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from the trenches
Newest Discoveries Around Rome Volume 61 Number 4, July/August 2008
by Jarrett A. Lobell with reporting by Marco Merola and Roberto Bartoloni


Fragment of a horse and rider (Marco Merola)

Few equestrian statues from antiquity have survived, but during work around the Colosseum, archaeologists uncovered this one-ton fragment of a horse and rider with a dagger scabbard, once part of a massive sculpture that decorated the world's most famous arena. Some scholars argue the work was originally positioned in a niche outside the Colosseum. However, excavation director Rossella Rea is convinced that the statue depicts an emperor, and would have been placed inside. "From the dimensions and the fineness of the work of execution we know that it had to represent a very important individual...and the emperor would have stood in the arena, not outside," she claims. She also thinks the rider represents Titus (r. A.D. 79-81), son of Vespasian (r. A.D. 69-79), the emperor who began building the Colosseum.


Head of Lucius Verus (Courtesy Guardia di Finanza)

Until now, there have only been four known depictions of the emperor Lucius Verus (r. A.D. 161-169), the overshadowed adopted brother of and co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius (r. A.D. 161-180). But police from Italy's Guardia di Finanza (one of the branches in charge of archaeological crimes) found this head in a cache of a dozen looted artifacts in a boathouse near Rome's international airport. According to Captain Massimo Rossi, the rare sculpture was unearthed in Campania and was bound for the international art market. The head may have been carved at a workshop in north Africa.


2nd-century sarcophagus (Courtesy Guardia di Finanza)

A farmer working near a large Imperial-era cemetery in Fiumicino discovered an extraordinary second-century A.D. sarcophagus. But instead of contacting local archaeologists, he sought out black-market antiquities traders. Fortunately, the Guardia di Finanza intervened just as it was unearthed. The front of the sarcophagus is decorated with a frieze representing the nine muses led by the god Apollo. On the sides are scenes of poets and philosophers in conversation. According to Marina Sapelli Ragni, the archaeological superintendent for Ostia, the sarcophagus is an "expression of the viewpoint of the second-century political elite, where poetry, philosophy, and music were important and as closely linked in death as in life."


Mosaic found in Veio (Courtesy Soprintendenza archeologica di Roma)

A cupid riding a dolphin, a bull becoming a siren, and a Nereid on a seahorse are the subjects of a masterful mosaic from the second or third century A.D. found in Veio, about 10 miles north of Rome. Judging from similarities to another example from nearby Ostia, the mosaic, found beneath a garbage dump, could have been part of a bathing complex along one of the busy roads to Rome. For now the excavation has run out of funds, and the exact location has not been disclosed for fear of looting. "I eventually want to recover and restore the mosaic," says Daniela Rossi, the archaeologist in charge, "and for everyone to be able to admire this discovery."