Ancient History and Archaeology.com

Exploring the Ancient Past

The House of Vespia Polla

By Natasha Sheldon

Situated under the town hall of modern Spoleto, the Casa Romano di Vespasia Polla is a well preserved Roman house supposedly once belonging to the mother of the Emperor Vespasian.

Situated along a side street below the Plazzo Comunale, the Casa Romano or ‘Roman House’ of Spoleto is a well preserved example of a high status town house in a Roman Colonia.

 

 First built during the reign of Augustus, it was remodeled during the second century AD. Some archaeologists believe it may have belonged to Vespasia Polla, the mother of the emperor Vespasian.

 

Roman Spoleto.

 

The hill site of modern Spoleto was first settled by the Romans in approximately 241 BC, at a time when Umbria was of growing strategic importance in Roman Italy. Spoletium, as the new settlement was known, evolved into a full Roman town, incorporating civic and domestic features on the hillside’s natural terraces.

 

Most of the Roman remains visible today are situated in the Upper Town of Spoleto. They include a theatre (used for dramatic and religious events) dating from the first century AD, a triumphal arch at the former entrance of the forum, dedicated to Drusus, son of the emperor Tiberius and the foundations of a Roman temple under the church of Saint Ansano.

 

The Casa di Romano lies just above this area.

 

The House of Vespasia Polla.

 

Situated beneath the present town hall, the house was excavated between 1885 and 1914. Only the ground floor remains with the area surrounding the atrium exposed and on public view in the basement of Spoleto’s current town hall. Its layout, coupled with its commanding position in the upper part of the Roman settlement, suggest a residence belonging to a person of wealth and high standing.

 

Layout of the House.

 

The house follows the classic plan of a regular atrium house. As well as the impluvium, the atrium still contains the cistern used for collecting water for the household.

 

 Immediately facing the entrance is a tablinium, flanked by two sitting rooms. Rooms also run along the right and left hand sides of the atrium. Flanking the entrance are two bedrooms with two alae or service rooms immediately behind.

 

A variance in the layout is that the peristyle was situated to the left of the building. It was not accessible from the tablinium as was usual but from the left hand service room.

 

Mosaics.

 

Particular features of the house are the well preserved mosaic floors which survive largely intact in each room. Although each floor was based around a geometric pattern, the styles and complexity of the patterns varied according to function of the area they belonged to.

 

The rooms with the most elaborate mosaic floors were the bedrooms and the left hand sitting room. These rooms were less accessible, either physically or because of narrower door apertures, suggesting they were reserved for the use of the family and friends.

 

On the other hand, the more public rooms, namely the tablinium and alae had a mosaic threshold which drew the eye. Their entrances were their wide, showing they were designed to be more accessible. Their mosaic floors, whilst still high quality follow a simpler pattern corresponding with their less exclusive function.

 

Sources.

 

Potter, TW. Roman Italy. British Museum Press.

Casa Romana, published by Sistema Museo