Villa Magna

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See also Villamagna for the Italian commune in Abruzzo, or Villa Magna Condominiums in Miami Villamagna is the medieval name for the siteVilla Magna is a large ancient imperial Roman villa near the modern town of Anagni, in Lazio, central Italy. The site lies in the Valle del Sacco some 65 km south of Rome, at the foot of the Monti Lepini, directly under the peak known as Monte Giuliano. The toponym 'Villamagna' remains attached to the site, attesting to the local memory of the imperial villa and its successive occupation as a monastery and lay community.


The Roman Period

The villa was probably originally constructed in the 2nd century. In 144-145, at the age of 23, the future emperor Marcus Aurelius visited the villa where his adoptive father Antoninus Pius was staying. In letters to his tutor, Fronto, he describes two days spent there: We set out to hunt, did great deeds; we did hear that boars had been captured but saw nothing ourselves. We did climb a steep enough hill; then in the afternoon we came home, I to my books. So taking off my boots and my clothes I read on my bed for two hours Cato’s oration On the property of Pulchra and another in which he impeached a tribune. It is no good sending me books, for these have followed me here…. We are well. I overslept a little, because of my slight cold, which seems to have calmed down. From five until nine I read Cato’s Agricultura and wrote, less badly, thank god, than yesterday. Then I paid my respects to my father….Having cleaned my throat I went to my father and assisted him at sacrifice. Then I went to lunch. What do you think I ate? Just a little piece of bread, but I saw others devouring beans, onions and herrings filled with roe. Then we gave ourselves to the vintage, and sweated together and were joyous and so on, and as the author says ‘ we left some high bunches on the vines’. At the sixth hour we came home. I studied a little and badly. Then with my little mother sitting on the bed I chattered a lot… The gong rang, that is, it was announced that my father was going to the bath. Then we, bathed, ate in the oil pressing room – we didn’t bath in it, but had dinner having bathed, and happily heard the peasants jesting. The excavation has identified the building where the banquet took place, with a large doliarium lying under the pressing floor, where the workers trod the grapes. The doliarium was paved with precious marble, as was the banqueting hall in front of it, where the emperor and his guests would have watched the work. In the same building were found the baths where the emperor and his suite bathed. The whole day was interpreted as that of an important festival that marked the beginning of the vendemmia for Latium. After the death of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius the property remained in imperial hands. An inscription, now preserved at the Cathedral of Anagni, attests to Septimius Severus's paving of a road leading from Anagni to the villa in 207. It remains to be determined how late the property remained in imperial hands after this moment in the early 3rd century. The site of the villa today shows little of its former splendour, though excavations are bringing to light the vast quantities of marble, mosaic and fresco which once decorated it. The remains visible above ground, covering at least a dozen hectares, consist of three ranges of cisterns fed by an aqueduct which probably leads from a spring at the base of the wooded hill, a range of substructures (underlying a 19th-century casale) which were the basis villae for some part of the ancient villa, and various traces of substructures on the long ridge running down from the casale towards the road.

Middle Ages

The earliest document attesting to the monastery dates from the 10th century and describes the foundation of the monastery by three nobles from Anagni. A series of very interesting charters and trials from the eleventh through 13th century speak to a small rural monastery with properties in the area of the original fundus, which despite its meagre size and income managed to become embroiled in regional and papal politics of the central Middle Ages, culminating in the suppression of the monastery in 1297 by Pope Boniface VIII. After the death of the monastery, the village remained at least for a little while, however, as it is referred to as a castrum in 1301 and 1333, and a castrum dirutum in 1478. The castrum walls and church are still standing today.

Current research

Between 2006 and 2010, the site and its occupation in the Roman and medieval period were the focus of an international interdisciplinary project, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Mediterranean Section), the British School at Rome, and the Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici del Lazio, with core funding from the 1984 Foundation, the Comune of Anagni and the BancAnagni Credito Cooperativo. The international project was directed by Elizabeth Fentress; with co-directors Andrew Wallace Hadrill (BSR) and Sandra Gatti (SBAL). The field directors were Caroline Goodson and Marco Maiuro. Five years of research, conducted using remote sensing survey, open area excavation, field survey, and topographic survey conducted in collaboration with the Consiglio Nazionale della Ricerca Scientifica (CNRS) have revealed the majority of the plan of the Roman buildings, a spectacular wine-making/dining room complex (probably the same room described by Marcus Aurelius in his letter), what appears to be the slave quarters of the villa, a winery of the 6th century. an early medieval village and a complex, long-lived cemetery around the monastic church of S. Pietro in Villamagna. The excavation is published, (E. Fentress, C. Goodson and M. Maiuro, with M. Andrews and A. Dufton, eds., Villa Magna, An Imperial Estate and its Legacies. Excavations 2006-2010 (Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome): the stratigraphy and finds can be found online at
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