Archaeologists May Have Uncovered the Oldest Roman Temple Ever Found

Archaeologists from the University of Michigan believe they have found what is perhaps the oldest Roman temple still in existence. Built around the 7th century BC—probably for the goddess Fortuna—the temple tells us a lot about how the Romans built their city, thousands of years ago.

The site is located in central Rome near the Sant'Omobono Church. Digging—which began in 2009—has been particularly challenging because the temple was built below the water table, which has brought a high-tech angle into the equation, as NPR reports:

The team used heavy machinery to drill a rectangular hole 15 feet deep. A crane lowered large sheets of metal to keep back the soggy soil... The foundations of the temple of Fortuna were visible for only three days — for security reasons, the team could not leave the trench open and it had to be filled up again.

But digging through the city's many layers, archaeologists have learned a lot: Early Rome — a city of high hills and deep valleys prone to flooding — soon became one large landfill as the founders chopped off hilltops, and dumped them into lowlands to try to make the city flatter and drier. And as the city grew layer by layer and more temples were built, Ammerman, the archaeologist says, the Romans encroached on their river, diverting the original waterway.

When it was built, the temple would have been located right on the edge of the the Tiber River. Today, the river runs about 100 yards from the site. But this means that Roma engineers, even in the 7th century BC, were doing things like manipulating rivers to flow in ways that benefitted them. In this case, they did so to build a harbor temple—which also served as a symbol of trust and a center of free trade.

This discovery is an important one. It debunks the myth that ancient Rome never changed—when in reality, it was a dynamic, transformative city very, very early on. [NPR]