'Tyrant king palace found'
'House of Tarquins' unearthed near Rome25 February, 18:02
The apparent opulence of the building, buried in a pile of rubble, has led experts to believe it was the home of the son of Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud), the Etruscan seventh king of Rome whose brutal reign made Romans vow never to submit to a monarch again.
"It's an extraordinary find," Rome Archaeological Superintendent Angelo Bottini said at the site of ancient Gabii, 20km south of Rome.
"The way the site was demolished by furious locals in ancient times and later escaped local urban sprawl has allowed the palace to come to us virtually intact".
Only three small rooms have so far been uncovered but archaeologists hope to find more remains of what must have been a monumental roof and ornate interiors.
The shards of a terracotta roof decoration showing the Minotaur, an emblem of the Tarquins, has already been found, said Rome Tor Vergata University archaeologist Marco Fabbri.
Experts believe the palace was home to Sextus Tarquinius, whose rape of a king's daughter in nearby Ardea helped spark the revolt that toppled his equally unsavoury father.
"According to Livy, the Gabians murdered Sextus after Tarquin was thrown out of Rome in 510 BC," Bottini said.
"But we think it may have been home to generations of Tarquins".
Aside from its historical value, the site is of "exceptional" archeological importance because similar buildings in Rome and other large cities were demolished to make way for later ones, Bottini observed. The 6th-century BC ruins, brought to light between September and December, in fact contain the highest intact walls of such a date ever found in Italy, at about two metres.
The experts said the discovery corroborated ancient reports of "the political and cultural importance of Gabii".
Gabii is known to historians as one of the towns that joined the Latin League allied to Rome, but such a close association as that indicated by the new find has never been fully established.
However, the historian Plutarch claimed that Romulus and Remus were brought up at or near the city, where they learned literature and the use of Greek weapons.
Under the "exceptionally well-preserved floor slabs," the archaeologists said, eight round cells containing human remains were found as evidence of propitiatory rites ahead of the building's construction.
Five stillborn babies were found, Bottini said, stressing that "there was no human sacrifice". Bottini said the dig needed more money if it was to unveil the palace "in all its splendour" and Culture Undersecretary Francesco Giro pledged to provide it.
"If it's a question of having one less show or funding something like this, the choice is easy," he said.