BMCR 2019.01.51

Nuovi studi sulla Regia di Roma. Paesaggi antichi, 2

, , Nuovi studi sulla Regia di Roma. Paesaggi antichi, 2. Cosenza: Pellegrini, . 185. ISBN 9788868225094. €15,00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Everyone who studies early Rome knows the score: in 1964, the eminent American archaeologist Frank E. Brown began a two-year campaign to excavate the structure known in antiquity as the Regia on the east side of the Roman forum. Already in 1935, Brown signaled interest in the monument with an architectural study following up on late-nineteenth century work by Christian Hülsen and Giacomo Boni.1 Now, Brown would dig down at some points to virgin soil, in the process capturing crucial information about the structure and the city’s earliest phases. Sources connected the Regia to Rome’s high priesthood and, before that, to its kings. Thanks to Brown’s work, scholars know the monument as one of Rome’s first with stone foundations and, as such, an important indication of the forum’s transformation into a monumentalized political space.

It has, however, remained impossible to obtain more than this general impression of the monument’s importance because Brown never published his results. Only two preliminary studies appeared, the first in the proceedings of a Fondation Hardt conference, and the second a decade later in the Rendiconti.2 And that was that. Brown returned to work on the Republican colony of Cosa for the next decade or so, while ill health in his final years prevented the completion of the Regia publication before his death in 1988. There are important restatements or partial publications, often by Brown’s students, including Russell T. Scott’s substantial entry in LTUR IV and Susan Downey’s monograph on the Archaic terracottas.3 Elisabetta Carnabuci has recently published Boni’s notebooks on the Regia.4 But there remains no full account of Brown’s excavations.

This lack of publication has resulted in some confounding scholarly dead ends. For example, as customary for Fondation Hardt conference proceedings, Brown’s first article on the Regia was appended with a transcript of discussion that followed his presentation. The likes of Andreas Alföldi, P.J. Riis, and Einar Gjerstad probed Brown for further evidence of his dating, and, as is narrated, Brown apparently obliged them:

“M. Brown shows slides of a number of further objects, among which a remarkable number of fragments of objects in bucchero.”

But what were these objects, and what constitutes a remarkable number? No more detail is printed, although the ensuing narration suggests the scholars discussed Brown’s slides. This is infinitely frustrating to a generation of researchers who have had no ability to enter into this discussion ourselves. Debate on early Rome remains energetic as ever, but we are left with no choice but to take Brown’s preliminary publications as fact.

That is, until now. With the book under review, Paolo Brocato and Nicola Terrenato, representing a collaboration between the Università della Calabria and the University of Michigan, shed a glimmer of light on Brown’s excavations. The editors are fast becoming specialists for legacy data on early Rome. They will be well-known for ongoing work to bring Sant’Omobono, another long-ago excavated but never published Roman site, to publication. Here, they signal a similar desire to publish their archival research in progress. In particular, this book collects papers in English and Italian presented in a workshop at the American Academy in Rome, under whose aegis the project is carried out, and in a panel at the 2017 AIA/SCS meeting in Toronto. Since Brown’s work, archaeological techniques have greatly advanced, and the project furthermore aims to publish the Regia’s archaeology in light of current methodologies and scholarship.

The book describes research in progress, something often apparent, but nevertheless these papers will hold value to readers with specific interest in this important monument and its related materials. Above all, there is Brocato and Terrenato’s paper presenting with due caution a rereading of the Regia’s phases, revising Brown’s work; for reference, Brown’s drawings are included in fold-out plans with the volume. There are three main takeaways:

First, the authors collapse Brown’s five phases of the early Regia to four: (1) an initial rectangular Regia built c. 650-600, opened towards the Palatine; (2) a larger building built c. 575-50 with two rooms flanking an entrance now opened to the forum; (3) a room with more solid ashlar foundations was added to that structure’s southeast corner c. 540-30; this third phase appears mostly as a modification of the previous; (4) the final, monumental Regia that displayed the familiar trapezoidal courtyard flanked by three rooms, a configuration which endured through the Republic.

Second, they simplify Brown’s architectural reconstructions, removing obtuse-angled walls and rejecting columns for which there are neither good parallels nor firm material evidence.

Third, the dates have changed. In particular, the first Regia is somewhat earlier, while the fourth Regia’s construction is downdated from the late sixth to the first quarter of the fifth century. Brown dated this structure to the first years of the Republic. Its construction is often read against the political upheavals of that period, but this connection will now need rethinking.

In general, the Regia’s development reflects broader architectural currents in central Italy. The first rectangular building is comparable with edificio B at Tarquinia, while the second Regia’s courtyard finds parallels in elite architecture at Murlo, Acquarossa, and Satricum. The fourth Regia’s plan finds close comparison with the so-called regia recently discovered at Gabii, although the downdating of this phase at Rome raises the possibility that it was influenced by Gabii’s earlier building, not vice versa.5 The authors resist grand conclusions, but they note that the first stone Regia was built at a time when hut architecture prevailed in Rome and the surrounding region. Its construction will have been striking and perhaps indicates political or ritual functions from its earliest date.

Two chapters discuss methodologies brought to bear on Brown’s archival materials in the American Academy. Matthew C. Naglak presents plans to digitize archival materials and integrate them with spatial information so that the whole database can be presented, ultimately, along with a 3-D reconstruction of the architecture. The guiding model is the digital publication of a Middle Republican house from Gabii recently put out by a team including Terrenato. Next, J. Troy Samuels and Arianna Zapelloni Pavia highlight challenges of working with the American Academy’s Regia archives by looking closely at notebooks used by Brown and his students Mario Del Chiaro and Susan Downey. Excavation divided into nine areas called scompartimenti by Brown, and each area was recorded in idiosyncratic fashion. While Del Chiaro’s notebooks are heavily and helpfully illustrated, Brown’s are less so, and are written in both English and a somewhat peculiar Italian.

Next, the archaeology itself: F. Vincenzo Timpano reconstructs the stratigraphy and phasing of Brown’s fourth scompartimento, here called a settore, and comprising the Regia’s northeast corner. Here, Brown found postholes relating to huts preceding the Regia, as well as a circular stonemasonry feature interpreted as the sacrarium of Mars known to have been within the monument. Pointing to flakes of “tufo giallo della via Tiberina” beneath the altar’s “tufo del Palatino” slabs, Timpano downdates it to the Mid-Republic, though it may have incorporated an earlier altar, and he relates some of its features to libations for the festival of the October Equus.

Several contributions discuss materials now largely in the American Academy storerooms. Mattia D’Acri and Luca De Luca look at ceramics from the fourth settore, in particular providing an update on Archaic coarse wares. Carlo Regoli examines imported fine wares from the whole site, mostly Proto-Corinthian and Attic pottery along with South Etruscan imitations of the same; these sherds’ contexts are not discussed, but will be important moving forward, as this material often provides close dates. Desirè Di Giuliomaria discusses architectural terracottas in a chapter with a helpfully large number of illustrations. Discussion of the Archaic material is mostly limited to small refinements of Downey’s work; more important is the presentation of material of the third and second centuries, providing the first evidence of changes to the building’s decorative scheme during the middle Republic. The chapter also presents a marble head attributed to late Republican restorations; presumably, however, this was not architectural sculpture. A second paper by Timpano looks at the roofing system of the Archaic phases, relating tiles to the now-standard typology developed at Acquarossa. One eaves tile is marked with the letter ( koppa), perhaps part of an epigraphic system to facilitate installation. The volume closes with a chapter by Brocato and appendices by D’Acri, Anna Maria Verzini, and Martina Consentino on three contexts dating to Latial Periods II and III. These include two infant burials disturbed and redeposited during the building of the first Regia. The burials are closely contemporary to the huts beneath the Regia, suggesting the area formed part of an articulated Iron Age settlement prior to the Regia’s construction.

One observation on the division of labor: graduate students from the University of Michigan contribute papers on digitalization and archival methodologies, while Italian scholars and graduate students write on objects and stratigraphy. This is not the only place, of course, where we may observe a split between anglophones working on methods and Italians on materials. But the project’s collaboration presents excellent grounds for cross-fertilization in both directions. Such compartmentalization has not been the case so far with the editors’ work at Sant’Omobono, and one hopes it is not a lasting feature with the Regia project.

The volume is well-edited and, at fifteen euros, astonishingly well-priced. The trade-off is in quality, as my review copy’s binding is falling apart, and the sleeve containing the foldout plans has detached. There is the more serious problem that the print clarity of some figures is poor, which has rendered stratigraphic unit numbers on sectional drawings challenging to read.

The editors and contributors are to be applauded for their willingness to publish quickly and while work remains in progress. Meanwhile, the contributors have already started to build a new basis for understanding Rome’s Regia by drawing on current post-excavation methodologies and the latest research on various classes of material. The contours of a new history of this crucial monument start to emerge, while, at the very least, Brown’s chronology for the Regia’s early phases can no longer be accepted uncritically. Further publications by this group are eagerly anticipated.

Authors and titles

1. The Regia Revisited, Kim Bowes
2. Nuove ricerche sugli scavi dell’Accademia Americana alla Regia, Paolo Brocato and Nicola Terrenato
3. Digitization, Interpretation, and 3D Publicaiton of Brown’s Roman Regia Excavations, Matthew C. Naglak
4. Stratigraphic Evaluation and Reassessment of Brown’s Roman Regia Excavation, J. Troy Samuels and A. Zapelloni Pavia
5. Il settore 4 della Regia: analisi della sequenza stratigrafica, F. Vinzenco Timpano
6. Il settore 4 della Regia: I reperti ceramici, Mattia D’Acri and Luca De Luca
7. La ceramica d’importazione dagli scavi Brown: qualche anticipazione sulle ricerche in corso, Carlo Regoli
8. La decorazione architettonica della Regia, Desirè Di Giuliomaria
9. Per un riesame del sistema di copertura della Regia tra l’età arcaica ed alto repubblicana, F. Vincenzo Timpano
10. Alcuni contesti funerary dall’area della Regia, Paolo Brocato
11. Contesto A, Mattia D’Acri
12. Contesto B, Anna Maria Verzini
13. Contesto C, Martina Cosentino


1. F.E. Brown, “The Regia,” MAAR 12 (1935): 67-88.

2. “New soundings in the Regia. The evidence for the Early Republic,” in aa.vv. Les origines de la république romaine: neuf exposés suivis de discussions, Entretiens Fondation Hardt 12 (1967): 47-64; “La protostoria della Regia,” Atti della Pontificia accademia romana di archeologia. Rendiconti 47 (1974-5): 15-36.

3. S.B. Downey, 1995. Architectural Terracottas from the Regia, Papers and Monographs of the American Academy in Rome, vol. 30. Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan Press.

4. E. Carnabuci, 2012. Regia: nuovi dati archeologici dagli appunti inediti di Giacomo Boni. LTUR Suppl. 5. Rome, Quasar.

5. Cf. M. Fabbri, “La regia di Gabii nell’età dei Tarquini,” in P. Lulof and C.J. Smith, eds. The Age of Tarquinius Superbus: Central Italy in the late 6 th century BC. Leuven, Peeters. 2017: 225-39.