The excavation of the Roman settlement of Poggio del Molino, the only example of a Roman villa in the territory of Populonia systematically investigated, was conducted under the scientific direction of the University of Florence (in agreement with Municipality of Piombino) and the professionals of the Archeodig Project, with the support of the non-profit organisations Past in Progress and the Earthwatch Institute.
The archaeological site extends over the northern and eastern slopes of a promontory that acts as a watershed between the beach of Rimigliano in the north, the Gulf of Baratti to the south and the northern boundary of the town of Piombino (Livorno).
The Roman structures are located on a plateau, about 20 meters above sea level, that dominates the stretch of sea between San Vicenzo and the Isle of Elba in the west, and the Metalliferous Hills and the plains of Campiglia lagoon to the east.
During the 2nd century BCE; the northern end of the promontory was occupied by a fortified building, positioned to defend the territory of Populonia from pirate attacks. Thanks to contemporary sources we know that between the 2nd and 1st century’s BCE, piracy was prolific on the Mediterranean coasts and sea. The fortress’ strategic position allowed control of most of the Tyrrhenian Sea routes, the access to the channel that connects the sea to the lake of Rimigliano and the southern territory of Populonia.
The building, with a rectangular plan of about 55 x 56 meters, has been investigated in the southeast sector which is organised around a porch; where evidence of iron working has been uncovered. Along the perimeter wall, we have identified two defensive towers; erected adjacent the two entrances of the settlement, and a watchtower that also allowed communication with Populonia. In 67 BCE, following the issuance of the Lex Gabinia, Gneo Pompeo took command of the war against the pirates of the Mediterranean Sea over which, in just four months, he reported a total victory.
In the first half of the 1st century BCE, without the threat of pirates, the building was re-purposed as a farm with an adjoining ‘cetaria’, or small home-based factory, producing ‘garum’ (fish sauce), equipped with pools for soaking the fish, which we can still see today.
Around the middle of the 2nd century CE, after a thorough renovation, the building took on the characteristics of a maritime villa which was later destroyed around the end of the 3rd century CE, probably by an earthquake. The villa was organised around an open area, set out as a garden and exploited the same two accesses used in the earlier phases. The western entrance gave access to the main living area (cubicula and dining rooms), decorated with mosaics and frescoes and to the bath complex via a corridor overlooking the sea. The slave quarters, of which are known the kitchen and other utility rooms, still under excavation, was accessed via the eastern entrance.
In the 4th century, after the destruction, the eastern sector of the complex is reoccupied and used for activities connected with iron working. In addition to a large amount of iron slag and hematite, a furnace connected with a forge have been documented.
Even in the 5th century, the site experienced a significant phase of inhabitation connected with the presence of a gathering place, probably linked to early Christian worship, and of a tomb set in a wall of the villa ruins.