Spring/Summer 02


Horace’s Farmhouse Found Beneath Horace’s Villa Site
Charles Steinmetz

Part of a basin and wall found in July, 2001 beneath the first century AD level of the atrium of Horace’s Villa. The size of the basin and its purpose is unknown.

Bernard Frischer, Professor of classics, has spent the
last five summers trying to learn if Horace was telling us the truth about his country house. Frischer is the principal investigator and director on a project for UCLA and the American Academy in Rome to reexamine the site known as Horace’s Villa, which is 35 miles from Rome near the town of Licenza.

During the 2001 field season, Frischer led a team of UCLA students and volunteers that found the remains of what may be Horace’s farmhouse underneath the larger villa complex. Its Augustan walls and small dimensions suggest that Horace was telling the truth about his lifestyle.

Originally excavated in 19111914 by Italian archaeologist Angelo Pasqui, the location of the site fits Horace’s description, in the “valley of Ustica” in “the shadow of Mt. Lucretilis.” Pasqui found a complex of Roman walls of palatial dimensions, which he concluded had been built in the Late Republican period when Horace lived. Later archaeologists, most notably, Giuseppe Lugli, a leading authority on Roman topography, based their work on Pasqui’s conclusions. In his writings, Lugli, who published Pasqui’s work, expressed doubts about Horace’s accuracy in describing his farmhouse.

Frischer, a Latinist who has studied Horace for more than twenty years, could not understand why Horace would have misled readers about his farmhouse. If Horace actually misrepresented his home, his credibility on other issues could also be questioned. When the Archaeological Superintendency for Lazio asked Frischer to reexamine the site, he consequently jumped at the chance. “Pasqui’s conclusions” said Frisher, “needed revisiting because our ability to date has improved significantly since the site was first excavated. Archaeologists of the old school were interested only in what they were looking for, and other layers just got in the way. The modern stratigraphic method uses each layer to date nearby artifacts with more precision.” Also, since Pasqui was forced to end his excavation in 1914 because his state funding ran out, his report may have been based on incomplete data.

Finally, the villa, whether it belonged to Horace or not, did not seem to follow the standard design for villas. A fountain in the small peristyle of the house was not located in the center of the garden but abutted the back wall. It is possible that Pasqui had not excavated the whole site. A later complex of Roman-period walls adjacent to the villa received scant attention from Pasqui.

During the 19972001 field seasons, work focused on what turned out to be a large first-century bath complex, which was later used as a monastery. Frischer’s colleague Kathryn Gleason of Cornell University unearthed two layers of garden dating to Horace’s time. By analyzing the seeds in and around the perfectly intact flowerpots, she hopes to learn more about gardening practices.

During the 2000 field season, the team found a wall that Pasqui had built on the west side to show the northern boundary but also discovered that the original walls extended well beyond Pasqui’s wall and are underneath a road. However, after the end of the planned four-year excavation, the team had not found a working farm of the Republican period.

Bruins at work: Jennifer Carey, Patil Armenian, and Laura Steinmetz

Then, Frischer found some additional field notes of Pasqui, which had been misfiled in the archive. Apparently, documents that had been in one archive for the region of Lazio were divided between property in Rome and the rest of Lazio. The notes in Rome showed that Pasqui had identified a lower level, but this finding was never published perhaps because it would have contradicted his theory of how the phases should be dated.

A small team was recruited for a 2001 season to test the validity of the unpublished notes. Besides Frischer, the team included Jennifer Carey, Patil Armenian, Eleanor Murphy, Lauren Ianiro, myself, and my daughter Laura. The three-week excavation revealed that the lower level was Augustan.

If Horace lived in the small farmhouse, who built the lavish palace over the poet’s former country home? Frischer’s theory is that it was built by the Emperor Vespasian as a resting point on his way to his ancestral home of Rieti, since the Villa is a day’s march from Rome and is a day’s march from Rieti. His theory is supported by an inscription found nearby that refers to the restoration of a temple by Vespasian proving that the emperor took an interest in out-of-the-way Licenza. The abundant marble found displayed craftsmanship common in the Flavian dynasty . “If you see that much marble that far from the sea, it is almost by definition by imperial property,” Frischer says.

Another clue, gleaned from the poet’s writing, might link Horace’s home to Vespasian. Horace mentions that his father was a freedman, a former slave who went on to middle-class wealth by becoming an auctioneer. He moved from Venusia--now Venosa, in Basilicata--to Rome, so as to give his son the best education. At school, Horace met the poet Virgil, who in turn introduced him to his patron, Maecenas. Maecenas was a good friend of Caesar Augustus and through these lofty connections the young middle-class poet would not only land himself a patron but would also befriend the emperor himself. In his will, Horace, who was a bachelor, bequeathed his farmhouse to Augustus. Thus the property may eventually have been passed down to Vespasian as an imperial property.

Charles Steinmetz is a volunteer and longtime supporter of archaeology at UCLA. Like all Backdirt authors, he can be reached by email ioapubs@ucla.edu