unearthing the story of Hadrian's villa

Project team

  • Thorsten Opper, project leader

Department of Greece and Rome 


  • The British School at Rome, Rome
  • Institute of Classical Studies, London
  • Sopintendenza per i Beni Archeologici
    di Lazio, Rome

Supported by

  • British Museum Research Board
  • British Museum Development Trust
  • Institute of Classical Studies

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The Pantanello (‘little swamp’ or ‘bog’ in Italian) was part of the magnificent country residence of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (reigned AD 117-138) near Tivoli, Italy. Today, it is located on private land in the immediate area of the Villa Adriana Unesco World Heritage Site.

A number of excavations in the Pantanello during the eighteenth century unearthed many sculptures and architectural fragments that are now in major international collections, including the British Museum. However, little is known about the precise context of these discoveries and the relationship of the Pantanello with the main Villa Hadriana.

This project combines archival research and fieldwork (initially, a geophysical and topographical survey of the Pantanello area) that aims to create a better understanding of the site, exploring its excavation history, and creating of a fuller catalogue of finds, with particular focus on the intricate network of excavators, restorers, dealers and collectors involved.

The project will also illuminate further the little-understood topography of the north-western part of Hadrian’s Villa. It will investigate the Pantanello’s link to the villa’s exhaustive hydraulic system and its spatial relationship to the villa’s main access road and it will search for evidence that may explain how so many villa sculptures came to be deposited there.


The first phase of the project will establish whether the Pantanello is a natural terrain feature or a man-made, Roman structure; reveal any ground anomalies in the immediate vicinity; pinpoint areas for future excavation; gather systematically the relevant archive material relating to eighteenth-century excavations in the Pantanello area.


T. Opper, “Hadrian’s Villa”, in: id., Hadrian: Empire and Conflict (London 2008), 130-165

T. Opper, ‘Glory of Rome Restored’, British Museum Magazine 51 (Spring 2005), 38-40

Bust of the Emperor Hadrian

Bust of Hadrian, excavated by Francesco Antonio Lolli in the Pantanello in about 1721.