This week, after removing the last destruction layer, the Domestic Area team, directed by Inge Uytterhoeven and Ine Jacobs, reached the floor level of courtyard XLV in the palatial mansion. The space turned out to be far more luxurious and impressive than expected: the entire surface of the courtyard was covered with the purple schist slabs of the sort that covered the floor of the neighboring corridor with staircase (XXXVI, see Domestic Area, August 7-11) leading to the reception rooms of the mansion's uppermost level.
The western facade of adjoining room XLVI (east of the courtyard) was probably built up symmetrically on either side of its entrance. The latter consisted of a monumental arched door, which must have reached a height of about 3 m, flanked on either side by a large window. Access to the room was provided by a nicely molded window (or door) lintel reused as a doorsill with two purple schist slabs below and in front of it. The door was preceded by a porch consisting of two piers composed of alternating tuff blocks and brick courses above a limestone base (with sides of approximately 0.90 m). Originally these two piers were connected to the facade by brick arches (width 0.71 m) of which the spring can be seen on either side of the door at a height of 2.10 m. Moreover, the discovery of two column bases and one column, all made of tuff, but none in situ, together with the large amount of brick in their surroundings, could indicate that a kind of vaulted portico or arcade either preceded the piers or incorporated them. The latter hypothesis could also be corroborated by the fact, that along the entire facade of room XLVI the floor was raised forming a large step corresponding in width with the space between the piers and the actual door. This arrangement drew visitors' attention toward the east side of the corridor and the room behind it.
On top of the courtyard floor, the team discovered small painted plaster fragments with a geometric decoration in white, brown-red, and purple, indicating that the walls of the courtyard were once plastered with colors complementing its purple floor. In the south wall of the courtyard, below the window of the second arch, a low opening, which probably functioned as a drain, was found at floor level. This could explain the large number of finds in this area, while elsewhere they were almost completely lacking. They included bone and ceramics, among which there were sherds of more than one dolium (large food storage vessels) and a complete oil lamp with a cross at the bottom. Finally, this courtyard also provided a glimpse of the daily life of the mansion's inhabitants: on a tuff block in the southern face of the northern pier of the monumental entrance to room XLVI, there were several graffiti: a carefully carved cross, a iota (Greek character) and a primitively designed human figure, supplemented by words scratched into the bricks above.
The impressive nature of its entrance makes us wonder what room XLVI's exact function Was. According to its building technology, the room was clearly constructed at the same time as the whole representative part of the house in the course of the fourth century A.D. It is clear, however, that this was not just a "room." The whole layout of its monumental facade as well as the fact that the mosaic floor from the room above it (the richest mosaic thus far found in the mansion), makes us expect a very nice floor inside. The fact that probably during the earthquake of the seventh century A.D., this vaulted roof collapsed, with at least part of the floor of the space above it standing upright in the middle of room XLVI may have prevented an easy access to it. Yet, this does not guarantee that the floor will still be preserved: if it was made of mosaics then this possibility is rather high that it is still there. If, however, the floor was composed of easy reusable opus sectile (colored marble floor tiles in geometrical or vegetal patterns) or marble slabs, the room may have been stripped of its rich floor before its roof collapsed, as a study of the ceramics from the mansion suggests that many if not all rooms were already abandoned and looted when the roofs gave in (see Ceramology, August 7-11, 2005).
Whatever the original floor cover was, this week's excavation exposed a late "walking level" inside room XLVI. This level was clearly recognisable because of its hardness and a small amount of large inclusions of mortar and small rubble stones. It was situated around 1.20 m above the doorsill, whereas its upper part included the vertically placed mosaic fragment from the space above it. This suggests that after part of the upper storey had come down, including the mosaic floor, inhabitants of the town still occasionally entered the room. The fact that the mosaic floor remained standing upright in the middle of the room rather excludes any specific use of the room. Yet, a similar walking level was also visible at the same height in the profile of the destruction material filling courtyard XLV. Therefore, the mansion must have continued to be visited after it was partially filled with destruction debris.