Italian archeologists have uncovered the ruins of a 2,700 year old sanctuary which they say provides the first physical evidence of Rome at the time of Numa Pompilius, Rome’s legendary second king, in the 8th century BC.
Numa Pompilius, a member of the Sabine tribe, was elected at the age of forty to succeed Romulus, the founder of Rome. He reigned from 715-673 BC, and is said by Plutarch to have been a reluctant monarch who ushered in a 40-year period of peace and stability. He was celebrated for his wisdom, personal austerity and piety.
Clementina Panella, the archeologist from Rome’s Sapienza University who is leading the dig, said Numa Pompilius was also known to have established religious practices and observance in the emergent city state, instituting the office of priest or pontifex and founding the cult of the Vestal Virgins. She said the temple or sanctuary her team had uncovered lay between the Palatine and Velian hills, close to the Colosseum, the Arch of Titus and Via Sacra, and had probably been dedicated to the Goddess of Fortune.
The dig began a year ago, with the help of 130 students and volunteers. The wall of the temple was found seven metres below the surface, together with a street and pavement and two wells, one round and one rectangular. Both wells were “full of thousands of votive offerings and cult objects”, including the bones of birds and animals and ceramic bowls and cups.
Dr Panella said there was no doubt that the objects dated from the period of Numa Pompilius. However there were no statues or figures because Numa forbade images of the gods in his temples, arguing that it was “impious to represent things Divine by what is perishable”.
Numa Pompilius is also credited with dividing Rome into administrative districts, and according to Plutarch organised the city’s first occupational guilds, “forming companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters”.
Corriere della Sera said the unearthing of the temple proved there were still “remarkable discoveries” to be made in the Forum and Palatine Hill areas. Last year Andrea Carandini, Professor of Archeology at La Sapienza, announced that he had discovered the remains of a royal palace dating to the time of Romulus.
He said the palace, built around a courtyard, had a monumental entrance and ornate furniture and tiles, and was ten times the size of ordinary homes of the period.
Also last year Dr Panella, who has been excavating in the Forum for twenty years, discovered a sceptre which belonged to Emperor Maxentius, who ruled for six years until 312AD — towards the end of the Roman state.
Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the battle on the Milvian bridge against his brother-in-law, Constantine, who attributed his victory over Maxentius to divine intervention and converted the Roman empire to Christianity.
Maxentius’s supporters are thought to have hidden the sceptre after the defeat. It was found wrapped in silk and linen in a wooden box together with battle standards and lance heads.