Villa dei Papiri

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Villa dei Papiri
Plan of the Villa dei Papiri

The Villa dei Papiri ( Italian for "Villa of the Papyri") or Pisonenvilla is a large Roman villa complex near Herculaneum . The villa was discovered in 1750 by the Swiss archaeologist Karl Weber . It got its name from the scrolls found there, one of the few finds in a library from Roman times.

Plant and owner

Replica of the Villa dei Papiri in Los Angeles, view of the main building from the large peristyle

The villa is located about 250 m northwest of the ancient city. Further excavations showed that the villa had four terraced floors on the sea side. Numerous bronze works of art were found in the villa, which are now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum .

Only guesses can be made about the owners of the villa. The villa was probably built in the 1st century BC. Built by Lucius Calpurnius Piso , who is known as Gaius Julius Caesar's father-in-law (according to another opinion, the builder was Appius Claudius Pulcher , consul in 38 BC).

The 253 x 32 m villa was once located directly on the sea. The building complex was distributed over various terraces, which were mainly oriented towards the sea and ensured an ideal view of it. The entrance was probably on the opposite side of the sea. Here is an atrium that leads into a small peristyle . To the left there is a tablinum and living rooms, to the right is the library. From the tablinum one arrives at another peristyle, which is about 100 m long and 37 m wide. It is adorned by 25 × 100 columns and has a 66 m long pool in the middle.

The remains of the villa are not accessible today. A replica of the villa was built in Los Angeles for the J. Paul Getty Museum , the so-called Getty Villa .

Library and papyrus scrolls

Apart from the size of the complex, the archaeological importance of the Villa dei Papiri lies in the library excavated there , in which the Herculaneum papyri were found. It is the only library that has survived in Italy from Roman times.

The charred remains of around 1800 papyrus rolls from a Greek library lay in a 3 by 3 meter room . They were stored in wooden shelves in the center of the room and along the walls. The book collection - apparently a special library - contained works by Epicurus (342 / 41–271 / 70 BC) and his students numerous writings by the Epicurean philosopher Philodemos of Gadara (1st century BC). It has been assumed that it is the personal library of Philodemos, who is known to have stayed in the region. Since younger Greek and some Latin papyri have been found in other rooms of the villa , it can be assumed that the large, richly furnished villa also had the usual Greek and Latin library.

When Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, the papyrus scrolls were carbonized by heat and buried under ashes, which meant that they were preserved, but in a very poor condition. Today the scrolls are kept in the National Library in Naples . Since their discovery, efforts have been made to carefully wind up the baked and compressed rolls and make them legible again as much as possible. First attempts to open the rolls led to the destruction of the specimens in question. Progress was only made through a process invented by Antonio Piaggio , a Piarist monk at the Vatican Library .

Padre Antonio Piaggio

First editions with copperplate facsimile and transcription of the texts appeared from 1793: Herculanensium Voluminum quae supersunt Collectio prior (1793–1855), Collectio altera (1862–1876). A facsimile edition of the fragments appeared in two volumes in 1824/25 (Hayter, Oxford).

In recent years, multispectral and photomicrographs have been made of a large number of the manuscripts . The data obtained in this way should also be made available online in the foreseeable future.

The work of making the papyri legible and the philogical processing is continued today by various institutions and international projects. This includes:

  • Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli (owner of the papyri since 1910)
  • Centro Internazionale per lo Studio dei Papiri Ercolanesi "Marcello Gigante"
  • Center for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) at Brigham Young University, Utah
  • Philodemos Project of UCLA , California under the direction of David Blank

Statue decoration

Seleucus I , bronze bust
Dancer from the Villa dei Papiri

There were also more than eighty sculptures in the villa. Most of them are copies of Greek works. The head of the polycletic Doryphoros (signed by the Athenian Apollonios ) and an Amazon of Phidias should be emphasized . There are still numerous portrait busts, including those of Epicurus , Hermarch , Zenon and Demosthenes . There are also portraits of numerous rulers in marble and bronze, although these are only Greeks, never portraits of Romans. In addition to these well-known personalities, there are bronze figures of a satyr, Hermes, two wrestling statues and five bronze figures of girls.


The first excavation initiated by King Karl by Karl Weber took place from 1750 to 1765. The villa, which was covered by around 20 to 30 m of volcanic mud, was explored through tunnel systems. Since the tunnels were filled in again, the findings and findings obtained at that time remained the basis for further exploration of the villa.

Only after several years of preparation was it rediscovered on October 16, 1986 and re-entered via tunnel. After other parts of the villa had been found again via other tunnels, the Italian Ministry of Culture declared the villa and the excavation tunnels that had been preserved from the 18th century to be state property in 1990. Subsequently, the commissioned company Infratecna excavated the villa from 1994 to 1998.

Another, more extensive excavation was started in 2007 by the Soprintendenza speciale per i beni archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia.


Web links

Commons : Villa dei Papiri (Herculaneum)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Antonio de Simone: Rediscovering the Villa of the Papyri . In: Mantha Zarmakoupi (Ed.): The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. Archeology, Reception, and Digital Reconstruction , 2010, pp. 1–20, here: pp. 1–5

Coordinates: 40 ° 48 ′ 26.8 ″  N , 14 ° 20 ′ 40.9 ″  E