The construction work for line C of Rome’s metro in Piazza Celimontana might just unravel one of the fascinating archaeological discoveries of recent times – in the form of an aqueduct dating from 3rd century BC. Found at a depth of 18 m (59 ft), the remnants of this ancient Roman feat of engineering were located when workers were excavating a 105-ft wide ventilation shaft that would serve a 8,600-sq ft area for line C. And interestingly enough, according to the archaeologists involved in the project (that actually started in late 2016, though the announcement was made on 3rd April, 2017), they were only able to get down to this significant depth because of the “concrete bulkheads built for work on the metro”.
Now from the historical perspective, Rome was built over layers upon layers of construction – and each strata corresponded to the advancing time-periods, by using the previous structures as foundations. To that end, the researchers, namely Morretta and Paola Palazzo who worked in collaboration with the Archeologia cooperative, found ruins of an Iron Age tomb (with grave goods) and houses that date back to an antediluvian epoch of 10th-9th centuries BC.
But the focus of their discoveries have centered on the aforementioned aqueduct, touted as the ‘most ancient Roman aqueduct’. And the good news for history enthusiasts that the structure has been successfully dismantled, assessed and then reassembled block-by-block on the surface, fueled by future plans to exhibit the entire archaeological scope to the public. And while this ancient engineered feat is extensive in nature, the discovery has provided the researchers new insight into the chronological side of affairs. According to Morretta Palazzo –
We still do not know how the aqueduct developed, i.e. where it started and ended. The authority to turn to in this case, as always, is Frontinus, author of a famous treatise on Rome’s aqueducts, written in 102 AD. Frontinus describes them all, and also tells us that some aqueducts passed through the Celio district. However, nothing had ever been found. In addition, on the basis of the dating of the material found, our aqueduct must have been built shortly before the middle of the 3rd century, in the mid-Republican Age, i.e. about 2,300 years ago.
The archaeologist further added –
The question is: which aqueduct does the find belong to? We do not know yet. The Anio Vetus – whose name came from the Anio valley, the source of its waters – dates back to 272 BC. The period matches, yet even though this coincidence would seem to suggest a link, Frontinus says the Anio Vetus did not pass through Celio. It is thus more likely to be part of the Aqua Appia, the first aqueduct built in Rome. We must assume that a public work of this impressive size would have taken decades to build, so the dating could in fact coincide. We also know that the Aqua Appia was extremely deep, as is the section unearthed.
And finally, Morretta concluded –
It is precisely the intact layers of earth that allowed us to establish when it ceased to be used, namely in the early Imperial Age. Subsequently, in late antiquity, the aqueduct was used as a sewer. Another curiosity is that the layers of earth revealed large amounts of leftovers from meals, which were an exceptional mine of information for our archaeozoologist. I have just received their report, which was extremely interesting. And now we know exactly what was eaten by Roman aristocrats living in the large villas in the area. All sorts of things were found in the sewers: remains of pets, parts of wild boars, plenty of rare birds, and exotic foods. There were not only the remains of hens, cocks and capons, but also of swans and pheasants, as well as huge seawater fish such as grouper.