ROME (Reuters Life!) - Archaeologists have uncovered a tycoon's mansion outside central Rome with its very own bath complex -- the ancient Roman equivalent of owning a fleet of Ferraris or a private jet as a way of showing off wealth.
"This is a very impressive, very well preserved bath complex that belonged to a certain Quintus Servilius Pudens who was a billionaire friend of Emperor Hadrian," said Darius Arya, an American archaeologist who is leading the dig.
The site of the Villa delle Vignacce, towards Ciampino airport south of Rome, was first explored by archaeologists in 1780 who found statues that are now in the Vatican museum.
But it is only now that the area, in the middle of a suburban park, has been properly excavated, revealing not only the predictable walls, floors and doorways of the multi-storey villa but also the surprise find of lavish baths.
"It's very impressive to have discovered something this well preserved in this day and age," said Arya, pointing out the marble floor of the villa's 'caldarium', the sauna-like room which was heated by hot air piped behind the walls from a furnace stoked by the landlord's slaves.
The room also contains a hot bath, although the bronze cauldron used to bring bathing water to piping hot was long ago ripped out by scavengers.
The villa shows many signs of similar damage -- including fragments of marble left behind after the walls were stripped of the valuable stone when the villa fell into disrepair. It was probably last used in the 6th century AD, converted into a fortress by the Goths who sacked Rome.
Near the caldarium is the latrine, a communal lavatory where a dozen guests could perform their intimate bodily functions while enjoying company and conversation.
Servilius, believed to have made his fortune making brick -- one of the main materials for Roman buildings -- would have used the baths to throw lavish parties to impress his friends, said Arya, head of the American Institute for Roman Culture.
"He wants to have lots of parties, he wants to show off his wealth and his sophistication."
Not everyone was invited. In the deepest part of the dig, underground passage-ways show where the villa's slaves would work, unseen by the upper classes enjoying their leisure on the mosaic-lined floors above.