Walking through the underground of Saint John Lateran, while crossing the middle ship” of the church above, means walking through 2000 years of History. You discover the foundations of Septimius Severus’ barracks and reach ruins of domus’ of the I, II and the III century. Mosaic pavements, rests of frescos and the wall preparation is what remains of an opus sectile decoration. All this leads to the immagination of wealthy owners: this area indeed is also known for its rich residents: The Valeri, the Pisoni, the Laterani, even Domitia Lucilla, Marc Aurel’s mother lived in this aerea, and other very wealthy Romans lived here. People who took part of the public life of the City.
The barracks were built by Septimius Severus in 193, it took 4 years to finish these huge Castra for his horsemen body guards. Septimius indeed doubled the Imperial Guard, he wanted a guard to control the already exsisting guard which should protect the life and position of the Emperor, but in those times of Civil War, Septimius was very careful.
The Lateran family lost the properties in this area in 65 , after the conspiracy against Nero was revealed Plauzio Lateran took part in it, he was killed and his ownings were confiscated.
With Septimius Severus (128 years later) who was friends with Sextus Lateranus, returned a part of the confiscated properties to Sextus when he built his barracks of the Nova Equites Singulares on the Campus Lateranus: the reason might be a reparation for him building on the confiscated properties. The area still today is called Lateran area, which means that this family had over centuries and centuries huges ownerships.
Another anecdot accompanies this place: the discovery of an turned capital, used ad altar, containing an inscription which dates the existance of the barracks: the Capital has 2 dates: 197 and 203. Very interesting is the fact that the contents of this capital was subjected to the damnatio memoriae: Dedicated to Septimius, Caracalla and Geta – after Caracalla killed Geta and after he decreed the damnatio memoriae, Geta’s name was cancelled on this inscription, most probably in 203,when the second inscription was placed.
Though the history of the Campus Lateranus has another turn: When Constantine defeated Maxentius at Ponte Milvio / Saxa Rubra in 312 and after the passed the Edict of Toleration in 313, he razed the barracks to the ground and built the first official church of Rome above it. A political choice.
The Nova Equites Singulares took the side of Maxentius – which lead to their abolition and to the disctruction of the barracks after Constantine’s victory.
Constantine built the first church outside the centre, and in this area which was part of the defeated party. Moreover his wife, Fausta, Maxentius’ sister seemed to have her domus around the same area as well.
History and legend are melting here – while the Church of the Saviour (and later of St.John) becoming the church of the Bishop of Rome, the domus Faustae is given by Faustae to the Pope Miltiades – these donations lead in the middle ages to the false donation of Constantine – The Church claimed that Constantine had given the earthly power to the Church, justifying Church to rule Rome.