A Roman Villa (Part 2)

Excavators slowly unearthed the mysterious mansion and the basilica of Carranque, Spain. Meanwhile, Dimas Fernandez-Galiano, the head archaeologist, worked in the National Library digging up information on Maternus Cynegius, its possible owner. He found some juicy facts.

In the Consularia Constantinopolitana, a kind of almanaque of imperial events, there was an obituary of Maternus Cynegius, Theodosius’ General Prefect. “He restored to all the provinces, affected by long years of ruin, their pristine state and travelled as far as Egypt, where he destroyed the idols of all the towns and cities. And it was from there, amid the general grief of the people that his body was brought to this city [Constantinople] and buried in the Church of the Apostles on the nineteenth of March, 388. After a year his bereaved widow Acantia disenterred his remains and took them on foot to Spain.”

The Church of the Apostles! What an honor! Only emperors were buried there. Why did his wife have him removed from such a prestigious grave? Why did she take him back to Spain? And where in Spain?

Dimas checked other sources. Libanius, a great enemy of Maternus, complained in his Pro Templis about his cruelty and lack of foresight in destroying the pagan temples of Egypt. “Cynegius was a slave to his terrible wife Acantia,” said Libanius. “She was a religious fanatic, a friend of radical monks. And she put her husband up to much of the evil that he did.” He hates Cynegius: “He was hostile to the very country where he was born….”

Maternus Cynegius was born in the Orient? He wasn’t a Spaniard? Then why did his wife go to the trouble—and some trouble! —of disenterring his body from the greatest tomb imaginable, and of carrying it thousands of miles “on foot” to Spain?

Dimas was worried. This was a real setback for his Maternus Cynegius theory. If Theodosius’ Prefect Maternus Cynegius wasn’t born in Spain and died in Syria, then he couldn’t be the owner of the villa in Carranque. There would be no reason for him to have anything to do with Spain.

He left the library reading room and went down to the cafeteria to mull everything over. He couldn’t get the woman out of his mind—Acantia, the wife and religious fanatic….. Suddenly he had an idea: what if she were Spanish? What if after her husband’s death Acantia decided to leave the Orient which she perhaps hated as much as it hated her, and go back to good old Spain, along with her dead husband. To hell with the East and all its Byzantine hypocrisy!

Next he remembered the bedroom portrait of a lady. The mosaic on the bedroom floor of the villa in Carranque had as its center the picture of a woman. Could that have been Acantia?

Mosaic Acantia Carranque
At the entrance to the room, like a kind of welcome mat, were the words: Enjoy this room, Maternus. Could the entire mansion have been a gift from Acantia?

Meanwhile the excavators kept handing Dimas their puzzling findings. Take this one: The mansion was built on top of an older, much more modest, villa. It was constructed all at once according to one clear general plan, without regard to expense. There were mosaic floors in all the rooms, most of them with pictures of mythological scenes. At least two different teams of foreign craftsmen had worked at the same time to lay them. There was running water and a heating system (hypocaustum) for several of the rooms; a fountain with the beautiful image of Oceanus; a patio; an octagonal triclinium or dining room with heated walls and a high dome; servants’ quarters. The furniture was imported from the East. BUT THE HOUSE WAS NEVER INHABITED.

And it was becoming more and more obvious as the digging went on that the huge basilica, just four hundred yards away, was built at the same time as the mansion—AND AS PART OF THE SAME GENERAL PLAN.
The basilica was built solidly on great granite foundation stones. The walls were covered with costly marble imported from Asia Minor. A long colonnade led up to the door of the basilica and the columns bore inscriptions from Emperor Theodosius’ own Eastern quarries in Egypt and Greece.
The church was surrounded with graves, beginning in late Roman times. Burial seems to have been its purpose. It was a good guess that the whole complex was conceived as a mausoleum/cemetery for some great personage or saint. Who? Maternus Cynegius?


Back to A Roman Villa (Part1)

This entry was posted in archaeology, books, Christianity, history, religion, sanctuary, Spain, Toledo and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Roman Villa (Part 2)

  1. erikatakacs says:

    Well, novels should be read as fiction, and not as source of history. People should know that. I wouldn’t blame him for that. But this is an entirely different subject, I didn’t want to sidetrack your post. I was strictly referring to your style.

  2. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Erika. I read his bestseller and admired all the ingenuity in it but I was shocked at the way he messed with history. Somebody as knowledgeable as he is ought to be more responsible. He mis-educated a lot of people, all to make a good read.

  3. erikatakacs says:

    Swallows, sometimes I wonder whether you’re Dan Brown in disguise. :) Your storytelling is so like his. And I mean that in a good way, because not everybody is his fan. I enjoyed it, good read.

  4. 100swallows says:

    Danu: There is no sign of wear in the mosaics or the pieces of furniture that have been found (their feet, for instance). The ovens which heat the hypocaustum have not been used much, the mosaics look the same (except for some places where the ground has risen) as the day they were laid. Take the mosaics on the steps: just a few years of treading would wear those down fast, in a very visible and predictable way.
    Old houses always show repairs and additions. Here there are none. The painting on the walls is the first and last coat.

    You are a lucky dog to have worked with a good arky. You have done about everything, Danu!
    I know what you mean about fabulation. The arkies, though they spend their time being scientific, often come up with the damnedest fantasies. Of course I’m just as bad or worse. Thanks about the “grace”.

  5. ivdanu says:

    As a history student I did one summer of archaeological practice. With one of our professors (Branga, specialist in the roman antiquity) we, the students, did unveil a villa rustica somewhere near the old town of Sibiu (Cibinium in latin). I have learn as much: usually, newer buildings are built OVER old one. Strata after strata of habitations, like the layers in a cake…Nothing surprising in that…

    And how can anyone say that construction was never inhabitated? How can we know really what and how it happened a few thousands years ago, or a few hundreds when it is SO DIFFICULT to know what happended yesterday? Witnesses are way uncertain, material findings are interpretable (either way) and the only thing we can do is FABULATE? You do it with grace, anyway, swallows, and si non e verro e ben trovato…

  6. Pingback: A Roman Villa (Part I) « Great Names in History

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