A team of archaeologists has come across a Roman winery during their exploration of the ancient remains of the Villa of Quintilii near Rome.
While originally searching for an underground chariot racing arena beneath the villa, the researchers stumbled upon this ancient winery.
The opulent villa, situated just outside the boundaries of ancient Rome, formed part of a vast complex spanning approximately 24 hectares.
This complex included various extravagant features such as a theater, a chariot racing arena, a marble bath complex, and, of course, the winery.
The expansive grounds were adorned with orchards, agricultural fields, and other grand villas, showcasing how affluent Romans integrated lavish embellishments and theatrical entertainment with practical functionality to shape their societal and political standing.
The initial stage of wine production took place in the treading room, which differed from other contemporary examples as it was adorned with costly red marble instead of the typical waterproof plaster covering.
This extravagant choice of material, despite its impracticality due to its slippery nature when wet, exudes a sense of utmost opulence.
The grand villa was owned by the affluent Quintilii brothers, who held esteemed positions as consuls, one of the most influential elected roles within the Roman Republic, in the year 151 CE. However, their ownership came to a tragic end when Commodus, the Roman emperor, had them murdered and seized their properties, including this particular villa, around 182 or 183 CE.
The presence of a stamp belonging to Gordian on a wine collection vat implies that the emperor played a role in the subsequent development of the winery.
Dr. Emlyn Dodd, an assistant director at the British School at Rome, is a renowned expert in ancient wine production. He has published the archaeological discoveries in a scholarly article for the journal Antiquity.
Dodd described the ancient complex as a remarkable “mini city,” complete with a lavish winery designed for the emperor himself to indulge in his Bacchic tendencies.
The excavations, initiated in 2017, also unveiled the intricate mechanisms of two large presses and a fountain-like system covered in marble, which facilitated the flow of wine into storage jars located in the cellar.
Within the marble-lined treading areas, enslaved workers would trample on the harvested grapes. The resulting crushed grapes were then transferred to the two mechanical presses, and the grape must obtained from the pressing process was pumped into three wine fountains.
These fountains were ingeniously built into semicircular niches along a courtyard wall, allowing the wine to flow freely.
The presence of open dining areas arranged around a three-sided courtyard indicates that the emperor would have enjoyed his meals in close proximity to the flowing wine from the fountains.
It is believed that this wine production served a dual purpose: both as a practical winemaking operation and as a form of entertainment for the emperor and his guests.
Dr. Dodd commented, stating that this setting would have provided a captivating spectacle for onlookers, combining the mesmerizing sight of wine and water fountains, the use of luxurious materials such as delicate white marble channels that showcased the flowing wine, and the immersive experience of the workers’ activities accompanied by music.
According to Dr. Dodd, this arrangement would have created a theatrical performance, prioritizing the visual experience of the observers over the practical requirements of the workers.
The excavations carried out at the Villa of the Quintilii shed light on how the ancient Roman elites transformed the annual wine production into a theatrical show, emphasizing the enjoyment of the spectators rather than the efficiency of the laborers.
More information: Dodd, E., Galli, G., & Frontoni, R. (2023). The spectacle of production: A Roman imperial winery at the Villa of the Quintilii, Rome. Antiquity, 97(392), 436-453. doi:10.15184/aqy.2023.18