Archaeologists have just unearthed sumptuous Roman villas and barracks beneath the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome, which is known as the world’s very first cathedral.
According to the Telegraph, archaeologists had state of the art tools at their disposal on their mission and used laser instruments and potholing techniques to explore 30 feet below this cathedral and through numerous minuscule chambers and shafts.
The current basilica standing in this location in Rome was built in the 17th century, yet this one covers another basilica which dates all the way back to the 4th century AD which was built by the great Emperor Constantine, who had converted to the Christian faith in around 312 AD and proclaimed that Christianity was to be the one true religion of the Roman Empire going forward.
The 4th century AD basilica was piled on top of Roman barracks which, in turn, had been built over stunning Roman villas that had been painted with a multitude of colorful and inviting frescoes, some of which still today show signs of graffiti left behind by Roman soldiers.
One particularly interesting piece of graffiti involves scenes depicting an ostrich hunt, of the kind that would have normally been practiced in the Colosseum when gladiators not only fought each other but also went up against wild beasts and even ostriches.
Reinforces what my guide in Rome said: they can't build an underground system because every time they dig down they find more treasures! British archaeologists explore hidden world of Roman ruins beneath the world’s first cathedral https://t.co/Q6oxTwUKmP via @telegraphnews
— Anglo-Italian FHS (@OurItalianRoots) December 27, 2018
One of the birds pictured in the graffiti didn’t have much luck and lost its head, and it is believed that this may be a humorous depiction of Emperor Commodus, who had a rather high opinion of himself and who was reportedly renowned for fighting animals in the Colosseum.
Discussing exploration of the Roman barracks and villas beneath the cathedral of the Basilica of St John Lateran, Professor Ian Haynes of The Lateran Project described how profoundly difficult it was to navigate through the many narrow and dark passageways beneath it.
“Some of the areas we explored were very difficult to access – dark passageways where you’re working on your stomach. Getting the laser scanners into position in such narrow, confined spaces is complicated. In some places, it was necessary to rotate the teams on a half-hourly basis because otherwise it just becomes stifling.”
The barracks discovered beneath the cathedral were once called New Fort, or Castra Nova, and were exceedingly large, housing not only hundreds of Roman soldiers but also their horses.
The archaeological team responsible for discovering the barracks and villas beneath the world’s first cathedral have also created 3D digital reconstructions of what life may have been like here in Roman times, and there is no doubt still a great deal left to discover at this ancient site.