Private housing of Roman age in Sabina
interesting example of Roman rural settling type, in the Sabina in the
Tiber region, is represented by the Cottanello villa, at the town of the
same name in the province of Rieti. Its name, according to scholars, derives
exactly from a villa existing in this area, owned by the roman family
of the ambassador Lucio Arunculeio Cotta. At the end of the 60s, the agricultural
works made at Colle Secco, brought back to light a residential area, partially
surveyed up to now, which occupies a rectangular area of about 90x70 metres.
The excavation seasons in 1969, 1970 and 1972, led by the Lazio Archaeological
Board, with the co-operation of the "Pro Loco" volunteers, made
possible to locate only a part of the residential building perimeter.
The villa, which is included in the type of the Domus with atrium and
peristyle, is characterised from a planimetrical development, distinct
enough, and it shows most of rooms decorated by interesting mosaic floors,
with a repertory particularly rich. These are all in black and white,
with the exception, in several cases, of some tesserae in Rosso-Cottanello.
Once restored, they have been set at their place, under the protection
of metal roofs.
Today the villa has two entrances: south-east and west, and of this western
entrance, which should have been the hallway to the peristyle, a part
of the floor still remains, made of limestone blocks and Rosso-Cottanello.
The peristyle, which was later transformed, was closed at the western
side by a wall, which had been built out of salvage material, and it was
decorated by four columns along the short side and six columns along the
long side, with limestone capitals of tuscanic kind and bases made of
bricks covered with stucco, in some parts still coloured in azure. The
passage, along the southern and south-eastern sides of this room, is floored
with a mosaic decorated with Rosso-Cottanello squares, with a central
subject with little crosses of white tesserae, and from this, through
a rectangular exedra, decorated with a mosaic with sandglass-shaped subjects
and small black squares, separated by a plait-shaped subject from another
with two-coloured squares, it is possible to enter a big room, identified
as summer triclinium: floored with big squares with white tesserae, framed
by thin black bands, probably at its centre there should have been an
emblem, which now has disappeared.
The room was accessible from any side: besides the peristyle, from the
eastern entrance, later plugged, which led to the porch, from the southern
entrance, which was the hallway to the tablinium floored with a mosaic
representing a grid of rhombs.
Along the two tablinuim long sides, there are four symmetrical cubicula
with traces of plaster on the walls and simple floor mosaics of very refined
taste, with decorations with subjects respectively: honeycomb stitch,
gate, geometrical scheme, formed by linked octagons and squares with plant
subjects, small birds and theatre masks, geometrical scheme, such as squares
linked from linear stars of eight rhombs united by a rhomb-shaped subject,
with insertion of polychrome plant subjects. From the tablinium it is
possible to reach the atrium, in communication with the summer triclinium
too trough a passage, parallel to the western cubicula.
In the tuscanic type atrium, the rain water coming from the four pitches
of the roof, was collected into the basin of the impluvium, from where
it was distributed, through pipes, to the thermal rooms in the south-western
area of the building.
The atrium floor was decorated with a mosaic of cross type and in the
middle, in the impluvium (3,80x2,80 metres), paved in opus spicatum, it
is possible to see some walls of uncertain work, which probably date to
a first phase of the building of the villa.
South of the atrium there are other three rooms of unclear destination,
where parts of mosaic floors remain. Along the building western side there
is a porch, which leads both to the atrium - through a passage later closed,
and to the summer triclinium, where there are the grooved blocks for the
In a later period, probably to set this side of the villa entrance, the
porch, under which a two-wing crypt-porch of uncertain work remains, was
divided into two parts by brick walls.
The thermal zone, west of the atrium, seems to belong to a later stage
of the villa development, for signs of a previous plant were found in
the rooms; the frigidarium has been located, characterised by the circular
form, with four opposite hollows and earthenware floor, over parts of
a previous opus spicatum floor.
The next eastern room, diagonally crossed by a drainage, the signs of
which were visible under the atrium floor too, has been considered as
the tepidarium. Immediately south of it, with an apse along the short
side and a earthenware floor, there is the calidarium, which like the
other rooms, shows clear signs of later transformations. The final use
of the rooms next to the thermal baths is unclear, but probably they were
used as lavatories.
Between the thermal area and the peristyle, there are two more rooms:
the first one has a floor decorated with little crosses on black background,
a vegetable subject with black tesserae on white background occupies the
part of the eastern threshold, while the western threshold is decorated
with a cock and a hen of white tesserae on black background, with comb
and wattle in Rosso-Cottanello.
second room shows a mosaic carpet with white tesserae with oblique weaving,
bordered by two black stripes, while the third one is earthenware floored
with traces of colour red and at a side there is part of a stair with
limestone steps, leading to the upper floor.
From the study of the carried out building techniques, it is possible
to locate more periods during the building of the villa: a first phase,
to chronologically locate between the end of the 2nd and the 1st century
B.C., is characterised from the uncertain work, a second one, between
the end of the 1st century B.C. and the first half of the 1st century
A.C., corresponding to a radical change in the building plant with the
fulfilment of the peristyle and mosaic-floored entertainment rooms, defined
by the work almost reticulated and the use of the local limestone and
the red stone of Cottanello; this latest one much later, characterised
by the vittata work at the peristyle with the transformation of this room
and with the closing of some entrances to the porch zone. The villa has
given back, among the other materials, a large number of covering slabs,
richly decorated with portrays of sphinxes, hags and vegetable elements.