Roman villas are connected with the notion of luxury almost by definition. Imperially built and owned villas are no exception in this respect: as a matter of fact, they represent the quintessential incarnation of such ideals. The extension of their spaces, the innovativeness of their forms, the lavishness of their materials, the variety of their decoration, the richness of their imagery—all these elements contribute in a decisive way to their characterization as luxury residences.
Even though primarily meant for the ruler and his entourage, however, the opulence of imperial villas was not reserved for them only and was in fact shared by a broader group of inhabitants and guests. This talk will address the multi-layered nature of luxury and wealth at imperial villas, and will examine some ways in which it was experienced by social actors that did not belong to the inner circle of the emperor. Its main focus will be Hadrian’s Villa and the recent fieldwork conducted there by Columbia’s Advanced Program of Ancient History and Art (APAHA) under the direction of Marco Maiuro (La Sapienza, Rome) and the speaker.
One of the two excavation areas to be discussed is the so-called Lararium, the sacred precinct located off the Great Vestibule of the villa. The analysis of this complex suggests that it was characterized by a relatively modest degree of lavishness. This feature stands in apparent contrast to the prominent location of the Lararium at one of the main entrances of Hadrian’s Villa. The larger topographical context (which includes the Canopus and Serapeum, among other buildings), however, suggests that this sector of the site was not primarily meant for the highest echelon of visitors. A reconsideration of the access routes to the villa will further corroborate this conclusion.
Moreover, the talk will present the results of the 2014-16 campaigns at the so-called Macchiozzo, a sector of Hadrian’s Villa that was never subjected to systematic exploration despite its location in close proximity to some of the most important complexes of the site, such as the Piazza d’Oro, the Hall of the Doric Pillars, and the Winter Palace. The buildings discovered by APAHA are preserved to a remarkable extent, and allow a detailed study of their architectural typology and decoration (floor mosaics; wall and ceiling paintings). Quite interestingly, they display a level of luxury and comfort that finds specific parallels in contemporary urban contexts. By disclosing new perspectives from which to understand Hadrian’s Villa, the analysis of these features provides a richer and more articulated insight into the issue of luxury of Roman imperial residences.