Who were the inhabitants of Rabat in the 1st century AD? What were the aspects of a Roman family and household? Were they connected to the mainland? And what happened to the area in the 11th century AD?
The small museum of the Domvs Romana is built around the remains of a rich, aristocratic roman town house (domvs) which was accidentally discovered in 1881.
Very little remains from the house itself are on exhibit in this museum. It is the first building in the Maltese Islands to have been purposely built to protect and house an archaeological site and collection.
The intricate mosaics which survived for centuries as well as the artefacts found within the remains are testimony enough of the original richness and story of this fantastic abode.
The building housing the remains of the Domvs was partly built immediately after the first excavation to protect the uncovered mosaics.
The current Museum building not only preserves some of the most precious Roman remains but also allows visitors to get a glimpse of life in a Roman domestic household.
Apart from showing the complex history of the site, the current museum display is in fact designed to take the visitor through the various aspects of a Roman family and household
Life in a typical Roman household was very active. The family was the most important institution on which Roman society was based and different members of the household conducted various duties in specific rooms.
Roman men and women paid a lot of attention to cleanliness and personal adornment. Make-up, cosmetic unguents and perfumes were usually kept in small dainty containers of bone, glass and ceramic.
Men also took great care of their skin and usually covered it with ointments and olive oil.
The Domvs is also embellished with a set of high quality portrait sculptures dated to the middle of the 1st century AD, thus about a century after the original construction of the house.
In all, fragments of six marble sculptures have been found. At least two of these show members of the family of Emperor Claudius.
Interior decoration played a very important role in Roman houses and mosaics combined with a planned system of painted walls, sculptures, decorative architecture, works of art and furniture.
Just like in contemporary societies, the Romans usually ate three times a day.
Starting with a light breakfast (ientaculum) in the morning, followed by a light lunch (prandium) and a more substantial dinner (cena) in the late afternoon or early evening.
Wine and drinking played an important part both during and after meals
Excavations conducted on the site by A.A. Caruana in 1881 and Sir Themistocles Zammit in 1920 – 1925 revealed an extensive cemetery containing at least 245 burials.
The Domvs was transformed into a Muslim Cemetery during the 11th Century when Malta formed part of the Fatimid Caliphate.
A large number of the artefacts inside this museum were excavated in the area and brought together underneathe one roof. Eventually, material that pertained to this era were transferred on exhibit in order to give a better understanding of this civilization and its remains.
One of the most striking discoveries were the fine polychrome mosaics floors still found in situ that rank among the finest and oldest mosaic compositions from the western Mediterranean.
These mosaics compare with those found in Pompeii, depicting various mythological scenes as well as decorative motifs.
During the course of investigations in the 1920s, a large number of fragmented tombstones, prismatic in shape and bearing Nash or Kufic inscriptions, were discovered.
Ceramics are the commonest type of artefacts found in archaeological excavation, primarily because pottery was as common as plastic is for us today.
This does not mean that you could not have items of finer quality.
The various excavations in the Maltese Islands, including that of the Domvs, have in fact recovered various ceramic containers of a very refined workmanship from North Africa, central Italy and Greece.
Ornamentation of the corpse in Islamic burials is a very rare practice. In fact the only significant personal possession discovered during the excavation of the Muslim cemetery is a solid silver ring inscribed in Kufic characters.
In fact the only significant personal possession discovered during the excavation of the Muslim cemetery is a solid silver ring inscribed in Kufic characters.
The discovery of six marble sculptures in a private house is not something out of the ordinary in large houses outside of the Maltese Islands.
The statues discovered at the Domvs Romana are however of great importance as they remain only one of two instances around the Roman world in which statues portraying the Emperor and members of his family were found within the confines of a private residence.
This, as well as the use of expensive marble testify to the importance and connections that the owner of this house had at the time.
Excavation and Conservation
Since its discovery the site is of utmost importance. A lot of excavations need to be done in this site and surrounding areas. However, one must also take into consideration the concept of conserving what has been excavated.
This important archaeological site was accidentally discovered in 1881 by workers engaged in a landscaping project in Rabat.
Consequently it was cleared by A. A. Caruana, Sir Themistocles Zammit and his colleagues, Robert V. Galea, Harris Dunscombe Colt and Louis Upton Way.
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