Janiculum Mills Excavations

Roman water-mills on the Janiculum Hill, Rome


At the invitation of the American Academy in Rome, and with the kind permission of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma, a 5-week excavation season was undertaken in June and July 1998 to investigate the Aqua Traiana and a large Roman water-mill complex in the Academy's parking lot, on the Janiculum Hill in Rome. The 1998 season was funded by the American Academy, the Packard Foundation and the Craven Committee of Oxford University. The mills were already known from observations by R. Lanciani in the 1880s, and from small-scale rescue excavations by Prof. Malcolm Bell during the laying of electricity and gas lines in the Via Medici in 1990 and 1991.

The project continued with an excavation season from 27th June to 30th July, 1999, funded by the American Academy, the Packard Foundation, the Oppenheim Foundation, and the Craven Committee of Oxford University. Excavations have now ceased and the project is being written up; a preliminary report (in Italian) appeared in the magazine Forma Urbis  in February 2000, and an interim report (in English) will appear in Memoirs of the American Academy 45 (2001).
Rodolfo Lanciani's sketch of remains of the mill complex seen during road construction in 1886. The sketch shows the Aqua Traiana with two mill races running parallel to it; a series of chambers next to the north (top) mill race are the rooms which originally housed the sets of millstones.

It was clear from these investigations that the complex consisted of several mill-wheels installed in two mill-races parallel to the main channel of the Aqua Traiana, and that the complex extended below the Academy's car park, but the size of the complex was unknown. Because of the comparative rarity of known archaeological remains of multiple water-mill installations, and the evident importance of the mills on the Janiculum in antiquity, attested by literary and epigraphic references (CIL VI.1711; Regionary Catalogues; Prudentius, Contra Symmachum II.948-50; Procopius Wars V.xix.8-9), further investigation was desirable. In addition, the tentative dating evidence recovered by Prof. Bell suggested a possible link between the construction of the mills and the reorganisation of the annona in the early third century AD, whereby the state shifted from handouts of grain to distribution of baked bread, and therefore had to assume the responsibility of grinding the grain (Bell 1992, 1994). Further dating evidence was required, however, to confirm this hypothesis.
The north millrace of the mills and its return back towards the Aqua Traiana. On the right hand side is a pit for the gear wheels to mesh in, and a marble bearing block to support one end of the axle of a mill wheel. (Photo: M. Bell)


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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 )