BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Has the Site of Augustus’s Death Been Discovered?

Researchers uncover villa believed to belong to first Roman Emperor

Augustus of Prima Porta, Vatican Museum. Public Domain.

Augustus of Prima Porta, Vatican Museum. Public Domain.

Excavations carried out in Italy on the northern slopes of Mt. Vesuvius by the University of Tokyo have uncovered what could very well be the villa that belonged to Augustus, the first Roman emperor. Also known as Octavian Caesar, Augustus founded the Roman Empire and ruled from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE. According to Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, Augustus died at a villa located on the north side of Vesuvius, near the city of Nola, and it was subsequently turned into a memorial site to honor the emperor. However, the precise location of the emperor’s villa had never been discovered.

Following the clues of ancient historians, the research team from the University of Tokyo, led by professor of Italian studies Mariko Muramatsu, began excavations in 2002 in the Starzadella Regina area of Somma Vesuviana in Campania. According to reports, underneath the remains of a building dating to the second century CE the team discovered another building from an earlier phase.


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Within the building, the excavators discovered the remains of a kiln-like structure that was most likely the furnace used to heat the villa’s bathhouse. Private baths were a luxury that only the most wealthy and influential figures of the day could afford. Using radiocarbon dates from the kiln’s charcoal remains, the team determined that the building dates to the first half of the first century and believes the kiln ceased to be used some time after the death of Emperor Augustus.

Remains of what is believed to be the furnace that heated the emperor’s bathhouse. Image Credit: Research Division for the Mediterranean Areas, Institute for Advanced Global Studies, University of Tokyo.

Remains of what is believed to be the furnace that heated the emperor’s bathhouse. Image Credit: Research Division for the Mediterranean Areas, Institute for Advanced Global Studies, University of Tokyo.

Additional discoveries were made, including the remains of a warehouse used to store amphorae, which also date to the first century. Analyzing the volcanic pumice covering the ruins, the team determined that it originated from the pyroclastic lava flow, rocks, and hot gases from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.

Various amphorae discovered leaning against the wall of the ruined warehouse. Image Credit: Research Division for the Mediterranean Areas, Institute for Advanced Global Studies, University of Tokyo.

Unlike much of the ruins on the southern slope of Vesuvius, including Pompeii, reconstruction efforts appear to have occurred at the site in the decades following the cataclysmic eruption. A new temple-like structure was constructed atop the ruins of the villa in the middle of the second century. In contrast, Pompeii—which was covered in volcanic deposits several feet thick—didn’t see reconstruction efforts until the late Middle Ages.

“We have finally reached this stage after 20 years,” said Masanori Aoyagi, professor emeritus of Western classical archaeology at the University of Tokyo, who led the first research team that started excavating the site in 2002. “This is a major development that will help us determine the damage caused to the northern side of Vesuvius and get a better overall idea of the eruption in 79.”

The team hopes that studying how the ancients responded to large-scale natural disasters, like the eruption Vesuvius, can help modern researchers explore flexible responses for cataclysmic events.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

 

Pompeii Fast Food Restaurant Uncovered

Excavating Pompeii’s Middle Class

The Destruction of Pompeii—God’s Revenge?

The Survivors of Mount Vesuvius

A Shrine, Frescoes, and…Pizza?


 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Discovering Herod’s Shrine to Augustus

Emulating Augustus: The Fascist-Era Excavation of the Emperor’s Peace Altar in Rome

Augustus Takes the Cure

Climbing Vesuvius

Saved from Vesuvius: Rare Wooden Furniture from Pompeii and Herculaneum

How to Find a Brothel in Pompeii

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