Janiculum Mills Excavations 1998

Byzantine Blocking of the Aqua Traiana - Belisarius and the Goths?


Blocking of the Aqua Traiana within the mill, by Byzantine forces defending Rome during the Gothic siege of A.D. 537. Re-used architectural blocks have been deliberately laid in the channel.


Water continued to flow through the Aqua Traiana, however, and to drive other mills further downstream on the Janiculum until AD 537, as Procopius (Wars V.xix.8 ff.) says that when the Goths cut the aqueducts during the siege of Rome in that year, the greatest problem it caused for the besieged populace was that the mills on the Janiculum were no longer able to function. Procopius also records that the after the Goths had rendered the aqueducts useless, the Byzantine commander, Belisarius, 'blocked each of the aqueducts as securely as possible with masonry for a considerable distance, so that nobody could get in through them from outside to do harm.' We recovered striking archaeological confirmation of this in the form of many large blocks of masonry and re-used architectural and sculptural fragments, associated with sixth-century pottery, which had been deliberately pitched into the channel of the aqueduct where it was accessible within the mill. These were placed in too regular a fashion to represent collapse of a structure above the channel, yet they were not mortared together and cannot therefore have been intended to block the flow of water in the channel; the use of spolia is a further pointer to the hasty nature of the work. The interpretation of this as the blocking of the aqueduct on Belisarius' orders in March 537 therefore seems secure, and we are fortunate to have found the physical trace of a closely identifiable event in the history of the city.
Sculpture recovered from the blocked aqueduct: originally a herm of Miltiades, it was later re-worked as a draped female portrait bust.

Among the spolia removed from the blocking was a headless herm, originally inscribed [Mi]ltiadhc, but recut in late antiquity as a draped female bust with a new head (also lost) inserted.


Next Previous Home

Go to:

Other Links:

Andrew Wilson

The American Academy in Rome

Dr Andrew Wilson

University Lecturer in Roman Archaeology
Institute of Archaeology
36 Beaumont St
Last updated: 12/03/2001

By: Andrew Wilson ( andrew.wilson@archaeology.ox.ac.uk )