Doc Paget’s conclusions
Doc Paget published two summaries of his investigations into the tunnel system and the reasons why he felt that these tunnels could be a considered as a candidate for the Oracle of the Dead, said to be near Lake Avernus.
In the Footsteps of Orpheus:
- 1. Its situation, surrounded by the Cimmerian tunnels and argillae as described by Homer in the Odyssey.
- 2. The provision of the lamp niches, where there are none in all the other tunnels or argillae. The distribution of the lamp niches with 120 in the 408 feet of the entrance tunnel, 270, then no fewer than 400 set only a yard apart, in the inner 480 feet of galleries. This was not accidental, but is clear evidence that greater illumination and possibly more smoke effects, were desired in the inner recesses of the Oracle.
- 3. The clear evidence of technical design, and the fine workmanship in the cutting of the tunnels, the shape and dimensions being maintained very accurately.
- 4. The Inner Sanctuary corresponds with the reference by Ephorus and its similarity to the Etruscan house temples of the same date.
- 5. The suppression by Agrippa. The Inner Sanctuary was completely filled with earth. The stair up from the far landing was also filled to the level of the Sanctuary floor, a vertical rise of 20 feet. The Rise was similarly blocked, the length being 40 feet with the dog-leg. The bed of the water, also has been filled with rubble to a depth of at least 4 feet. The entire length of the North 120 was completely filled, throughout its 180 feet length. Three 20 foot long blocks were erected in South 120.
- 6. This was a tremendous operation. The 270 entrance tunnel is only 21 inches wide and there is no room for persons to pass anywhere except at the Dividing of the Ways. All this filling material was carried in from the surface in baskets. Calculation shows that some 700 cubic yards of earth were required for the work. The basket would hold about 40-50 pounds. No fewer than 30,000 man journeys were involved in the transport of all this material. The figures speak for themselves. They imply that Agrippa attached paramount importance to the operation. Why did he not just block the entrance to 270 under the temple? It seems certain that there was some psychological reason for doing the job the way he did.
- 6. The Oracle must have been a centre of pilgrimage. This requires a town to give the necessary supporting services, lodging, provision of food and sacrificial animals, with all the other incidentals of such activity. Nowhere in the vicinity of Avernus, except at Baiae is there such a town.
- 7. The 270 Entrance tunnel commences at the north-west corner of the temple. This was the quadrant of the ancient Cosmos, traditionally sacred to the Fates and the Deities of the Nether Regions. The significance is found in the famous bronze Liver found in an Etruscan tomb at Piacenza, which is an exposition of the Rules for Divination, as practised about the fourth century B.C.
- 8. The smoke control systems at the Dividing of the Ways and at the west end of the 120 is sound engineering practice. The whole idea of utilising convection as the key to the ventilation of a single entry tunnel complex, and the differential slopes that were used to ensure correct evacuation of the smoke and foul air in the desired direction, is evidence of preconceived design, for a purpose other than the mere clarifying of the passages from smoke. It was desired to send the streams of smoke in certain directions. Thus the line of tiles in the beginning of the roof of 290 is explained. The large volume of hot air travelling out along the roof of the North 120 and into the roof of 290, would not only ensure that the incoming cold air could maintain a breathable atmosphere in the lower part of the passages, but also go down the 290 stair quite freely to complete the ventilation circuit. Even today when only the 290 passage is in operation the ventilation is sufficient to allow short periods of work round the Inner Sanctuary. When the 120 doors were in use the system would be quite efficient.
- 9. The water is clearly also a part of the design. But how it was located and reached by the constructors, either by (a) the 290 stair, or (b) the 120s and the stairs down from the Sanctuary is an intriguing problem. There is no apparent outlet to the surface for the water, whereby its presence could be inferred. Its constant level and freshness’ indicate some kind of flow, but we have been unable to find any solution to these problems. Whichever way it was reached, there are trigonometrical problems of some delicacy to be solved, and solved before work was started. The water was a part of the design, as may be deduced from the steps at the bottom of 290, the orientation of the water to pass directly under the Inner Sanctuary, namely 300 degrees.
- 10. The orientation of the cliff face towards the midsummer sunrise at North 60 degrees East, and that of the Inner Sanctuary towards the corresponding sunset, may have significance.
The ‘Great Antrum’ at Baiae: A Preliminary Report:
- 1. The elaborate design and good workmanship denote design as a unit and not a gradual expansion.
- 2. The 500 lamp niches indicate use for ceremonial (purposes). One lamp every 20 metres (65 feet) would have been sufficient for walking.
- 3. The orientation of the surface buildings and the Inner Sanctuary towards Midsummer Heliacal sunrise and sunset denote interconnection.
- 4. Tunnels outside the Sacred Area have no lamp niches.
- 5. The incidence of the Antrum under the Greek Temple.
- 6. The presence of a Tholos among the surface buildings.
- 7. The elaborate efforts made to fill the Inner Sanctuary, North 120, the blocks in South 120, the fill in the Rise and in the stair from the north ‘doors’ to the water. A calculation shows that some 200 cubic metres of fill were required, all brought in from the surface in baskets along 270, where there is not room for two persons to pass. The operation represents 15,000 man-journeys.
- 8. The Great Antrum, the surface buildings and the chambers behind the cliff-face are clearly one unit.
- 9. The mention by Strabo quoting Ephorus, of an Oracle of the Dead ‘near Avernus’ (V.4.5.).
Whatever the purpose of these tunnels, there is no other tunnel system like this anywhere else and the underground water course is probably the earliest example we have of a hydraulic work such as this.
Dr R. F. Paget
Dr Paget, who liked to be known among his friends as simply ‘Doc’.