Archaeologists have discovered a Roman nude female statue believed to be of the goddess Venus at the site of future hotel construction in Zadar, Croatia. It is incomplete; a section three feet high from the knees to waist survives out of what was likely a larger-than-life-sized statue more than six feet high. Preliminary analysis indicates it dates to the 2nd century.
The right knee is bent and the leg slightly forward. Fragments of a hand are on the left thigh, and there are fragmentary traces near the groin and waist as well. Archaeologists believe there was likely a second figure in the group, perhaps the god Mercury. The pose of the legs and the hand on the thigh are similar to a headless and armless statue of Venus that is now in the Split Archaeological Museum. That Venus Victrix with Erote was unearthed in the 18th century in the ruins of the palace of Emperor Diocletian in Solin, ancient Salona which was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and Diocletian’s birthplace as well as his retirement home.
Zadar, 100 miles north of Salona, was also a prosperous city under the Roman Empire. The statue was found six feet below the surface in the remains of an urban villa, an elegant home with luxury features that would have belonged to one of the wealthy residents of Zadar. The Venus statue was probably one of several that decorated the atrium of the villa.
The excavation thus far has revealed a marble slab floor of about 850 square feet. It extends past the excavation area on three sides, so it could be much larger. Archaeologists also unearthed a wall lines with grey marble tile and a surviving section of mosaic floor about 40 square feet in area. The mosaic is geometric, with two black stripes against a field of white tesserae.
They also found a hole in the floor with a broken marble surround that led to drainage canal 36 feet long. The drainage canal contained a number of pottery fragments and even more tubules, hollow ceramic bricks used as heating pipes in the walls of Roman villas.
The location of the villa and the details of the mosaic coincided with the results of research by Professor Boris Ilakovac 60 years ago. Before constructing the neighboring building of Božidar Rašica, he researched the foundations of buildings demolished during and after the Second World War.
Professor Ilakovac found two villas in a row there; they touched each other’s outer walls and had an identical mosaic decoration in the atrium. All this tells us that here, a hundred meters from the ancient Forum, several representative residential buildings were later, possibly in the early Middle Ages, demolished and only now being revealed in their full beauty.
The statue of Venus has been transported to the Homeland Museum in Biograd where it will be conserved and studied in detail.