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The Pincio in Antiquity

The Villa Medici is situated on Pincio Hill. This hill does not belong to the seven major Roman hills, because it is outside the pomoerium, the sacred wall of antique Rome. However it does belong to the perimeter of the Aurelian walls built between 270 and 273 A.D. The Villa stands where the gardens of Lucius Lucinius Lucullus were. He was a Roman general and favourite of Sylla. Between 66 and 63 B.C. he built a major villa that covered the entire area between via Salaria Vetus and the current northern path of Pincio. As reported by Plutarch he welcomed Cicero and Pompeius.

Valerius Asiaticus was twice consul and the first man from Narbonnean Gaul to be admitted into the Senate of Rome. During the Claudio period he erected a large terrace garden, with a broad and semicirculal nymphaeum dominating the current domain of Trinità dei Monti. This chamber was topped by a temple dedicated to Fortune. Messalina, Claudio’s wife, coveted the domain and overwhelmed Valerius Asiaticus with calumnious charges. Under her influence, Claudio pushed Valerius Asiaticus to suicide. Several years later, Messalina, who became the ruler of the domain, died under the blows of soldiers sent by her own husband.

The villa of Lucullus remained imperial property until the time of Trajan, who apparently preferred the gardens of Sallust, on the eastern part of Pincio. During the third century A.D. the domain was occupied by the patrician family of the Achilii, who gave it away to the Pincii during the fourth century. Interestingly the current name of the hill comes from this very family, whose history is still little known.

Emperor Aurelius built a wall around Rome during the third century to protect it from Barbarian invasions. It still surrounds the Villa. Nevertheless the wall fell under the troops of Alaric that invaded Rome in 410 A.D through the Salarian gate, located on Pincio. Then Emperor Honorius (395-423 A.D.) built his palace in the gardens. Belisarius kept his camp there when he defended Rome against the Ostrogoth Vitigès in 537 A.D. At the fall of the Roman Empire, the place was abandoned because of its suburban location.