Fourth century Roman senator Vettius Agorius Praetextatus was, in his time, a prominent politician, respected orator, and pagan high priest. But he also loved to vacation.
In 1983, a group of workers digging an orchard accidentally stumbled upon pieces of the Tuscan villa where, centuries ago, the wealthy senator would kick back, relax, and forget the pressures of Roman politics.
Since the rediscovered villa was located on private land, it took years for archaeologists to launch a proper excavation of the site. However, several recent digs have revealed some of the villa's treasures: in 2013, archaeologists found a 4th century oval mosaic portraying a boar hunting scene. And this year, according to Discovery News, they’ve uncovered two of the spectacular mosaics that once decorated the floors of Praetextatus’ home.
Though the two mosaics border each other, they were built separately, during the fourth and fifth centuries. The earlier mosaic is composed of geometric patterns, vines, and floral motifs, while the later displays animals, flowers, and the bust of a man.
The mosaics are a major find for archaeologists: they not only give a sense of ancient Roman interior design, but have also helped archaeologists determine the original layout of the villa, as well as the dates of its existence.
Thanks to these discoveries, archaeologists have learned that Praetextatus, whose name was found engraved on a tile at the archaeological site, was not the villa’s original owner. Instead, they believe the villa was initially built during the first century and stood until the beginning of the sixth century, when it was ultimately abandoned and plundered.
Researchers are convinced that more of the mosaics remain to be uncovered—though, unfortunately, the rest of the floor lies beneath a privately owned industrial shed, so it’s not likely to be excavated any time soon.
Though little remains of the original villa, it was likely once an impressive structure. The mosaic itself is surprisingly large—archaeologists have only unearthed about one eighth of the full design, but believe it’s about 300 square meters. The grandeur makes sense, given that Praetextatus was a well-respected politician from a wealthy noble family.
According to Federico Cantini, who led the excavation, the wealthy senator may have spent more time relaxing in his villas than he did working. As Cantini explained to Discovery News, “The Roman statesman and orator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus even complained in his letters that Vettius enjoyed too much opium in his estates in Etruria, instead of dealing with politics in Rome.”
[h/t: Discovery News]