Neronian Palace

Province

Italia
Italia (Pleiades)
Italia, Regio I (Pleiades)

Location

Rome
Roma (Pleiades)

Sublocation

Palatine
Palatine Hill Mons Palatinus (Pleiades)
Esquiline Hill Esquilinus Mons (Pleiades)

Garden

Garden of the Neronian Palace, Palatine

Keywords

Garden Description

In the Neronian period the architecture and the size of gardens changed substantially, as did the building criteria and urban organization of the city. With Nero, the Romans feared for the first time that Rome could become a single, grandiose residence. Suetonius informs that Nero, “having built for himself a house that extended from the Palatine to the Esquiline, first called it ‘transitoria'; then, when it was destroyed by fire, he had it rebuilt and called it ‘aurea'" (Suet. Nero, 31). Even more than Augustus’s residence, the expansive architecture of the Neronian palace, the Domus Transitoria seems to derive from the Ptolemaic royal palace (basileia) of Egyptian Alexandria, which is known to have occupied vast tracts of that city.

One may suppose that Nero chose the language of refinement and sumptuousness of Hellenistic sovereigns, expressed perfectly by gardens, by combining the splendor and richness of vegetation with the magnificence of architecture, in order to lend a royal component to his imperial power. The Neronian buildings on the Palatine have not been studied in their entirety, but excavations are showing ever more precisely their extent. Physical evidence of these constructions are important because the description of the Domus Aurea and its gardens given by Suetonius (Suet. Nero, 31) must refer in part to Nero’s buildings and arrangements on the Palatine.

Structures known erroneously as “Livia’s Baths,” still partially preserved under the peristyle of the Domus Flavia, are attributed to the Domus Transitoria. They are imposing and luxurious constructions consisting of a porticoed hall with magnificent floors in colored and inlaid marbles, to a large extent belonging to open areas and connected with gardens. Nearby, excavations have discovered waterproofing systems of low suspensurae that are typical of gardens. What must originally have been an open area with an elaborate fountain on one side, adorned with niches imitating the architectural forms of a theater backdrop (scaenae), belongs to Neronian constructions. Opposite the fountain was a pavilion surrounded by polychrome marble columns and pillars and marble basins, perhaps for plantings (Fig. 6). These elements, together with other “stepped” structures for the descent of water, which boldly break up the walls, and wall paintings, which show connections with widespread themes in gardens, have given rise to the hypothesis that this construction could be a diaeta built in a terraced open zone. The presence nearby of a large cistern of Neronian date confirms the great need for water in this area at that time.

RELATED PHASES ON THE PALATINE:

Gardens of the Republican Domus (A)
Garden of the House of Augustus (B)
Garden of the Domus Tiberiana (C)
Garden of the Domus Flavia (E)
Garden of the Domus Augustana (F,G)
Garden of the Palatine Stadium (H)
Garden of the Severan Complex (I)

Figures

Plan of the Palatine

Fig. 1. Plan of the Palatine with the indication of the garden areas (Drawing Coop. Modus. Reworking E. Boschi. Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma, henceforth abbreviated as SAR).

Reconstruction of the Domus Transitoria Nymphaeum

Fig. 2. Nymphaeum of the Domus Transitoria. Hypothetical reconstruction by C. Evans (1936).

Dates

1st century CE

Bibliography

  • H. Manderscheid, “Was nach den ‘ruchlosen Räubereien’ übriglieb-zu Gestalt und Funktion der sogenannten Bagni di Livia in der Domus Transitoria,” in A. Hoffmann, U. Wulf (eds.), Die Kaiserpaläste auf dem Palatin in Rom. Das Zentrum der römischen Welt und seine Bauten, Mainz: Zabern, 2006, p. 75-85. (worldcat)
  • M.A. Tomei, “Nerone sul Palatino”, in M.A. Tomei, R. Rea (eds.), Nerone: Catalogo della mostra, Milano: Electa, 2011, p. 118-135. (worldcat)

Pleiades ID

Palatine Hill (Pleiades)

Contributor

M.-A. Tomei

Publication date

3 May 2021