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A watch-house in Rome

In Region XIV (Transtiberim, Trastevere) a few rooms were found of an excubitorium of the seventh cohort in 1866-1867, 20 meters to the south of S. Crisogono, at the corner of the present Via Montefiore and Via della Settima Coorte. It was originally a house from the period of Hadrian. There is a central room with a hexagonal fountain, around which is a black-and-white mosaic with marine scenes. Similar scenes were on the paintings decorating the walls. A shrine was built during the reign of Septimius Severus and Caracalla.

Plan of the excubitorium.
From E. Nash, "Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome", London 1968.

In the building 97 graffiti of vigiles were found (now all lost, but described shortly after the discovery), dated to the years 215-245 AD. Many were written by sebaciarii. These may have been night-watchmen, patrolling through the city at night with tallow-candles. It is also possible that they were responsible for the nocturnal illumination of baths and streets. It was a periodic duty (sebaciaria fecit mense ...). The work was not without danger, for sometimes it is stated that all had gone well (omnia tuta, feliciter, sine querella), and that the comrades were safe (salvis commanipulis). One sebaciarius wrote: Lassus sum, successorem date ("I am tired, arrange a new shift"). One graffito mentions the Genius of the place. Some contain a plea for the welfare of the Emperor (salvo domino nostro).

A graffito of a sebaciarius, mentioning the Genius excubitori.
From P.E. Visconti, "La coorte VII dei vigili scoperta nel Trastevere", Roma 1867.

The building at the end of the 19th century.
From E. De Magistris, "La militia vigilum della Roma imperiale", Roma 1898.

The shrine during the excavation.
From Ramieri 1990, fig. 9.

[jthb - 10-Jun-2003]