The Roman Villa at Balácapuszta (Baláca, Nemesvámos, Hungary)

In the Roman province of Pannonia, most veterans who received donations of land settled down to a life of animal husbandry and crop-growing, living well, perhaps, but modestly. There was at least one villa, however, in the centre of a 20-acre estate, that had pretensions. It lay close to the main road to Aquincum, which branched off the Amber road between Aquileia and the Baltic. It flourished in the third century AD and its owners were obviously familiar with grand villas in Italy, for they chose to imitate them in the style of opulent floor mosaics and in the wall paintings. The Pannonian climate was harsh and the peristyle garden was walled in, with engaged rather than free-standing columns (top picture), but still the decoration, with its trompe l’oeil fence, with painted trees and flowers behind, sought to give the impression of a real garden and brings to mind the fine decoration of the Villa of Livia near Rome. Sculpture was crude (see the head of Hercules, middle picture) with his tight curls looking like a tortoiseshell helmet) but the mosaic work was superb, as the floor of this apsidal hall attests (bottom picture). The family buried its members (including a horse and a dog) in a grand mausoleum on top of a nearby hill. By the fourth century, all was over. The villa began to fall into ruin.

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