Book 2; Thought 5

L'Image_et_le_PouvoirEvery moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts. And thou wilt give thyself relief, if thou doest every act of thy life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to thee. Thou seest how few the things are, the which if a man lays hold of, he is able to live a life which flows in quiet, and is like the existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require nothing more from him who observes these things.

Early Christian Necropolis of Pécs (Sopianae)

The part of modern Hungary west of the Danube came into the Roman Empire in the 1st Century AD, as part of the Roman province of Pannonia. The town of Sopianae was founded on the southern slope of the Mecsek massif in the 2nd Century by colonists from western Pannonia and Italy, who intermarried with the indigenous IllyrianCeltic peoples.

In the Roman Province of Pannonia a remarkable series of decorated tombs were constructed during the 4th Century AD in the cemetery of the town of Sopianae. The ruins survived under the ground and are situated in the current city of Pécs, in South Hungary.

These are important both structurally and architecturally, since they were built as underground burial chambers with memorial chapels above the ground. The tombs are important also in artistic terms, since they are richly decorated with murals of outstanding quality depicting Christian themes.

The burial chambers, chapels and mausoleum excavated on the site of the Sopianae cemetery form a complex that bears witness to an ancient culture and civilization that had a lasting impact. It is the richest collection of structural types of sepulchral monuments in the northern and western Roman provinces reflecting a diversity of cultural sources.

Excavations have revealed that the early Christian complex of monuments provides exceptional evidence of a historical continuity that spanned the turbulent centuries from the decline of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century to the conquest of the Frankish Empire in the 8th Century.

The Roman cemetery was found by archaeological excavations, which began 200 years ago, in the area now immediately in front of the cathedral, which had been terraced in antiquity. The World Heritage site consists of 16 funerary monuments, of which the most outstanding are:

  • Burial chamber I (Peter-Paul): discovered in 1782, this late 4th-century chamber consists of an above-ground chapel, the subterranean burial chamber proper, with religious wall paintings, and a small vestibule leading to the burial chamber. It is cut into the slope of the Mecsek hills.
  • Burial chamber II (Wine Pitcher Chamber): a two-storey structure, with limestone walls and brick vaulting. On the wall of the niche carved above the sarcophagus there is a painting of a wine pitcher and glass, symbolizing the thirst of the soul journeying to the netherworld.
  • The Cella Trichora: this elaborate chapel has a rectangular central space with three apses and a southern vestibule (narthex); the eastern apse has a raised floor and was probably an altar.
  • The Cella Septichora, a sepulchral building with a unique floor plan with seven apses; it was not used for burial purposes. It dates from the end of the Roman period, in the 430s.
  • The Early Christian Mausoleum, a subterranean burial chamber entered from a vestibule or narthex surmounted by a single-nave church with an apse at its east end. The northern, eastern and southern walls are all decorated with mural paintings of biblical subjects.
  • The Early Christian Burial Chapel was used solely as a chapel. There is a cluster of more than 100 graves from the late 4th and early 5th Centuries around it.
  • The Painted Twin Grave: a gabled double grave contains wall paintings of Christian symbols in red, carmine and yellow on a white background.
  • Communal burial containing fourteen graves, separated from one another by stones and bricks. Stone and brick fragments bear names, presumed to be members of a single family.

Till we visit our next Worl Heritage Site, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

How Romans Relieved Themselves

After the celebration of Rome’s Birthday maybe some are feeling, well, crappy. Today explores a less glamorous side of living in Ancient Rome but what was still very much a part of everyday living. We are talking about public latrines.

In his Natural HistoryPliny remarked that of all the things Romans had accomplished, the sewers were “the most noteworthy things of all”. This was said in the 1st Century AD for the Roman sewage system was very efficient, but it had not always been that way.

Most towns throughout the Empire were smaller towns where there weren’t any sewers. That meant sewage collectors came through and got the waste from each house and carried it off to sell to farmers to use as fertilizer on their fields, just like in China at the same time. In small villages they didn’t even have outhouses, so people just walked out to the fields to handle their business there.

In larger Roman towns, people often got sick or died from drinking water that had been contaminated with sewage. Just as in Greek towns, early Roman sewage management equated to people just pouring their waste into the street however they wanted.

If you are curious as to why most Europeans and European-style toilets are made for sitting, instead of squatting like most toilets still in use in modern China, you have the Romans to thank. They introduced the sit down public toilets that had room for lots of people at the same time.

Public latrines date back to the 2nd Century BC and, whether intentionally or not, they became places to socialize. The act of actually relieving oneself is thought of as private, but the socializing is still done in modern times.Facing Each Other

An axiom from Martial (Book 11; Epigram 77) reveals just how public privies were among the most frequented places in the city for socializing:

“In omnibus Vacerra quod conclavibus
consumit horas et die toto sedet,
cenaturit Vacerra, non cacaturit.”

Roughly translated, the saying goes: “In privies Vacerra consumes the hours; the whole day does he sit; Vacerra wants to dine, he does not want to sh*t.”

Public toilets (foricae) can usually be found at many archaeological sites, varying in size and shape from large and semi-circular, so all could be seen while talking, to smaller and private ones.Ruins

In general, public latrines were long bench-like seats with keyhole-shaped openings cut in rows offered little privacy. Most latrines were free, for others small charges were made. Just like today privacy costs money.

According to Lord Amulree, the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated, the Hall of Curia in the Theatre of Pompey was turned into a public latrine because of the dishonor it had witnessed. The sewer system, like a little stream or river, ran beneath it, carrying the wastes away to the Cloaca Maxima.

Hygiene was still considered generally high for all in ancient Rome hence the famous public baths, latrines and toilets, exfoliating cleansers, and public facilities. There’s always an exception and Rome’s was the use of a communal toilet sponge.sponge-01

It is commonly believed the Romans used sea sponges on a stick & dipped in vinegar after defecation. Not so hygienic no matter how dutifully it was rinsed out after use.

To help with sewage, and the other dysentery-like illnesses or deaths caused by waste water, many Roman towns built aqueducts to bring in fresh water from the hills outside of the towns. This, combined with the elaborate systems of sewage pipes, allowed the raw sewage to be washed into the river instead of leaving it lying around in the streets.

Romans then recycled public bath waste water by using it as part of the flow that flushed the latrines. Terra cotta piping was used in the plumbing that carried waste water from homes.Sewer

The Romans were the first to seal pipes in concrete to resist the high water pressures developed in siphons and elsewhere. That speaks well of the ancient artisans for their construction and craftsmanship.

Running water, however, did not reach the poor’s tenements from the aqueducts. These lesser folks relieved themselves in pots or commodes which were emptied into vats located under staircases and these emptied into cesspools throughout the city.Flushing

A law was eventually passed to protect innocent bystanders from assault by wastes thrown into the street. The violator was forced to pay damages to whomever his waste hit, if that person sustained an injury. This law was enforced only in the daytime, presumably because one lacked the excuse of darkness for injuring another by careless waste disposal.

Beginning around the 5th Century BC, city officials called Aedilis supervised the sanitary systems. They were responsible for the efficiency of the drainage and sewage systems, the cleansing and paving of the streets, prevention of foul smells, and general oversight of brothels, taverns, baths, and other water supplies.Clean Streets

Roman water and sewage systems were the forerunners of the sanitation systems we have today that keep people’s water clean and safe. Today the city of Rome has been joined by newer cities like London and New York City in maintaining healthy water supplies, and new street cleaning services keep the streets and buildings much cleaner than they were in Ancient Rome.

Housesteads_latrines.reconstWhether it was the streets of Rome herself or at the Housesteads Fort along Hadrian’s Wall, Romans had some form of hygiene in mind for sewage removal. It’s been said cleanliness is next to godliness. That probably includes one’s bum as well.

Hopefully you were not put off by today’s article. Come back and see what Rome Across Europe has tomorrow.

Till then, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!




Michael Grant, Readings from The Visible Past.!

Top 15 Roman Commanders – #6: Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus


We keep soldiering on with another commander Rome Across Europe thought was among the best in ancient Rome. You can find the entire list here, along with biographies of #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5. Without further adieu we bring to you…

6: Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus (15 BC – 19 AD)6a

Rome 15 BC, a son was born to a General and his wife. The father was General Nero Claudius Drusus, son Empress Livia Drusilla who was the third wife of Emperor Augustus. The baby’s mother was Antonia Minor, the younger daughter of triumvir Mark Antony and Octavia Minor, the sister of Emperor Augustus. His parents decided to name him Tiberius Claudius Nero. Born into royalty of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, this infant would be destined for greatness.

In 9 BC the young Tiberius received the agnomen Germanicus, when it was posthumously awarded to his father in honor of his victories in Germania. As soon as he began campaigning Germanicus became immensely popular among the citizens of Rome as they passionately celebrated his military victories.

Emperor Augustus also cheered on his great-nephew, and it was thought that Germanicus would become his heir to the Empire. In 4 AD Augustus was persuaded by his wife to name his stepson Tiberius as his heir, but the Emperor compelled Tiberius to adopt Germanicus as his son and to name him as his heir.

An adoption of a grown man by a man of a similar, or even older age, was commonplace to ensure a family line endured. Upon this adoption, Germanicus’s name was then changed to Germanicus Julius Caesar.

Statue du LouvreGermanicus held several military commands, leading the army in the campaigns in Pannonia and Dalmatia. He is recorded to have been an excellent soldier, an inspired leader, and loved by the legions. In the year 12 AD he was appointed Consul after 5 commissions as Quaestor.

Like his father before him, Germanicus was appointed commander of the forces in Germania by the Senate. Upon the death of Augustus in 14 AD, the Legios rioted when informed their recruitment time would not be marked down and these rebel soldiers cried for Germanicus to be the new emperor. Germanicus put down this rebellion himself, preferring to continue on in his current position as General.

In a bid to secure the loyalty of his troops and his own popularity with them, Germanicus led them on a spectacularly brutal raid against the Marsi. During the massacre of this German tribe on the upper Ruhr River, 1 of the Legions’ 3 Aquila was recovered. Germanicus continued to gain stardom back in Rome for these exploits.


Back in 9 AD Roman rule had successfully been overthrown in a rebellion by a coalition of Germanic tribes led by Arminius. Twice in the next two years, Germanicus led his 8-Legio army into Germania against Arminius and the coalition of tribes. In 14 AD, Germanicus’s Legions routed and destroyed most of the Bructeri tribe, recovering the lost Aquila of Legio XIX.

In May 15 AD Germanicus captured Thusnelda, wife of Arminius. Germanicus treated his prisoner well and with respect saying, “They are women and they must be respected, for they will be citizens of Rome soon.”

Germanicus laid waste to large areas and eliminated any form of active resistance, even with a majority of the tribesmen fleeing into remote forests at the sight of the Legios. The raids were considered a success though since the major goal was to destroy any rebel alliance systems.

Varus's Legions Buried

Germanicus next moved on to the site of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest where 3 Legios (15,000 men) had been slaughtered in 9 AD. After burying the remains of his comrades, which increased his love from both soldiers and citizens, Germanicus launched a massive assault on the prize of Arminius’s tribes, the Cherusci.

Having initially lured Germanicus and his equites Romani into a trap, Arminius’s troops inflicted minor casualties upon the Romans. Successful fighting though by the Legionarii caused the Germans to again break and flee into the forest. With this victory, and the fact that winter was fast approaching, Germanicus lead his army back to its winter quarters on the Rhine River.

In 16 AD, in spite of doubts by Emperor Tiberius, Germanicus managed to raise another huge army and invaded Germania again at the start of campaign season. Germanicus forced a crossing of the Weser River and then met Arminius at Idistaviso, in an engagement often called the Battle of Idistavisus. This battle showcased the superior leadership, command qualities, tactics, and better trained and equipped Legios of Germanicus while inflicting huge casualties upon the Germanic tribes.

One final battle was fought at the Angivarian Wall, continuing the pattern of lots of Germanic fatalities and them fleeing. After a few more raids across the Rhine, which resulted in the recovery of the last 2 Aquilae lost by the Legios in 9 AD, Germanicus was finally recalled to Rome and honored with a triumphus.


In an attempt to separate Germanicus from his troops and weaken his influence, Tiberius sent him to command Rome’s Legios in Asia. This did not slow down Germanicus one bit as he defeated the kingdoms of Cappadocia and Commagene in 18 AD, turning both into Roman provinces.

The following year Germanicus found that the Governor of Syria, Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, had canceled the provincial arrangements that he had made. Germanicus then ordered Piso’s recall to Rome, even though this was probably beyond his own authority. It was during this time that Germanicus was stricken with a mysterious illness and died shortly thereafter in Antioch.

The death of Germanicus described as dubious and the unknown circumstances greatly affected Tiberius’ popularity in Rome. Many thought the Emperor was responsible, or at least assisted in, Germanicus passing away at the height of his military prowess, success, and fame. Tiberius looked even more like a suspect due to the jealousy and fear of his nephew’s popularity and increasing power.

Death of Germanicus

On 19 December 19 AD, the announcement of Germanicus passing reached Rome. The news brought much public grief in the city and throughout the Roman Empire. There was public mourning during the December Feriae, abundant eulogies and reminders of the General’s fine character. It should be noted that there were oddly no procession statues of Germanicus at his funeral (Tiberius at work?).

Several posthumous honors were bestowed upon Germanicus. Arcus triumphales were raised to him throughout the Roman Empire, especially where he recorded his deeds. In Antioch, where he was cremated, he had a sepulcher and funeral monument dedicated to him.

Arch of Germanicus

In 37 AD, when Germanicus’s son Caligula became Emperor, he renamed the month of September to Germanicus in honor of his father. Many Romans considered Germanicus as their equivalent to King Alexander the Great due to the nature of his death at his young age, his virtuous character, and his military renown. They also believed that Germanicus would have easily surpassed the achievements of Alexander had he become Emperor.

Bronze statue at AmeliaBeloved by the people, Germanicus was widely considered to be the perfect Roman long after his death. He was a success that inspired Rome’s citizens and, most importantly, its troops and caused fear to those in power. Similar to Julius Caesar, fellow Julio-Claudian Dynasty member, Germanicus was a popular General snuffed out before his story should have ended. What we know for certain is that Germanicus was one heck of a Top Roman Commander.

Come back next week to read more about the next of Rome Across Europe’s Top 15 Roman Commanders. Till then, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Legio Romanus – Special Duty Posts

Rome Across Europe began this series with the Backbone of Rome’s Power and then carried on to the leadership of the Senior Officers, discovered the toughness of Centuriones, and most recently explored the Legion’s Lower Ranks. Today we take a look at the Special Duty Posts.

Aquilifer: The Aquilifer was an enormously important and prestigious position. As the Legio‘s Senior Signifer, and bearer of the Aquila, there was only a single position within the Legion. To lose the Aquila was considered the greatest dishonor a Legio could endure. This post was filled by steady, veteran soldier with an excellent understanding of the tactics of his legion. The Aquilifer’s position was accordingly one of enormous prestige, and he was ranked immediately below the Centuriones and above the Optiones.


Signifer: Each Centuria had a Signifer and within each Cohors the 1st Century’s Signifer would be the senior. He was Standard Bearer for the Centurial Signum, a spear shaft decorated with Philarae and topped with an open hand to signify loyalty, which was also used as a rallying point for the soldiers. In addition to carrying the standard, the Signifer also functioned as the banker for the Legio.


Cornicen: A Junior Officer in the Roman Army, the Cornicen worked hand in hand with the Signifer drawing the attention of the men to the centurial Signum. By issuing the audible commands, the job of the Cornicen was to signal salutes to officers and sound orders to the Legiones. Cornicines always marched at the head of the Centuries.


Imaginifer: A special Signifer in a Legion who carried the imago, or Image of the Emperor. The Imaginifer was added to the ranks of the Legions when the Imperial Cult during the reign of Augustus. The imago was a portrait made from beaten metal. It was carried only in the leading cohort as a constant reminder to the troops of their loyalty to the Augustus.


Immunes: By definition, the Immunes were legionary soldiers who possessed specialized skills. Artillerymen, Carpenters, Drill and Weapons Instructors, Engineers, Hunters, Medical Staff, Military Police, Musicians, and Quartermasters were among the multiple specialized jobs Immunes provided for the Roman Army. Immune status within the army was achieved either through selection or through promotion. These men were still fully trained Legionaries and were called upon to serve in the battle lines when needed.


Evocatus: A soldier who had served out his time and obtained a military diploma, but had voluntarily enlisted again at the invitation of his commander. The number of Evocati who joined a General’s standard naturally increased when the general was a favorite among the men. The Evocati were officially released, like the Vexillarii, from the common regular military duties, and held a higher rank in the army than the common Legionary. Promotion to Centurion was common but not all Evocati could be since due to the number of Cohortes in the army. The name Evocati was also applied to a select body of young men of the equestrian order who were appointed by Emperor Domitian to guard his bedchamber. This body is supposed to have existed under succeeding rulers and known as Evocati Augusti, or Emperor’s Veterans.


There will be more to share about the Legions and the Roman Army. So stay tuned for there shall always be more. Thanks for stopping by and Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Rome Is Getting Old

Welcome back to another edition of Rome Across Europe. Today we discuss what we consider one of the most important dates in history, the Founding of Rome.Imperial Forumn

Yesterday, the City of Rome held a big party to celebrate its 2,768th birthday! Rome is getting old. Sort of makes your complaints about turning 30 or 40 or whatever look a little silly.

According to tradition, the city celebrates its birthday on the 21st of April in honor of its humble beginnings in 753 BC. This date is when legend has it Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, found Rome on the site where they were suckled by a she-wolf as orphaned infants.Capitoline Wolf

Legend has it that Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa. Alba Longa was a mythical city located in the Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome.

Before the birth of the twins, Numitor was killed by his younger brother Amulius, who forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his title.

Rhea, however, was impregnated by the war god Mars and gave birth to Romulus and Remus. Amulius ordered the infants drowned in the Tiber River, but they survived and washed ashore at the foot of the Palatine Hill, where they were suckled by the Lupa Capitolina.

FaustulusWhen the shepherd Faustulus found the boys, he and his wife reared them as their own. After learning their true identity, Romulus and Remus led a band of young shepherd warriors against Alba Longa, killed the wicked Amulius, and restored their grandfather to the throne.

The twins then decided to found a town on the site where they had been saved as infants. They soon became involved in a petty quarrel, however, and Remus was slain by his brother. Romulus then became ruler of the settlement, which was named “Rome” after him.Romulus Victourius

This story had to be reconciled with a dual tradition, set earlier in time, the one that had the Trojan refugee Aeneas escape to Italy and found the line of Romans through his son Iulus, the namesake of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.

Originating in ancient Greece, this legend tells of how the mythical Trojan Aeneas founded Lavinium and started a dynasty that would lead to the birth of Romulus and Remus several centuries later. In Homer’s epic Greek poem the Iliad, Aeneas was the only major Trojan hero to survive the Greek destruction of Troy.Aeneas'_Flight_from_Troy

A passage told of how he and his descendants would rule the Trojans, but since there was no record of any such dynasty in Troy, Greek scholars proposed that Aeneas and his followers relocated.

In the 5th Century BC, a few Greek historians speculated that Aeneas settled at Rome, which was then still a small city-state. In the 4th Century BC, Rome began to expand within the Italian peninsula and came into greater contact with the Greeks. Romans embraced the suggestion that Aeneas had a role in the foundation of their great city.

In the 1st Century BC, the Roman poet Virgil developed the Aeneas myth in his epic poem the Aeneid, which tells of Aeneas’ journey to Rome. Supposed decedents of Aeneas were Julius Caesar, founder of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, and his great-nephew Augustus, who lived in Virgil’s time and was 1st Emperor of Rome.

During the Italian Renaissance, a group of humanists affiliated with the Roman Academy formed a sodality to pursue antiquarian interests, celebrating the “Birthday of Rome” annually. In 1468, the Academy had been suppressed by Pope Paul II for fomenting “republicanism, paganism, and conspiracy”.R-20091229-0074.tif

The sodality was reinstated about 10 years later under Pope Sixtus IV as the Societas Literatorum S. Victoris in Esquiliis (Literary Society of Saint Victor on the Esquiline). The reformed group placed itself under the new patronage of the Saints Victor, Fortunatus, and Genesius, “whose feast day was conveniently proven to coincide with the Palilia“. Organized by Pomponio Leto, their “Palilia” featured speeches, a communal meal, and a poetry competition.

Despite its current status as Italian capital and seat of the Vatican, Rome still seems pretty obsessed with its gladiator-sandaled, laurel-crowned ancient legacy. There’s a very good reason for this approach, every year over 4 million tourists visit the Colosseum alone.Parade

Many of the monuments and museums permit free entry on this day and there are several guided tours around the city that can also provide wealth of knowledge about Rome’s rich and colorful history.

Celebrations were held this weekend, up through the city’s official founding date. Events were convened in several locations throughout Rome, like live bands and concerts at the Pantheon and Piazza del Campidoglio.Pantheon-Rome

Street performers and street parades are all over so you can enjoy the traditional costumes of historical figures such as Roman Senators and Soldiers, along with Barbarians and slaves. Typical performances include the story of Romulus and Remus and several exciting battle scenes between Romans and Barbarians.Gladiators

The majority of events take place at the Circo Massimo which is easily accessible by subway to Colosseo station, by bus and taxi. All run frequent services to Palatine Hill, Colosseum and Circus Maximus.

To round the day off there is an impressive fireworks display from theCircus Maximus Fireworks Circus Maximus. With the close of another year celebrated we here at Rome Across Europe would love to wish Rome a very Happy Birthday, although belated by a day.

If there was never a Rome, there would never have been an amazing Roman Empire, nor would there be Rome Across Europe. Let’s celebrate what we have while we have it.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!




Baldi, Philip (2002). The Foundations of Latin. Walter de Gruyter

Livy (2005-05-26). The Early History of Rome. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-14-196307-5.

Book 7; Thought 1

CoinWhat is badness? It is that which thou hast often seen. And on the occasion of everything which happens keep this in mind, that it is that which thou hast often seen. Everywhere up and down thou wilt find the same things, with which the old histories are filled, those of the middle ages and those of our own day; with which cities and houses are filled now. There is nothing new: all things are both familiar and short-lived.

Book 3; Thought 3

Marcus-Aurelius-British-MuseumHippocrates after curing many diseases himself fell sick and died. The Chaldaei foretold the deaths of many, and then fate caught them too. Alexander, and Pompeius, and Gaius Caesar, after so often completely destroying whole cities, and in battle cutting to pieces many ten thousands of cavalry and infantry, themselves too at last departed from life. Heraclitus, after so many speculations on the conflagration of the universe, was filled with water internally and died smeared all over with mud. And lice destroyed Democritus; and other lice killed Socrates. What means all this? Thou hast embarked, thou hast made the voyage, thou art come to shore; get out. If indeed to another life, there is no want of gods, not even there. But if to a state without sensation, thou wilt cease to be held by pains and pleasures, and to be a slave to the vessel, which is as much inferior as that which serves it is superior: for the one is intelligence and deity; the other is earth and corruption.

Countryside in the City

Today we are going to take a look a look at opulence at its best. Roman rulers knew how to display extravagance, but none did it better than Emperor Nero and his master project.

The Domus Aurea was a large landscaped portico villa built by Nero in the heart of Ancient Rome. After the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64 had cleared away the aristocratic dwellings on the slopes of the Palatine Hill this literally became the Golden House.Great Fire

Finished in the year AD 66, the 80-hectare estate was Emperor Nero’s most self-indulgent act of overindulgence. To visualize the size of palace just visualize the space the Statue of Liberty’s base (1 hectare) then times it by 80.

The Domus Aurea complex covered parts of the slopes of the Palatine, Esquiline and Caelian Hills, with a man-made lake in the marshy bottom lands. Suetonius describes the complex as “ruinously prodigal” as it included groves of trees, pastures with flocks, vineyards and an artificial lake, rus in urbe or “countryside in the city”.Image

Before his suicide in AD 68, Nero was able to witness the extensive gold leaf that gave the villa its name and the extravagant elements of its decor. This included stuccoed ceilings faced with semi-precious stones and ivory veneers, frescoed walls, and major group of rooms having decorations coordinated into different themes for each.

Suetonius claims this of Nero and the Domus Aurea:

When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being.

Needless to say the Domus Aurea would be considered the Versailles of Ancient Rome, and was just about as popular with the people. For those not familiar with the peoples’ opinion of Versailles, they weren’t pleased about it.Map

The Golden House was designed as a place of entertainment, as shown by the presence of 300 rooms without any sleeping quarter. Nero’s own palace remained on the Quirinal Hill. No kitchens or latrines have been discovered either.

The palace had a 35-meter statue in its vestibule, 3 colonnades measuring 1.5 kilometers long, a revolving banquet hall, walls coated with gold and gems, and a man-made lake.

Colossus of NeronisNero commissioned the roughly 32.5 m high bronze statue of himself, the Colossus Neronis, as the sun god Sol.  The statue was placed just outside the main palace entrance at the Terminus of the Via Appia in a large atrium of porticoes that divided the city from the private villa.

Rooms sheathed in dazzling polished white marble were given richly varied floor plans, shaped with niches that concentrated or dispersed the daylight. There were pools in the floors and fountains splashing in the corridors.

Nero took great interest in every detail of the project and oversaw the engineer-architects, and even attempted creating a navigable canal which Nero hoped to link Misenum with Lake Avernus.

After Nero’s death, the Golden House was a severe embarrassment to his successors. It was stripped of its marble, its jewels and its ivory within a decade. Soon after Nero’s death, the palace and grounds were filled with earth and built over.

The Baths of Titus were already being built on part of the site in AD 79. In the middle of the palace grounds, on the site of the lake, Vespasian built the Flavian Amphitheatre (aka Colosseum) which could be re-flooded at will.

The Baths of Trajan and the Temple of Venus and Roma were also built on the site. Within 40 years, the Golden House was completely obliterated, buried beneath new construction, but ironically this ensured the wall’s paintings were protected from dampness.termas_trajano_roma

At the end of the 15th Century a young Roman inadvertently fell through a cleft in the Esquiline hillside, finding himself in a strange grotta filled with painted figures. Soon the young artists of Rome were having themselves let down to see the Fourth Style Frescoes that were uncovered thus electrifying the early Renaissance, which was just arriving in Rome.Fresco

Today the Domus Aurea is located under the park on the Oppian Hill, just across from the Colosseum. So when it rains it really does pour, as water soaks through the palace’s ancient roof.

A much-needed restoration has begun estimated at $43.7 million. The project hinges on building a drainage system over about 20% of the 16,000 square meters above the Domus.domus-aurea-rendering

Channels have been dug that will allow about half of the rainwater to drain off. The project addresses the problem of the park’s weight on top of the structure by rebuilding the surface of the park to directly connect it to the Domus, thus decreasing the weight by about 70%.

The likely remains of Nero’s rotating banquet hall and its underlying mechanism were unveiled by archaeologists on September 29, 2009.

You can visit the restoration’s official website to track its progress at Hopefully, the restoration means the Domus Aurea will again be open to the public.Excavation

The name Domus Aurea has in modern times come to signify wealth and luxury. Commercial uses of the name have grown, ranging from luxury hotels to fine wines using the same name to market themselves to a segment of consumers that are aware of the historical significance and indication of affluence that goes with the name.

As one of the most decadent palaces in history, it was also one of the most important archaeological finds of the modern era. The guided visits can be booked here.

We here at Rome Across Europe hope you will get a chance to see the Domus Aurea for yourself. The sooner, the better. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Ball, Larry F. (2003). The Domus Aurea and the Roman architectural revolution. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82251-3.

Palmer, Alasdair (1999-07-11). “Nero’s pleasure dome”. London Sunday Times.