The Julio-Claudian Architectural Legacy
Nero’s Domus Aureau, Rome, 64-68 CE / Wikimedia Commons
Lecture by Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner / 02.17.2009
Dunham Professor, History of Art and Classics
Tiberius and the Villa Jovis on Capri
Augustus founded the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The name says it all: Julio-Claudian, Julio for the Julian side of the family, Julius Caesar and Augustus; the Claudian for the Claudian side of the family. That was Augustus’ wife from–her side of the family, excuse me, the Claudian side of the family. And there were four emperors in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. These were Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. Every one of them, all four, made an important contribution to the evolution of Roman architecture, and we’ll talk about the contributions of those four today. But we’ll also see that the single most important contribution, from the standpoint of Roman architecture, was by Nero, the notorious emperor Nero, which is why I do call this lecture “Notorious Nero and His Amazing Architectural Legacy.”
Temple of Mercury interior lighting and exterior, Baia / Wikimedia Commons
This architectural legacy that would have been impossible without some of the earlier concrete constructions, specifically the frigidaria of Pompeii and also the thermal bath at Baia. The so-called Temple of Mercury, we see it again with its dome made out of concrete construction, a view from the exterior, and a view of the interior of the monument, and I remind you of the way in which is that designed so that light streams through the oculus in the dome, down onto the sides of the wall, creating light effects: a circle that corresponds to the shape of the opening above, and then falling initially on the pool of water that would have been located there, as well as across the walls, which probably would have been covered with mosaic. So a very spectacular interior indeed, and one again that had an important impact, as we’ll see, on the architectural designs of the Roman emperor Nero.
Marble portrait bust of Tiberius, 1st century CE / Copenhagen, New Carlsberg Glyptotek
I want to begin though with the first of the Julio-Claudian emperors, and that is with Tiberius. And you see a portrait of Tiberius above, just to give you a sense of what he looked like. Tiberius, again the son of Livia by a former marriage, the elder son of Livia by a former marriage, who becomes emperor of Rome right after Augustus. And the portrait that you see here is a marble portrait of Tiberius that is now in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek in Copenhagen. Tiberius was emperor of Rome from 14 to 37 A.D., and with regard to architecture, he completed projects begun by Augustus. He also was responsible for restoring Republican buildings that had fallen into severe disrepair by his reign, and this included several temples, a basilica, warehouses, and also a theater. Tiberius also initiated some new building projects in Rome. These included a Temple to the Divine Augustus, Temple to Divus Augustus, his divine adoptive father, because Augustus was made a god, as Caesar had been before him, at his death. Tiberius also put up a series of arches to his relatives, and also a camp for the Praetorian Guard.
But what we’ll see about Tiberius is that his real passion was not the public architecture that Augustus had been so fond of–think the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Mars Ultor, or the Ara Pacis Augustae, which were among Augustus’ most important building projects. Tiberius was interested instead in private architecture–architecture in a sense for himself and his nearest and dearest–and he began a palace on the Palatine Hill. He did not think the small, modest House of Augustus, despite the fact that it had those nicely painted walls, he did not think that that befit his own grandeur, and he began a major palace on the Palatine Hill, on the northwest side of the Palatine Hill. And he renovated and built villas elsewhere, outside of Rome, especially on the spectacular Island of Capri. And indeed, during the reign of Augustus, and also the reign of Tiberius, that family, the Augustan and Julio-Claudian family, built twelve villas on the Island of Capri, each more spectacular than the one before. It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that Augustus’ taste, even in villas, was somewhat more modest than Tiberius. Augustus used to decorate his villa, we are told, with dinosaur bones and things like that, of historical interest, whereas Tiberius spared no expense in introducing every luxury possible into his villas.
Domus Tiberiana and Clivus Palatinus, Palatine Hill, Rome, 1st century CE / Wikimedia Commons
With regard to the palace on the Palatine Hill, the so-called Domus Tiberiana, I just want to mention it in passing. There’s very little that survives of the substructures that Tiberius was responsible for beginning, for that palace. They were made out of concrete construction, and you can see here what’s called the Clivus Palatinus, which is a ramp way leading from the Roman Forum, up to the Palatine Hill. And you can see some of the remains of those substructures over here. The ones that we see were probably restored later and may or may not date to the Tiberian period, but they give you some idea of the sort of construction that he began on the Palatine Hill. And I mention this just because we’ll see that Caligula and some of the other emperors continued to add to this palace, and then the entire Palatine Hill is redesigned by the emperor Domitian in the late first century A.D.
Much more interesting and much more–and there’s much more information for us to look at–are the villas on the island of Capri. And I’m going to show you one, the best preserved, from that island, the so-called Villa Jovis: the Villa Jovis, the Villa of Jupiter, which is an interesting name, when you think about it, for a villa for the emperor Tiberius. The Villa Jovis, which was put up sometime in the years in which Tiberius was emperor; that is, from 14 to 37 A.D. It’s a spectacular place, beautifully situated. And I’m going to take you there today. Now the only way to get to the island of Capri, which by the way is one of my very favorite places in the world; I don’t know how many of you’ve been there, but it’s quite extraordinary–the island of Capri. You can’t jet to the Island of Capri, you have to arrive there by boat, and most people take a boat, unless they have a private yacht, but those of us who don’t, have to take a boat either from Naples, usually a hydrofoil–although they have larger boats as well–a hydrofoil from Naples or from Positano. And I actually show you–this is a view on the left-hand side of the screen of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. You go down to the beach; there’s a place where you can pick up a hydrofoil. It takes a very short time, half an hour or so, less, a little bit less, to get over to the Island of Capri from Positano.
Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto) and the Port of Capri / Wikimedia Commons
Capri is the site of the famous grottos, the Green Grotto and also the Blue Grotto. And again I can just give you a little sense here of how blue this blue is. I mean, it’s really a neon blue. It’s a spectacular sight and a very special color blue that you really don’t see anywhere else in the world. You can drive you around in the hydrofoil to see the grottos, and then you eventually get to the dock at Capri, and this is what you see as you get off the boat at the island of Capri: again a very beautiful spot to visit.
Bar Tiberio and Tiberius etching / Wikimedia Commons
As you go up, you make your way from the dock up to the funicular. You take the funicular up to the main part of town, and one of the first things you see is the popular Bar Tiberio. I show it to you mainly because it’s one of these examples of the way in which the Roman emperors have had a lasting impact, even today, that so many of these bars and restaurants and so on are named for Rome’s emperors, or for some of the monuments that we’ve been studying in the course of this semester. And this bar is no exception, and in fact if you go through the doors that lead into the interior of the bar, you will see a portrait of Tiberius etched on the doorway. So Tiberius very much lives and thrives in the center of downtown Capri still today.
Faraglioni rocks, Capri / Wikimedia Commons
What most tourists go to Capri to see, besides just to walk around a magnificent island and to test out some of the beaches, which tend to be on the rocky side, is to see the most famous rocks of Capri. And these are the so-called Faraglioni. You see them here. You go up to the so-called Gardens of Augustus, and then up to a spot where you can see these particularly well. They’re magnificent. They are the landmark spot on the island of Capri, and they have survived coastal landslides and sea erosion, to look as wonderful as they still do today. And this is, of course, the photo op on the island. I don’t think there’s anyone who visits Capri who doesn’t take a photo or have a photo taken of themselves at the Faraglioni.
Path to the Villa Jovs, Capri / Wikimedia Commons
The villa that I want to show you is again the best preserved villa of Tiberius on Capri. And again I mentioned that it’s called the Villa Jovis, and it dates to 14 to 37 A.D. It’s a trek to get up there. You have to walk essentially. The streets are such that there are no cabs or cars that can get you there. You have to make it on your own. And there are two paths. I’ve made the mistake of taking the more arduous path, but there’s another path (shown above) also that takes you by some very attractive houses and villas, which are fun to see. And you will see the largest lemons on Capri, as well as on the Amalfi Coast in general, that you’ve ever seen anywhere: gigantic lemons on lemon trees, as you make your way up to the Villa of the Villa Jovis.
Villa Jovis plan and aerial, Capri / Wikimedia Commons
Now here is a plan of the Villa Jovis. The architects have taken advantage of developments in concrete construction to create a series of barrel vaults in tiers, and those barrel vaults in tiers are where–are the cisterns of the villa, where the water was kept to supply the baths and the kitchen and so on, of the villa. There are the cisterns again and the way in which a pavement has been placed on top of those tiers of barrel vaults, to create a very large court. The entranceway into Tiberius’ villa on Capri was over here. You can see a series of columns, four in total, that you see as you make your way into the entranceway of the villa. Along this side of the villa, which is the southern side of the villa, you see the baths–not surprisingly placed on the southern side–extensive bath structure for the emperor.
Villa Jovis aula (left) and triclinium (right) / Wikimedia Commons
And then perhaps the most important room of the house is the hall or the aula of Tiberius’ villa at Capri. And you can see the shape of that aula. It’s a kind of hemicycle with large picture windows that allow views that lie outside. And it should remind you of the second phase of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, where we also saw that attractive bay window with the panoramic views, out beyond. The panoramic views were much more spectacular here than even from the Villa of the Mysteries, because as I think you can see also from this site plan, that this is located right at the edge of a promontory. It’s in fact 1,095 feet above sea level, and you get some incredible views of the sea and of other islands from this location. There were a series of rooms for the emperor himself, and including also an imperial loggia, where he could walk out and get some attractive panoramas privately on his own. There was also a triclinium or dining room where the emperor could dine and could look out again over views that were possible from this particular locale.
Villa Jovis ruins / Wikimedia Commons
This is a view of some of the remains as they look today, just to give you a sense that when you’re actually up there and wandering around. The walls don’t go up all that far, but you can also see that they do preserve the entire plan of the structure, which is why we have such a good idea of what it looked like in antiquity and how all of those pieces fit together. You can see that the construction is concrete and the facing is stone, irregular stonework, the kind of opus incertum work that we’ve seen elsewhere in Campania. Because remember this is an island, but it’s off the coast of Naples, Pompeii and Oplontis; it is in that same general area of Italy.
Caligula and the Underground Basilica in Rome
The successor to Tiberius was a man by the name of Caligula. Caligula became emperor at the death of Tiberius. And we see a portrait of him here, on the right-hand side of the screen, just again to give you a sense of the man. He had a very short–he was very young when he became emperor of Rome–he had a very short reign, only three years. And he was somewhat unbalanced, and it was not long after he became emperor–oh, by the way, he was very popular when he was a boy; he was a prince, very popular. He used to run around the military camps with his family, in a little military costume, and he wore these distinctive military boots called the caliga, which is how he got the nickname Caligula, from those boots. He was extremely popular with everyone, and everyone was quite excited when he became emperor of Rome.
A bronze sestertius (slightly enlarged), showing the sisters of Caligula (Agrippina, Drusilla, and Julia Livilla) on one side and Germanicus on the other / Wikimedia Commons
But his power went to his head. He became a despot, and he spent most of his time cavorting with his three sisters. I show you them here on a coin, and they’re all named: Agrippina, Julia, and–Drusilla was his favorite, so of course she’s in the center there–Drusilla. And he also did strange things like conduct faux wars essentially, faux wars with faux enemies: for example, his war against Britain, so to speak. And he also spent a good deal of time trying to work it out so that his horse, Incitatus, could become a senator. So this gives you some idea of the kind of man we’re dealing with here. He was occupied with all of that and really not that much with architecture. And again, he was only emperor for a very short time, so there was a limit to what kinds of architectural contributions he could make. But he didn’t make none. I mean, he made some, and in fact one of them is particularly important, and I want to emphasize those to you here.
Marble bust of Caligula, 1st century CE / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
So again, Caligula was emperor between 37 and 41 A.D. He had little public building. Again, he continued the tradition of Tiberius, and that is in having much more interest in private villa architecture than in public architecture. But again it’s only fair–as we judge him in terms of his architectural contribution, I think it’s only fair to remind ourselves that again he was only emperor for three years. If he had been emperor longer, perhaps his contribution would have been greater. He did finish several buildings, begun by Tiberius–and we’re going to see this as a pattern, that is, emperors coming to the fore and completing buildings by their predecessors. And he did build a couple of new things, including two new aqueducts and a circus located near what is now Vatican City. He thought the Domus Tiberiana was a terrific idea and consequently he added to that palace; that’s the palace that Tiberius began on the slopes of the Palatine Hill. But his main interest was villas outside Rome. He built a number of those. I’m not talking about Capri now, those were already built, and he could go down and enjoy those as emperor of Rome, but he wanted to ring Rome with a series of villas, and he began that work. And later on, according to Pliny the Elder, Rome was ringed with the villas, not only of Caligula, but also of Nero. So these were going up apace around the city of Rome itself.
The single most important contribution though that Caligula made, and it is very significant, is to alter the recipe for Roman concrete construction was altered. What they did was make the decision to lighten it up, and they did that by taking the stone rubble that had been used in the mixture of concrete for some time, taking that stone rubble and dispensing with it, getting rid of it, because it was too heavy, and mixed the liquid mortar instead with a very porous, yellow tufa, and also with pumice, which is a soft light stone resembling cork. So when you think of replacing heavy rubble with something that resembles cork, you get the sense that that is going to lead to lighter domes; lighter domes are going to lead to domes that are able to span greater spaces. So this is no small accomplishment. This is very, very significant. It happens during the reign of Caligula, and we’ll see already today that the so-called Golden House or Domus Aurea of Nero, would not have been possible, the span of that dome would not have been possible without this change in the recipe in concrete that happened under Caligula.
The other development under Caligula that I want to make reference to really has more to do with religious practice, but it also has an important impact on architecture, and that is the impact of mystery cults on Roman religion. I think I’ve mentioned to you already that the Romans practiced a state religion, and that state religion was considered the religion that everyone should adhere to. But over time, because of Rome’s connections to other parts of the empire, especially the Eastern Empire, a whole host of different kinds of religions, mystery religions, exotic religions, began to infiltrate Rome. They came back through the army, they came back through commerce, to Rome. And initially they were not accepted. You were not allowed to practice these openly. And so we saw an example with the Villa of the Mysteries where the woman of the house created a special room, room number five, for the celebration of the cult of Dionysus, because that was considered a secret religion at that particular point. But these mystery religions, Caligula himself showed some interest in them, and it began to look as if perhaps they would be able to begin to come up from underground. They didn’t during his reign, but I think again his contribution in that way was also an important one. They did continue to have to meet in secret.
Underground Basilica, Rome / Wikimedia Commons
And one sect in particular I want to make reference to today, the so-called Neo-Pythagorean sect, was that sect that was celebrated in a very interesting underground basilica that I want to turn to now. It doesn’t date to the time of Caligula; in fact, it’s a little bit later, in the reign of Claudius. But I want to show it to you here, because again it was Caligula’s beginning to be more accepting of these kinds of things that led in part to their proliferation, initially underground and then above ground as well. This is the so-called Underground Basilica, because it is located underground. It dates to around A.D. 50. It’s near a street , the Via Praenestina in Rome, along with the Via Labicana, that came and converged on the Tomb of the Baker.
It has a central nave and two side aisles, divided by that nave, that central space, through architectural members, in this case through columns; and then at the end, to give some emphasis to one short side of the space, an apse, that you also see there. This underground basilica was used for religious worship. So we see once again what I’ve referred to as the interchangeability of form: the idea of creating a certain building plan for a civic center, the law court or basilica, and then using it in other ways. We already saw the basilican plan being used in house design at Herculaneum as a banqueting hall, and here we see it as a religious, a place for religious worship underground: a basilican form being used for religious worship underground.
The Underground Basilica is miraculously preserved. Why? Because it’s underground and it didn’t–it consequently was kept in very good shape over time. It’s very difficult to get permission to go down and see it, but it is a marvel, as you can see from this image here. How did they create this Underground Basilica? How did they make this building underground? Well they cut trenches in the tufa rock. So they cut trenches in the tufa rock, and then they poured concrete into those trenches to create the walls and also the barrel vault that you see so well here. And once that concrete had dried, they cut it out in such a way as to create the piers that you also see very well in this structure. So we’re looking at that central space; we’re looking at the piers, the arches above those piers, and then that’s supporting a barrel vaulting ceiling, as well as a semi-vault in the apse of this structure.
Underground Basilica vault / Wikimedia Commons
The walls are made out of concrete but they’re stuccoed over and divided into a series of panels that are decorated with pretty strong resemblance to Third Style, and that resemblance becomes even clearer as we look up to the vault above. This is how we surmise that this building was put up to the Neo-Pythagorean cult, because of the figures that we see floating in the central panels here. Those who have a good understanding of the Neo-Pythagorean cult have suggested that these track extremely well the beliefs of this particular cult.
But interesting for us is again the close resemblance of this to Third Style Roman wall painting. It’s done in stucco. The stucco is painted, but you can see it’s divided into a series of panels with floating mythological figures, or floating religious figures in this case, inside the panels. And look then very carefully at some of the floral decorations, which you will see also resemble very closely the flimsy candelabra and so on that are characteristic of Third Style Roman painting. This shouldn’t surprise you. The date of 50 A.D. is still well within the Third Style. We’ve talked about the very long life of the Third Style, that it was used already in the late first century B.C., but that it didn’t really go out until about 62 A.D. So 50 was still in that period of the Third Style; it doesn’t surprise us to see decoration like this, in this very interesting Underground Basilica.
Claudius and the Harbor at Portus
Caligula was murdered in 41, and his wife and daughter–he had one daughter–were also murdered at the same time. He had no family member to succeed him, and his uncle Claudius was chosen as the next emperor of Rome. Many of you may know the interesting story, quite captivating story, of how Claudius was chosen as emperor. He was someone who was not highly respected by his family–and I’ll say more about that in a moment; no one ever thought he was going to amount to anything. And when, after Caligula’s death, Claudius was such, kind of timid, that he hid behind a curtain. But as the Praetorian Guard wandered through the palace, trying to figure out who in the world they were going to appoint as Caligula’s successor, they saw a pair of feet underneath a curtain. They pulled open that curtain and they saw Claudius, and they thought, “Well he’s going to be no trouble at all. No one thinks much of him. We’re going to be able to get everything we want if we appoint Claudius as emperor.” And so they did, they bowed down, and they said, “You are now–“, or they put him up on their shoulders, “You are now emperor of Rome.”
The Gemma Claudia, Roman, c.49 CE. Five-layered onyx, height: 12 cm. Setting: gold rim. Inv.#. IX A 63. Depicts on the left side the Emperor Claudius and his fourth wife Empress Agrippina minor. Opposite the couple are the parents of Agrippina, Germanicus and Agrippina maior. / Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Well Claudius surprised them because he was a very smart individual indeed, as we shall see. This is a cameo, a famous cameo that represents Claudius, on the left with his wife, and then opposite Germanicus and Agrippina Major. It’s a fairly small but very beautiful cameo, and these cameos were used as presentation pieces in ancient Roman times.
Claudius was emperor of Rome between A.D. 41 and 54. I mentioned that his family did not have much respect for him. They thought he was weak and sickly, and they thought he was dim-witted. And the only reason they thought he was dim-witted, because the poor fellow stammered, and they thought that that reflected an undisciplined mind. Not at all, he was very, very intelligent indeed, and he surprised them. He surprised not only the Praetorian Guard but also his family, when he became emperor. He turned out to be a unique individual with a predilection, as we shall see, for an entirely new kind of, and very distinctive form of architecture, and one that I believe–and I’ll try to make the case to you today–reflected his very distinctive intellect.
We need to know therefore something about him and how he had trained himself intellectually before he became emperor of Rome. He was fifty-years-old when he became emperor. He had been, in the years prior to that, a scholar, an historian, an antiquarian, a linguist. He wrote a history of Rome by himself–it was not ghostwritten–and he wrote several volumes, also on his own, on the Etruscans; he was particularly interested in the Etruscans. We know he added a few letters to the Latin alphabet to give it more range, and he was the last Roman, as far as we know, to be able to read and also write Etruscan. This gives you a very good sense of the man. With regard to architecture, he rejected categorically the interests of Tiberius and Caligula in villa architecture, and he returned to the construction of public architecture–he looked to Augustus as a model for this–and especially to public works.
Port of Rome at Ostia plan / Wikimedia Commons
Sestertius with portrait of Nero and Port of Rome at Ostia / Wikimedia Commons
Above is a site plan of the port of Rome, located at Ostia. Ostia the city at the mouth of the Tiber River. Ostia was a colony already founded in the mid-fourth century B.C., in around 350, and it grew over time and it had its efflorescence, as we’ll see in a later lecture, in the second century A.D. Here the plan of Ostia over here. The Tiber River, and then at the mouth of the Tiber River, at a place that we call Portus, a location that we call Portus or Porto, the actual harbor itself. Also above is a coin of the emperor Nero. You see Nero on the obverse and on the reverse a representation of what we think is the port built by Claudius.
We have a description of the port of Claudius by Suetonius in his Lives. Suetonius tells us that the port had curving breakwaters, curving breakwaters. And if we look at this coin of Nero that was struck by the emperor between 64 and 68 A.D., we see on the back what is clearly a port, with curving breakwaters. So we believe that this must be a depiction of the port built by Claudius sometime during his reign, that is, between 41 and 54. What does that coin tell us about what that port must have looked like? We can see that there is a large statue in the upper center. There is a river god reclining below, probably the Tiber himself, to locate this port, and also a series of boats in the center. But most important again are the curving breakwaters, which you can see are made up of a series of columns; they look like colonnades, one on either side, curving colonnades. This plan down here shows us the likely plan of the Claudian harbor, roughly circular, again with breakwaters on either side, with columns on either side. This area was added to by the emperor Trajan, in the early second century A.D. He added a five-sided port as well, and you can see that here, in this plan as well. But think that away for now. All that would’ve been there was Claudius’ port with the curving breakwaters.
Portus fresco, Vatican, 1582 / Wikimedia Commons
This is a painting of the Portus, that’s on the wall in the Vatican. I’ve walked by it many times and only recently really noticed it and took a picture of it, and I think it’ll be helpful to you today because it gives you a sense of what this port looked like in antiquity. You see the curving breakwaters of Claudius’ port. The breakwaters were made up of columns. The columns are all that survive today, and what a set of columns they are.
Portus columns / Wikimedia Commons
I show a detail of some of them to you here. If you look at these columns very carefully, you will see that the capitals on the top, which are very severe, you can identify them as capitals. And the bases are also finished with very nice moldings down below. But in between the bases and the capitals, we see something again that we’ve never seen before, and that is a series of drums, of column drums, piled one on top of another. But those drums are not finished, or they’re left in a rough state — one or the other. They have either been deliberately left in a rough or rusticated state, or they were unfinished.
Why might they have been unfinished? They might have been unfinished because the project was late, they were rushing it, they wanted to get it done, they needed to use the harbor, and so they said, “Look, to save time just put those columns up the way they are and don’t bother finishing the drums of the column.” Or one could argue that it might have had to do with expense, that it was getting too expensive, and that they decided not to finish the drums for that reason. Or it might have been deliberate, or it might have been deliberate: the idea to leave those drums rough, to make them look rusticated.
Portus column detail / Wikimedia Commons
This is another detail of one of the columns over here, where you can see the rough drum, and then down below the base on which that sits, a molded base, very carefully molded. The architects, the designers, the artisans could finish these columns perfectly well if they chose to. They did it on the base, they did it in the capitals, but not in between. Here’s another one where you can see a series of columns engaged into a wall, and again you can see the rough or rusticated drums. Then down below the molded and finished bases. So this difference between what we call finished masonry or dressed masonry, or rusticated masonry: masonry that is deliberately left rough.
Claudius’ Porta Maggiore in Rome
Porta Maggiore, Rome / Wikimedia Commons
I want to turn now to the great gate or the Porta Maggiore in Rome, also built by Claudius between 41 and 54 A.D. It is near the Tomb of Eurysaces, near the Underground Basilica that we also discussed today. And I had mentioned to you already that the purpose of this gate was to serve as a crossing point for two aqueducts: aqueducts that had been begun earlier, were worked on by Caligula, and then completed by Claudius. And there were two of them that crossed at this very point, and they needed something to mask that crossing, and so they built this great gate, the Porta Maggiore.
If you look at this general view of the Porta Maggiore, you will see much of what I have already described. It has two open archways. The uppermost part, which is the attic, has an inscription making reference to Claudius and to the aqueducts and so on. Down below we see a series of smaller arcuations, surrounded by columns on either side, supporting pediments above. If you look closely you can see that the pediments are finished, the pediments are finished, the lintels are finished, the capitals are finished, but the blocks of the column and the blocks of the rest of the structure are left in a rusticated state. They are not finished, and we see that very stark difference between the rusticated masonry and the finished masonry: the smooth masonry, the dressed masonry and the rough masonry in this structure. This gate, by the way, is made out of travertine–travertine cut stone construction.
Porta Maggiore gate and aqueduct channels above / Wikimedia Commons
Here’s another view that I think shows you better the way in which this gate masks the crossing of those two aqueducts. You can see two channels there, and one would have had pipes running through it one way and the other would have had pipes running through it the other way, and that’s how they crossed in antiquity. And I’ll show you a model that may make that even clearer in a moment. You can also see the location of the Tomb of the baker Eurysaces right next to the so-called Porta Maggiore.
Model of the Tomb of Eurysaces and Porta Maggiore / Wikimedia Commons
Here’s the model that I showed you when we looked at the Tomb of Eurysaces, the way in which the Praenestina and the Labicana come into Rome and converge at the façade of that tomb. Here you see the great gate or Porta Maggiore behind it. And this is the best illustration I can give of the way in which those two, the pipes of the two aqueducts, cross behind the attic of the gate, which is one of the reasons it had to be as tall as it did, and one of the reasons it had to have tiers was in order–because it was separated behind. You can see that very well here, as well as the rusticated, the contrast between the rusticated masonry and the finished masonry of this great gate.
This combination of the two is a very mannered thing to do, and it’s interesting that later Renaissance architects in Italy–and for those of you who are aficionados of the Renaissance, you may know the work of an architect by the name of Giulio Romano who created the famous Palazzo del Te in Mantua. And I show you a detail of the Palazzo del Te, just to make the point, the more general point–you don’t have to worry about Giulio–but just to make the general point that these Renaissance architects, like Giulio Romano, looked back to buildings like the Porta Maggiore in Rome when they also conceived of buildings in which they contrasted rusticated masonry with smooth masonry, as you can also see so well.
I can’t help but think of the Renaissance again, and especially of Michelangelo. It makes me think again that a very intelligent, a very refined mind is behind sorting out this kind of thing, and conceiving of something of this nature. And given the education and the bent of Claudius, he is just the kind of man who might have done that. And I think we need to see the architecture of Claudius, this rusticated architecture of Claudius, which is contrasted to the smooth and finished architecture, at the same time, as something that really is reflective of the peculiar personality of this man.
Porta Maggiore dressed masonry / Wikimedia Commons
I think it’s also important to say though that this kind of architecture, at this time, is very old-fashioned. The whole idea of using cut stone travertine construction, after what we’ve seen is going on in concrete construction, is a very old-fashioned thing to do, and again shows us a man who is looking to the past, who’s looking to the history of Rome, to the history of the Etruscans, perhaps rather than to the present. But, on the positive side, one could also say that what he is doing here, he is using stone construction, but he is using it in a very different way, and indeed an almost anti-classical way, to the way in which Augustus used it. Think of Augustus’ Ara Pacis. Think of Augustus’ Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus in Rome. Both of those marble buildings, in that case Luna or Carrara marble, based on ancient Greek prototypes. This is also stone architecture, and in that sense again old-fashioned, but it’s travertine, not marble. But it is anti-classical in its use of this rusticated, as well as smooth masonry. So I do want you to ponder this architecture of Claudius and think for yourselves about whether you think again it is due, the form that it takes is due to the very interesting and unusual personality of this one man.
Nero and the Domus Transitoria in Rome
Gold coin with portraits of Nero and Agrippina the Younger / Wikimedia Commons
From Claudius, I want to turn to the notorious Nero, and his amazing architectural legacy. And you see a portrait of Nero here, on the right-hand side of the screen, and a coin with his mother. The mother of Nero was Agrippina the Younger. Agrippina the Younger was the last wife of Claudius, and it was rumored that Agrippina the Younger murdered Claudius with a bowl of poisoned mushrooms. We don’t know if that’s true or not, it may be just rumor mongering. But it’s perfectly conceivable because she certainly had a motive, and that is she thought she would have more power if her teenage son–because he was only about 17-years-old at the time–was on the throne of Rome, instead of her older husband. This coin of the young Nero and Agrippina I think says it all; I mean, mother and son almost nose to nose. This gives real meaning to being ‘in your face’; as you can see here, Agrippina is certainly in the face of Nero on this coin. And she was with regard to his life, dominating him in the very early years of his reign.
Nero was born in A.D. 37. He was emperor between 54 and 68. At his death, his murder–he was forced to commit suicide actually in 68–he suffered a damnatio memoriae, which was a condemnation by the Senate of him, a damnation of his memory; and an attempt to destroy his portraits, and also his architectural monuments, followed that damnatio memoriae. Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors. He was the adoptive son of Claudius, and as I’ve already mentioned the real son of Claudius’ last wife, Agrippina the Younger. I mentioned already that Agrippina was a quite aggressive woman who aggravated Claudius and Nero both. We talked about the poisoned mushroom stories, and the fact that when her son became emperor, she received, at least for a while, enhanced power in Rome.
Bust of Nero, 1st century CE / Antiquarium of the Palatine, Wikimedia Commons
But Nero eventually paid his mother back by having her murdered in A.D. 59. He also got rid of his wife Octavia, a beautiful young girl whom he had murdered in 62. So by the age of 25, Nero had gotten rid of the women, the two women, who had dominated his youth, and his much-touted madness–he was not unlike Caligula in some of the wild things that he did–his much-touted madness began to appear. That said, despite his madness, he was absolutely adored by the populace. It was a great show to watch Nero, and people liked seeing what he would do next. He was adored by the populace. He was however hated by the aristocracy and in 68, he was hunted down by his enemies and he was forced to commit suicide.
I would call Nero a patron of architecture extraordinaire. His contribution to the development of Roman architecture is indeed extraordinary. He had a passion for the arts, which undoubtedly led to his devotion to building. He wrote and he sang poems. Nero was a musician. He collected Greek works of art. He traveled to Greece to participate in the Olympics. Whenever he did that, they were always fixed in his favor. When he traveled around Greece and Asia Minor, he stole–if he saw a work of art he liked, he stole it, and he brought it back to Rome to display. He interwove his life with his art, in the same manner as Claudius did. He took advantage of that very famous fire in Rome, which took place in 64 A.D., to–legend has it that he fiddled while Rome burned. He wasn’t fiddling actually but he was participating in some sort of musical performance; we know that. And after the fire raged through the city and caused incredible havoc and great destruction, what Nero did was instead of rebuilding the land for the people of Rome, he just expropriated 300 to 350 acres of prime real estate in downtown Rome, and he used it to build his own villa, his own palace, in the center of Rome, the famous Domus Aurea or Golden House, because it had a gilded façade. Nero’s architecture was intimately bound up with the vicissitudes of his life and his distinctive, if not warped, personality, as we shall see.
Domus Transitoria, Rome / Wikimedia Commons
Nero built two palaces in Rome. The first of these was the Domus Transitoria in Rome that was built sometime before the fire, before A.D. 64, because it was very significantly destroyed in that fire of A.D. 64.
Nero’s dream was to link the buildings that were going up on the Palatine. We’ve already talked about the Imperial Palace, begun by Tiberius, continued by Caligula. Claudius had no interest in that. But then Nero returns to it, and he’s continuing to build this palace on the Palatine. But his dream is to link that with property that he also owns on the Esquiline Hill, and to make one truly grandiose palace that links those two hills, across a spur hill called the Velia, which is in this uppermost part of the Roman Forum, closest to the Colosseum. That was his dream, and he began to try to realize it prior to 64 A.D. The building is called the Domus Transitoria because it served as a point of transit between those two hills, between the Palatine and the Esquiline Hills. Again, because it was so seriously destroyed in fire, and also because it was deliberately destroyed by later emperors who were following the damnation, the damnatio memoriae, the damnation of Nero’s memory, and felt that it was their right, in a sense, to destroy his buildings. So those two things together, deliberate destruction plus the fire, essentially destroyed most of the Domus Transitoria. But a couple of sections are preserved underground, and they’re very important for us to look at because they give us insight into the later Golden House or Domus Aurea.
Domus Transitoria reconstructed illustration / Wikimedia Commons
This is a restored view the fountain court of Nero’s Domus Transitoria, and we see a number of important features. We see an open court with a pool, with columns around it. On the northern wall over here, we see the fountain itself. We see that what the architects have done is create, using a niche, a place in that niche, a series of other niches, that served as the location of the actual water from which the fountain emerged, and the water would cascade over this wall down here, and then end up in a long basin in front of it. The wall is what’s most interesting. If you look at it, you will see that it is essentially scalloped, with columns in the front and then additional columns in the receding bays, creating a kind of in-and-out effect, very similar to theater architecture, and I show you a restored view of a typical theater, of earlier date, just to give you a sense of what this is based on. You can also see that opening up off this central court, screened by columns, are barrel-vaulted rooms on either side. These were used as special dining areas; so special dining areas with beautiful views out onto this fountain court on either side.
This restored view also gives you a sense that the pavements were variegated, were done in different designs. And we know that these pavements were made out of marble and that the walls were revetted with marble. This isn’t the faux marble of the First Style, this is real marble, and it’s our first example in Rome of a room that was revetted with marble, brought from all parts of the world: marble brought from Africa, marble brought from Egypt, marble brought from Asia Minor and also from Greece, in various colors, to decorate the fountain court of Nero’s Domus Transitoria.
The Golden House of Nero and the Octagonal Room
Domus Aurea plan / Wikimedia Commons
I want to turn to Nero’s most important architectural commission, and I can’t over-emphasize the significance of this structure that I’m going to show you now, the so-called Domus Aurea or the Golden House of Nero, again because of its gilded façade. We’ve already talked about the fire that raged through Rome in 64, and that when that fire, when the smoke from that fire died down, that Nero expropriated 300 to 350 acres in prime downtown Rome, for his own use, for a private palace, the so-called Golden House. We see a site plan here.
And the Golden House was very extensive. There’s only one part of it that remains today as part of the Esquiline Hill in Rome, and we therefore call it the Esquiline Wing of the Domus Aurea of Nero. This palace had an incredible set of gimmicks, gimmicks that were so noteworthy that the names of the architects have come down to us, the architect and engineer who are responsible for this. And I think it is largely they came down to us largely because of these incredible gimmicks that they created for this structure. Their names were Severus and Celer; Severus and Celer. And I believe I have put their names on the Monument List for you. Yes I have, underneath the plan of the Esquiline Wing. So Severus and Celer; their names suggest to us that they were Roman architects, in fact.
And these gimmicks included a 125-foot statue of Nero himself, a colossal stature–or the Colossus, as it is designated here–a colossal statue of Nero assimilated to the sun god Sol, S-o-l, the sun god Sol, and it was done in bronze and it was done by a famous artist, whose name we also know, Zenodorus, who was a very famous bronze caster. So Zenodorus’ Colossus, the gilded façade. And what were some of the gimmicks that Severus and Celer added to this palace? When you ate in the dining hall, if you were invited as a special guest to eat with Nero, while you were eating the coffered ceilings of one of the dining rooms would drop on you all kinds of wonderful fragrances and flower petals, while you ate. There was also a bath that gave you a choice of sea water and salt water and water from the sulfur springs of Tivoli; you had your choice, if you were bathing at Nero’s Domus Aurea. And most spectacularly of all, and I think what Severus and Celer had particular fame for, was they created a banqueting room that had a revolving ceiling, supposedly, a ceiling that revolved with the heavenly bodies. So an incredible array of gimmicks, as I said before, in this extraordinary palace, but all of them clearly possible vis-à-vis architecture at this time.
Domus Aurea Esquiline Wing plan / Wikimedia Commons
I’m showing you here a plan of the Esquiline Wing. This is the one part of the palace that survives today. We’ll talk about what happened to this palace in a later lecture, but you can see it here. Rooms around a five-sided court, as you can see at this location. And then here, what is the so-called octagonal room of Nero’s Domus Aurea, which is a remarkable room. And I think it’s fair to say the single most important room that I will have shown you thus far this semester is the octagonal room of Nero’s Domus Aurea. And you see it here. You can see the plan of the octagon, and then the radiating spaces out from it.
What happened to it eventually, after Nero’s damnatio memoriae, some of this was destroyed and much of it was incorporated into later buildings. Eventually a bath of the emperor Trajan ended up on this site, and the emperor covered over what remained of Nero’s Domus Aurea, what hadn’t been razed to the ground, and incorporated some of it into his later bath.
Baths of Trajan built on part of site of Domus Aurea / Wikimedia Commons
The hemicycle of Trajan’s Baths was actually the entranceway today of the Domus Aurea. You can see it right here, and you can see that the other remains of both Trajan’s Baths and of the Domus Aurea have been incorporated into a modern garden, a very attractive garden where you can wander and see some of the remains of both. And actually what you see here–it just shows how amazing Google Earth is–this circle that you see here is actually–it has a grate on top today–but it is actually the oculus of Nero’s octagonal room, which is down below, which is located underground. So if you visit the Domus Aurea, which is, as you can see, right near the Colosseum, you go into the entranceway through the hemicycle of Trajan’s later baths, and you find yourself in a series of corridors.
Domus Aurea Third and Fourth Style frescoes / Wikimedia Commons
In these corridors for Nero’s Domus Aurea are first the Third Style paintings and then the Fourth Style paintings. And you’ll remember that the Domus Aurea was described as Fabullus’ prison, because there were so many rooms and corridors that it would take a whole lifetime to paint them. And you see some of those here: barrel vaulted corridors, stuccoed over, and then painted in the Third and Fourth styles. Another gimmick that you see throughout the Domus Aurea are a series of bridges that are built to carry water from one part of the palace to another.
Domus Aurea corridor with brick / Wikimedia Commons
Domus Aurea corridor with brick / Wikimedia Commons
Another view here showing one of the corridors, and what you see here is something that we have not discussed yet, but is the wave of the future, and that is concrete faced with brick. After the fire there was realization–the fire of 64–there was realization that stone burned too easily, it was not an effective facing any longer, and that they needed to come up with something else. Brick worked better with fire. So the decision was taken to move–and this is not the tile brick in Pompeii, this is real brick–and the decision was taken to begin to use brick-faced construction for these buildings. At this time it was stuccoed over, as you can see here: stucco, and then painted on top. So you wouldn’t have actually seen the brick in antiquity, but we’ll see it was not long until the Romans recognized that brick was a very attractive material in its own right, and began to leave it exposed. But we’re not there yet. The paintings, the Fourth Style paintings of Fabullus.
Domus Aurea octagon room and illustrated overhead / Wikimedia Commons
This is the single most remarkable and important room, the octagonal room in Nero’s Domus Aurea. This is truly an octagonal room. The experiment in the domed room, where they had inscribed a circle into an octagon, gave them the idea that they were going to try to make an actual octagonal room out of concrete, and they succeed here. You can see the eight sides of this room. You can see it has a series of radiating alcoves, but much bigger alcoves than we saw in the frigidaria at Pompeii, or in the thermal bath at Baia, and differently shaped ones–not all the same, but a couple are cross-shaped and others are rectangular–different shapes. And then the axonometric view shows you that within those alcoves there are additional niches in some of the walls that give more of a sculptural quality to this than has been the case before. And this again was no small feat on the part of these architects.
Why is the Domus Aurea so important–excuse me–the octagonal room of the Domus Aurea so important? The octagonal room of the Domus Aurea represents a break from the tyranny of the rectangle, the tyranny of the rectangle that we know from Greek and Etruscan architecture. It enables vistas to be created in every direction, and you know the importance to Romans of vistas and panoramas. It creates one continuous envelope around an interior space. It fully realizes the technical and expressive potentiality of Roman concrete construction. It represents a switch of emphasis from solids to voids — from walls and roofs that we saw in such buildings as the Temple of Portunus, to the insubstantial space that they enclose and shape. It is the interior space, not the walls that matter now. And in this new interior architecture, light plays a key role: natural light that creates drama, as well as illuminates. The importance of the octagonal room of Nero’s Domus Aurea cannot be overstated!!! The octagonal room heralds the Roman architectural revolution that we saw already beginning at places like Palestrina, but it is finally here, in its full-blown form; whereas I said the potentiality of the expressiveness of Roman concrete is fully realized.
One can only imagine Nero entering into this octagonal room, and how he must have felt. And, in fact, we have a quote from Nero, in which he says that when the Domus Aurea in Rome was finished–or he’s reported to have said, when the Domus Aurea in Rome was finished–he’s reported to have said, and I quote: “At last, at last, I am going to be able to be housed like a human being.” That was the way Nero thought about this. He achieved his goal, undoubtedly, at least for a short period of time before he died in 68. And I believe–and I’m sure you agree with me–I believe that it is for the Domus Aurea, especially for the octagonal room of the Domus Aurea, that Nero would have liked to be remembered, and indeed he achieved his goal.