While most great Hollywood epics are grounded in bits of truth, it’s rather rare for archeologists to dig up evidence to support the plots of films set in the 1st century BC. A recent discovery on the Italian island of Elba appears to be that rare gem. Yes, we are talking about Elba, the location of Napoleon’s infamous not-quite-exiling, also the home of the enemy of Ben-Hur, the star of the famous film bearing his name which was released in 1959 — based upon a novel from 1880 no less!
Ben-Hur, as portrayed on the silver screen by Charlton Heston, might have been fictional, but his enemy, Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus was a very real Roman citizen. Archaeologists have long suspected that they had located the estate of his bitter enemy, but confirmation was elusive. We’ll let Discovery News explain…
Overlooking Portoferraio’s bay, the once magnificent 1st-century B.C. estate, known as Villa Le Grotte (the Caves) because of the shape of its vaulted facades facing the sea, has long been believed to have been owned by Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, portrayed racing his rival Ben-Hur in the Hollywood blockbuster starring Charlton Heston as Ben Hur.
Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus was a member of one of the oldest and most important families in Rome, the patron of the poet Ovid, and a commander at the battle of Actium in 31 B.C., fighting for Octavian against the forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
According to archaeologists Laura Pagliantini, Luisa Zito and Luisa Quaglia, of the Archeo Color Association, the now ruined villa, which is currently closed to the public, has long been associated to Messalla’s patrician family but no evidence was ever found to confirm the speculation.
But now archaeologists have finally confirmed their suspicions. How? As fellow Roman author, philosopher, military commander, and serious wine drinker, Pliny the Elder wrote, In wine, there is truth:
Startling evidence about Le Grotte’s owner came when archaeologists led by Franco Cambi, professor of methodology of archaeological research at the University of Siena, excavated the area just below the villa.
“We were looking for ancient furnaces used in the production of iron, but we ended up with a surprising finding,” Cambi told Discovery News.
Along with the remains of a large collapsed building, the archaeologists found five dolia — large earthenware vases — complete with their covers. Each vase could hold between 1,300 and 1,500 liters of wine.
“Clearly, the site was a farm serving the Roman villa above,” Cambi said.
Read more about the Ben-Hur-related discovery at Discovery News or check out 10 more amazing wine related archaeological discoveries.