In 2015, archaeologists on the Tuscan island of Elba identified the remains of a villa that allegedly belonged to the prototype of one of the main characters of the novel “Ben-Hur”. The property, known as Villa Le Grotte (“Caves”), which dates back to the 1st century BCE, was to belong to Marcus Valerius Messall’i Corvinus, Ben-Hur’s eponymous friend from his youth, who competed with him in the famous chariot race. When Ben-Hur was the brainchild of the author of Le Wallace’s 1880 book, Messalla was based on a true historical figure.
Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus was a member of one of the oldest and most powerful families in Rome. He was the patron of the poet Ovid, whom he hosted during his exile and the commander of Octavian in the battle of Actium in 31 BCE.
According to archaeologists Laura Pagliantini, Luisa Zito and Luisa Quaglia, the villa was associated with the Messalli family for a very long time, but in the absence of evidence, it could not be confirmed. Only the discovery of the team under the direction of Franco Cambi at the foot of the villa proved that it was Messallia’s former residence. It turned out that there was a farm next to the villa, which operated for the residence. In its ruins were found five ceramic vases (the so-called dolia – each could hold from 1300 to 1500 litres of wine) with the inscriptions “Hermia Va(leri) (M)arci s(ervus) fecit” or “Made by Hermias, Marcus Valerius’s slave”.