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Casale, Sicily. 17B. A Roman villa of the Late Empire, ca. 3 km SW of the Norman city from which the site takes its name. The site is at the foot of a semicircular plateau on the slope of the valley and overlooks the left bank of a stream that flows into the Gela river. The villa was reached from the S by a secondary road off the main route between Catana and Agrigentum in the statio of Philosophiana (Soffiana).

Now completely excavated, the villa was built in accordance with a well-defined plan within the great walls of the aqueducts to the E and NW and the walls flanking the approach to the magnificent triple-arched entrance. The main villa consisted of four groups of rooms with galleries, peristyles, courtyards, and baths. Overall, it is a remarkable complex of buildings, asymmetrical and oddly planned, with the predilection for exedral cavities so dear to the Late Imperial period. Each of the four major sections is easily distinguishable by the differences in level overcome by flights of steps, for the villa abounded in terraces imposed by the nature of the terrain.

From the porticoed polygon of the entrance one descends to the lower terraces where stand a great porticoed latrine and the principal nucleus of the baths, with the gymnasium and the tepidarium in the style of an atrium, apsidal at both ends, and the frigidarium. Octagonal, with the swimming pools and large niches disposed on a curve and thrusting outwards, bulwarked by sturdy supporting pylons, the whole scheme recalls the well-known type of the so-called temple of Minerva Medica in Rome.

On the middle terrace, to the E of the baths and the atrium of the entrance stands the rectangular peristyle, which, with its rooms to the N and S, comprises the second section. Its columns, with Corinthian capitals typical of the end of the 3d c. A.D., were nearly all found lying on the ground. To the S of the peristyle on a higher terrace rises the third group of buildings, erected round an oval court—a xystus—flanked on either of its long sides by three small rooms. Its W end is an immense semicircular apse formerly colonnaded, with large niches and an external buttressed polygonal wall. Facing the apse on the E stood a huge trichora hall, the majestic triclinium. In the fourth group of buildings, together with the private apartments on the E side of the central peristyle, there is a large apsidal basilica, accessible from a majestic corridor, apsidal at both ends and serving as a chalcidicum or narthex.

The connected architectural structure of this splendid Late Roman Imperial Villa has precedents in other Imperial constructions with similar planimetry and arrangements of rooms. Its structural and architectural plan is substantially a rational development of the Domus Flavia on the Palatine and the Villa of Domitian at Castel Gandolfo, both in its concentration and in the distribution of groups of buildings over a large area.

The attribution of the villa to Tetrarchic times is based primarily on the fact that ceramics of light-colored clay characteristic of the 3d c. A.D. have been found below the mosaic pavements in all sectors where their removal was necessary for consolidation. Coins also were found, mostly of the type of the Antoniniani that span the period from Gallienus to Probus; and an Antoninianus of Maximianus Herculeus was found under the marble threshold of the SE apodyterium of the frigidarium. The attribution also takes into account the stylistic evidence of the mosaics and data which includes, for example, a comparison of the reliefs of the base of the Decennalia in the Roman Forum and those of the Arch of Galerius at Salonika with the watercolors left by Wilkinson of the Tetrarchic paintings of the Temple of the Imperial Cult in the Roman camp at Luxor.

In the richness of its marble columns, the rare and precious marbles that must originally have covered the walls of the rooms, the opus sectile of the Basilica, and the sheer magnificence of the mosaic pavement, extending for over 3500 sq. m, it can be compared to the splendors of Hadrian's villa at Tivoli or Diocletian's Palace at Split, which was apparently contemporary. The mosaics are for the most part large pictures designed by artists of remarkable talent to provide accent for the vast spaces of the rooms. They were undoubtedly executed by experienced master mosaicists from North Africa in a style expressive even today of a mood at times rash and bloody and at times veiled with sadness. The style reflects the grandiose art of the post-Severan period as exemplified by the athletes of the Baths of Caracalla, and certain aesthetic phenomena under Gallienus, influenced perhaps by theories of Plotinus. The mosaics appear to be a natural blending of these elements with stylistic components of the expressionistic and baroque art of the Tetrarchy. This style preceded the flowering of the classicizing renaissance under Constantine, to which period the mosaic of a mutatio vestis in the exedra of the frigidarium may be ascribed. The mosaics preceded the more mature and fluid style that appeared in the Theodosian period.

In the four sections of the villa described above, the major mosaics are: 1) in the bath complex, Chariot Race in the Circus Maximus; and in the vestibule to the bath complex from the living quarters, Domina with Her Children and Servants Entering the Baths; 2) in the peristyle, Beasts and Birds; in the tablinum that precedes the peristyle, Adventus; in the rooms off the peristyle, Small Hunt, Orpheus, Girl Gymnasts; 3) in the three apses of the triclinium, Labors of Hercules, Lycurgus and Ambrosia; 4) in the apsidal corridor preceding the large basilica, the celebrated Great Hunt; in the rooms on either side of the basilica, Polyphemus and Odysseus, Four Seasons, Little Circus, Pan and Eros, Arion on the Dolphin. Taken together the mosaics constitute in their complexity one of the major galleries of figurative art from the ancient world.


G. V. Gentili, NSc 4 (1951) 332ff with bibliography; id., “I mosaici della villa romana del Casale di Piazza Armerina,” BdA (1952) 33ff; id., La villa imperiale di Piazza Armerina (Itinerari di musei e monumenti d' Italia, 1956); id., “Le gare del circo nel mosaico di Piazza Armerina,” BdA (1957) 23ff; id., La villa erculia di Piazza Armerina. I mosaici figurati (1959); Enciclopedia Italiana 3 (1961) 418f (G. V. Gentili); EAA 6 (1965) 146-54; B. Pace, “Note su una villa romana presso Piazza Armerina,” RendLinc 5 (1951); id., I mosaici di Piazza Armerina (1955); H. P. L'Orange & E. Dyggve, “É un palazzo di M. Erculeo che gli scavi da Piazza Armerina portano alla luce?” SimbOslo 29 (1952) 114; L'Orange, “Aquileja e Piazza Armerina,” Studi Aquilejesi (1953) 185ff; id., “The Adventus Ceremony and the Slaying of Pentheus as Represented in Two Mosaics of about A.D. 300,” Late Classical and Medieval Studies in Honor of A. M. Friend (1955) 13ff; id., “Il Palazzo di Massimiano Erculeo di Piazza Armerina,” Studi in onore di A. Calderini e R. R. Paribeni (1956) 593ff; id., Likeness and Icon (1974); S. Mazzarino, “Sull'otium di M. Erculeo dopo l'abdicazione,” RendLinc (1953) 417ff; G. Giannelli & S. Mazzarino, Trattato di storia romana, II (1956) 417-578; N. Neuerburg, “Some Considerations on the Architecture of the Imperial Villa at Piazza Armenina,” Marsyas 8 (1957/59) 22-29PI; G. Manganaro, “Aspetti Pagani dei Mosaici di Piazza Armerina,” ArchCl 11 (1959) 242ff; G. C. Picard, “Mosaiques africaines de III siecle ap. F.C.,” RA (1960) II, 38; N. Duval, “Que savons-nous du palais de Theodoric à Ravenne?” MélRome 72 (1960) 370; M. Cagiano de Azevedo, “I proprietari della villa di Piazza Armenina,” Scritti in onore di M. Salmi (1961); A. Ragona, Un sicuro punto di partenza per la datazione dei mosaici della villa romana di Piazza Armerina (1961); id., Il proprietario della villa romana di Piazza Armerina (1962); I. Lavin, “The house of the Lord . . . ,” AB (1962) 1ff; G. Lugli, “Contributo alla storia edilizia alla villa romana di Piazza Armenina,” RivIstArch 11-12 (1963) 28-82; A. Carandini, “Richerche sullo stile e la cronologia dei mosaici della villa di Piazza Armerina,” Studi Miscellanei dell'Istituto di Archeologia 7 (1964); M. L. Rinaldi, “Il costume romano e i mosaici di Piazza Armerina,” RivIstArch 13-14 (1964-65) 200-62; W. Dorigo, Pittura Tardoromana (1966) 129-65; H. Kaehler, “La villa di Massenzio a Piazza Armerina,” Acta Inst. Norvegiae 4 (1969); id., Die Villa des Maxentius bei Piazza Armerina [Monumenta artis Romanae, 12] (1973).


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