Prince's Palace Found in Volcanic Crater

The residence of Sextus Tarquinius, the prince who sparked the revolt that led to the foundation of the Roman Republic, may have been found.

THE GIST:

- The remains of an ancient palace have been found 12 miles outside of Rome.

- The palace likely belonged to the Etruscan prince Sextus Tarquinius and dates back to the sixth century B.C.

The remains of what might have been the residence of the Etruscan prince Sextus Tarquinius, son of the last legendary king of Rome Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud), have been found on the slopes of an extinct volcanic crater about 12 miles from Rome, Italian archaeologists have announced.

The palace was discovered on the site of the ancient acropolis of Gabii, where, according to legend, Rome's mythical founders, Romulus and Remus, were educated. The building dates to the sixth century B.C and boasts the highest intact walls from the period ever found in Italy, standing at around 6.56 feet high.

"The dig has shown that the richly decorated monumental roof was dismantled, and the building filled with rubble. This has been a blessing, since it has allowed the palace to remain virtually intact," archaeologist Marco Fabbri of Rome's Tor Vergata University, told Discovery News.

Fabbri and colleagues from Rome's Archaeological Superintendency believe that the residence was furiously demolished, probably during the Roman revolt in 510 B.C. that ultimately led to the foundation of the Roman Republic.

The ongoing excavation has so far unearthed three, disconnected rooms which most likely opened onto a porticoed area.

Under the building's exceptionally well-preserved floor slabs, eight round cells contained the remains of five stillborn babies.

"We hope to unearth the rest of the residence this spring. In particular, we are looking to piece together the richly decorated roof," Fabbri said.

A terracotta fragment of the roof has already been found. It features the image of the Minotaur, an emblem of the Tarquins.

"It's a strong piece of evidence to support the hypothesis that the edifice was built for the Tarquin family," Fabbri said.

Indeed, the archaeologists do not rule out the hypothesis that the building was home to generations of Tarquins, and believe its last occupant was Sextus Tarquinius.

The son of Rome's last king, the despotic Tarquinius Superbus, Sextus Tarquinius is notorious for having raped Lucretia, the virtuous wife of his cousin Tarquinius Collatinus.

The Roman historian Livy (Titus Livius), who lived 59 B.C.-A.D. 17, recounts that Lucretia, "overcome with sorrow and shame," stabbed herself after the attack. Her death sparked the revolt that put to an end the kingship of Tarquin the Proud and Sextus Tarquinius' life.

"The people of Gabii murdered Sextus after he entered the town. It is not a coincidence that the lavish building is intentionally destroyed around this time," Fabbri said.

According to Nicola Terrenato, professor of classical archaeology at the University of Michigan, there is no doubt that the ruins belonged to the cultural context of the late, archaic king-cum-tyrants in central Italy.

"Even if the precise attribution was not 100 percent correct, this would not detract much from the scholarly value of this wonderful discovery," Terrenato, who currently heads another Gabii archaeological project, told Discovery News.

"Gabii's archaeological potential is enormous. It is one of the largest cities in Latium, and it is completely unencumbered by later buildings. When one thinks that what has been excavated yet is far less than 10 percent of the city, it is clear that many more surprises are in store," Terrenato said.