The Flavians Part 3 | Roman Architecture | Second edition
The official wing is approached by a road leading up from the Forum and through the socalled Arch of Domitian. At the top of the rise is the area palatina, or forecourt of the palace, dominated by a colonnade of Carystian grey/green (cipollino) columns, one of which has been re-erected (1 in Figure 7.10). Behind the colonnade were three rooms: (2) the so-called lararium (family shrine) which may have housed the imperial guard; (4) an apsed room with a double order of columns running close to the two side walls, often called the basilica, which may have functioned as the place where the emperor addressed his counsellors; and (3) the aula regia, an enormous reception hall, measuring 31.44 × 38 metres. The walls were sheathed in marble and articulated by columns of pavonazzetto supporting projecting entablatures. On the longer sides there were six columns; between the end pairs were doorways and between the central four were three shallow niches, framed by pairs of Phrygian purple columns. They contained statues of green Egyptian basanite, two of which survive and are now in the Museum of Parma. On the NE side there were four columns; between the side ones were niches like those described in the preceding, but somewhat wider; between the central pair was the entry door. On the SW side between the side columns were two doors into the peristyle; between the central pair was a broad shallow apse for the enthroned emperor. Although the walls today survive to a height of only 8.90 metres the ground plan suggests that it may have been designed as a cube with a ceiling height of around 32 metres. This would allow for an upper zone containing windows. There is some dispute as to how the
Figure 7.11 Rome, Flavian Palace: plan of the lower level.
room was roofed, some advocating a barrel-vault, and others a beamed ceiling with coffers. To span a ceiling on such a scale would require beams at least 26 metres long, by no means impossible, as the theatrum tectum at Pompeii shows. A less likely reconstruction, based on a sestertius of ad 95–96, has the hall divided into three zones, the top one being a colonnade which rises like a temple above the adjacent two rooms. The columns support a beamed roof, but the spaces between the columns are open, leaving the room exposed to the elements.
The rooms on the NW side of the peristyle are animated by tangential curves which produce eight semicircular rooms, four small and four larger with a rectangular exedra in the middle of the curve, presumably for a couch (5). These two sets of rooms, separated by an octagonal vestibule, fit perfectly into rectilinear outer walls. They may have been bedrooms, although they may have been waiting rooms for those entering through the octagonal vestibule which is in line with the front door of the ‘House of Livia.’ The peristyle courtyard, 50 × 56 metres, was enclosed in colonnades with an elaborate fountain in the middle. On the SW side was the banqueting hall (6), which may have been called the Coenatio Jovis (SHA, Pertinax, 11.6). It measured 29.05 × 31.64 metres × c. 30 metres high and, like the aula regia, was probably roofed with wooden beams. The room was described in ad 93–94 by Statius, in a poem in which he thanked Domitian for inviting him to a banquet there, as a magnificent, lofty room supported by 100 columns sheathed in coloured marbles which came from all over the empire (Silvae 4.2.18–31). It is thought that this suggests that the walls were lined with two orders of columns and above them an order of pilasters framing the windows: the lowest Numidian yellow, the middle Phrygian purple and the top pink-grey from Chios or Carystos (cipollino). A screen of huge grey granite columns formed the entrance to the room and flanking it on each side were oval nymphaea whose waters could be seen and heard by the diners through large windows. One of these fountains has been reconstructed in brick, but originally it would have been encrusted in coloured marbles and surrounded by a colonnade of yellow Numidian marble, perhaps two storeys high. The room must have been very draughty in winter and it is not surprising that in about ad 120 at the time of Hadrian a hypocaust was installed to heat the floor. It was replaced by the present floor in the fourth century ad, which in turn collapsed in an undulating pattern over the remains of the hypocaust beneath. On the floor the spaces between the columns were inlaid with brightly coloured marble. A wide border of Numidian yellow, pink Chian and grey granite surrounded the main field, which was composed of grey granite roundels in Numidian yellow squares alternating with Phrygian purple rectangles framed in Lucullan black. A broad, shallow apse at the end marks the place where the emperor reclined. It is floored in a pattern of roundels, squares and lozenges in porphyry, framed by dark green Laconian stone, Phrygian purple, Numidian yellow and Chian pink. The stone is recycled and the floor probably dates to the fifth century ad. The private part of the palace to the SE is preceded by two enormous peristyles (7 and 8). The pool in the SW one has an island in the middle, which once contained a small temple, perhaps of Minerva, approached by a bridge. To the SW of them is a symmetrically arranged group of small rooms, reminiscent of the bedroom suites of the Domus Aurea, but more sophisticated in their arrangement. As in the Domus Aurea they face in opposite directions, three towards the lower level peristyle and three towards the upper level peristyle. There is a staircase NW of these rooms leading down to the rooms around the lower level peristyle (Figure 7.11). Three ample light-wells (1, 2 and 3), two with reflecting pools light the way through to a triclinium (4) which extends as far as the columns of the peristyle from which it draws its light. On the NE side of the peristyle are three rooms, the outer ones octagonal (5 and 7) and covered with domical vaults of the kind found in the Domus Aurea, their walls containing alternately rectangular and semicircular niches. The central room (6) is square and cross-vaulted with semicircular niches on the side walls and a rectangular niche in the back wall. On the SW side of the peristyle is a large rectangular room which opens onto a long curved gallery, probably colonnaded, facing the Circus Maximus (8). The gallery links the two wings of the palace which project each side of it. On the upper level, at the sides of the rectangular room are two small sets of rooms each facing a semicircular open courtyard (Figure 7.10). Also on the upper level, there are small curvilinear rooms between the lowerlevel peristyle and the hippodrome.
To the east of the lower peristyle, and also on the lower level although no longer communicating with it, is the ‘hippodrome’, an open space (160 × 50 metres) with a curved SW end and carceres in the form of five small rooms at the NE end (9 on Figure 7.10, and Figure 7.12). The carceres were covered with coffered barrel-vaults, decorated with polychrome and gilt glass mosaic.14 Around the curved end and the two long sides of the open space ran an arcade of brick-faced concrete piers veneered in marble. Behind was a continuous barrel vault with sunken coffers which supported an upper corridor corresponding to the upper level of the palace. At the curved end where the back wall has survived to the full height of the second storey there are doorways and, higher up the wall, beam slots for a wooden ceiling, suggesting that the roof of the upper corridor was supported on columns. It was thus possible to walk around the upper level and look down on the open space below. There was a large semicircular exedra more than 30 metres in diameter in the middle of the SE long side (not shown on plan), covered with a semidome. The floor of the exedra, which was at the same level as the upper part of the palace, was supported by the vaults of three rooms which opened directly into the lower part of the ‘hippodrome’. The function
Figure 7.12 Rome, Flavian Palace, the hippodrome
of the exedra was perhaps a summer dining room (triclinium aestivum) of a similar type to the Serapeum of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli where the diners reclined on a vast curved couch (stibadium) under the semidome. A ‘hippodrome’ or ‘circus’ was an architectural feature of some large villas, although it was not used for actual chariot racing. In Pliny the Younger’s Tuscan villa there was a ‘promenade (gestatio) in the shape of a circus’, which was planted with plane trees, box, and clipped small shrubs. He tells us that the curve was planted with cypress trees and there were roses in the sunny open part (Pliny the Younger, Epist. 5.6.17, 32–4).
Domitian began building a new approach to the Domus Tiberiana from the Forum, replacing Caligula’s Domus Gai (Figure 3.5). The entrance was from the Vicus Tuscus to the NW, through a porch of which a single round-headed niche survives, into a great hall or vestibule, measuring 31 × 24 metres. Its SE wall even today is preserved to a height of 26 metres, but little survives of its NW wall which may never have been finished. However, the hall itself was clearly intended to be opulently decorated to judge by the 15 statue niches around the walls. Adjoining it are two rooms, the NE one a hall smaller than the first and to the SW a peristyle of about the same size. The entrance to the group of rooms as a whole was from the NE, behind the Temple of Castor and Pollux, where a portico was added in the second century ad which extended around the west side too. A steep ramp runs along the SE side of the complex, apparently climbing up to the Domus Tiberiana above. The buildings were never completed according to the original design as an opulent suite of reception rooms leading up from the Forum to the Domus Tiberiana. Instead walls were later built across the great hall to convert it into granaries (horrea). The other two rooms were turned into the church of St. Maria Antiqua in the sixth century ad.
It appears that there was an enormous garden, tentatively identified as the Adoneum or Garden of Adonis (Philostratus, Vita Apolloni Tyanae 7.32), belonging to the Flavian palace in the NE corner of the Palatine hill in an area known as ‘Vigna Barberini’ where Nero’s famous revolving room was found. Domitian levelled the entire area to create a vast level platform, measuring 110 × 150 metres. To do this he had to build a series of massive substructures to the NE where the ground sloped most steeply. These substructures consisted of rows of barrel-vaulted chambers which were subdivided into rooms, at least 70 of them and perhaps double that number. The rooms are in some cases on four levels and must have resembled those under the so-called poikile at Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli. On this platform he built a vast garden with a curved end on the south side, surrounded by a two-storey colonnade and rows of rooms.
The Quirinal was the hill of the Sabines and Domitian revitalised the area behind the Forum. The shrine of the god Quirinus was on the Alta Semita near the Porta Quirinalis. Late in his reign, between ad 89 and 95, Domitian built a Temple of the Flavian family on the site of his father’s house where he was born (Quintilian, Inst. 3.7.9). The temple is described as lofty and covered with marble and gold (Martial, Epigr. 9.1.8. and 9.21). It was part of a complex which included a mausoleum of the Flavians where the ashes of Vespasian and Titus were deposited, as well as those of Julia Titi and Domitian himself (Suet., Dom. 17). Its exact whereabouts are unknown although it was certainly on the Quirinal hill. Domitian also revived the shrine of pudicitia plebeia (plebeian chastity) on the Vicus Longus near the temple and revitalised the area of the Quirinal behind. Domitian’s craze for building, already mentioned, extended to buildings outside Rome as well. His name is associated with many villas, but the one he built on the banks of lake Albanum near Castelgandolfo is the most extensive and important even though it is poorly preserved. It contained a ‘hippodrome’, a small theatre, an enormous cryptoporticus, and two nymphaea, the late Republican Doric nymphaeum and 2 kilometres away the ‘Ninfeo Bergantino’, a natural cave transformed into a grotto whose layout and decoration owes a great deal to Tiberius’ grotto at Sperlonga.15
Inaugurated after his death, Domitian’s last building complex was named after his successor, the emperor Nerva (Suet., Dom. 5). Because of its narrowness it soon became known as the Forum Transitorium. Built in the narrow space between the Temple of Peace and the Forum Augustum (Figure 3.2), it had a high enclosing wall of peperino like the latter, although cut in somewhat larger blocks. The area where it stood had been the Argiletum, a thoroughfare which ran from the Forum Romanum to the Subura and underneath ran the great sewer (cloaca maxima). The new forum was a very skilfully planned complex. Care was taken to avoid building on top of the channel of the sewer, which meant that for the Forum itself the space available was very restricted. To create more space in what would otherwise have looked like the thoroughfare it became, the surrounding colonnades stood close to the walls and supported projecting sections of entablature, leaving an open space measuring 106 × 41 metres, comparable to the equivalent space in the Forum of Julius Caesar, which measured 105 × 44 metres. The two surviving columns of the surrounding colonnades have shafts, 8.9 metres high, of pavonazzetto and capitals of white marble, above which runs a frieze with scenes of Minerva and the Nine Muses and the myth of Arachne (Figure 7.13). The wall behind has an attic, 4.4 metres high, with a relief of Minerva, 2.65 metres high, producing an effect of great richness. There were probably similar reliefs between all the columns. The temple stood at the NE end of the Forum close to the entrance. It was built hard against the SE exedra of the Forum of Augustus which protruded into the very limited space available. The exedra was concealed by a cross wall with a corresponding one on the other side of the temple. The temple itself was prostyle with a porch of 6 × 3 red granite columns. Internally a double order of pavonazzetto columns ran along each side of the cella. Only the
Figure 7.13 Rome, Forum of Nerva, dedicated in ad 97, part of the colonnade.
barrel-vaulted substructures of the temple survive today, the columns having been removed by Pope Paul V in 1606 to decorate a fountain on the Janiculum. At the far end of the forum was the temple of Janus Quadrifrons which housed a statue of Janus with four faces looking out onto four fora, presumably Romanum, Augustum, Transitorium and Julium, or possibly one of them was the Temple of Peace (Martial, Epigr. 10.28.5–6). Little trace was found of the temple in the recent excavations. As the major access point to the political and religious centre of Rome the forum was given an appropriately dignified entrance on its NE side, a columnar porch with a curved end and straight sides. The forum also gave access to the surrounding complexes, the Temple of Peace, the Forum of Augustus, the Basilica Paulli and the Forum of Julius Caesar. It was thus a central element in the whole complex of Fora, a major entrance to the Forum and a monumental replacement for the first part of the Argiletum.
The three Flavian Emperors, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, were builders on a grand scale, and between them, they transformed Rome in a way which surpassed even Augustus himself. To appreciate the extent of the rebuilding one has only to look at how thoroughly the centre of Rome had been rebuilt by the Flavians, particularly the two great additions to the Campus Martius, the largest odeum ever built and the stadium which survives to this day as the Piazza Navona. But it is in the Forum area above all that with a sweep of the eye one can really appreciate how much that area had been transformed by the Flavians, particularly Domitian. In a circle around the Forum are the Baths of Titus, the Colosseum, the Imperial Palace on the Palatine, the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, the Forum of Nerva, and the Temple of Peace. In the Forum itself, the Arch of Titus stands at one end and at the other the Temple of Deified Vespasian with, in the centre, the enormous equestrian statue of Domitian. Domitian also began cutting away the spur of hill NW of the Forum of Augustus, perhaps to build yet another forum. However, it was left to the emperor, Trajan, to build on that spot.
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