Archaeologists and Scholars Dig Deep into Roman Regia at Major Conference

Color photograph of the ruins of an ancient Roman temple, with a narrow wall and several columns, behind a rock strewn grassy area with shrubs
Regia was adjacent to the current site of the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum (photograph © Denniro and licensed through Dreamstime)

At the center of the Roman Forum, often ignored by the tourists visiting the area, lies an archaeological treasure trove that holds secrets from the oldest days of Rome: the Regia. This remarkable site—offering a glimpse of Rome’s political and religious foundations—served as the subject of a major seminar held at the Curia Julia on Thursday.

Entitled La Regia: Vecchi scavi e nuovi prospettive di ricerca (The Regia: Old Excavations and New Research Perspectives), the event convened the most important Italian archaeologists alive. It was organized by the Parco archeologico del Colosseo, the Italian Cultural Ministry, and Musei Italiani.

But what is the Roman Regia? Roughly a triangle in shape, lying along the via Sacra between the Temple of Vesta and the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the site contains the ruins of a building traditionally believed to be the palace of Numa, the late eighth century BCE successor to Romulus as king of Rome. (Regia can be translated as “royal house.”) The historic importance of the site is widely acknowledged, even if its status as home of the priest-kings of Rome may be legendary.

Several well-known archaeologists have excavated the site at different periods from the nineteenth century to today, including Giacomo Boni (1859–1925) and Christian Hülsen (1858–1935). In 1964, the late AAR Director Frank Brown, then Andrew W. Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the School of Classical Studies, undertook a two-year excavation of the Regia, which was a benchmark for its time. In poor health, he did not publish his findings, but he left us an extraordinary archive—complete with diaries, photos, detailed descriptions, and drawings. (This archive has been digitized and is available in the Academy’s Digital Humanities Center.)

The Parco archeologico’s conference not only addressed several major research questions still open relating to the site, like its function and transformations through the centuries, as well as its relations with similar structures in other sites, but it also was an opportunity for the Parco archeologico to present an impressive project, which will start with a new excavation (or rather re-excavation) of the area in an attempt to answer the many open research questions while also making the site accessible and understandable to the general public.

Representing the Academy, Dr. Valentina Follo, Curator of the Norton-Van Buren Archaeological Study Collection and Program Manager of the Classical Summer School, presented “On Her Own Terms: The Archaeology of Esther Boise Van Deman.” The paper was dedicated to the role played by Van Deman (1909 Fellow) as first female American archaeologist in Rome, and how her work contributed to the transformation of archaeology from an antiquarian perspective toward a more systematic and scientific approach.

Follo then delivered a presentation that had been prepared by Darby Scott (1966 Fellow, 1979 Resident), a former student of Brown’s and a former Mellon Professor who could not attend the conference in person. Entitled “Frank Brown, un archeologo americano a Roma,” these notes illustrated how the scientific path that brought Brown to excavate the Regia in 1964–66 was interconnected with the evolution of Italian archaeology at large before and after the Second World War.

The Roman Regia is the focus of an ongoing collaborative archaeological project by AAR, the University of Michigan, and the Università della Calabria. In 2015, AAR held a seminar entitled Regia Revisited, the proceedings of which were published two years later.

This week’s conference evidenced a renewed focus on the Regia by the Soprintendenza, a welcome development, according to both Drue Heinz Librarian Sebastian Hierl and Follo. “We are all delighted that the American Academy in Rome, following the spirit behind its inception—to promote original research and exploration—is renewing its collaboration with the Parco archeologico del Colosseo on such a seminal project,” said Follo.

Watch the full conference proceedings (in Italian)

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Andrew Mitchell

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