The Flavians Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Flavians Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition


The Flavians | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-01)

A new chapter in Roman architectural history opens with the accession of Vespasian in December ad 69, the year of the four emperors. His career had been a distinguished one. He commanded a legion in the invasion of Britain in ad 43, was consul suffectus (stand-in consul) for two months at the end of ad 51, governor of Africa in the ad 50s and sent by Nero to suppress the revolt in Judaea as a result of which he gained supreme power. His successes were somewhat surprising in view of his modest background. The son of a tax collector of equestrian rank who hailed from Reate (Rieti), a provincial town north of Rome, he was a plain, unaffected man, in contrast to the aristocratic Julio-Claudians who had preceded him. He became popular with both his troops and the Roman people and was an efficient administrator. When he became emperor he lived simply, preferring the Gardens of Sallust to the Domus Aurea (Dio, 65.10.4). He ordered that the gates were to remain open and no guard was to be posted. One of his first tasks was to set Rome’s finances in order and this meant raising taxes. He retained his popularity in spite of this but could not escape a reputation for stinginess. His portraits show him as a square-shouldered, stocky man who, according to Suetonius, always looked constipated, an expression well captured in his private portraits (Suet., Vesp. 20). His public ones on the other hand show him as the new sculptural ideal, the sound, mature, middle-aged man.

The Roman Empire he inherited was torn by rebellion. A major uprising in Gaul required two legions to suppress. The revolt in Judaea resulted in the destruction of the Jewish temple. When Vespasian finally arrived in Rome in ad 70 he faced further problems. The great fire of ad 64 had caused widespread damage and, as Tacitus notes (Ann. 15.43), the business of carting away mountains of rubble to the Ostian marshes occupied a good part of Vespasian’s reign. He also had to rebuild the Capitoline temple which had been burnt down by the supporters of Vitellius in ad 69. The new temple was built on exactly the same plan as the old, although the columns are shown in coins as Corinthian. The rebuilding of the Capitolium in Rome may have inspired the people of Brixia (Brescia), who built a magnificent new Capitolium a few years later in ad 73. It replaced a Republican sanctuary built in the early first century bc which consisted of four temples each with a separate staircase leading up to it. The walls were decorated with rich Second Style paintings, several of which survive. The new Capitolium has three cellae joined together behind a Corinthian portico which projects forward in front of the central cella to form a hexastyle porch. The relationship between the six columns of the portico and the smaller flanking columns may be compared to the Temple of Peace described in the text that follows. The theatre of Marcellus may also have been damaged in the conflagration of ad 69. At any rate, it appears that Vespasian dedicated a new scene building for it and celebrated its reopening with great festivities and formal dinners, to encourage the victualing trade, as Suetonius dryly notes (Vesp. 19). According to the Marble Plan the new scene building was rectilinear, possibly suggesting that it followed the layout of the original theatre, which was begun relatively early in the reign of Augustus at a time when many contemporary theatres, such as that at Ostia, still had a rectilinear scaenae frons.

Vespasian soon showed himself a conscientious man, committed to restoring both Rome’s finances and its buildings. He also turned out to be a master propagandist, issuing coins in honour of his victories and the peace which he had brought, encouraging historians to write favourably about his reign and extolling the Flavian dynasty by means of a constant stream of architectural and sculptural marvels. However, he upset the senate by his insistence that his sons, Titus and Domitian, should succeed him. It was Vespasian’s policy to carefully promote both his sons and simultaneously to distance himself from Nero and his extravagant ways. One of Vespasian’s early acts of piety was to complete the Temple of Claudius, which, according to Suetonius, had been begun by Agrippina, Nero’s mother and the fourth wife of Claudius (Suet., Vesp. 9). However, it had been almost entirely demolished by her son after he murdered his mother in ad 59. By completing the temple Vespasian reaffirmed himself as the legitimate heir of the Julio-Claudians while distancing himself from the last of that dynasty. The temple, whose layout is known from the Marble Plan of Rome, stood on a platform measuring 175 × 205 metres and faced west towards the Palatine (Figure 5.5).

Another early project was the enormous Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace), considered one of the three most beautiful buildings in the world by Pliny (Nat.Hist. 36.24.102). It was built from booty (ex manubiis) between ad 71 and 75 to commemorate the victory in Judaea. A space was left between it and the Fora of Julius Caesar and of Augustus for the Argiletum, a narrow street, and for the underlying branches of the Cloaca Maxima, later filled by the Forum of Nerva (Figure 3.2). The complex could not extend any further in the other direction because of the Velia, a spur of land which once linked the Palatine with the Esquiline (cut away in 1933 to make way for the road now known as the Via dei Fori Imperiali). The land on which the Temple of Peace was built was vacant at the time of Vespasian because Nero had replaced the old meat market which stood there with a large new one (the macellum magnum) on the Caelian hill. The excavations of 1998–2000 have revealed parts of the Templum of Peace. It consisted of a rectangular enclosure, measuring 110 × 105 metres, surrounded by colonnades of pink Egyptian granite with shafts 8.48 metres high and bases, capitals and entablatures of white marble. The roofs had tiles and antefixes of Carrara marble. In the middle of the SE side stood the temple itself, with the six pink granite columns of its façade, 14.78 metres (50 Roman feet) high, built flush with the flanking colonnades. The cult statue of Peace, probably seated, stood in the shallow apse at the back of the temple on a 3-metre-high base of brick veneered with marble. In the halls flanking the Temple of Peace were placed many of the treasures brought from Jerusalem, including the silver trumpets and the seven-branched candlestick (Josephus, BJ. 7.5.7). Sculptures by Myron, Pheidias, Leochares and Polyclitus, and paintings by Nicomachus, including those brought to Rome by Nero to decorate his Golden House, were displayed there. In addition, there was a library (Gellius, Attic Nights 16.8.2). The enclosure itself was an open space, with three enormous rectangular brick structures, 4.7 metres wide × 83 metres long at each side. Lead piping and marble gutters running along the sides suggest that they were fountain basins, 1.00–1.50 metres high. The basins, combined with evidence that rose bushes were grown in pots along the marble gutters, suggest that the enclosure was a kind of botanical park. This complex, which possesses all the richness and fluidity which was becoming a characteristic of Flavian architecture, is sometimes compared to the meat market (macellum) of Puteoli, also Flavian, which has the four columns of its apsed shrine built flush with the smaller columns of its four-sided portico. A similar relationship between the larger columns marking an important room from the smaller columns each side can be seen in several Pompeian paintings of villas. The slightly larger, 111.6 × 118.8 metres, Cigognier temple at Aventicum (Avenches, Switzerland), is similar, although the temple is octastyle and projects a little from the flanking colonnades. It was built after Vespasian had raised the town to the status of colony, probably in the early Trajanic period.

Vespasian’s greatest project was Rome’s first large-scale amphitheatre, the Flavian amphitheatre, usually called simply ‘amphitheatrum’ until the 11th century, when it took the name Colosseum from the nearby Colossus of Nero (Figure 7.1). The site was another masterstroke of imperial propaganda. The lake of Nero’s Golden House was drained and the massive structure was erected on the underlying solid, compact clay which could easily bear its great weight (Martial, de Spect. 2). By building his amphitheatre on that spot Vespasian was signalling that he was replacing the tyrant’s palace with a place of popular entertainment. Its predecessors seem small-scale affairs compared with the new amphitheatre. Rome’s first amphitheatre, that of Statilius Taurus (29 bc), seems to have been privately financed and built largely of wood. Its purpose was largely political; it was used for the funeral games of Agrippa in 7 bc and for the inauguration of the Temple of Mars Ultor (2 bc). Caligula put on minor spectacles there, but then decided to build his own amphitheatre. This was left unfinished, later abandoned by Claudius, and finally destroyed in the great fire of ad 64. In ad 57 Nero built an amphitheatre entirely of wood and completed it in a single year, which suggests that it was not a large building.

Measuring 187.75 × 155.60 metres, with a capacity of about 50,000, the Colosseum, even in its present ruined state, is an astonishing sight. It rests on foundations 13 metres deep and, like the Theatre of Marcellus, was built upon alternately annular and radial concrete

Figure 7.1  Rome, Colosseum, ad 75–80.

barrel-vaults which gave access to, as well as supporting, the seating (Figure 7.2). Travertine was extensively used, particularly on the façade and for load bearing. The outer façade, 48.5 metres in total height, was articulated by half columns and pilasters on four storeys, none of them structural (Figure 7.1). At ground level were 80 arched entrances flanked by Doric half-columns, forming bays on average 6.87 metres wide. This pattern was repeated on the two storeys above, but with Ionic and Corinthian half-columns respectively. It seems that large statues were placed in the arches of the second and third storeys to judge by a relief from the Tomb of the Haterii and various archaeological discoveries. The top storey, with tall Corinthian pilasters resting on a high base, was a blind wall with no arched openings. Instead there were 40 small rectangular windows, measuring 1.30 × 0.90 metres, in alternate bays just above the cornice of the Corinthian order below. These were probably to light the steep staircases leading up to the topmost seats, although they may also have supported scaffolding during construction of the building. The bronze shields attributed to Domitian were probably hung in the blank spaces above the windows of these bays. In the alternating bays there were 40 larger windows, 2.57 × 1.72 metres, set higher up the wall. Just above the level of these windows were three brackets per bay on which the masts for the vela (the awnings which shaded the spectators) rested, a total of 240 for the whole circumference. The masts slotted through corresponding holes in the cornice above. As nothing more than the brackets and holes survive there is some dispute about how the awnings were supported. On the one hand, Pliny specifically mentions ropes carrying the vela of Nero’s amphitheatre (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 19.6.24), but according to Graefe’s theory1 they were supported by wooden spars in the

Figure 7.2  Rome, Colosseum: sectional view. (After A. Boethius and J. B. Ward Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970], figure 93.)

manner of a ship’s rigging. This is what is shown in a fresco of the amphitheatre at Pompeii and perhaps what Propertius meant when he describes the ‘vela full of folds hanging over the auditorium’ (Propertius, 4.1.15). However, as Graefe’s spars could not have been longer than c. 10–15 metres the knights would have been left ‘under the open sky’ (Calp., Ecl. 7.26). Around the building is a paved area, 17.60 metres wide, at the edge of which were set 160 large stone bollards, 1.75 metres high and 3.40 metres apart, of which five still survive on the east side (Figure 7.3). The vela may have been controlled at ground level by ropes secured to these bollards, probably by means of winches which have left their fixing holes in the sides of the bollards. Only two of the three brackets in each bay were actually fitted with masts, but this is unsurprising because many of the corbels near the top of the postscaenium wall of the theatre at Orange were purely decorative. According to another theory, the bollards were part of a system of barriers for crowd control.2 Whichever way the vela were supported the noise must have been deafening on a windy day. When the wind was too great the vela had to be taken down (Martial, Epigr. 14.29.1–2). An inscription from Ephesus indicates that the vela of the theatre were torn to pieces by a high wind and had to be repaired.3

The arena, 79.35 × 47.20 metres, was surrounded by a podium wall, c. 4.4 metres high. Domitian, who completed the building, was probably responsible for the labyrinth of passageways beneath it. Comparisons with the Flavian amphitheatre at Puteoli (Figure 7.4) and the Hadrianic amphitheatre at Capua suggest that the animals were brought in by means of underground passages beneath the short ends of the arena. At Puteoli the animals were firstly driven along a 55-centimetre-wide passage; the doors of the cages were manipulated by handlers so that the animals went into the correct ones; then the doors were shut (Figure 7.5). Each cell had two levels with a rectangular opening between them. Inside each cell was a cage with tackle at the top for hauling it up to the upper level. The projecting brackets halfway up (Figures 7.4 and 7.5) carried the wooden beams of an intermediate floor. In the back of the upper part of each cell was a small room where the handlers could safely control the

Figure 7.3  Rome, Colosseum, bollards to which the winches for the vela were attached.

Figure 7.4  Puteoli (Pozzuoli), amphitheatre, animal cages under the arena.

Figure 7.5  Rome, Colosseum: reconstruction of the animal cages under the arena. (After G. Cozzo, Ingegneria romana, Rome 1928).

tackle for hoisting the cages to the upper part of the cell. The system was a very neat one because the handlers could move about in perfect safety on the upper level while the animals were down below. Then at a given signal the handlers took up position in the small rooms at the back of each cell and hauled the animal cages up. The animal, freed once the cage reached the upper level, could escape only by running into the narrow passageway of the intermediate floor, then up a ramp, through the trapdoor and into the light of the arena above. Because the arena floors of the amphitheatres at Pozzuoli and Capua were of masonry, unlike that of the Colosseum, which must have been of wood, the trapdoors through which the animals appeared in the arena can clearly be seen. The operation must have been conducted very quickly. In a well-managed show all 64 animals could appear in the arena practically simultaneously.

The scenery, which was such a conspicuous feature in the centre of the arena, could appear and disappear with equal efficiency. The secret lay in the vast sloping masonry supports which can still be seen in the wide gallery running through the middle of the arena. On these were built great hinged wooden platforms, pegmata, on which the scenery was mounted. They were designed so that the hinged end was immediately below arena level. Also, the slope meant that the effort required to haul the platform up to arena level was not very great, especially with the aid of counter-weights. In this way a forest or desert could appear in the middle of the arena within minutes. All of these technical marvels must have greatly contributed to the overall splendour of the spectacle. The games began with a magnificent procession (pompa) consisting of the officials, gladiators, show horses, musicians and functionaries carrying the ceremonial helmets worn by the gladiators. The games themselves consisted of gladiatorial combats and animal hunts (venationes). Titus is said to have had 5,000 animals slaughtered in a single day at the opening of the Colosseum. Gladiators were sumptuously attired and armed, and idolised by their audience. Impresarios were always on the lookout for novelty, such as torch-light spectacles in the area in which both men and women participated (Suet., Dom. 4.1).

At ground level the 80 arched entrances of the façade each led to a predetermined sector of seating. Of these entrances 76 have numbers above the arches, the only inscriptions belonging to the Flavian period of the amphitheatre. The porta triumphalis, where the procession entered at the beginning of the spectacle, and opposite, the porta libitinensis, where the bodies of dead gladiators were carried out, were unnumbered, as well as the central passage of the two grand triple entrances in the middle of the short sides of the building. These grand entrances opened into corridors whose vaults were decorated with stucco coffers. The north entrance led to the Emperor’s box (pulvinar), while the south led to that of the consuls, the Vestals and the person presiding over the games. Nothing survives of the boxes themselves, only the magnificent thoroughfares which led up to them. As to the other entrances, the corridors and staircases, supplemented by wooden barriers, each led to a particular segment and level of the auditorium. Reconstructions of the interior vary somewhat, but the latest reconstructions suggest that the best seats were those closest to the arena and had four broad steps where the thrones (bisellia) of the senators and other important personages were placed. Therefore the section of seating reconstructed in the 1930s is incorrect (Figure 7.6). Only those of the highest rank could have taken their seats in this area and there was space for about 900 of them (Figure 7.7). A low wall separated the senatorial area from the seating reserved for the knights (ima cavea). This contained about 13 or 14 rows of marble seats which could accommodate about 9,000–10,000, assuming they were given 0.40 metre of space each. The media cavea, where members of the plebs who could afford white togas could sit, consisted of 20 rows of marble seats which could accommodate 18,000–19,000,

Figure 7.6  Rome, Colosseum, view of the seating.

again assuming 0.40 metre for each seat. A parapet wall, just over 6 metres high, formed a very emphatic division between these seats and the seats of plebeians wearing dark clothing, who sat in the sector high above (summa cavea). This contained nine rows of seats which could accommodate more than 11,000 depending upon how crowded they were. Around the top of this seating ran a porticus of columns, behind which was space for further, wooden, seating. The maximum this sector could have contained without obscuring the large windows which ran around the topmost storey of the façade is about three rows, although nine rows are sometimes restored, thus obscuring the windows. These seats were probably occupied by slaves, about 4,000–13,000, of them, depending on how densely they were packed together and how many rows of seats are restored.

The materials needed to build this vast structure included 100,000 cubic metres of travertine and about 300 tonnes of iron which was required to clamp the blocks together. Several construction teams, perhaps of ten men each, as well as an army of masons, blacksmiths, bronze workers, sculptors and skilled craftsmen must have been engaged upon the building. It has been suggested that the Colosseum was built by captives from the Jewish war. However, the structure of the building is so complex that an unskilled labour force would probably have been used only for heavy work, such as pulling and lifting, and transporting stone from the Tivoli quarries. It is calculated that up to 200 ox carts of stone entered the city on a daily basis during the period when the travertine parts were being built. A more cogent problem is how such a gigantic building, probably not started until Vespasian returned from the Jewish war in ad 75, could have been inaugurated by Titus in ad 80. It is possible that various ingenious expedients were used to allow several teams of workmen to be employed

Figure 7.7  Rome, Colosseum: section

on the building at the same time.4 There was an advantage too in the mix of materials used in the Colosseum. Unlike masonry which can be quarried and worked at any time of the year, concrete is adversely affected by extremes of temperature, and in temperatures below 10°C the time taken for it to set increases and the strength obtained falls quite dramatically. The Romans could repair aqueducts only between the first of April and the first of November (Frontinus, de Aquis 2.123).



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