Archaeologists May Have Found the Villa Where the Roman Emperor Augustus Died

Excavations north of Mount Vesuvius revealed Roman ruins buried by the eruption in 79 C.E.

Researchers found several amphorae, ancient vases that stored wine, in one of the old villa's rooms. University of Tokyo

After decades of excavations in Italy, archaeologists have discovered a villa that could have belonged to Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.

Since 2002, researchers from the University of Tokyo have been exploring Somma Vesuviana, an archaeological site north of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that extinguished the ancient city of Pompeii in 79 C.E. Recently, these excavations revealed a structure destroyed by the same eruption.

Researchers think this site could be Augustus’ lost villa. According to the team, Roman sources say Augustus died in a villa north of the mountain in 14 C.E., but the building’s location has never been verified.

“There is a description that [the villa] was consecrated … but its existence has not been identified to this day,” says Mariko Muramatsu, leader of the university’s Somma Vesuviana excavation project, in a translated statement. “In recent years, our excavations have uncovered parts of buildings that were buried during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. This means that for the first time in this area, a building contemporary with the villa of Emperor Augustus has been found with scientific support.”

The University of Tokyo's excavations at Somma Vesuviana have been ongoing since 2002. University of Tokyo

The ruins in question actually include two separate villas: one buried in the 79 C.E. eruption and another built on top of it later, reports All That’s Interesting’s Amber Breese. Until recently, researchers had only been aware of the newer structure.

In the older villa, archaeologists identified four rooms containing portions of wall, roof tiles and other ruins. In one chamber, researchers discovered 16 amphorae—tall ancient Roman jars—which were used to transport and store wine. In another, they found “large amounts of charcoal and ash” from a fire they believe was used to heat water for a private bathhouse, “indicating that the villa belonged to a person of great wealth and influence,” per All That’s Interesting.

In the mid-second century, people began constructing new buildings atop the site of the buried villa, using its footprint as a guide. The new construction featured a grand hall filled with brick arches, marble columns and marble statues. Around the fourth century, the site transformed again, becoming a large-scale wine production site. This villa was preserved by another eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 472.

The ruins of a furnace from the older villa University of Tokyo

Historians previously thought the damage from Vesuvius’ 79 C.E. eruption at this site was “minor compared to the southeast of the mountain,” but the older villa’s ruins suggest “there was also a destructive impact in this area,” reports La Brújula Verde’s Guillermo Carvajal. Researchers think the structure collapsed due to pyroclastic flows—dense, fast masses of ash and gas expelled by the volcano.

The researchers theorize that Augustus could have once occupied the older villa. Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, the young man was granted the name Augustus—the “exalted one”—by the Roman Senate in 27 B.C.E. While Augustus didn’t use the title of “emperor” in his lifetime, he was a pivotal figure in Roman history who more than doubled the empire’s size during his 40-year reign.

Researchers from the Somma Vesuviana excavation project hope to expand the scale of their digs. As Muramatsu says in the statement, further exploration could reveal “another Pompeii,” helping historians “trace the achievements of Emperor Augustus and the beginnings of the Roman Empire.”

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