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New Discoveries at the Mausoleum of Augustus, Circus Maximus and Aqua Claudia

February 27, 2014
Excavations on the south side of the Mausoleum of Augustus
Aqua Claudia
Fragments of the Arch of Titus in the Circus Maximus
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Last Wednesday the Academy welcomed archaeologists from the Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali to discuss recent research at the Mausoleum of Augustus, Circus Maximus and Aqua Claudia. The evening of five brief lectures, delivered in Italian, constituted the latest event in the New Work in the Humanities Series 2013-14: New Work on Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. This ongoing series, orchestrated by Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the School of Classical Studies, Professor Kim Bowes, FAAR’06, gives voice to fresh perspectives on the transitional period between the ancient and medieval worlds.

Offering a warm welcome to a packed audience, Director Christopher S. Celenza, FAAR’94, reiterated that such public lectures are important occasions for nurturing cultural exchange. Professor Bowes then offered a word of introduction on the New Work in the Humanities Series before Ersilia Maria Loreti spoke about ongoing archaeological investigations on the south side of the Mausoleum of Augustus. The area appears to have been used for a possible large elite house, then been abandoned in the 6th century and re-appropriated for burial purposes in the hundred years that followed. Other abandoned lands within the city walls are known to have been occupied by cemeteries during the same period but this, adjacent to the Mausoleum, is one of the largest.

Gianluca Zanzi, Stefania Pergola and Marialetizia Buonfiglio offered three distinct perspectives on excavations at the Circus Maximus. Zanzi discussed the archaeology of the site and its reuse as tabernae, or shops, in the medieval period. Excavations also unearthed a cache of coins. Pergola outlined new discoveries on the Arch of Titus, which once stood at the southern end of the circus, but of which little evidence now remains. A dry stone wall uncovered in the vicinity appears to have been built entirely of fragments from the arch in the 10th-11th centuries, while not a single capital has been recovered. Buonfiglio explained some of the water-related excavation difficulties of the site, tracing the history of the canals and water cisterns that were in use during the 8th century. The Frangipani family exploited such water systems to build an ill-fated mill in the 11-12th centuries, which collapsed shortly thereafter, but evidence of this medieval history is still seen in what is now known as the mill tower or Torre della Moletta.

Elisabetta Carnabuci introduced Laura Braccalenti who is conducting research with Valeria Bartoloni on the reinforcement of the Aurelian Walls and restorations of the Aqua Claudia during the Severan Dynasty (193-235) and under the emperor Honorius (395-423). A material analysis of the aqueduct indicates that in many places little of the original Claudian construction remains and much of the aqueduct was again repurposed for the Aqua Felix of the 16th century.  

Offering closing remarks, Professor Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani (Università degli Studi Roma Tre) noted the dramatic recent turn in archaeology towards a much-needed reevaluation of Rome’s medieval history. Long-entrenched assumptions about the chasm of cultural activity separating the Antique and Renaissance worlds are being debunked as an alternative picture of an adapting, innovating and enduring city emerges from these excavations.