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Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia

A domus belonging to a powerful Etruscan family, a fire which occurred in the first twenty years of the first century BC and the bloody fratricidal war between Marius and Sulla for the domination of Italy.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
View of the Domus dei dolia from the hill behind it [Credit: Marco Merola]
These are some of the ingredients of a fantastic archaeological discovery that took place in Vetulonia, the ancient Vatl, a few kilometres from Grosseto, Tuscany. Archaeologists have named it "domus dei dolia", because the first room excavated was a storeroom containing large oil jars.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
Archaeologists working on the south face of the rich domus of Vetulonia 
[Credit: Marco Merola]
It is the first time in the history of Italian archaeology that an Etruscan domus has been found in such a state of preservation, from the foundations to the roof. "It is a huge villa of at least 400 square metres, with 10 rooms and other service areas," says archaeologist Simona Rafanelli, who has been excavating the site since 2015.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
An archaeologist cleans some fragments of a terracotta tile covering the roof of the house, 
decorated with a palmette [Credit: Marco Merola]
Stone walls, cocciopesto floors, terracotta tiles and magnificent decorations. Even nails which fixed the beams to the roof were found.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
Fragments of a terracotta tile covering the roof of the house, decorated with a palmette 
[Credit: Marco Merola]
In a small secluded living space, originally decorated with early Pompeian frescoes, archaeologists discovered several bronze statuettes of exceptional value placed in a small hole under the floor. "It was the house of a great nobleman, judging by the interior furnishings and its location, perched high on a hill overlooking the Maremma countryside", explains Rafanelli.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
Large iron nails belonging to the domus structure [Credit: Marco Merola]
Moreover, the building was located right in the middle of the Via dei Ciclopi, one of the main arteries that crossed the Etruscan and Roman districts of Vetulonia (together with the Via Decumana).

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
The obverse of the Roman denarius of the Sullan period (c.80 BC) depicting the profile face of Iuno (Junone) Lanuvina, 
recognizable by the goatskin worn as a hood. The goddess was venerated in the Latin city of Lanuvio, 
homeland of Lucius Thorius Balbus, the Roman triumviar monetalis, faithful to Sulla, 
who had the coin struck [Credit: Marco Merola]
"From the third century BC Vetulonia experienced a period of peaceful coexistence with Rome. The Etruscan city enjoyed a period of remarkable growth and economic prosperity, witnessed by the redecoration of sacred buildings, the construction of new domus and, more generally, by the demographic-urban expansion," adds Rafanelli.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
During the excavation, a black-figured ceramic head was brought to light, 
perhaps depicting the face of a Maenad [Credit: Marco Merola]
The Etruscan polis also obtained permission from Rome to mint its own coinage and during the excavation many coins have been found. The most famous was the bronze 'sestertius', decorated with a trident between two dolphins on the reverse.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
An archaeologist clears one of the rooms of the house that overlooked 
the Via dei Ciclopi [Credit: Marco Merola]
The First Roman Civil War brought an abrupt end to several decades of good relations with Rome. Vetulonia, like other Etruscan cities, had sided with Gaius Marius, who would later be defeated in a bloody struggle against Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
A restorer works on a bronze horse which originally also had a rider. The animal adorned the upper part
of a candelabrum and dates back to the 4th century BC [Credit: Marco Merola]
Among the other coins found at the domus was a silver denarius minted by the triumviar monetalis Lucius Thorius Balbus, a native of Lanuvio.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
A restorer shows an iron suspension ring, recovered in the triclinium (dining room) of the domus. 
The ring was fixed to the wall with a hook [Credit: Marco Merola]
"Of Balbo's life we know some key facts. He was, for instance, a committed supporter of Sulla and he died in Spain at the hands of a supporter of Marius. The coin, therefore, arrived in Vetulonia in the pockets of a soldier of Sulla who, presumably, lost it in the commotion generated by the fires and devastation brought to the city as a form of revenge for its loyalty to Marius", says Rafanelli.

Large Etruscan villa discovered in Vetulonia
Simona Rafanelli, the archaeologist who leads the excavation of the 
Domus dei dolia in Vetulonia [Credit: Marco Merola]
"Sulla's retaliation against the Etruscan cities, perpetrated after 80 BC, are reported in all ancient sources and I think I can say that here we have irrefutable evidence of it", concludes the archaeologist.

Source: National Geographic Italia [December 07, 2017]


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