At the end of the last century, the rich archaeological material of Aquileia, from both civic and private collections, was housed in the Faraone-Cassis Villa. The villa, currently used for the museum, was renovated at the end of the 1950s. The display is based on antiquarian criteria, as the collections lack information on provenance.
On the ground floor are displayed the collections of sculpture. The floors are decorated with black-and-white mosaics from buildings and houses of ancient Aquileia, capital of the X Regio Venetia et Histria, and an important centre along the Roman road network.
Room I displays the most important examples of the Roman portraiture at Aquileia, in chronological order. Particularly noteworthy is the well-known Late-Republican head of an old man, lively and realistic. Along the rear wall can be seen the frieze representing the ceremony of tracing the furrow for the foundation of the town, the plaque of L. Manlio Acidino (one of the magistrates who founded the colony in 181 BC) and, on the right, the ex-voto for the victory of the emperors against the usurper Maximinus the Thracian, who besieged Aquileia in 238 AD.
Room II are on display the cultured statuary and funerary statues primarily from the cemeteries beyond the city walls. Among significant items on display are the big statue of Emperor Claudius from the circus area, the ‘navarca’, a large funerary statue of type and a little head of a young man crowned with ivy.
Room III displays the funerary reliefs, including several of local production, belonging to plebeian and provincial individuals, with lively representations of their professions. Imperial Attic sarophagi, of which Aquileia was one of the most important import centres, are also on display.
Room IV is dedicated to religious statues. There are Roman copies of Classical and Hellenistic originals, a headless replica of the Medicea Venus, and reliefs and epigraphs dedicated to various deities.
On the second floor Room V displays Aquileia’s rich collection of carved gems, which documents the role of the town as a production centre, attested from the II century BC to the III AD. The vast cameo collection includes specimens with portraits of the Iulian-Claudian dynasty, while the very rich collection of worked ambers includes examples from funerary contexts.
Room VI is dedicated to Egyptian or Orientalising objects of the Roman world, and to Palaeo-Christian objects; remarkable is a Late Roman silver helmet.
Room VII are on display pottery, lamps (arranged according to typology) and votive and funerary items. Room VIII is dedicated to bronze objects, with mirrors, strigili, votive and domestic small bronzes, appliques of furniture, and Late Roman and early Medieval fibulae, including the exceptional bronze chandelier with Palaeo-Christian symbols (IV century AD).
Room IX displays glass objects, preeminent in the economy of Roman Aquileia which constituted major centre of glass production and export.
Finally, the two rooms on the second floor are reserved for temporary exhibitions and for the rich numismatic section (as the city of Aquileia had its own mint).
Within the external porticoes can be seen items of lapidary, while mosaics, some of these very famous from the excavation of Roman houses, have been inserted in the floor. There are also architectonic decorations of public buildings, funerary, votive and civil epigraphs, funerary monuments (of Q. Etuvius Capreolus and the family of the Statii). Between the mosaics: the asarotos oikos (non-swept floor), the rape of Europa against a blue background, athletes, and the triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite from the Grandi Terme.
Since 1988 the museum houses a small naval section, where the Roman ship of Monfalcone is on display.