VENTOTENE: STATUE RECOVERY FROM THE ROMAN FISHPOND (2008)
The small island of Ventotene (less than 3 km long), is located 45 km off the Italian mainland in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The island became imperial property under Augustus and construction of a villa on the island was initiated shortly before Augustus’ daughter, Julia the Elder, was exiled there in the first century BC. After this, Ventotene became a popular destination for imperial exiles. Tiberius banished his grand-niece Agrippina the Elder (wife of Germanicus, mother of Caligula) in 29 AD; Julia Livilla, youngest daughter of Agrippina, was sent to the island, followed by (in 62 AD) Claudia Octavia, the first wife of Nero , who was subsequently executed there. Due to the social status of these upper-class inmates, the island underwent a major architectonic transformation: a large and elegantly decorated imperial villa was built on the northern promontory of “Punta Eolo,” a harbor was carved into the rock, a complex system of cisterns was designed to provide fresh water, and a monumental fishpond was built.
The fishpond, located on the northwest of the island at the extremity named Punta di Terra, was part of a large imperial maritime complex. Archaeological remains indicate an Augustan date for the initial construction. Carving saltwater pools into the rocks adjoining maritime villas and farming edible fish seems to have been a fashion among the Roman elite, promoting a taste for fresh saltwater fish.
In June 2008, ProMare sponsored the Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici del Lazio’s work in recovering the only remaining statue from Ventotene’s fishpond. The statue represents a Roman magistrate wearing a toga with the box containing the law scrolls to his right, carved from a single block of white marble (1.60 m tall and 0.70 m wide). The back of the statue is flat and purposely left unfinished, suggesting that it was originally placed against a wall, and might have fallen from one of the terraced upper rooms of the villa. The subject depicted might have been ideologically linked with the function of the villa as a place of political exile. Stylistically, it dates between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D. The artifact is currently being conserved at the local archaeological museum.