The Colosseum and Contemporary Architecture in Rome



Colosseum, Rome / Wikimedia Commons


Lecture by Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner / 02.19.2009
Dunham Professor, History of Art and Classics
Yale University

The Year 68-69 and The Founding of the Flavian Dynasty

Bust of Nero, 1st century CE / Palazzo Massimo, Rome

We are today at the Colosseum, the very icon of Rome. But before we discuss the Colosseum, I want to say a few words about Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors. And I show you a portrait of Nero here, from his Domus Aurea, with the Fourth Style wall of Fabullus behind him. And I wanted to just say, and bring your attention to the fact, that it really is quite amazing that we have the names of so many of Nero’s artists and architects. And that can only attest to the fact that he must have gathered around him truly the greatest artists of the day, artists whose accomplishments were so superb that their names had been recorded for posterity at a time when very few artists and architects names are recorded.

Fresco from Domus Aurea, 1st century CE / Wikimedia Commons

And I just want to remind you of that group. Think, of course, of the painter of Nero, the man who was responsible for painting the Third Style walls of Nero’s Domus Aurea, Fabullus himself, and who also appears to have been the innovator of the Fourth Style of Roman wall painting. There was also Zenodorus, who was the most famous bronze caster of his day, a Greek artist of great renown, whom Nero hired to make his colossal statue, the colossal statue 125 feet tall, out of bronze, that depicted Nero in the guise of the sun god Sol, and a statue that was referred to as “The Colossus.” And lastly, but not least by any stretch of the imagination, were the two architects of Nero, Severus and Celer–Roman architects we believe–Severus and Celer, who were responsible for the Domus Aurea itself, for all the architectural innovations and experimentations at the Domus Aurea. And it was they who we believe were the creators of the remarkable octagonal room: as I mentioned last time, probably the most extraordinary room we’ve seen thus far this semester, and one that’s going to have lasting impact on later Roman buildings and complexes. So the octagonal room, and also I mentioned to you other things in the villa, including a banqueting hall with a revolving ceiling. So these men, also great architectural innovators.

So when Nero is forced to commit suicide in 68, we have to ask ourselves, what happened to those artists? What happened to those innovations after Nero was discredited? And I mentioned also last time that when Nero committed suicide, when he was discredited, he received an official damnatio memoriae from the Senate, a damnation of his memory, which meant that his portraits could be, and were encouraged to be, destroyed, and the same with his buildings. So what is going to happen to the evolution of Roman architecture when one of its greatest patrons, someone who encouraged the greatest architects and artists of the day, when he and his memory are annihilated and his buildings are destroyed? What is going to happen to architectural innovation?

That’s the main question we need to ask ourselves today, as we look at the buildings that were commissioned by his successors, by members of the Flavian dynasty–Vespasian, Titus and ultimately Domitian. We’ll talk about Vespasian today, a bit on Titus, and then more on Titus and Domitian on Tuesday. What happens to these innovations when they begin to take over and when they begin to commission buildings? And we’re going to see it’s mixed. We’re going to see a certain move back toward a conservative vision, but we’re also going to see that Nero’s innovations live on, and that’s the most exciting piece of this particular Flavian puzzle, as we shall see.

Sestertius coin of Galba, 69 CE / Wikimedia Commons

Gold coin of Otho, 69 CE / Wikimedia Commons

Marble bust of Vitellius, 69 CE / Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

So we see again Nero here. And when Nero died in 68 A.D., what happened was not only that he received a damnatio memoriae, but there were no other Julio-Claudians to succeed him, and Rome and the Empire were plunged, once again, into a very serious civil war, a civil war that was as profoundly troubling as the civil war that had followed Caesar’s death — Caesars death, as you know, in 44 B.C. And what emerged after this civil war, or during this civil war, was one of the most complicated and difficult years in Rome’s history, the year 68 to 69, during which Rome had four emperors, not co-emperors, as Rome was to have much later in its history, but competing emperors, in very quick succession, some of them holding onto power for only a few months. These men were Galba, whose portrait you see on a coin above, who becomes emperor right after Nero’s death. And you can see him in a no-nonsense, realistic portrait on that coin in the upper left. He is succeeded very soon after by a man by the name of Otho, on the gold coin above. Otho who saw Nero as a soul mate and had himself rendered very much with a Neronian hairstyle, as you can see. And then third, a man by the name of Vitellius, who seems to have had more chins than any other emperor in the history of Rome, as you can see in the wonderful portrait now in Copenhagen.

Marble bust of Vespasian, 70 CE / Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

And then ultimately Vespasian, who was the only one of these four who was able to hold onto power long enough to create a new dynasty: a new dynasty that he called after his family name–Flavius was his family name–the so-called Flavian dynasty. And fortune was on his side, because he had two sons to succeed him, Titus and Domitian; and because he had two sons to succeed him, he was able to create a quite successful dynasty, as we shall see, that had lasting power. So this is our second main imperial dynasty, the Flavian dynasty, as opposed to the Augustan and Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Now Vespasian came to power in a civil war, and like Augustus before him, he recognized that although coming to power in a civil war could give you the authority that you needed to govern, it didn’t give you the legitimacy. It was very important in the eyes of the Romans to have had an important foreign victory, to give your dynasty legitimacy. Augustus came to power after his civil war with Mark Antony, but he looked to his victory over the Parthians, in the eastern part of the Empire, to give his reign legitimacy. Vespasian does the same thing. He comes to power in a civil war. He beats back other Romans. So he has to look elsewhere for legitimacy, and he also looks east.

He looks specifically to Judea, and he sends his son in, his son Titus in, to do war against Jerusalem, and Titus was victorious in the early 70s A.D., in this very important Jewish War. So Vespasian also, with his son Titus, is a victor in a foreign war, and that becomes the basis of their right to rule, and we’ll see references to those Jewish Wars, in their art, even in our conversation today. I also want to say with regard to Vespasian, not only was he a great military strategist, but he also seems to have been an extremely shrewd politician, someone who recognized that you could use architecture in the service of ideology, and he starts this from the very beginning of his reign.

Domus Aurea park sketch plan / http://www.in-situ.it

I go back here to the site plan of Nero’s Domus Aurea that we looked at last time. And you’ll remember the location of the Golden House of Nero, up on the Esquiline Hill, the only part of it that still survives, the so-called Esquiline Wing, which you can see there. And here, the great artificial lake. The Colossus by Zenodorus, located over there. And you can see the way those are deployed in that 300 to 350 acres of area that Nero had his architects build up.

Temple of Divine Claudius model / Maquettes historiques

Vespasian, as he thinks about how to move forward, with architecture and to begin to commission buildings, the first thing that strikes him, very wisely, is he does not want to associate himself with Nero; in fact, he wants to disassociate himself with Nero, who has now been damned. But he looks back at the Julio-Claudians and he recognizes that there is some merit in linking himself with them, and quite specifically with Claudius, who was the best–after, in addition to Augustus–was the best of the more recent lot, and Claudius was made into a god at his death. So he looks to Claudius, and he notices the fact that there is a Temple of Claudius that was begun on this very property by Claudius’ wife, his last wife, Agrippina the Younger–the woman with the poisoned mushrooms–Agrippina the Younger, who also, you’ll recall, was the mother of Nero.

And Agrippina the Younger had begun, after Claudius’ death and divinization, a temple in honor of Claudius. Nero, who had no particular affection for his mother, and as you’ll remember had her murdered, decided that he didn’t want any part of her building project either, and put a stop to it; especially when he decided that he had other plans for this particular area of Rome, namely to build his pleasure palace. So Nero stops construction–he doesn’t destroy the building but he stops construction on it–and just leaves it as it is. The light bulb goes on for Vespasian, and Vespasian says to himself: “The best way that I can use architecture to make a connection, to make a link between myself and the Julio-Claudians, especially Claudius, is to finish the Temple of Claudius that Agrippina began.” And that’s exactly what he sets out to do, and he does this at the very beginning of his reign. We give a date of A.D. 70 to the so-called Temple of Divine Claudius, or as it is often referred to, the Claudianum in Rome, and you see again the location of that Claudianum right here.

Chapter 2. The Claudianum or The Temple of Divine Claudius [00:11:42]

Now all that survives of this building today is its platform, and I’m going to show you some details of that platform in a moment: a tall, great platform, like the platforms of the sanctuaries that we looked at earlier this semester, upon which the temple rested. All that survives is part of that platform. And what I show you first here is a restored view that comes from the Ward-Perkins textbook, where you can get a very good sense of what this platform looked like. It was a two-storied platform, as I think you can see very well. It had barrel-vaulted chambers. It was made out of concrete; barrel-vaulted chambers made out of concrete. And then, on the front, there were doorways at the bottom and windows on the second tier. And the facing, the facing for the concrete was travertine, cut stone travertine, which should immediately ring a bell, because you’ll remember that it was cut stone travertine that was also used for Claudius’ harbor at Portus, and also for the Porta Maggiore in Rome.

And you’ll remember also the intriguing combination of rusticated masonry and smooth masonry for those two Claudian buildings. The same is true here. So when Agrippina made a decision to put up a building honoring her husband, after his death, a temple that would be to him as a divus, she turns back to the style that he himself seems to have favored, this combination of rusticated and finished masonry, to use for that building. And I think this underscores the point that I made last time. This choice of style, of this rusticated masonry style, is not something that happened by happenstance. It is likely because of Claudius’ own predilection as a patron, so that when Agrippina decided how it would be best to honor him architecturally, she wanted to honor him in the style that he himself liked. So she uses again this combination of rusticated and finished masonry.

Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxor podium, Terracina / Wikimedia Commons

This is the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina; that’s the podium. And you’ll remember what was characteristic of it is that it was made out of concrete. It was faced with opus incertum. It had travertine at the corners and over the arches, and it had lateral arches, as well as others, to allow the free flow of space. So this idea of these great concrete podiums that served as the base for sanctuaries, it’s the same idea here. We see again a podium that also has arches, as you can see, and then on the front of those arches, in this case, great pilasters. And if you look at those pilasters very carefully–and again it’s done out of travertine in this case–when you look at those very carefully, you see something very interesting here, that makes these slightly different from the other two that we saw.

Because you can see that the capital is finished; you can see the upper part of the pilaster; and then if you look very–and then below that, of course, you see these rusticated blocks. But if you look at the–in between each of those rusticated blocks, very carefully–and I’ll show you a better image in a moment where you can see this even more clearly–you will see that part of the pilaster emerges in between each of those rusticated blocks, giving us even more the sense that that finished pilaster is somehow inside the rusticated blocks, waiting to emerge, in a very interesting way.

And we could psychoanalyze Claudius. We’ve talked about his past and how he was not–he was ignored as a child, and he was shunted aside because he stammered and so on. One could go very far and say that’s Claudius waiting inside to emerge sometime; it’s like a cocoon that allows the butterfly to emerge at some point later in life. We could try that. I don’t know whether you would buy that. But it’s one way in which one can think about this sort of thing. But clearly, whatever it meant, if it was just to point to his antiquarian interest, his interest in more old-fashioned stone construction at this particular point, it does seem to have something to do with the particular personality of this particular patron.

 

Temple of Divine Claudius podium (left) and Porta Maggiore (right) / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another–here’s just comparing the podium of the Claudianum to the Porta Maggiore in Rome, just to remind you of the rusticated columns there, the rusticated drums of these engaged columns, and then at the uppermost part the way in which the upper part of the column and the capital are dressed smooth and seem to emerge. And that’s when I first made that point about the likelihood that the column–that we’re supposed to read this as the column completed inside, just waiting to break free; and we see the same thing, but a further elaboration of that here.

Temple of Divine Claudius rustication / Wikimedia Commons

And I think you can see that much better in this particular detail, where you can again see the entire pilaster behind the rusticated masonry. You see the finished capital, the finished entablature up above, and then you can make out the entire pilaster all the way down to the base, and then superimposed, or so it seems–it’s not really superimposed, it’s just carved in this way–but in between those, these rusticated blocks. Again giving me, at least, the sense that the pilaster is done inside, it’s just waiting somehow for its debut out of this travertine block.

Fragments of the marble plan of ancient Rome called Forma Urbis Romae, or Severan Marble plan, created under Septimius Severus. / Wikimedia Commons

Now what about the rest of the complex? We don’t know exactly, but we have some general sense that it is quite likely that it was similar to other sanctuaries – the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina, and Hercules at Tivoli. And, in fact, we do have some fragments of this, on what is called the Marble Plan of Rome. The Forma Urbis was a marble plan of Rome, that was made in the early third century A.D., which was housed in a building that I’m going to show you in a few.

So we would’ve had the podium. It’s mis-restored here; you have to imagine the two tiers that we just looked at before, not this sort of thing. But those beneath, serving as the podium, or the decoration of the podium, and then above a large rectangular space with a temple, pushed not quite to the edge of the back wall, but toward one of the walls, dominating the space in front of it. We don’t know exactly what that temple looked like, but it was probably a fairly conventional temple, on the order of so many that we’ve looked at this semester. What’s interesting about this, that’s different from the other sanctuaries that we saw, is that in the rectangular space above they seem to have planted a lot of bushes, as you can see here, and that becomes a very popular way of decorating these kinds of complexes in the Flavian period. We’ll see another example later today.

The Colosseum: Icon of Rome

Colosseum aerial view / Wikimedia Commons

The greatest, the most famous building that was put up by Vespasian, in the Flavian period, was the so-called Colosseum, which he began in the year 70 A.D.: so contemporaneous to the construction of the Claudianum. But it wasn’t finished until after his death–he died in 79; he was emperor for nine years; died of natural causes–it wasn’t completed until his son Titus became emperor, and Titus completed it and dedicated it in the year 80. We see a view of the Colosseum from above. It was a very large amphitheater that could hold 50,000 people. It was made of concrete, as we shall see. And this aerial view is very helpful because it shows its scale, its size. It shows that in Rome today it serves as a kind of giant traffic circle, as you can see here.

The Romans love the Colosseum, because it is an icon of their civilization, but at the same time they hate it, and they’re always saying, “Would that we could just get rid of it, so that traffic would be smoother in this part of Rome.” And, in fact, there was a scheme a number of years ago now–probably several decades ago by now–there was a Texan who was actually interested in buying the Colosseum and bringing it to Texas [Laughter] to display on his ranch. And fortunately–Italy gave some thought to that, but they decided obviously that they were not going to part with the Colosseum–and fortunately it has stayed intact–and I don’t think the Romans would have been too happy about that, at the end of the day, despite the fact that they curse it out on a fairly regular basis.

But we see it here, and it’s a useful view because it shows it in conjunction to so many of the other buildings and complexes we’ve been talking about thus far this semester. We’re looking back from it, toward the later Arch of Constantine, that we’ll look at, at the very end of the course; the Palatine Hill in the upper left; the Roman Forum beginning over here, with the Temple of Venus and Roma that was done in the second century; we’ll talk about that also later. Here the great Via dei Fori Imperiali, designed at the behest of Mussolini. And on the right side, of course, the Imperial Fora, with the Forum of Julius Caesar and the Forum of Augustus that we have also looked at this semester. So here you see it here.

It’s important to recall the sketch plan of the the Domus Aurea shown earlier. One of the most important things to know about this monument is where it was sited. And where it was sited shows us again how incredibly shrewd Vespasian was when it came to establishing a political agenda, and when it came to trying to court the favor of the public. He decided to raze–I mentioned this before–he razed to the ground Nero’s Domus Aurea: destroyed it, destroyed it, despite the fact that it had been done by these great architects, despite the fact that it had revolving ceilings. It would’ve been a really cool place for him to live himself–think about it–he and his dynasty. But he decided to raze it to the ground, for political reasons, to discredit Nero; and he hoped to gain favor with the populace. And what he did, smartly, was to say, “What I am going to do with this property? I’m going to return this property to the Roman people. I’m going to build on it something that they would really like to have.”

So what he does is he fills in the artificial lake, and he uses the area on which the artificial lake was originally located to build the Colosseum; he puts the Colosseum right on the location of the artificial lake. And the message is clear. What did the Roman people want more than anything else? They wanted another–they wanted an amphitheater where they could go, a large amphitheater, where 50,000 of them could pack in and watch animal and gladiatorial combats. There is no better way to gain favor with the Roman populace than to build a building like this. And to build it on top of Nero’s pleasurable artificial lake–pleasurable only for himself–was a huge coup on the part of Vespasian. And we see that happening here, and right in proximity to the Temple of Divine Claudius.

Notice the fact also, the location of the Colosseum, very close to the Colossus. The name of the Colosseum was really the Flavian Amphitheater, after the family name Flavius, the Flavian Amphitheater. That’s how it was known in antiquity. But it came quickly to be known as the Colosseum, not because of its colossal scale, which is what most people think, but because of the Colossus, because of the statue of Zenodorus that stood nearby. And, by the way, the other thing that Vespasian did was to have the features of Nero erased, on that portrait, and to make them into the more generic features of the sun god Sol himself. So the statue continued to stand, but it was fixed up, it was redone, remade, so that it would look like Sol and not like Nero.

But again the Colosseum takes its name from that. So if you are in any–we used to have a Colosseum here, in New Haven–but if you are, in the future, in any arenas that are called Colosseums, you’ll know that that name goes back to the Colossus of Nero, the Colossus of Sol, not to the Colosseum itself, ultimately. Although I think those who named those arenas were obviously thinking about the Colosseum in Rome. So the location of the Colosseum, extremely important, and a political statement on Vespasian’s part. And we see this man, this emperor of Rome, Vespasian, very cleverly using architecture to further his own personal and political agenda.

 

Colosseum plan / University of Texas Art History department, Creative Commons

This view, also these plans are also very helpful in us getting a sense of this building. And I think you can see very quickly that, like all other amphitheaters, it had an oval or an elliptical plan. It was built up with concrete: a series of barrel and annular vaults. And that elliptical plan included essentially radiating barrel vaults that–barrel vaulted ramps and passageways, and a series of annular vaulted corridors that provide lateral circulation and that are buttressed by the thrust of the seating. So it’s a scheme that we know already from the Amphitheater at Pompeii. We know it also particularly well from the Theater of Marcellus in Rome. The Theater of Marcellus in Rome was just down the street practically–I’ll show you an aerial view later to show you its proximity to the Colosseum; it’s not right next to it, but it’s within striking distance. And clearly the experiments, the architectural experiments in the Augustan period, at the Theater of Marcellus, were very important in terms of this particular design; it basically follows the same general scheme. The major difference, of course, is that since the Theater of Marcellus was a theater, it was semi-circular in plan, whereas amphitheater architecture is always elliptical in plan, and that is the case also for the Colosseum.

Colosseum cement barrel, annular and groin vaults / Wikimedia Commons

Groin vault diagram / Wikimedia Commons

If we look at the–I mentioned that there are annular vaulted corridors. We’re looking at the corridor on the first floor of the Colosseum. And you can see very quickly that it is of course made of concrete. How else would you get these annular vaults that you see here? They’re very well preserved; they’re easy to study. And you can see that those annular vaults rest on great stone piers, these stone piers made out of travertine. Again, you can see that extremely well in this particular view. That’s the first floor. On the second floor, however, we see something entirely innovative, and that is the introduction of a new form of vault that we haven’t seen before. There is also the groin or ribbed vault. And you get–when you take two barrel vaults and make them intersect, the angles that you get create this kind of groin vault; and I show you a diagram here, which makes that clear, I think, to you.

Colosseum corridor with groin vaults / Wikimedia Commons

And then a view of the second story corridors, to show you these actual groin vaults, these ribbed vaults that you see here, which are very interesting and add something, I think, to these structures. And they become very, very popular. After they begin to be used in the Flavian period, they become very popular, and we’ll see the proliferation of groin vaults, from this time on. So we talk–I talked at the beginning about what are the innovations of Nero’s Domus Aurea continued under the Flavians? Well we know that the architects of Nero did not use groin vaults, but they were very interested in the free flow of space, and that interest in the free flow of space continues here, as does experimentation with concrete, and we see it in the use of these groin vaults on the second story of the Colosseum in Rome.

Colosseum stucco decorations / Wikimedia Commons

When you visit the Colosseum in Rome today, you’ll note that it does seem quite stripped bare, unfortunately. But it’s important for you to be aware of the fact that it too was highly decorated, as so many other Roman buildings. And we do have engravings that were made, engravings and paintings, that were made when the Colosseum was in better condition, and when some of that stucco and painted decoration still existed. Above are remains of a couple of stucco decorations that would have been heavily decorating the Colosseum.

Colosseum exterior view / Wikimedia Commons

This is obviously an exterior view of the Colosseum in Rome. The exterior of the building is actually quite well preserved, and I think as you gaze at it, you certainly are struck by the similarity of the scheme to the scheme of the Theater of Marcellus in Rome. In this case, the Theater of Marcellus appears to have had three stories, only two of which are currently persevered. This had four stories, four tiers, as you can see here. Again, the structure itself is concrete; the facing is travertine. We see these great arches, just as we saw them in the Theater of Marcellus. And then also, just like the scheme of the Theater of Marcellus, columns that are placed in between those arches on the first three stories and have no structural purpose whatsoever. They do not hold the building up, as they would have in a Greek or Etruscan context. The building is held up by the barrel and annular vaults that are made out of concrete.

So these columns have no structural purpose whatsoever, and they are here essentially as the icing on the cake, as ornamentation or decoration, but ornamentation or decoration that has certain meaning to it: a meaning that certainly conjures up ancient Greece. Because you can see here that they have used all the Greek orders: the Doric order, the Ionic order in the second story, the Corinthian order–all of these are engaged columns–the Corinthian order in the third story, and then in the fourth story we see they used pilasters; these are Corinthian pilasters once again. So Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Corinthian again at the uppermost part; columns that have no structure, that are used here as pure decoration, but decoration that again has an ideological connection.

 

Colosseum upper (left) and lower (right) tiers / Wikimedia Commons

At the very top you can see the detail of the pilasters. Between them you see some travertine blocks that are brackets that stick out. Those were to support the wooden poles supported the awning that was used when there was rain. Two more views of the exterior of the Colosseum, a little bit closer up, where you can see very well here the Doric order in the first story, the travertine facing, the Ionic order in the second story, and then the Corinthian engaged columns here, and the Corinthian pilasters, and then also the brackets, extremely well preserved, on the Colosseum in Rome.

The Colosseum as a Post-Antique Quarry

Colosseum arena / Wikimedia Commons

The interior is a different story entirely. It is not as well preserved as the exterior. It is fascinating however to see. And I think you can tell from this particular view of the interior, where, as always, we have so many tourists inside the Colosseum. I think they are very useful because they give you a very good sense of scale, of how truly enormous this building is. They also show you that much of what was once there is no longer there, in the interior of the structure. As we look down on it, we can see the elliptical shape of the arena. We can see the substructures here, all made of concrete. The ones that are below the arena itself were used for the storage of props, but also for the housing of the animals that were brought up for animal combat. There were small and larger cages down here, and I’m going to show you what those looked like in a moment. So that’s the location of those, but again not in very good condition today. Even more striking is the fact that although you can see again the concrete substructures for the seats on which the cavea rested, and you will see there’s only a single cuneus that is still preserved, with a small number of marble seats. The whole thing was sheathed in marble in antiquity. All of the seats would have been marble. Only that small section is preserved, and I can show you another view where we see the same.

Colosseum cuneus with marble seats / Getty Images

Here we’re looking at that one cuneus over here, with that one set of marble seats, the only marble seats that are still preserved in the Colosseum today. “Why is that?” you ask yourselves, and you might ask me. The reason for that is that the Colosseum was used as a marble quarry, practically from the time–not too long after it was built, but certainly in the post-antique period it was used very significantly as a marble quarry. By whom? By the great princes and even by the popes; the popes did not hesitate to plunge [correction: plunder] the Colosseum for the marble that they needed for the buildings that they were putting up around Rome. The Colosseum ended up in some extraordinary buildings. So it was not for naught, but at the same time obviously it changed the face of the interior of the Colosseum forever, as we can see so well here.

Two models of what the substructures would have looked like in the area of the Colosseum where the animals were kept. And they had a system of ramps and pulleys, and they took the animals either up the ramps or by pulley, from these cages. You can see they had metal grills in front of them. Diverse animals, kept down here below and then brought up when needed, through openings in the pavement of the arena. The arena would have been paved with concrete–we have other examples of that elsewhere; I’m going to show you one today–and there would have been holes in that, by which you could bring the animals up to the arena.

Colosseum restored view with awning

This is a restored view of what the Colosseum would have–the interior of the Colosseum would have looked like in antiquity when a performance was–when a gladiatorial performance was taking place. We see that what they did was they covered over the arena with some kind of ancient version of Astroturf. They planted–they put trees that they probably–I don’t know, real or fake trees, I’m not sure which; props that took the shape of mountains, as you can see here; and then the gladiatorial–the animal combat would take place against that backdrop. You can also see the seats, the cavea, the wedge-shaped sections of those seats, the cunei; the 50,000 people packed in for this special event. And then at the uppermost part you see the awning, or this particular artist’s rendition of the awning. I think it’s very amusing that the artist has rendered it like an oculus, which is pretty unlikely that it looked quite like that; but I guess that’s a very Roman thing to do, so he did that. But it looks probably in antiquity quite a bit more like the awning that we saw in the painting in Pompeii that represented a characteristic awning for a Roman amphitheater.

Colosseum on coin of Gordian III / Wikimedia Commons

The Colosseum, extremely famous in its own day, continued to be famous in antiquity. I show you here a coin, the reverse of a coin of a boy emperor by the name of Gordian III–you see Gordian up there–the reverse of his coin in the early third century A.D., showing the Colosseum. So we certainly know from that, that it was still in good condition and being used in the third century. We see the Colossus, which was clearly still standing also in the third century A.D.: the Colossus in which the features have been changed from those of Nero to those of Sol, with the rayed crown. It was very easy to do that because, as I had mentioned, Nero had been shown originally himself as Sol, with the rayed crown. So all they had to do was change the features of the face. They could leave the crown, and that crown clearly still there, in the third century A.D.. But just again as a reminder that the Colosseum gets its name from that colossal statue that stood next door.

Colosseum model / Wikimedia Commons

And this one last view of the Colosseum. This is a model a model that probably gives you as good an idea as any of what the exterior of the building looked like in antiquity. And I use it here to show you two things. One: That we do believe, on the second and third stories, there were statues; statues placed in the niches beneath the arches. And this also shows you very well the way in which the wooden poles rested on the brackets, those wooden poles to serve to support the awning of the structure above.

Anything and everything goes on at the Colosseum. When I started going to the Colosseum more years ago than I want to say, the Colosseum was very easy to get into. You popped over there, you could walk in, in a flash; never a problem. It’s become one of the greatest tourist sites in Rome. And, in fact, a warning, if you’re going to be making your way to the Colosseum anytime soon, or in the future, it’s actually not a bad idea to go online; you can now go online and you can get tickets online for places like the Colosseum. You don’t need it for most places, but for the Vatican, the Colosseum, the most popular, it’s not a bad idea to get tickets in advance, because then you can go on the short line, instead of the line that you’re going to have to wait for hours to get in.

 

Gladiator actors at the Colosseum / Wikimedia Commons

But while you’re outside, there’s always something going on. This also never used to happen, but recently the Romans have gotten smart about realizing that everyone wants a photo op, and so they supply a host of gladiators outside the entranceway. And especially since everyone is on line for so many hours, you might as well have something to do. So they stock the place with modern gladiators, who are more than willing, for a certain number of euros, to pose in your pictures. And you see a young woman here taking her boyfriend or her husband, whomever, a picture of him playing the gladiatorial role with this sword, as you can see. And lots of fun–it’s fun just to stand there and watch everybody posing for these extraordinary pictures.

We saw that in the Colosseum the substructures were very poorly preserved. And so I wanted to show you another amphitheater where they are well preserved, so you can get a better sense of what those substructures would have looked like in antiquity. And so I take us, back south, we go down south to Campania once again, to a place called Pozzuoli, very near to Baia, and near to Naples, and near to Pompeii and Herculaneum and so on–a town that has one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters from the ancient Roman world. It dates to the late first century A.D.

Ampitheatre at Pozzuloi substructure / Getty Images

And I show you a view here of the substructures of the amphitheater, the Roman Amphitheater at Pozzuoli. And you can see what I mean: the annular vaulted corridors down below, well preserved, as are the cages in which the animals were kept in antiquity. The grates are gone, but the cages are still there, as is much of the ceiling. And it’s actually a fun place to wander through, because the light effects are incredible; the light effects through the openings in that ceiling, that were the openings through which the animals were transported, by ramp or by pulley, up to the arena.

Ampitheatre at Pozzuloi substructure / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s another view where you can also get a great sense of these substructures, of the places where the animals were kept, and also of those openings in the ceiling that allowed them to be brought up above. And you can also notice very well here the fact that the construction–in this case, late first century A.D.–is concrete faced with brick, faced with brick. And we talked about another important part of Nero’s architectural revolution was the fact that they began to build buildings that were brick-faced concrete buildings. We talked about the fact that that had to do with the fire, and the decision taken that brick was more fireproof than stone, and they began to use it, and we see it being used here. So another important facet of Nero’s architectural revolution that was not lost with the emperor’s death.

Ampitheatre at Pozzuoli substructure / Wikimedia Commons

And here you can see the very well-preserved pavement of the arena, done in concrete, with these openings in it, the same openings that you saw just before, from down below, through which the light came. These are the openings through which props, animals–some of them are very small; some of them are larger–would allow some things to be brought up through them. But you can also see there was a big open area in the center that was also used–covered over, when there was an event–but that was also there in order to allow a freer flow, and allow the attendants to bring the animals up to the top. So again, a very well-preserved pavement of the arena. And you can also see in this view that the seats, the cavea of the Theater [correction: Amphitheater] at Pozzuoli, also extremely well preserved. You can’t tell here, but the division into cunei the same. So we look to this amphitheater to give us a better sense of what the interior of the Colosseum would have looked like in ancient Roman times.

The Forum or Templum Pacis

We talked about the Temple of Divine Claudius and the relationship of that conventional temple, on top of a very tall podium. The fact that that looked back to the architectural experiments, very early on, second, first centuries B.C., at the Sanctuaries of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina, and of Hercules Victor at Tivoli; it was that kind of thing that was being looked back to. And it’s interesting to see that it was that same plan, that idea of a great open rectangular space, with a temple as part of it, that was used–and with the temple put along one of the longer ends–that was used by Vespasian for his own forum in Rome, the so-called Forum Pacis; it’s sometimes referred to as the Templum Pacis, because we’re not actually sure how it was used. We don’t think it was actually used as a typical forum with shops and a law court and so on, but may have been used in a different way, and I’ll speak to that in a moment. So we don’t quite know what to call it, and we call it either the Forum Pacis or the Templum Pacis.

Plan of Roman Fora / Wikimedia Commons

In order to see its location, I show you this plan of all of the Imperial Fora in Rome, those fora that line the Via dei Fori Imperiali, across from the Roman Forum. We’ve already looked at–here’s the tail-end, or the side of the Roman Forum here, and right next to it, two fora that we’ve already discussed: The Forum of Julius Caesar and then the Forum of Augustus. Nothing else; this wasn’t there then; this wasn’t there then. But Vespasian decides to build a forum himself, in close proximity to the Forum of Augustus. In fact, it’s interesting to see that it faces–the temple is actually on this end–so in a sense it faces the Forum of Augustus. So another smart, strategic move on the part–a smart political move on the part of Vespasian to associate himself not just with Claudius, a good emperor who was divinized, but also with Augustus, the founder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the first emperor of Rome: so to build his structure facing that of Augustus’–his temple–facing that of Augustus’. But you can see that he wants to outdo Augustus, so he makes his larger than Augustus’.

There is the Forum of Nerva, but wasn’t a forum at all, at this point.  It was a street called the Argiletum. And that street, the Argiletum–and you can see it labeled up there–that street led into a part of Rome, a residential area of Rome, that I’ve referred to before, called the Subura. The Subura was again a place where there were a lot of–I’ve mentioned it again; there were there, a lot of apartment houses, mostly made out of wood: rickety apartment houses that were lived in by a large number of people, with lesser means. And there were consequently always fires there. And you’ll remember that Augustus’ architects had to build that large precinct wall out of peperino to protect the Temple of Mars Ultor from the fires that used to break out all the time in the Subura. So you have to imagine this as a street, in between the Forum of Augustus and Vespasian’s Forum Pacis, in ancient Roman times.

Templum Pacis plan / Wikimedia Commons

Also interesting is again the plan: a rectangle with a temple on one end, dominating the space in front of it. You can see that there are columns all the way around. There are these alcoves that open off the center space, and you can see they’re screened, from that center space, also by columns. We know that some exotic materials were used here: marble that was brought from other parts of the world. We saw that beginning already under Nero — bringing marble from Asia Minor and Africa and Egypt and so on, for his buildings. That also continues under the Flavians. So another Neronian innovation that remains important. We see it here. We see red granite columns used for the colonnade. We see yellow columns from Africa, used for the columns that screen these alcoves from the larger space. And then we see white marble for the rest. So this combination of imported marbles used for the Forum Pacis in Rome.

Templum Pacis model / GJCL, Creative Commons

The Forum Pacis no longer survives. You can’t see any of it today. We do know its location though, and we do have a good sense of its plan, once again from the so-called Forma Urbis, from that marble map of Rome that has a few fragments of the Forum Pacis. Those fragments are enough to study and compare to other buildings, to allow a very accurate reconstruction. It tells us the shape of the temple, and it shows us, without any question–because one of the fragments includes lots of this–that this too, like the Claudianum in Rome, had bushes, had bushes as a kind of garden, that decorated the center of the structure. So bringing the country, in a sense, into the city, for these incredible complexes.

This is a restored view–and you see it also on your Monument List–of what the Forum Pacis would have looked like in antiquity. A quite severe façade, as it seems, with a number of entranceways. The temple pushed up–in fact, not only pushed up against the back wall, but part of the colonnade that flanks it on either side. You can see the red granite columns. You can’t see the yellow columns that would have been further in, screening the alcoves from the colonnade. You see an altar right in front of the temple. You see the bushes that were part of the plantings that made this look like a kind of garden complex in front of the temple. We don’t actually know if it was used as a temple. We have no divinity that’s been associated with it. We actually think it may have been used as a museum, as a museum, and I’m going to say more about that in a moment.

It is likely that the façade was very plain. The reason that this idea came to the fore is that eventually, when the Argiletum was filled in with a forum by Vespasian’s second son Domitian, Domitian did build a forum that is in part preserved, and which we will look at next week I believe. But that forum had on the walls a series of columns with projecting entablatures. And that does still exist now, or part of it does still exist. So I think that’s what originally gave archaeologists the idea that that was there before, and was part of Vespasian’s complex. But that seems not to have been the case, and the reconstruction that you have on your Monument List is the one that you should go by.

Let’s get back to the whole point about the museum, whether this served as a kind of museum in the time of the Flavian emperors. I mentioned the great victory that Titus had over Jerusalem, a victory–at least from the Roman point of view it was great; obviously it was not great for Judea, because the area was taken over by the Romans and the famous Jewish Temple was destroyed. And Titus also did not hesitate to ramble through the–with his men, with his soldiers–go through the Temple and pick and choose what he wanted to bring back to Rome as spoils. He took the great seven-branched candelabrum from the temple. He took the Ark of the Covenant from the Temple; he took a whole host of other items from the Temple, and he brought them back to Rome as trophies. And we see this famous scene on the Arch of Titus, an arch that Domitian put up in honor of his brother–and we’ll look at that on Tuesday.

Relief of spoils of war from the Arch of Titus / Wikimedia Commons

The Arch of Titus has a scene that depicts the Roman soldiers bringing the seven-branched candelabrum, and a table with other objects on it, from that temple, back to Rome, and parading with those through an arch. Those spoils we know were placed by Vespasian, by his father, with whom he shared a joint triumph, because of this victory over Jerusalem; it was placed in the Forum Pacis, once that was built. So it was in part a place where he could display the spoils of war, because of the fact that the legitimacy that he gained through this conquest was so important to his dynasty, to the right of his dynasty to rule, and to the right of his sons to rule after him. So he wants to make that point clear.

But again he’s very shrewd politically and he also wants to make sure that the people have access to this. He wants to remind them when Nero was emperor of Rome, he had things in his villa that he would never have dreamed of sharing with you. You weren’t able to come in and dine there and have petals and fragrances fall on you while you dined; you were not allowed into this space. “But now you can come to the Colosseum and you can go to this museum. And while you’re in the museum, you might as well look at these great spoils that I captured from Jerusalem, that bring credit to me and legitimacy to my dynasty.”

He also took–what’s also interesting and makes this more museum-like, is that he also took some of the statuary that Nero had stolen from Greece, when he went there to compete in those Olympic Games and so on, that he had stolen from Greece, and elsewhere, and put up in his villa, he also put those in the museum and opened that collection also to the Roman people. And we even know some of the statues that were there, that were taken from Nero’s Domus Aurea, and put into this museum. One of them was a famous cow; a cow that had been done by the well-known Greek artist, Myron, M-y-r-o-n, the Cow of Myron. And the second was an image, a sculpted image–we’re not sure; I don’t think we know whether it was in marble or bronze, the original–but an image of a reclining Nile River, who is surrounded by sixteen kids, who are running around, up and down on top of him and around him. Another famous statue that was in Nero’s possession, that gets put into what appears to have been a very important museum.

Roman Forum Tabularium / Wikimedia Commons

This is the Tabularium in the Roman Forum. The archive sits on the back of the Senatorial Palace, redesigned by Michelangelo. But right in front of it there was a temple that was put up in honor of Vespasian, at his death, by his son Titus. And then when Titus died only a few years later, also of natural causes, his brother, Domitian, became emperor, and Domitian decided to rededicate the temple to both of them, to Vespasian and also to Titus.

Temple of Divine Vespasian and Titus, Roman Forum / Wikimedia Commons

So it became the Temple of the two divi, because Titus was also divinized at his death. And there were statue bases that were found, that stood in front of this temple, with inscriptions indicating that they honored those two individuals, and that they were depicted, undoubtedly, in statues in front of this temple. Only three columns of that temple still survive; some of the foundations as well, of course. And you can see it in the Roman Forum, right near the Tabularium in Rome. If you look at it, you can see that these are Corinthian fluted capitals [correction: columns]. It was probably a quite conventional temple. But you do see that there is a frieze that seems to represent a number of sacrificial implements: a libation dish and a pitcher, and so on and so forth. A very large chunk of that frieze and entablature is still preserved today. It’s not with the temple but rather in the Tabularium itself, and I show it to you here.

Temple of Divine Vespasian and Titus decorative frieze, Roman Forum / Wikimedia Commons

An extremely well-preserved section of the decorative frieze of the Temple of Vespasian, the Temple of Divine Vespasian in Rome, which you see again dates to around 79 to 81 A.D. And it’s very instructive, not only in terms of the way in which Titus first, and then his brother, were thinking of honoring members of their family, but also in how ornamental this is. This is decoration that is more richly textured than any that we’ve seen thus far, and also more richly undercut. The artists are beginning to use the drill to create very deep shadows among the decorative motifs, to make them stand out even more. And you might remember–I didn’t bring it back to show you–but you might remember that section that I showed you from the Temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Julius Caesar, where I mentioned that that had been restored in the time of Domitian, second son of Vespasian, and also in the Trajanic period. And that the very deep carving indicated to us not only that it had been done later, but also the fact that the Flavians were particularly interested in this very ornamental decoration, very deeply undercut ornamentation. And we see that so well here. We see also the interesting–the variety of motifs in this frieze, and in the decorative part of it.

And then the frieze itself is very interesting. If we look at the objects, we see that they are mainly objects that are used in ritual sacrifice. We see the skulls of bulls, just as we saw them in the inner precinct of the Ara Pacis, one on either side. We see a libation dish. We see an axe, over here; that’s to knock out the animals. Here’s the knife to slit the throat of the animals; the pitcher to pour wine on an altar; a whip, for whatever purpose that had; and then over here a helmet, as you can see. So all of these implements that were used in sacrifice, regularly used in sacrifice, arranged like a still life, against a blank background.

And I don’t know about you, but when I look at this I am reminded of some of Fourth Style Roman wall decoration; of the still life paintings that we saw in the Third and the Fourth Style, where you have individual objects against a blank background. And also the decorative nature of this conjures up some of the decoration that we see, the profusion, the almost overly decorative element of Fourth Style Roman wall painting. And since this dates to 79 to 81, and you’ll remember the Fourth Style is 62 to 79 at Pompeii — but we know that the Fourth Style continued on; it was the Fourth Style that was the most popular style post 79, obviously not in Pompeii or Herculaneum, but elsewhere in the Roman world. So this very much in keeping; we’re seeing in architecture something very much in keeping vis-à-vis decoration, as we see in Fourth Style Roman wall painting.

The Imperial Baths of Titus

The last monument that I want to show you today is in many respects the most important. That seems like a strange thing to say, because what could be more important than the icon of Rome, the Colosseum? But when we think about it, the Colosseum was actually a fairly conservative building. Right? It goes back to the Amphitheater at Pompeii in its general plan, and it is quite similar to, in fact very similar to, the Theater of Marcellus, which was done at the time of Augustus. And Augustus was trying to connect his reign to that of Periclean Athens, and was using stone construction. And the Colosseum is of stone construction, although it also, of course, makes use of annular vaults made out of concrete, and also innovates with the new groin vaults. But for all intents and purposes a relatively conservative building at this time, the Colosseum was.

The building that I’m now going to show you was not that way at all, even though it’s a building that is much less well known than the Colosseum, and it also doesn’t exist any longer, unfortunately. And those are the Baths of Titus. A very important structure for us, the Baths of Titus–the Thermae Titi–the Baths of Titus, that date to A.D. 80, right smack in the middle of Titus’ brief reign of 79 to 81. They were put up in Rome, and they were put up in Rome, not surprisingly–you know the narrative here–not surprisingly on that land that had earlier been expropriated by Nero: another instance of the Flavian emperors giving back to the people. You’ve given them a museum, you’ve given them an amphitheater, and now you’re going to give them a bath. Next to an amphitheater, the bath is what they wanted most of all — a place where they could go to bathe, but also hang out with their family and friends. So again, giving back to the people what they wanted; a wise, shrewd political move on the part of Vespasian, being followed by his equally shrewd son, Titus.

Plan for the Baths of Titus

The location of the Baths of Titus was next to–actually what you see here, on top of the Golden House, is actually the plan of a later bath, the Baths of the emperor Trajan, which we’ll look at in the future. But the smaller Baths of Titus were put to the–I believe it was, yes–the west of the Esquiline Wing of the Golden House. Right just between the Golden House and where you see ‘Esquiline’ written up there, was the location of the Baths of Titus. All that survives of the Baths of Titus is part of one wall, a brick-faced, concrete wall, with some engaged columns; that’s all we have. But the building was still standing–the building was still much better preserved in the sixteenth century, when it was drawn by Renaissance architects, most specifically by Andrea Palladio–his name I put on the Monument List for you. Andrea Palladio drew a very complete plan of it, and it is on the basis of that plan that modern plans are made of the Baths of Titus. And I show it to you here. And we believe this is a very accurate plan of the Baths of Titus. And I compare it for you here with the Stabian Baths in Pompeii.

It had the palaestra surrounded by columns on three sides; the piscina or the natatio, swimming pool at the left. And then most importantly the bathing block on the right side of the structure. A men’s section and a women’s section, with that sequence of rooms: the apodyterium or the dressing room; the tepidarium, rectangular, or the warm room; the caldarium, hot room, with an apse and a cold water splash basin; and then, most importantly, the frigidarium, that small, round building [correction: room] with radiating alcoves.

That was the typical Roman bath structure, until we begin to see our first example in Rome of the so-called “imperial bath” structure, the plan that is used by the emperors for the baths that they build in Rome. It is possible that Titus’ was not the first. There’s been some speculation–we know that Nero had built a bath–there has been some speculation that Nero’s Bath may have been the first example of the imperial plan, but we don’t know for sure. But Titus’–of the ones that we know, have the specifics about, we know that Titus’ was definitely an example of this imperial bath structure.

And the features that are outstanding here, that we need to focus on, are the fact that this imperial bath structure had a very elaborate entranceway, that consisted either of columns on square bases, or piers, in the front. There seemed to have been a series of groin vaults — anytime you see an X in plan that means a groin vault. An elaborate stairway, some more columns or piers here, and more groin vaults, and another stairway, leading into a double palaestra, in a sense; or you could call it a combined palaestra here, on the southern side. And you can see the cistern; on the outside of the precinct, you can see the cistern that fed water into this bath structure. It’s roughly rectangular, as you can see, and unlike the Stabian Baths at Pompeii, where you have the bath complex on the right side, you can see that the rooms that are used for bathing are at the center of the plan, which makes sense from the Roman standpoint.

You know the Romans were very focused on axiality and symmetry, and that’s exactly what they’ve done here. They’ve placed the bathing block in the center. They’ve lined the rooms up axially with one another. They’ve placed rooms on either side, symmetrical rooms, it’s the same on the left as it is on the right. The rooms are symmetrically disposed around that central bathing block. And they’ve taken the frigidarium, which was the smallest–albeit the most interesting architecturally–but the smallest room in the bath, and they’ve made it the largest room in the bath. Because you can see at F a very large, cross-shaped room, with an apse on one end, a groin vault over the center, a single large groin vault over the center, flanked by and buttressed by, two barrel vaults, one on either side. And then opening off those barrel vaults a series of rectangular alcoves with, as you can see, with walls that are scalloped, and then with columns that screen those alcoves from the central groin vaulted space.

So an entirely different way of thinking about the frigidarium. Then that into the tepidarium from the frigidarium, again through a screen of columns–that’s fairly conventional, rectangular–and then into–we see here double caldaria, two caldaria, they also in a kind of cross shape–although a cross shape that appears a little bit more rounded than the case of the frigidarium–they too screened by columns on three sides, very open, allowing a free flow of space, in a way that was not true of the Pompeian Baths where the entrances were tiny, from one room to another; here a great deal of emphasis on the free flow of space.

So what’s very important here, the way I want to end today, is essentially where I began. What innovations of Nero’s architecture lived on, despite his damnatio memoriae, and despite the fact that his buildings were destroyed? His buildings no longer stood. The Domus Aurea no longer stood, to be studied. And yet what we see is some of the innovations did live on. And the ones that did include–and let me just compare, as the last image, compare the octagonal room, an axonometric view of the octagonal room, with the Baths of Titus in Rome. What we see are some of the experimentations that were taking place in private architecture, palace architecture.

And I should make the point that just as we’ve said that tomb architecture was often very eccentric and very experimental, the same was true for private architecture; not surprisingly. These are buildings that people make personal decisions about. How do I want to live? In what kind of spaces do I want to live? And in what kind of building do I want to be buried? Those are very personal decisions, and they were much more likely to be experimental decisions, where public architecture had to toe the line, to a certain extent, and had to be more closely allied with what had gone before, and it was also more referential in terms of looking back to other emperors and so on. So we see experiments in private palace and tomb architecture, villa architecture that we don’t tend to see as much in public architecture.

But what we see happening here is very momentous, and that is the lessons that were explored first in private architecture are being adopted in the most public of all Roman buildings, a bath building, and it’s being done in a very different way from the Colosseum. Most important, the most important adoptions, innovations, that were in Nero’s Domus Aurea, that are also included in the Baths of Titus, are axiality, symmetry–and I’ve described both of those already–new vaulted shapes, which we also did see in the Colosseum, the use of the groin vault extensively here. And then perhaps most importantly this free flow of space, the free flow of space, the vistas, the panoramas, from one part of this bath structure to another, that is very different from the bath structure of the past, from the bath structures, for example, of Pompeii.

So what we see in sum is the fact that despite Nero’s damnatio memoriae, despite the fact that that allowed authorities, and in fact the new emperor, to destroy the portraits of Nero, to raze his palace to the ground–which Vespasian did after all–despite that, the architectural innovations of Nero’s Domus Aurea lived on; they lived on in the Baths of Titus. And we’re going to see they lived on in perpetuity, and we’re going to see them continuing to have a huge impact on the evolution of Roman architecture.

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