Project Description

Underground Rome: The Sepulcher of the Scipios on the Via Appia

The Sepulcher of the Scipios is a smallish underground site that sits between the Via Appia and the Via Latina. Now, that might not mean much to you, but it said a lot to Romans at the beginning of the 3rd century B.C.! After all, the Via Appia had just been inaugurated as a major “highway” and was famous. So, property values near it skyrocketed. And, as a result, this was prime real-estate for a family tomb. But the Scipios didn’t mind the expense. It only brought their blue-blooded family more prestige.

inside the sepulcher of the scipios

Disappointingly, the Sepulcher does not host famous war-hero Scipio Africanus. (He was most likely buried at his country estate in Liternum.) But it does host several generations of his relatives and descendants. For the most part, the Scipios’ tombs have been looted, and their inscriptions destroyed. So, for example, you’ll have to go to the Vatican Museums for the Tomb of Scipio Barbatus. Yet the tombs and inscriptions that have survived are fantastic “photographs” of the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C. On one hand, they document the Scipios’ political achievements. On the other, they capture general changes in Roman culture and language during the Republic.

Changes over the Centuries…

Several hundred years later, the prime real-estate that the Scipios had invested in went to Hades in a hand-basket! First, a group of liberti (ex-slaves) bought property right next-door. (The nerve!) And then they had their columbarium built there. (It is seen in the picture.) A columbarium was an underground, promiscuous, and high-density solution to the problem of exorbitant burial costs. (And although the Scipios will protest, we’ll visit the columbarium after their Sepulcher!) Soon after that, building contractors erected an apartment building over the Scipio’s Sepulcher. (How dare they!) But they had to. After all, Rome was bursting at the seams with one million or more inhabitants. As a result, the Via Appia and the Via Latina were being developed into high-density housing. And the multistory concrete and brick apartment building that sprouted over the Scipio’s Sepulcher attests to the fact!

the columbarium or multi-occupant underground tomb near the scipios

More Information about the Sepulcher of the Scipios…

The Sepulcher of the Scipios constitutes a short visit. So, visitors may want to pair it up with the nearby Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas. But it complements other attractions as well. Thus, visitors are welcomed to suggest pairings that reflect their interests.

Since the site is not central, visitors may want to get there by cab. But using a private driver may make more sense, if this visit is paired up with the Via Appia, the nearby hill-towns of Frascati. Please ask for more information!

Visiting the site requires a special permission with a timed (private) entrance. Visits are limited to an hour. Besides a 4 euro / per person ticket, there is a one-time euro 25 reservation surcharge. For more information, please see “the Costs” section of this webpage.

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