This Place Is Sacred: The Importance of Location in the Symbolism of the Villa of Maxentius
The last decade of archaeological excavations between the second and sixth miles of Rome's Via Appia (figure 3, page 126) has produced a new understanding of the function of suburban villa culture in the creation of a public image for wealthy individuals from Republican to Tetrarchic times. In 2000, Italy's Sopraintendenza Archeologica unveiled the impressive results of its excavations, conservation, and site presentation at the Villa of the Quintili, a splendid estate begun by an aristocratic family under Hadrian, appropriated by Commodus, and apparently patronized by emperors throughout the third century. Since 2003, the Kalamazoo College/University of Colorado Excavations at the Villa of Maxentius have conducted three seasons of fieldwork in the residential sector of the Appian complex built by this self-proclaimed emperor who controlled Rome from 306-312 CE. In July 2006, the Sopraintendenza opened to the public the newly excavated Capo di Bove bath complex, which is located between the Maxentian and Quintili properties and is possibly part of the second-century estate of Herodes Atticus. The evidence uncovered by these excavations raises new questions concerning the use and reuse of suburban villas. Foremost among these is the question of why the Tetrarchic ruler Maxentius chose to construct a new villa just two Roman miles away from the luxurious, popular, and updated Villa of the Quintili, which had been in imperial hands throughout the third century. Because Maxentius was a usurper under threat of attack throughout his six-year rule in Rome, his decision to build a new villa located outside of the protective walls of Rome demands explanation. Although Maxentius relied upon the support of the people of Rome to keep him in power, he risked alienating the populace of the capital city by imposing expensive taxes while constructing a sumptuous private Appian villa for himself. Maxentius must have had compelling motives for refusing to continue the tradition, solidified by military emperors throughout the Crisis of the Third Century, of using the pre-existing, luxurious Villa of the Quintili as an imperial suburban villa. Attempting to explain Maxentius' decision to construct a monumental residential complex on the specific site on the Via Appia is the primary research goal of this SIP. Maxentius' personal history and his formulation and promulgation of a calculated public image, created through carefully crafted propaganda, suggest that his choice was deliberate and purposeful. Chapter I sets out the history of Maxentius' imperium in Rome, with particular attention paid to Maxentian propaganda and its message that Maxentius' claim to power was legitimate and just. Here I explore Maxentius' strategic manipulation of Tetrarchic succession policy, which sought to replace dynastic inheritance with appointment of unrelated men of merit, whose imperial bonds were then strengthened by imperial adoption and intermarriage. By explicating Maxentius' propagandistic exploitation of his collection of blood, matrimonial, and patronage relationships, Chapter I illuminates the political context in which the Villa of Maxentius was planned. The fraught question of legitimate succession emerges as an important factor in Maxentius' choice of the site of his villa on the Via Appia. Chapter II introduces the Maxentian complex on the Via Appia as an extension of Maxentius' official building program, exploiting the history and symbolism of the Via Appia to bolster Maxentius' conservative public image. It demonstrates how the Maxentian complex on the Via Appia conforms to the image which Maxentius wished to project through his propaganda campaign. The three parts of the Maxentian complex the Circus of Maxentius, the dynastic mausoleum, and the villa itself-echo other Tetrarchic palaces. A comparative analysis of the design and history of the Villa of Maxentius and other major Tetrarchic palaces, including the Villa of Diocletian at Split and the Villa of Galerius at Gamzigrad, establishes that innovative Tetrarchic architectural forms reflected a new conception of ruler as dominus et deus, lord and god. The inclusion of mausolea, which were a feature unique to Tetrarchic palatial complexes, is fundamental to this conception and proves to be particularly influential in Maxentius' decision to locate a Tetrarchic-style imperial complex on the Via Appia. Chapter II reveals that the Villa of Maxentius on the Via Appia, as a suburban villa, was unique among Tetrarchic complexes and especially able to broadcast the message of legitimacy which was central to Maxentian propaganda. The focus of Chapter III is the Villa of the Quintili, the Appian imperial villa which Maxentius rejected. In order to understand Maxentius' negative reaction to the villa, it is necessary to analyze the history of the property and the representational form and function of its High Imperial architecture. Here I argue that the Villa of the Quintili's outdated architectural features no longer conformed to the Tetrarchic language of power which was central to Maxentian propaganda. Furthermore, the villa projected unsavory associations with Commodus' abuse of dynastic power, which was especially damaging to Maxentius, as he and Commodus both identified with the hero Hercules, and with the bloody fate of third-century military usurpers. I also introduce a historically-attested argument between the first owners of the villa, the Quintili brothers, and their neighbor, Herodes Atticus, on whose estate Maxentius constructed his villa, which involved competition for the attention of the emperor Marcus Aurelius and charges of tyranny. Chapter IV addresses the ultimate question: why did Maxentius choose to build on the Appian estate of Herodes Atticus, another Antonine' villa whose history appears, at first glance, to be quite similar to that of the Villa of the Quintili? What topographic and propagandistic attractions did the site of the Villa ofHero des Atticus offer Maxentius that the neighboring Villa of the Quintili lacked? I study the history of Herodes Atticus, both in his native Greece and in Rome, and suggest why this history may have proved sympathetic to Maxentius. Through the examination of archaeological and epigraphic evidence, I identify the funerary character of the estate of Herodes Atticus as its main attraction for Maxentius. Chapter IV examines the interplay of life and death inherent in Tetrarchic palatial complexes, as prefigured by the Villa of Herodes Atticus. After the death of his wife, Annia Regilla, Herodes Atticus dedicated the property to her memory and to the cult of Annia Regilla's imperial relative, the deified empress Faustina the Elder. Herodes Atticus' estate thus offered funerary associations with the "good emperors" Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, who succeeded to the throne through appointment, adoption, and dynastic marriage. Herodes Atticus' memorial Triopion, because of its celebration of imperial apotheosis, was a noble and appropriate venue for Maxentius' monumental dynastic mausoleum, whose first burial was Maxentius' own son and heir, Divus Romulus. I demonstrate that Maxentius reverently and consciously employed the history of the Triopion to lend his villa complex symbolic significance. Roman villas, both imperial and Tetrarchic, were used by their owners as theaters for self-representation. Maxentius was influenced above all by the demands of a new architectural language of Tetrarchic power, which had transformed that of the imperial era. Maxentius, desiring to build a complex that rivaled the provincial palaces and villas of officially recognized Tetrarchs, chose a site with rich symbolic heritage. By appropriating the estate of Herodes Atticus, Maxentius could insert himself into the glorious history of the capital city's entire lineage of summi viri commemorated on the Via Appia. More importantly, the Triopion estate provided Maxentius with a context for the apotheosis of his son and for his own cult, commemorating a benevolent and prominent reign, which he hoped to enjoy after death.