Radboud University archeologists find remarkable inscription on the Via Appia in Rome

Date of news: 17 August 2022

During excavations by Radboud University on the Via Appia in Rome, a remarkable inscription was discovered. It is the inscription that belonged to one of the funerary monuments on which the research of the Nijmegen archaeologists is focused. The fieldwork campaign (14 July to 11 August) was carried out by twelve students from Radboud University under the direction of Prof. Stephan Mols and Dr Christel Veen. The Italian newspaper Il Messaggero and TV channel TGCOM24also mentioned the news!

The discovery was already made in August 2019, at the end of the annual excavation campaign, and was then covered up again because the monumental marble block could not be preserved due to the holiday period. Two following campaigns could not take place due to corona, but this month the block will be transferred to the museum of the nearby Villa of the Quintili.

Gaius Atius or son

The inscription in Latin indicates that Gaius Atius was buried here, or his son of the same name. Both were relatives of the mother of the later Emperor Augustus (emperor from 27 BC to 14 AD) and thus belonged to the Roman elite. We also know Gaius Senior from other sources, namely from passages by Caesar and Cicero. He was an ally of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great), who had earlier formed the first triumvirate with Gaius Iulius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus, known from history lessons. In 48 BC Caesar and Pompey faced each other in a civil war. After the successful outcome of this war for Caesar he pardoned Gaius Atius senior, according to his own words. We do not know Gaius Atius junior from any other source.

Text of the inscription

The inscription is on a large white marble block measuring 60 x 59.5 x 29.5 cm. It reads:

G(aius) ATIUS G(aii) F(ilius) HOR(atia tribu)
CIMINA TR(ibunus) MIL(itum)
ARICIAE DICT(ator) AED(ilis) Q(uaestor)


Many details

The inscription gives details about the deceased, Gaius Atius, the son of Gaius, who held various positions in the army as well as in politics. The inscription shows his career in reverse order. He was quaestor (an administrative starting position) and aedilis (a kind of mayor). He later held the office of dictator of the city of Aricia, today's Ariccia, situated on the Via Appia, not far from Rome. At the end of his life, he was a legionary officer. He also had another connection with the city of Aricia, as can be seen from the abbreviation HOR by his name, which indicates the origin of his family from that city. The relatively short career seems to point towards Gaius Atius junior rather than senior.


Via Appia

The monumental tumulus where the inscription was found has in recent centuries been linked to the earliest history of Rome. The monument is located in the research area of the Nijmegen archaeologists, the fifth and sixth mile of the Via Appia, which starts about 7.5 kilometres from the beginning of the road at the Circus Maximus in the current city centre of Rome. Near the monumental tumuli, a conflict between Rome and the neighbouring city of Alba Longa is said to have been fought out in the seventh century BC. The battle was settled by having two triplets fight each other, the Roman Horatii and the Curiatii from Alba Longa. Of the six young men, only one survived the battle: one of the Horatii, making Rome victorious. The bodies of his brothers are said to have been buried in two graves on the site of the battle. In the 19th century, it was claimed that the two tumuli were the graves of these two brothers. In the 20th century, however, it was stated that the tumuli are not real graves, but memorials erected under Emperor Augustus to commemorate the mythical battle between Rome and Alba Longa.


Ten years of research and excavation have yielded many insights into the monuments in the Nijmegen research area. The importance of the monumental inscription is the confirmation that the burial mound where it was found is not a memorial, but a grave for a person who actually lived, i.e. a historical person. A grave inscription was also found near the northern burial mound, which shows that this too is a real grave from the late Roman Republic or early Augustan period, i.e. from the last decades of the first century BC.

The excavation is part of the research project Mapping The Via Appia, which has been investigating a part of the Via Appia near Rome since 2009. In cooperation with the Parco Archeologico dell'Appia Antica, a two-kilometre area is being mapped as completely as possible. Participating Dutch partners are the Radboud University, the SPINLab of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the Royal Netherlands Institute Rome. The fieldwork campaign of 2022 was carried out by twelve students (Bachelor’s Classical Languages and Cultures, Bachelor’s History, Master’s History, Educational Master’s History) from Radboud University under the supervision of Prof. Stephan Mols and Dr Christel Veen.

Also interested in excavations?

Are you interested in excavating Roman remains in Italy? This is possible within the framework of your Master's degree in Antiquity Studies or History (Ancient and Medieval Mediterranean Worlds: free space) or other study programmes with a component from the Bachelor's programme in Greek and Latin Language and Culture (for example the minor Cultural Heritage and Public (Dutch only) with a disciplinary package GLTC/Classical Culture) at Radboud University.