavations about 1828-1829. (..) The last search, made by Giovanni Battista Guidi, about 1855, was also attended with considerable success.
Rodolfo Lanciani - The Destruction of Ancient Rome - 1899
Notwithstanding all the previous searches for antiquities new archaeological campaigns led to the discovery of other statues, reliefs and decorative elements which are housed in a small museum in a previous farmhouse of the estate; it contains also artifacts found in this section of Via Appia Antica. Those shown above testify to the relevance which eastern beliefs acquired in Rome in the IInd and IIIrd centuries AD.
The statue of Hercules is probably linked to the veneration Commodus had for this demigod; you may wish to see the striking bust of Commodus as Hercules at Musei Capitolini.
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 Raccordo Anulare, a ring road motorway encircling Rome.
observe to the right a tumulus surmounted by a little
modern round tower: the area around it forms a square
34O feet long by 200 feet broad, and it had been enclosed with a wall built of solid blocks of Alban stone,
several of which are still seen standing in their places,
united like those of the Mamertine prison and of the
walls of Servius, a proof that it must have belonged to
the time of the kings. We know that the Horatii and
Curiatii fought not far from the Fossae Cluiliae, five
miles from Rome in this direction, and that the Campus Horatiorum, mentioned by Martial, stood in the
same vicinity and it hence becomes highly probable
that these ruins belong to that sacred camp. Donovan
Many tombs were completely robbed of their decoration and over time because of their circular shape they became small mounds. Three such mounds which stand opposite the nymphaeum of Villa dei Quintili 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 fight 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 he 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.
Casale Rotondo: (above) overall view; (below) fragments of its decoration
important monument is the immense circular mass of
the Casale Rotondo, of unknown origin, beyond which
is a modern tower, called Torre Selce from the materials of which it is constructed. Donovan
The tombs of the Appian Way, with their gigantic height, breadth, and solidity, defy time and the elements, and are far too mighty to be demolished by an ordinary earthquake. Here you may see a modern dwelling, and a garden with its vines and olive- trees, perched on the lofty dilapidation of a tomb, which forms a precipice of fifty feet in depth. (..) There is a house on that funeral mound, where generations of children have been born, and successive lives have been spent, undisturbed by the ghost of the stern Roman whose ashes were so preposterously burdened. Hawthorne
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"
You can continue your journey on Via Appia Antica visiting the section from Torre in Selci to Frattocchie.