A Curious Cellar
All that travelling around not only gives me plotbunnies, I also have tons of old material I haven't posted yet, and there's always new stuff adding up. So today we'll go back to that Roman villa rustica in Wachenheim I presented last summer.
One of the most interesting features of the Wachenheim villa is the cellar which has been preserved in its original height - probably got filled with rubbish and mud and was missed by the stone filching farmers. With a size of 11.90 x 3.90 metres (46.50 square for those who, like me, suck at maths) it is one of the largest in the Roman settled lands along the Rhine.
View towards the remains of the villa, the roofed area is the cellar
Light came in from six air shafts on the west wall, albeit not very much. The walls had been whitewashed and were decorated with red painted, artificial joints. The Romans liked even their cellars pretty. The three niches in the north wall also date from this first period.
It has been assumed those may have been places for the images of Mithras and his helpers, and the cellar was used as mithraeum
, but the usual stone benches on the sides are missing. On the other side, if the cellar was only used as storage room, why build three niches, one large and two smaller ones, that don't look very useful for putting things in other than statues or such. Wooden shelves would have been of more use. View towards the north wall niches (the air shafts can be seen on the left)
In the 3rd century, the cellar was rebuilt. The eastern wall which today has seven niches as mysterious as the three on the north side was remade, and the cellar was divided into two compartments by a wall.
While the southern room could still be accessed by the stone stairs hiding behind the bush on the photo below, the 'inner' room would have been entered by a wooden staircase from inside the villa. Maybe it was then the room was used as mithraeum
; the benches could well have been made of wood and not stone. I've not found out by which arguments the three niches in the north wall are ascribed the first building period, while the east wall ones belong to the second. View towards the south, on the right side the niches, in the foreground the dividing wall
In the 4th century, the inner room was filled up and covered with a platform for a furnace room (praefurnium
), that way the warm bath (tepidarium
) changed into a hot bath (caldarium
). The new bath was in use until the villa was abandoned in the 6th century.
I wonder if, in case the inner room has indeed been used as mithraeum
, this change in architecture came about by a change in the religion of the owners who may have become Christians and wanted to cover up the pagan place.