Archeology: Heavenly body with an earthly face

Researchers discover rare patrician statue

The head with the features of a famous patrician from the imperial era. © Institute of Archeology, University of Bern
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On a rare statue of a Roman patrician from the imperial era, a Swiss team of archaeologists has now encountered in an excavation in central Italy. The surprising find from the first or second century AD is a life-size work of art - and a special portrait: the body represents an idealized naked youth with a cloak and sword thrown over his left, while his head carries his own individual features of an older man.

According to scientists from the Archaeological Institute of the University of Bern, the body probably shows a Perseus or one of the Dioscuri, one of the divine twin brothers Kastor and Pollux. In this way, a wealthy patrician from the Roman Empire was portrayed as a man of divine qualities.

"Such a mixture of divine body and private portrait is known as a phenomenon, but rarely occurs, " says Professor Michael Heinzelmann. He and a team of 25 Bernese students and lecturers managed the significant find. The well-preserved statue was discovered in a patrician house in the ancient city of Amiternum in central Italy's Abruzzo.

Novel technique of soil investigation

The life-size statue. It was made of precious Greek marble from the island of Paros. © Institute of Archeology, University of Bern

In Amiternum, the Archaeological Institute of the University of Bern conducts annual excavations with students. The city was conquered by Rome in 293 BC and quickly became an important center in the region.

Here, the Berner test various devices that were originally used in the search for mineral resources and now serve archaeological purposes. Similar to a radar, the devices capture and mask the building structures hidden in the ground. "Our group is the only university in Switzerland that works with this technology, " says Heinzelmann. The group is thus one of the leading European institutions in this field. display

Extensive, expensive and decades-long excavations are thus superfluous: "Thanks to this technique, we can first image large areas and then examine specific areas with soundings, " explains Heinzelmann.

An exceptionally rich patrician house

During the Bernese excavation this year a large patrician house was examined. Due to the previous geophysical prospecting, the floor plan of the building was already known before the excavation. Therefore, the team was able to examine very closely some interesting spaces by means of smaller soundings.

One of these excavations involved the so-called tablinum, the representative reception room, where traditionally clients have been received and often statues of the ancestors of the host were erected. Originally from the 1st century BC, the house was later rebuilt and partially destroyed by an earthquake in the middle of the 4th century. The statue, which stood at one corner of the tablinum, was smashed by the falling roof into several pieces that were now found lying on the floor.

Largest town house in Italy

The statue is an ancestor of the then master of the house. His family is still unknown, but it must have been a very wealthy family: it was the largest with more than 5, 000 square meters of floor space The oldest townhouse currently known in Italy, and occupying a prominent position next to the theater. It was also decorated with mosaic floors and marble walls. The Bernese researchers will carry out further excavations in the house.

(idw - University of Bern, 27.07.2007 - DLO)