Courtesy of MIBAC
These artifacts are believed to be from the Severan dynasty, which ruled the Roman empire from 193 to 235. It was founded by Libyan-born Lucius Septimius Severus.
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updated 2/10/2011 1:03:39 PM ET 2011-02-10T18:03:39

A rich cache of ancient Roman statues representing a troubled imperial dynasty has been unearthed on the outskirts of Rome, according to Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

Most likely depicting members of the Severan dynasty, the statues were found by a team of archaeologists excavating a Roman villa along the Via Anagnina.

"We first saw a white nape, belonging to a Roman matron. Then, the head of a child emerged, then another male head and one more,” archaeologist Magda Fossati of Rome’s archaeological superintendency told the daily La Repubblica (click here for more photos of the discovery).

Indeed, buried all together in a basin at the center of the villa’s atrium, there were six finely sculpted statue fragments.

“The statues date to the third century A.D. We are talking of a bust, two male heads, a woman head, a girl head and a life-size statue possibly representing a naked god Zeus,” the ministry of culture said in a statement.

According to the archaeologists, the clothes and the hairstyles of the sculptures indicate that the statuary represents members of the Severan imperial dynasty.

Ruling the Roman empire from 193 to 235, the dynasty was founded by Libyan-born Lucius Septimius Severus.

He became emperor in 193, in the year of turmoil that followed the murder of Commodus.

Other members of the dynasty include Severus’ son, Caracalla, responsible for the murder of his brother Geta and one of the most bloodthirsty tyrants in Roman history; Julia Domna, wife of Severus and rumored of an incestuous relationship with her son Caracalla; and Elagabalus (or Heliogabalus), who scandalized Rome for his sexual excesses.

The dynasty ended with Alexander Severus. His death at the hands of his own troops triggered a troubled 50-year period known as the Crisis of the Third Century in which the Roman empire nearly collapsed.

The archaeologists believe that the last owner of the villa was a high-ranking officer closely related to the Severan imperial family.

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“Near the villa we found a mausoleum which probably belongs to the last owner. In the Severan time, it was a well-known practice to bury the owner near its house,” Roberto Egidi, the director of the excavation, told La Repubblica.

Experts are now wondering why the Severan statues were buried all together in a basin. The statues appear to have been carefully buried, with a piece of tufa placed between each marble fragment as to create a protective padding.

“I still have goosebumps. It appears that those who buried these statues really wanted to preserve them up to our days,” said Daniela Spadoni, technical assistant at Rome's superintendence.

Moved to the National Museum of Rome, the statuary will undergo conservation treatments before going on display.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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