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?
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)