The Flavians Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The Flavians Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition |

The Flavians Part 2 | Roman Architecture | Second edition |


The inauguration of the building by Titus in ad 80 was accompanied by lavish games and a sea-battle held in the old naumachia, built by Augustus near the Tiber (Suet., Titus 7.3). Domitian, who succeeded Titus in ad 81, went on to add the cells and passageways under the arena. Of all the games held in the arena the largest recorded are those of Trajan in celebration of his Dacian victories in ad 107, which are said to have lasted 123 days. The first restoration of the building belongs to the time of Antoninus Pius (SHA, Ant.Pius 8.2). The Colosseum was struck by lightning which caused a fire in ad 217 and it could not be used until it was reopened in ad 222–223. The repairs, by Elagabalus and Alexander Severus, are clearly evident today.5  It was again damaged by fire caused by lightning strikes in ad 250 or 252 and in ad 320. Attempts were made to restore it during the fifth century ad. It was used for venationes by Theodoric until ad 523 (Cassiodorus, Var. 5.42). It was damaged by an earthquake in ad 827 during the pontificate of Leo IV. Documents of the 11th and 12th centuries refer to houses being built within its walls, which suggests that it was in ruins by that date. It was fortified by the Frangipani family c. 1130 and held by them until the mid 13th century. Its present pock-marked appearance is due to medieval attempts to extract the iron clamps from the stones of the outer façade. It was frequently used as a quarry for building materials. The quarrying process culminated in the demolition of about half of the outer wall by Pope Nicholas V (1447–1455), who removed 2,500 cartloads of stone to repair Old St. Peter’s. The façade eventually had to be consolidated and buttresses were built at the ends, a plainer one by R. Stern (1807) and another by G. Valadier (1827), who attempted to reproduce the arches of the façade.

The Colosseum is not just an architectural masterpiece, but in terms of planning, engineering and organisation it must rank as one of the most astonishing achievements of antiquity. Despite a long history of despoilment this enormous building is still in a remarkable state of preservation. The fact that it was inaugurated a scant five years after it was begun speaks for itself. It also marks, along with the Flavian period itself, the full maturity of Roman architecture. Nor must we look at the building in isolation. When we consider that it sat in the middle of a complex of ancillary buildings, including the barracks for the sailors from Misenum in charge of the vela; the Ludus Magnus (gladiatorial training school) with its practice arena in the centre; three other gladiator training schools nearby; the public baths built by Titus; and a host of taverns, wine stalls and refreshment booths, one cannot but marvel at the creators of such a complex.

Vespasian was succeeded by his elder son, Titus, a handsome man who endeared himself to the people as one of Rome’s best-loved emperors (Suet., Titus 1.3). His brief reign (ad 79–81) was much troubled by events such as the eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79 and the terrible fire and plague of Rome in ad 80. While Titus was still in Campania attending to the aftermath of the eruption of Vesuvius, the fire of ad 80 broke out in Rome. It created a swathe of destruction through the southern part of the Campus Martius, from the Pantheon to the Capitol, burning on its way the Baths of Agrippa, the Saepta Julia where votes were cast, the Diribitorium where votes were counted, the Serapeum and Iseum, the Theatre of Balbus and the Porticus of Octavia along with its library (Dio, 66.24.1–2). It even swept up the side of the Capitol Hill, destroying the newly rebuilt Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. The same conflagration seems to have claimed the scene building of Pompey’s theatre. Titus began rebuilding almost immediately, beginning with the Baths of Agrippa (Martial, Epigr. 3.20.15; 3.36.6). He also found time to hastily build the baths which bear his name (Martial, de Spect. 2) in order to open them at the same time as the Colosseum in ad 80. Little of the Baths of Titus now survive, but the plan is known from a Palladio drawing which depicts an entirely symmetrical building with the largest room, the frigidarium, shown as a basilical hall covered with a single cross vault (Figure 8.1). It had a semicircular apse in the middle of one long side and plunge baths in each of the four corners. At each side of the frigidarium was a palaestra consisting of an open space surrounded on all four sides by colonnades. An axial succession of bathing rooms ran south from the frigidarium: a small tepidarium and a pair of caldaria both covered with cross-vaults. They projected into a large open exercise space to the south of the bathing block. If this plan is to be relied on, bath buildings had, by the time of the Flavians, come a long way from the Stabian baths at Pompeii and are only a short step away from the fully developed great thermae. This dynamic scheme bears the stamp of the new architecture of the Neronian period. Indeed, the fact that the baths are exactly aligned to the Esquiline wing of the Domus Aurea and the speed of their completion has given rise to speculation that the Baths of Titus may simply be a remodelling of Nero’s baths.

Domitian, Vespasian’s younger son, who became emperor a few weeks before his 30th birthday (ad 81), soon gained popularity by improving the city’s amenities and spending freely on public entertainments (Suet., Dom. 4.1). A capable general he pursued a policy of consolidating previous gains and strengthening contested frontiers. He was praised by the poet Martial (de Spect. 2) for these successes and the enormous building programme which he undertook, but after his death he was denounced by authors such as Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Dio Cassius and Tacitus, his vilification probably being an exaggeration to exalt Trajan.6  Unlike his father and elder brother he was never deified after his death; indeed his memory was damned. By promoting capable provincials and outsiders into their ranks he had probably alienated the senate. He also behaved autocratically, insisting on being addressed as dominus et deus (lord and god). His reign began quietly enough with a campaign on morality, but he gradually became more and more tyrannical until between ad 93 and 96 he became paranoid and instituted a reign of terror. He had the walls of the palace where he used to walk lined with translucent Cappadocian stone (phengites lapis) so that he could see the reflections of everything behind him (Suet., Dom. 14.4). Towards the end Domitian became more nervous every day. Finally he was assassinated in his palace just short of his 45th birthday, having reigned a little less than 15 years (Suet., Dom. 17).

Domitian became emperor at a time when urban renewal was urgent. In some cases this involved completing works already begun by Vespasian and Titus. In others the most pressing need was to make good the damage caused not only by the fire of ad 80, but also by that of ad 64 (ILS 4914). Another important priority was to honour his deified father and brother. Then there were new buildings to commemorate Domitian’s own reign. This added up to quite a list, but fortunately Domitian with his ‘craze for building’ (Plutarch, Publicola 15) was the man to do it. He is thought to have completed the Colosseum by building the fourth storey of the façade with its bronze shields (Anon., Chron. 354) and by adding the complex of animal cells underneath the arena. However, a coin of Titus dated to ad 80 seems to show that the top storey and the shields were already in place. He also built four gladiator training schools: the ludus Magnus, the ludus Gallicus, the ludus Dacicus and the ludus Matutinus (mainly for training hunters for the venationes). The ludus Magnus has been partly excavated and consisted of an oval arena surrounded by seating for 3,000, set within a rectangular colonnaded enclosure. An underground passage linked it to the Colosseum. Also close to the Colosseum he built the Meta Sudans, a monumental fountain whose shape was similar to the cones at the ends of the spina of a Roman circus. It consisted of a circular basin 15.90 metres in diameter with a large conical structure 17 metres high in the middle. It was demolished in 1936, but its substructures have since been excavated. A similar, but smaller fountain can be seen in the North African city of Cuicul (Djemila).

In ad 80 the most important temple in ancient Rome, that of Jupiter Capitolinus, again lay in ruins, destroyed in the fire of ad 80, less than 10 years after it had been rebuilt by Vespasian. Now it had to be rebuilt again. The new temple was particularly magnificent, with doors and roof tiles of gilded bronze and a chryselephantine seated statue of Jupiter in the cella. The work had probably been started by Titus, but was completed by Domitian who, as usual, put only his own name on the completed edifice (Suet., Dom. 5.1). Pliny the Younger (Pan. 52.3) was extremely contemptuous of the richness of the precinct and its builder. Domitian also built the shrine of Jupiter Conservator on the spot where he took shelter when the Vitellians stormed the Capitol in ad 69 (Tacitus, Hist. 3.74.1). On the Arx he rebuilt the Temple of Juno Moneta, a very old temple vowed in 345 bc during the war against the Aurunci and occupying the site of the house of Manlius Capitolinus who had been thrown from the Tarpeian rock in 384 bc.


Domitian built a great deal in an already crowded Roman Forum. An early project was to complete the Temple of Vespasian (Figures 3.4 and 3.5). Although it may have been started under Titus it was mostly the work of Domitian, who seems to have dedicated it to Vespasian alone.7  Built in the confined space between the Temple of Concord and the Temple of Saturn, and facing the Temple of Deified Julius Caesar at the other end of the Forum (Figures 3.4 and 3.5), it was a prostyle temple, with a porch of 6 × 3 Corinthian columns of white marble, 14.19 metres high, supporting a very rich entablature almost exactly 3 metres high. A section of the superb frieze and cornice can today be seen in the Tabularium. The frieze was decorated with reliefs of sacrificial instruments, paterae and bucrania (Figure 7.8). Features of Flavian ornament include the use of darts rather than tongues in the ovolo ornament, the tiny ‘spectacles’ between the dentils and the overall richness of the decoration.8 Because space was limited the back wall of the cella was built directly against the wall of the tabularium; the columns rested upon separate podia and the staircase, which does not survive, ran between them.9 The interior of the cella, 19 metres wide × 18 metres deep, had a double order of columns running around its walls and at the back a large podium for the cult statue, 6.85 metres wide × 5.75 metres deep.

At the other end of the Forum he built a triumphal arch, dedicated to deified Titus, as the inscription records (Figure 7.9). As the deification of Titus took place after ad 81 the Arch of Titus must have been built by Domitian, although it is not mentioned by name in a single ancient source. Measuring 14.04 metres wide (48 Roman feet) × 14.44 metres high, it was built of Pentelic marble up to the capitals and in Luna (Carrara) above. The aperture is 5.28 metres wide (18 Roman feet) × 8.20 metres high (28 Roman feet). The pylons of the arch had fluted columns at each corner whose capitals were an early example of the Composite Order.10 The columns supported an architrave with three fascias, a frieze showing the triumphal procession of Vespasian and Titus, and a cornice. Between the columns were blind windows. In the passageway were panels measuring 3.90 × 2.00 metres sculpted in high relief, showing (south) the procession carrying the spoils from Jerusalem and (north) Titus in his triumphal chariot being crowned by Victory. The vault was richly decorated with coffers and in the centre is a panel showing the apotheosis of Titus who is being carried to heaven on

Figure 7.8  Rome, Temple of Vespasian and Titus, frieze and cornice block, now in

Figure 7.9  Rome, Arch of Titus, built by Domitian shortly after the death of Titus in ad 81.

an eagle. In the spandrels were Victories resting on a globus and carrying vexilla (standards), tubas and palms. Only the attic and passageway of the arch, and of course its sculptures, are original. The pylons, faced in travertine to distinguish them from the original parts, are the work of G. Valadier (1821) and are considered an early example of scientific reconstruction. Domitian is said to have erected so many magnificent gates and arches surmounted by representations of chariots drawn by four horses and other triumphal ornaments in different quarters of the city, that a wag wrote on one of them the single Greek word, arkei (enough!) (Suet., Dom. 13).

Domitian is said to have built a warehouse for the sale of Arabian spices, the Horrea Piperataria, in the Forum in ad 94 (Anon., Chron. 354). It lay in the eastern part of the Forum and parts of it were uncovered under the Basilica Nova. Essentially it was the portico built by Nero as the monumental entrance to his palace transformed into a great bazaar. It was burnt along with the Temple of Peace and the Temple of Vesta in the great fire of ad 191 (Dio, 72.24.1). In the centre of the Forum stood a gigantic bronze equestrian statue of Domitian voted by the senate in ad 91 in honour of his victories in Germany and Dacia. Statius wrote a whole poem lauding it and wishing that it would last as long as the light shines on Rome (Statius, Silvae 1.1). However it was probably destroyed soon after the death of Domitian. Pliny the Younger in his Panegyricus (52.4) describes Domitianic statues as ‘those innumerable golden images’.

Domitian’s rebuilding was particularly intense in the Campus Martius, damaged by the fire of ad 80 which swept away much of what Augustus had built. One project was to rebuild the scene building of the Theatre of Pompey, a victim of the conflagration (Dio, 66.24.2).

The new scaenae frons is shown on the Marble plan with its two lateral doorways (hospitalia) enclosed in semicircular niches and the central one (valvae regiae) in a big rectangular one. This arrangement is a reversal of the design which had been used up to that time, of using a curved or semicircular niche for the valvae regiae and rectangular ones for the hospitalia. It is usually assumed that the new scaenae frons is an otherwise undocumented Severan rebuilding, but it may be noted that a scaled-down version of the new design appears in the theatres at Benevento and Taormina, both dating to the early second century ad. Therefore, although excavations have shown that the actual columns were a Severan replacement, it can be argued that the design of the scaenae frons shown in the Marble Plan is Domitianic.11  He repaired many other buildings which had sustained damage in the fire, including the Pantheon and the Porticus of Octavia, both of which were subsequently rebuilt, obliterating the Domitianic phase. To the east of the Pantheon the Saepta Julia, a large rectangular colonnaded enclosure where citizens gathered to cast their votes, was also damaged in the fire of ad 80 (Dio, 66.24). After it was restored by Domitian it became a market and a place for loungers (Statius, Silv. 4.5.2; Martial, Epigr. 10.80.4).

He rebuilt the Iseum and Serapeum, which had existed next to the Saepta Julia ever since it was built or rebuilt by Caligula (Juvenal, Sat. 2.6.528). It is also shown on the Marble Plan of Rome.12  The rebuilding was particularly splendid and included obelisks in honour of the gods who had saved him in the civil war of ad 69. Little survives above ground but it can be reconstructed on the basis of the Marble Plan as a long rectangular enclosure measuring 220 × 70 metres lying parallel to the Saepta Julia. In its east side a triple entrance arch, possibly the arcus ad Isis shown in the relief of the Haterii, led into a colonnaded square with a circular fountain basin in the middle. In front of it is perhaps the base on which stood the obelisk, now in Piazza Navona, made to the order of Domitian in Aswan. The northern part of the complex was a large open area flanked by an alternation of small obelisks and sphinxes where the Temple of Isis, shown on a coin of Vespasian, probably stood. The small obelisk carried by Bernini’s elephant, in front of S. Maria sopra Minerva, is one of a pair brought from Sais to the Iseum by Diocletian. The southern part of the complex consisted of a semicircular area surrounded by colonnades with an apsidal Temple of Serapis in the middle. The semicircular shape is reminiscent of the ‘Serapeum’ in Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli. The 6-metre-high obelisk of Ramses II from the Temple of Ra at Heliopolis, now in the middle of the nearby Piazza della Rotonda, stood in front of this temple. Domitian also transformed part of the old Villa Publica, where generals awaiting a triumph and foreign ambassadors were lodged, into the Templum or Porticus Divorum, an elegant precinct measuring 77 × 194 metres built in honour of his deified father and brother (Chron. a. 354, 146). It is shown on the Marble Plan13  with columns running round three sides and a triple entrance porch preceded by three steps on the north side. Immediately inside the enclosure to right and left are two small tetrastyle temples, presumably of Vespasian and Titus. North of the Divorum he built the Temple of Minerva Chalcidica, which is shown on the Marble Plan as a circular building, 30 metres in diameter. Minerva was Domitian’s preferred deity, prominent in the Sabine region where the Flavians originated. In the Forum of Nerva, built by Domitian, there was also a Temple of Minerva, who protected the Flavian family

Further west he built the stadium and odeum (Suet., Dom. 5). The stadium was for athletic and musical contests of the Greek type and was erected for his Capitoline Games of ad 86. It was built west of the Baths of Nero, probably in a place where Caesar in 46 bc and Augustus in 28 bc had constructed temporary stadia. Its shape was similar to that of a circus with long parallel sides and a sphendone at the end, but because it was for foot racing and athletic games it lacked the spina (the strip which divided the track into two) and carceres (starting gates). It was also considerably shorter than a circus, measuring only 265 × 106 metres, although it could seat 15,000. The substructures, of brick-faced concrete with a façade of travertine, were incorporated into the buildings around Piazza Navona, and the piazza corresponds exactly to the shape of the track. The façade consisted of two storeys of arched openings flanked by pilasters, Ionic below and Corinthian above. Remains of the main northern entrance were revealed when the houses on the north side of Piazza Navona were demolished in 1936. They consist of an outer ambulacrum and a series of radially planned rooms with staircases between, their vaults supporting the media cavea; a central ambulacrum with further radial rooms and staircases with vaults supporting the ima cavea; closer to the track was an inner ambulacrum and the podium wall. The building was an elegant one, highly praised by later authors (Ammianus Marcellinus, 16.10.4) and adorned with copies of famous Greek statues, including the Apollo Liceus of Praxiteles and the Hermes tying his Sandal of Lysippus. The Pasquino, a famous statuary group showing Patroclus and Menelaus, was also found in Piazza Navona. The stadium later became a haunt of prostitutes, as did the Circus Maximus and the theatre (SHA, Elag. 26.3).

The Odeum, built immediately south of the Stadium, was used for musical recitals and is the largest concert hall ever built, larger than a great many Roman theatres. It had a semicircular cavea, 100 metres in diameter, facing east. Its curve dictated the shape of the façade of Palazzo Massimo on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Excavations in 1936–1937 revealed parts of its rectilinear façade. Its scaenae frons had two storeys of Corinthian columns, one of which has been recomposed to a height of 8.60 metres and stands in Piazza de’ Massimi. In the western part of the Campus Martius near the Tiber Domitian built an artificial lake for staging sea-battles (naumachia) with seats around it (Suet., Dom. 4.2). Stone from it was later used by Trajan to repair the Circus Maximus which had been damaged by fire. The Flavians also made some repairs and additions to the Circus Maximus after the fire of ad 80. Domitian was active in the northern Campus Martius too. According to coin evidence he raised the pavement level around the Ara Pacis about 1.60 metres (after ad 86), perhaps because the northern part of the Campus Martius was subject to flooding. The horologium was reproduced at this new level because the gnomon may have settled and it was no longer reliable by the later first century ad (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 36.15.73). There were several floods in the area, including the great flood of ad 69 which blocked the Via Lata (Tacitus, Hist. 1.86; Suet., Otho 8.3; Plutarch, Otho 4.5).

The masterpiece of Domitian’s reign was the Augustiana or Augustana, the palace on the Palatine hill designed by the architect Rabirius (Figure 7.10). This enormous complex, which occupies most of the SE part of the Palatine hill, came to be known as the Palatium, a name later given to any residence of the Emperor (Dio, 53.16.5). Begun early in Domitian’s reign and completed by ad 92, contemporary writers marvelled at it (Martial, Epigr. 7.56) and spoke of its great height (Martial, Epigr. 8.36). In about 1550 the Farnese gardens were built on the hill covering most of the palace and today the highest section of walling to survive is a corner of the basilica, 16.25 metres high, little more than half the height of the adjacent audience chamber. The material used for the palace was brick-faced concrete with regular courses of bipedales (bricks measuring c. 0.59 × 0.59 × 0.40 metre high). The palace was built on two levels, achieved by massive excavation and earth moving, with the result that earlier buildings, such as the House of the Griffins and portions of the Domus Transitoria, were filled in and covered over. On the upper level was the official reception wing and many of the private rooms. The private wing also included the lower level, comprising a suite of

Figure 7.10  Rome, Flavian Palace, inaugurated in ad 92: general plan of the upper level and the hippodrome.

rooms opening off a peristyle (Figure 7.11) and the ‘hippodrome’. Further to the NE is the recently identified Adoneum.





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