Santa Domitilla in 3D

The Santa Domitilla catacomb is the oldest and one of the two largest of Rome’s 40 or so secret underground Christian burial networks. There are 15 kilometers of tunnels, cubicles and one suprisingly large basilica carved out of the volcanic tufa rock on what was once the property of Imperial relative and Christian/Jewish convert Flavia Domitilla’s property.

Many of the tunnels have never been explored or excavated because they’re layered on top of each other and in various states of disrepair. Also, there’s a church on top and it’s already sunken.

Thanks to some brilliant Austrian researchers who invented an awesome laser scanning device, there is finally a complete 3D map of all 15 kilometers.

The data produced by the scanner has been combined with existing photographs.

This enables people using the model to not only ”wander” through the virtual tunnels, but also to explore the individual tombs and examine wall paintings that are normally shrouded in darkness. In the next stage of the project, which lasts until 2011, the researchers want to count the exact number of tombs within the catacombs, as well as documenting the funerary paintings that have not yet undergone full scientific studies. Zimmermann said he hoped the votive inscriptions would provide interesting new sociological detail that could later be added to the model, such the age of the individuals buried in each tomb.

It looks cool, too.

Pretty damn sweet, amirite? Imagine the whole 15k. Now if only they’d put it online so we could explore like the vicarious Indiana Joneses we are….

Fun fact about Flavia Domitilla: She’s mentioned as a convert to Judaism in the Talmud. She’s also mentioned by Suetonius and Cassius Dio as having been convicted of atheism by Domitian and banished to the island of Pandateria. Then Eusebius claimed her for Christianity and said she was exiled to another island.

They may have been talking about two different Flavie, though, an aunt and niece. I think it’s cooler if they’re all talking about the same lady, especially the Talmud and Eusebius.

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Comment by fragment
2009-02-11 01:38:24

Awesome. That really does need to be online in some form.

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Comment by livius drusus
2009-02-11 02:28:57

I Google Translated a couple of stories in the Austrian press hoping there’d be a hint about an online version, but no dice, dammit.

Comment by Dina
2009-02-11 06:35:09

You ARE right, this is pretty damn sweet!
It would make a good video game too, running through those catacombs. (Sorry, I must be under the influence of such things, having just lived with two small grandsons for six weeks.)

So everyone claims Flavia, eh? That’s funny.

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Comment by livius drusus
2009-02-11 09:58:11

It would make an awesome video game! I reek at video games but I would totally play that.

The funny thing about everyone claiming her is they might all be right. The Romans often accused Christians and Jews of atheism (really more like apostasy) because they refused to worship the local pantheon, and there was a fine line between converting to Judaism and converting to Christianity back in the 1st c.

Comment by Dina
2009-02-16 01:29:54

Hmm, that’s something to think about (the religion, not the video game).

Comment by livius drusus
2009-02-16 08:03:15

(The video game too, though. :giggle: )

Comment by Clutch
2009-02-11 07:39:46

Arthur Pendragon says she had a deathbed conversion to Druidism.

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Comment by livius drusus
2009-02-11 09:58:40

Oh man, do I have the goods on Arthur Pendragon. That might have to be today’s post.

Comment by Daniel Moshe Johnson
2012-06-01 11:44:40


The catacombs are an amazing site to behold. The air is not that great, but the manner of old Roman burial is a step back in time. According to the Talmud, both Flavia and her husband converted to Judaism, after having contact with the great Rabbincal Sage Rabbi Akiva (Akiba ben Joseph). When Domitian had decreed that in 30 days, the Senate would confirm an edict to kill all Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire, Domitilla convinced her husband to stand up for the Jews. When there were 5 days left until the edict would be voted on by the Senate, she convinced him to commit suicide in order to postpone the Senate vote, in hopes that God would bring a miracle in the extra time. Since Clemens was the Roman Consul, if he were to die, another Consul would have to be elected before the Senate could pass any decisions.
Domitian executed Titus Flavius Clemens the next day. She had two sons by him, whom Domitian made his own heirs, but they died as young teenagers. The plan worked, and her steward Stephanus was able to assassinate Domitian before the decree was finalized. She was banished by her uncle Domitian to the island Pandataria, where she died mourning her husband.

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Comment by Mike M
2012-12-07 01:05:57

I thought it was going to be about the finding of the tomb of Santa Clause…. :confused:

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Comment by Daniel Moshe Johnson
2020-04-26 20:01:32


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