Ancient Roman Winery Unearthed at Villa of the Quintilii


| LAST UPDATE 04/19/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Villa Quintilii Roman winery
Edoardo Fornaciari / Contributor via Getty Images

A newly unearthed winery in the Villa of the Quintilii, a Roman villa complex outside of Rome, has astounded archaeologists with its opulence and design. The villa’s owners, the Quintilii brothers, served as consuls in 151 CE, until the Roman Emperor Commodus had them killed in 182/3 CE. The expansive site, measuring 24 hectares, was eventually seized by Commodus and turned into imperial ownership.

The winery's construction dates it after Commodus' reign, and its features are typical of Roman wineries: a grape treading area, a vat for collecting grape must, and a cellar with large clay jars sunk into the ground for storage and fermentation. What sets this winery apart from others is its opulent design. Most of the production areas are covered in marble veneer tiling, including the grape treading area, which is typically coated in waterproof plaster. A pair of large mechanical lever presses sit on either side of the treading area to press the already trodden pulp, adding to the dramatic theatre of the winery. Grape juice flows into a long rectangular vat, where a stamp impression of a name confirms its date of renovation or construction.

Roman winery archaeological discovery
MENAHEM KAHANA / Stringer via Getty Images
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But it is the winery's activation that is truly remarkable. The grape must poured like a spectacular fountain from the vat through a facade that looks remarkably like a Roman nymphaeum, one meter in height. The facade was originally covered in veneer tiles of brightly colored marble, and as the must flowed through, water fell from the niches at either end before returning underground through the lead pipes. The grape must was then conveyed through thin white marble channels to a sunken cellar area, where it was stored in 16 large clay jars. Three rooms, filled with opulent geometric marble tiling, surrounded the sunken cellar. The Quintilii brothers likely designed the winery's opulence to signify their social status. The winery, discovered during excavations of the starting gates of a chariot racing circus built during Commodus' tenure, is a reminder of the luxury embedded in Roman production facilities.

A similar winery has been found in Villa Magna near Anagni, 50 km southeast of Rome, and may have inspired the one found in the Villa of the Quintilii. Similar in design and luxury, Villa Magna boasted an area for dining with a view of production spaces, and the imperial party often banqueted while watching and listening to workers treading grapes during harvest. It's possible that the Quintilii winery was also used for similar vintage rituals, reinforcing social status. Could the Quintilii's winery have been moved from Villa Magna to the Villa of the Quintilii? This remains an enticing question for archaeologists to uncover.

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