Doc Paget & his conclusions

This website really is all about Dr Robert Ferrand Paget. Without him there would never have been much interest in these tunnels. In an area so rich in Roman remains and artifacts, why would anyone give the tunnels a second look?

Doc admits that he and Keith Jones deliberately set out to find the Oracle of the Dead. They had read everything they could about the one said to be in the Phlegraean Fields and searched every cave and tunnel they could find. 

Was theirs a case of wishful thinking, or did they really find something of value? This website aims to find out.

Whatever conclusions one might come to, there is no denying that the tunnel system is a major feat of ancient engineering – navigating through solid rock to an underground water course. 

In total there are some 350 metres, 1,149 feet, of narrow tunnels that we know of. There are hints of more yet to be explored. They are of beautiful workmanship, mostly carved into bare rock, perfectly preserved and descend to a depth of 50 metres, 164 feet, below the surface entrance.

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.

Doc Paget the man

Doc had lived a colourful and varied life. There was a streak of mischievousness in Doc that makes it hard to separate fact from fiction at times. US Naval Commander Victory ‘Tory’ Failmezger has written a detailed biography of Doc’s life and revealed the true man for us. 

Doc sometimes joked he was the son of Sherlock Holmes. Was he kidding? Sure enough, Doc’s father Henry was the model for Sidney Paget’s original sketches of Holmes.

Doc was born in 1888, somewhere in England.  He moved to Naples in 1958 with Ada Immacolata, his wife. Doc held the titles of Ph.D, Cavaliere della Corona D’Italia and a number of others.

Doc’s naval expertise enabled him to show where the ancient Greek and later Roman shipping port was at Cuma. For this alone he deserves to be recognised.

As for his Great Antrum, there are parts of his story that are hard to understand and some hard to follow. In a number of places his account within the tunnels was plain wrong, or impossible. His diagrams and his reconstructions incorrect. Some of his claims are pure fabrication. These I shall attempt to explain where they occur.

In discussion with those that knew him, it is difficult to decide if he was writing as an old man, a few years after he’d last entered the tunnels and his memory was playing tricks on him, or whether he was deliberately embroidering the truth. But these are minor points, in substance his discoveries are there to be verified, but his conclusions were often misguided.

It seems fashionable among the some experts at Baia to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and disregard Doc entirely, but what if he was right and the tunnels indeed turn out to have been an oracular site? More investigation may shed further light on the issue.

Paget, Discoverer of Hades

When I was given a copy of Tory’s book, I read it that same night and was riveted. It is both a historical look at Doc Paget and his life and a wonderful tale of youth, freedom, sunshine, romance, tragedy, mystery and archaeological discovery in the 1960s and 1970s.

A detailed insight into the man who discovered the tunnel system at Baia, as told by Tory Failmezger aided by Peter Knight, who became two of Doc Paget’s closest friends.

Please order the book directly from the author through:

94 illustrated pages and a FREE full length DVD.

Doc Paget’s Conclusions

Dr Robert Ferrand Paget

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.

Doc’s reasoning for an Oracle site

From his book: “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.

From his paper: “The ‘Great Antrum’ at Baiae”
  • 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.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Jon B.Good

    hmmm…wouldn’t a more appropriate response be that the Paget theory has no academic support? If it’s all a good travel tale, which it has the markings of, then fine. But to dupe the general public is not cool, man.


    1. antrum

      Your statement is not strictly true. There are respected archaeologists who are currently prepared to at least keep an open mind. In 2014 there was much investigative work at the site. If this is not a ritual site and was purely utilitarian, why are there over 550 lamp niches? Why not simply carry a torch in? Why are there the remains of a Greek structure at the entrance? Why was it blocked up internally at the sanctuary with considerable human effort rather than simply fill the first few yards with concrete? There are questions to which we have no current answers.

    2. antrum

      This is untrue. For example, Colin Hardie was one well-respected academic who personally took great interest in the site. From 1933 to 1936, he was Director of the British School at Rome. From 1936 to 1973 he was a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford and a tutor in classics. In addition, from 1967 to 1973, he was the Public Orator of the University of Oxford. I have Colin’s paper that he wrote for the British School at Rome regarding the site and he was convinced. It was Hardie who urged academic Robert Temple to try to gain access to the site, which indeed happened and his book Netherworld is the result. Author Michael Baigent also visited and wrote his account in The Jesus Papers. It is not generally known that Michael was actively involved in research on site at Qumran and was an expert in the Dead Sea Scrolls, among other activities. How academic do you need to be? There are current academics in various fields interested in the site.

  2. Valerie King

    I found this report utterly fascinating. Has more research or excavations been taking place more recently please?

    1. antrum

      The answer is yes. Early last year, largely as a result of dialogue between those involved with this site and the Superintendency for Antiquities for Campania, a team of archaeologists and speleologists have made further investigations on a number of separate occasions. As far as I am aware there has been no official report, nor is one anticipated. The tunnels have been surveyed and photographically documented.

      The matter is further complicated in that the new superintendent, who took over mid 2014, has currently granted sole research rights to Graziano Ferrari, a speleologist who is not a qualified archaeologist. This is surprising as there is someone who had been actively involved who is both a qualified archaeologist and speleologist, Ivana Guidone. Furthermore Graziano, although promising to do so, now declines to share his survey data with anyone else, which is against the spirit of the team effort. It is my understanding that Graziano’s conclusion is that the tunnels must be leading to a Roman bath complex, similar to the baths of Tritoli. It is not known when Graziano intends to publish his paper. I can already see many challenges to this conclusion, but until it is published I cannot comment.

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