BMCR 1996.07.04

1996.7.4, Downey, Architectural Terracottas from the Regia

, Architectural terracottas from the Regia. Papers and monographs of the American Academy in Rome ; v. 30. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. xv, 109 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9780472105717. $42.50.

This long-awaited presentation of the terracotta roof fragments from the American Academy in Rome excavations in the Regia is a most welcome contribution to our knowledge of the early architecture of Rome. The Regia, as the house of Rome’s highest religious official, the Pontifex Maximus, was one of the most important structures in the Roman Forum. At least two successive roofs decorated this building: the earlier, belonging to the third building phase, is dated ca. 570 BC and the later, of the Fourth Regia, to the third quarter of the 6th century BC (ca. 530 BC by implication that the latest pottery in the destruction debris of the Third Regia dates 540-530 BC).

The roofs are indeed pitifully fragmentary, but Downey has done a masterful job of recreating their original state—without ever falling prey to over-speculation. Careful attention is given to describing and interpreting each piece, and placing it in its wider context, both visually and historically. She exhibits good control of the complex literature covering a wide range of topics from iconography to socio-political history, and provides a very logical assessment of the wide-ranging theoretical interpretations which have previously been expressed about some of the early architectural terracottas from Rome, Etruria and Latium. Far from providing merely a catalogue of the pieces from the American Academy excavations, she effectively summarizes our current understanding of the 6th century BC roofs of Rome and the sources that influenced them.

The Third Regia consisted of two rooms facing inward from North and Southwest into a walled courtyard; a roofed portico may have connected the two. The south building carried the best-documented roof. Based on findspots, Downey assigns the two different types of revetment plaques, one with walking felines and a Minotaur, and the other with walking felines and a bird, to the wooden slopes and horizontal architrave, respectively; both scenes have examples moving to left and to right, as is regularly the case for decoration of pediment slopes, and display two different styles of crowning mouldings, which necessitates their different placement of the roof. An alternate suggestion is that there was a decorated back pediment, looking out onto the Forum, in addition to that facing the courtyard, and that only these two pedimental slopes were so decorated. Above the revetment plaques ran a raking sima with tall cavetto profile, the inner curve of which carries tall, convex stribils, above a flat fascia with a painted guilloche. The end of the ridge tile may have carried a disc acroterion with a painted tongue pattern on the outer edge and possibly a central Gorgoneion. A life-sized terracotta foot in a boot probably represents an acroterion from the ridge.

Downey suggests that the north building carried antefixes with a relief Gorgoneion, and possibly the same type of raking sima as the south building. A fragmentary antefix with female head could also belong to this roof or to the portico between the two buildings; the latter association would conform more to the practice at Poggio Civitate (Murlo), where the Gorgoneia occur alone on the eaves, and Acquarossa, where female heads occur alone on a portico.

Regia IV has scantier evidence for the roof, but nonetheless highly significant and controversial. The three fragmentary antefixes decorated with female heads are of a type well-documented at Caere, and of typical red, Caeretan clay. These were apparently combined with a lateral sima with feline water spout, provided with openings at each side for the insertion of the antefixes and their tile backers. The sima type is known from Velletri and other places in Rome, where it is associated with female head antefixes of a more stylistically advanced type than the Regia antefixes; the clay of the Regia sima conforms to the Velletri clays and differs from the Caeretan antefixes. Yet the archaeological context places both with the Fourth Regia, as Downey stresses.

The wider picture provided by Downey through this material shows that Rome probably had a local workshop producing its own architectural terracottas in the second quarter of the 6th century BC, but by the third quarter, Rome belongs to a Central Italian unit which is characterized by standardized forms.

A cautionary word must be said about the drawings, as they often differ from the accompanying photographs and text. Figure 6 places the nail hole in the wrong position; Figure 10 omits the feline leg to the left; Figure 25 lacks the red semicircles on the tips of the white strigils; etc. A very useful addition would have been the inclusion of a plan indicating findspots, also for associated fragments from the Temple of Divus Julius.

Nonetheless, the contribution of this work far exceeds the impression given by the unassuming nature of the fragments, and shows that mighty works from small beginnings are indeed often made.