The roman villas
The Romans originally used the Latin term villa to refer to farms, meaning both the owner’s residence and functional outbuildings, regardless of the extent of land ownership.
Between the fifth and the fourth centuries B.C. the ownership of a farm purchased in Roman territory became a necessary requirement for Latin people residing in other cities to obtain Roman citizenship. In the third century, as conquests extended into Italic territory, small and medium-sized agrarian farms, governed by an owner-factor living there, multiplied. The model is well described by Marcus Porcius Cato, known as the Censor, in his treatise De re rustica.
Beginning in the late third century B.C. and especially following the Punic wars, given the huge number of prisoners of war and the crisis of small land ownership that the long duration of the war events had induced, the model of the large slave-run latifundium was established, which saw large rural settlements employing as many as hundreds of slaves (familia rustica), in order to remunerate the capital invested by the new owners of the conquered lands, who belonged to Roman patrician families (gentes).
It was thus a true model of colonial planting, which the Romans had borrowed from Carthage and the Magna Greek colonies in Sicily, particularly Agrigento. Production was specialized in products for trade (wine and oil primarily), reason why the large villas were located in close connection with the major roadways of the time. They were built at the foot of any hills, or halfway up the coast, near streams and wooded areas, as well as cultivated fields.
The villa thus consisted of a complex of interconnected buildings. It was denoted by the term pars urbana (o pars dominica, i.e., the dominus) the sector of the complex used as an occasional residence by the owner.
It had nothing to envy the splendor of fine urban residences in urban(domus) o or suburban settings (horti), was equipped with trilinear rooms for banquets and symposia, mosaic rooms, hypocaust heating, peristyles, small bath facilities, and frescoed bedrooms (cubicula). The villa, in late Republican and Imperial times, had become a place of otium for the owner, that is, a place to spend leisure time away from the convulsive life of the city.
The term pars massaricia, on the other hand, denotes both productive environments (pars fructuaria) intended for the processing and storage of agricultural products and the rooms reserved for servants (pars rustica).
A Roman villa was thus at the center of vast estates. (fundus). A landed estate of 1,000 iugeri (250 hectares) could have a complex of buildings of a few thousand square meters, but beginning in the Late Republican age, significantly larger dimensions were reached.
The rustic villa also had production rooms to make on site what was necessary for the running of the farm (kilns, blacksmith’s, farriers, and other craft workshops).
This aspect became more pronounced in the last centuries of the empire and was the premise of the establishment of the curtense economy, autarkic and closed on itself, of the first centuries of the early Middle Ages, established after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the collapse of ancient urban civilisation.
The Roman villa in the hamlet of Sant’Antonio in Magliano Alfieri
Following the construction in 2006 of Rio Valle spillway canal, the relevant archaeological superintendence carried out stratigraphic investigations in the section between Via Valmorterda and State Highway 231, bringing to light the remains of a Roman villa and other artifacts attributable to other service buildings adjacent to the main one, with phases of use between the last first and fifth centuries A.D.
The findings are concentrated in four areas, which were investigated in depth.
In essays 1 and 2, a wall-oriented NE-SW for a total length of 18,5 meters and an average width of 70 cm. Two others were attached to this wall, defining the area of a large cobblestone-paved space. The discovery of several stone mosaic tiles suggests a valuable residential complex. Ceramic fragments dating to the fourth-fifth centuries B.C. were recovered from the layers of use. Remnants of an older one, datable to the first and second century A.D, were found below the first cobblestone.
In fact, the oldest pavement appears to be in phase with the only incineration tomb found at about 5,5m, unfortunately already devastated by the mechanical means. What remained of the trousseau, including a vitreous unguent, was found along with the burning soil in circular pit in the ground.
In essay 3, 23 meters away, the discovery of some foundation rows of other walls outlines a second building connected to the first one.
In essay 4, 26 meters away, more wall remains draw a third room with the same orientation as the first, datable through ceramic fragments found again to the fourth and fifth century A.D.
The conspicuous remains have not been extensively investigated over the entire area involved, and nearby surface outcrops of Roman-era artifacts a few dozen meters away at least allow us to surmise the existence of a large and articulated Roman villa, active between the imperial and the late ancient age.
There are not many other rustic villas for which archaeological excavation data are available in the southern Piedmont.
In Costigliole Saluzzo, the remains of another villa were found, the area of which was investigated extensively by the University of Turin between 2003 and 2010, located in a strategic position at the meeting point between the outlet of the Varaita Valley into the plain and the important piedmont road that passed through Forum Germa (Caraglio) and Pedona (Borgo San Dalmazzo).
The facility complex has an area of 4,000 square meters. Prominent are the remains of two tanks for crushing grapes and pressing must, bearing witness to the millennia-old vine and wine culture of southern Piedmont.
Upper left image: Example of a Roman villa excavated in extension and entirely reconstructed. Gallo-Roman villa of Loupain. Hérault department, Languedoc-Roussillon region, France. Fundus active between the 1st and 5th centuries AD.
Bottom right images. In the summer of 2023, as part of the first activities of the project “The Green Domus. From Fundus Mallianus to the Mount of the Seven Castles,” action was taken on the archaeological site because the particular location of the remains left in view in 2006 had led to the proliferation of weedy vegetation with serious risk to the integrity of the remains.
The site was then manually mowed and weeded using a completely ecological pelargonic acid-based herbicide, the surfaces were cleaned and the parts at risk of collapse were first consolidated.
The rest was protected with a temporary cover to limit the progress of degradation and pending a comprehensive and thorough restoration and final settlement of the archaeological area.
The Roman conquest and the Fulvia Street
Piedmont south of the Po River during the Iron Age (XI-II centuries A.D.) was inhabited by the ancient population of Ligurians. The hills of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato were part of the territories of the Ligurians Statielli and the Ligurians Bagienni tribes.
Coining with the arrival of Hannibal and the outbreak of the Second Punic War, the Roman-Ligurian wars also intensified. The resistance of the Ligurians to the Roman conquest was strenuous, and only after two centuries, toward the end of the first century B.C, under the principate of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, could the Roman conquest be considered ended with the surrender of the last rebellious Ligurian tribes in the western Alpine valleys.
The area around the middle reaches of the Tanaro River, on the other hand, was reported to be under Roman control as early as the mid-second century B.C.
Tangible evidence of this is the construction between 125 and 123 B.C. of the Via Fulvia, a road commissioned by Consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, grandson of that Quintus Fulvius Flaccus who around 180 A.D. had participated in the extermination and deportation to the distant Samnium of Ligurians Apuani, inhabitants of present-day northern Tuscany, among the Ligurians tribes that had most opposed the advance of the Roman legions.
The Via Fulvia connected Dertona (Tortona) with Augusta Taurinorum (Torino), certainly passing through the cities of Forum Fulvi (Villa del Foro) e Hasta (Asti). The latter colony was deduced in the years when the important road axis of the Via Fulvia was being built, whose route at Asti coincides with the orientation of the city’s decumanus maximus.
In fact, remains of it have been found near the western city gate of Hasta (Asti), at the point where it is still visible today the Torre Rossa, the upper part is medieval but the lower part, with a 16-sided base, dates instead to the 1st century B.C. and was one of the towers of the city gate, similar in structure to the better-known Porta Palatina in Turin.
The Via Fulvia was an important consular road, and in some sections enough remains have been found to establish a width of between 9 and 12 meters. It transited through Carrea Potentia (Chieri) to reach the present-day capital of Piedmont, certainly the road axis rana long the middle course of the Tanaro river.
A branch line (or alternative route according to others) started from Asti and went South, skirting the hydrographic left of the Tanaro River to reach Pollentia (Pollenzo, hamlet of Bra); along the way the route grazed Alba Pompeia (Alba), which lies on the hydrographic right of the Tanaro River but was equipped with a river port. In the road section between Alba Pompeia e Hasta it would have been the Fundus Mallianus, certainly the most prominent Roman settlements between the two important cities.
The Fundus (and the Vicus) Mallianus and the gens Manlia
The iugero is the Romans’ unit of measurement for agricultural land and is equivalent to about 0,25 ha. It corresponds to the arable land by a pair of oxen attached to the same yoke (iugum). The term “Fundus” indicates on the other hand the landownership. The lands conquered by the Roman army in the first part of the Republican age were assigned by the commanders to the soldiers, thus fueling the growth of small land ownership. Beginning with the Punic Wars, however, most of the huge new achievements were prerogative of the patrician class, with the emergence of large estates base on slave labor. Famous is the failed reform attempt of the Gracchi, who tried unsuccessfully to limit property ownership to 1,000 iugeri (250 ha) for each patrician who had at least two children.
The municipality of Magliano owes its name to the Gens Manlia, a roman patrician family holding various public offices throughout the Roman republican. Still in the first half of the first century A.D. its importance is attested: Lucius Manlius Torquatos took part in the events of the Civil War between Marius and Sulla and was elected consul in 66 B.C.
To obtain in this place a vast latifundia, the name of which is precisely Fundus Mallianus and to whom the archeological remains of the villa certainly refer, it would have been Quintus Manlius Severus, a veteran who had served in Rome in the Praetorian cohort VII.
Instead, the term “Vicus” denotates an aggregate of houses and land, a minor settlement that did not have its own civil magistracies, unlike the Municipia and colonies under Roman and Latin law. The Vicus Mallianus thus developed at this nodal point and became the most important town along the route between the cities of Alba Pompeia and Hasta. The widespread Romanisation of the area is attested by two micro toponyms, attested in the sixteenth-century land registers: Drusianum (today the Valle Drusiana called “of San Giuseppe”) e Servilianum (at the Varèi area in the Valle Drusiana).
- Map of the major archaeological discovery sites.
- Map of the major roman consular roads in Piedmont and the position of the Fundus Mallianus