The Julio-Claudians | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-01)
In ad 4 Augustus adopted Tiberius, the son of his wife Livia by a previous marriage, after all his other heirs had died. Tiberius was descended on both sides from the aristocratic Claudian family, which boasted 28 consulships, five dictatorships, seven censorships, six triumphs, and two ovations (Suet., Tib. 1.2). His own career too was one of unbroken success. He was awarded a triumph for his campaign in Germany. His private life, however, was less happy. In 11 bc he was forced by Augustus to divorce his wife, Vipsania, whom he adored, to marry Augustus’ daughter, Julia, for whom he came to feel such a passionate loathing that at the height of his career in 6 bc he retired to Rhodes for more than seven years. Julia’s scandalous conduct eventually resulted in her banishment in 2 bc and in ad 2 Tiberius returned to Rome, taking up residence soon afterwards in the Gardens of Maecenas (Suet., Tib. 15).
The architectural climate in Rome changed abruptly after the death of Augustus in ad 14. Tiberius (ad 14–37) did not have the same passion for building marble temples. In fact he did not build any magnificent works apart from the Temple of Augustus and the reconstruction of the Theatre of Pompey, both of which remained unfinished for many years (Suet., Tib. 47). The theatre had been damaged in the fire of ad 22 and the restoration was begun by Tiberius on the grounds that no member of Pompey’s family was equal to the task of restoration (Tacitus, Ann. 3.72). Although it was customary under these circumstances for the building to be named after its restorer, he decreed that the name of Pompey was to remain. He also erected a bronze statue of the praetorian prefect, Sejanus, in the theatre (Dio, 57.21.3), and rebuilt the scene building (Tacitus, Ann. 6.45.2), but the restoration was not completed until the time of Caligula (Suet., Cal. 21). The construction of the Temple of Augustus was entrusted to Tiberius and his mother Livia in a senatorial decree of ad 14 and Tiberius was about to inaugurate it in ad 37, when death intervened. The temple has never been found, although its location is known with a fair degree of accuracy and it is frequently mentioned in the literature (Dio, 57.10.2). It is behind the Basilica Julia in an area which has never been excavated. It was later used as one of the supports for Caligula’s infamous bridge which he used to cross from the Imperial palace on the Palatine to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitol. Caligulan coins show the temple as a hexastyle building in the Ionic style. It was rebuilt by Domitian and again by Antoninus Pius, whose coins show it as an octastyle building. Nothing is heard of it after that.
Another legacy of Augustus was the imperial residence on the Palatine, the Domus Augusti, an agglomeration of modest houses rather than a palace. Immediately to the north of it is the enormous platform (400 × 450 Roman feet [118.4 × 133.2 metres]) where the Domus Tiberiana stood. Our present knowledge of this complex, most of which is buried beneath the Farnese gardens, suggests that at the time of Tiberius the Domus Tiberiana was nothing more than a few older houses, perhaps including the house in which Tiberius was born. It was Nero who built the terraced platform and palatial complex, which from ad 69 was known as the Domus Tiberiana (Tacitus, Hist. 1.27; Plutarch, Galba 24.7). In ad 16 an arch was erected in the Forum near the Temple of Saturn in honour of Tiberius and his adopted son Germanicus. It was to commemorate the recovery of the standards lost by Varus to the Germans in ad 9 (Tacitus, Ann. 2.41). It had only one opening, as shown by the excavations of 1900 and the representation of it on a frieze of the Arch of Constantine. It is shown plain and unadorned, but so too is the Arch of Septimius Severus. It may have followed the pattern of Augustus’ arches in the Forum with victories in the spandrels and statuary on the attic, but otherwise without ornament.1 In ad 19 after Artaxias had been made king of Armenia the senate voted ovations for Germanicus and Tiberius’ son, Drusus the Younger, and erected arches to them each side of the Temple of Mars Ultor (Figure 3.11) (Tacitus, Ann. 2.64). Yet another arch was erected to Germanicus, who died later in the same year (Tacitus, Ann. 2.83), although Tacitus could be referring to the same arch. After the death of Drusus in ad 23 the senate decreed that he should be honoured as Germanicus had, perhaps meaning that yet another arch was erected (Tacitus, Ann. 4.9).
Between ad 20–23 on high ground NE of the city centre, and away from its temptations (Tacitus, Ann. 4.2), Tiberius built an enormous camp for the Praetorian guard, a body which in future was to have a preponderant influence on the imperial succession. He did so on the advice of the praetorian prefect Sejanus (Dio, 57.19.6), who was steadily increasing his influence over the emperor. Commanding a good view of the roads leading into Rome from the north and east, it had the usual rectangular shape (440 × 380 metres) with curved corners and a gate on each of the four sides. It was defended by a wall of opus testaceum, 4.73 metres high, with merlons every 3 metres. Behind it was a continuous series of barrel-vaulted rooms in opus reticulatum, 3 metres high × c. 3.60 metres wide, above which was the wall-walk. Parts of the barrack buildings and granaries came to light in the period 1960–1968 before the National library was built. Most of the outer circuit of the Castra Praetoria was eventually incorporated into the Aurelianic walls. Although the north and east gates were walled up and the outer wall itself was raised about 5 metres by Aurelian, and a further 2.5 metres at the time of Maxentius, most of the Tiberian work is still visible.
By ad 26 Tiberius seems to have lost interest in Rome, which he left, never to return. One day he was dining in a villa called spelunca (cave) in a locality in Campania now known as Sperlonga, clearly a corruption of the Latin word, when part of the roof collapsed almost killing him (Suet., Tib. 39). Sejanus, who was travelling with him, saved the emperor’s life, thus greatly increasing his power and influence (Tacitus, Ann. 4.59). Excavated in 1957 the villa’s focal point is a large natural cavern in the rocky cliffs which meet the sea at this point of the coast (Figure 5.1). Concrete walling and masonry flooring were added to the natural cave with, on the left on entering, a minor grotto with a spur of rock carved into the shape of a ship’s prow, inscribed in mosaic Navis Argo. Immediately to the south of this is a large rectangular basin in the middle of which is a rectangular structure on which was perhaps built a cenatio (dining area) and a vivarium (fish-pond). Linked to it is a circular basin with a statue group of Scylla attacking the helmsman of one of Odysseus’ ships on a small island in the middle. To the NE of the circular basin concrete walling created a circular room, probably the triclinium where Sejanus saved the emperor’s life, with a small bedroom behind. To the SE of the circular basin is a deep hollow which provided a theatrical setting for a magnificent sculptural group in white marble showing the Cyclops being blinded by Odysseus and his followers, now in the museum. Five seats were cut in the rock each side of the main cave to allow spectators to observe the spectacle. The sculptures, carved in a dramatic Hellenistic style, are signed by Rhodian sculptors, which suggests a connection with
Figure 5.1 Sperlonga, Grotto of Tiberius, early first century ad: plan
the emperor’s stay on that island, although some scholars date them to the Flavian period. The grotto at Sperlonga exemplifies the Roman delight in uniting architecture, landscape and sculpture into a single entity.
Tiberius spent several years in the seclusion of Capreae (Capri), and it was through a letter that he finally ordered the arrest and execution of Sejanus, who fell from power in ad 31. His self-imposed exile to Capri led to ugly rumours about his debauched life there, although Augustus, who had taken over the island as an imperial estate (Suet., Aug. 92), was never criticised for living in the country. Tiberius added several more buildings, embellished a number of natural grottoes and built the Villa Jovis, perched on the edge of a sheer cliff on the eastern tip of the island (Figure 5.2). The cliff falls away to the north, east and south, and a level site was created by cutting back the rock to build a huge undercrofting of concrete barrel-vaults. Part of this vast network was used as an immense water cistern to collect and store the infrequent but heavy rainfall. The cistern was vaulted over to form a flat square platform in the centre of the villa (Figure 5.3). The platform was probably covered with mosaics and perhaps surrounded on four sides by a peristyle of columns like the square of the cisterns at Ptolemais. The villa must have presented an extremely imposing aspect to visitors, who would have approached it, not by the modern pathway from the south, but from the NW up the steeper Roman road paved with bricks laid in a herringbone pattern. The villa would have towered above them, its main rooms standing more than 20 metres above the rising ground. In the SW corner is the entrance vestibule, with four green cipollino marble columns supporting the ceiling and a niche in which stood a statue, perhaps of the Emperor. From there a mosaic-paved ramp led up eastwards past a bathing suite on the south side of the complex. On the east side was a huge semicircular audience hall flanked by lesser halls. Only the
Figure 5.2 Capri, Villa Jovis: section and plan. (After A. Boethius and J. B. Ward Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970]). .
Figure 5.3 Capri, Villa Jovis, ad 14–17
substructures now survive, but they must have required an immense work of cutting, levelling and buttressing. The rooms commanded stupendous views of Sorrento and Vesuvius, situated as they are on the edge of a 300-metre-high cliff. On the north side is the emperor’s private suite, approached by a single, well-guarded corridor and kept quite separate from the service rooms and kitchens on the west side of the villa. A long corridor leads northwards to a loggia (ambulatio), 100 metres long, running close to the edge of the cliff. Here the emperor would have strolled after eating and resting in the rooms that opened off it to the south. The triclinium, with its splendid views, was a vaulted room with polychrome marble paving on its floor. In his last years Tiberius was haunted by the spectre of impending death and it was his habit to consult soothsayers. West of the main block of the villa are the massive foundations of the observatory used by his adviser and astrologer, Thrasyllus. At the edge of the cliff to the south of the villa are the remains of a lighthouse which was used mainly for signalling to the mainland opposite. The emperor’s orders could also be transmitted to a signalling tower at Cape Misenum where the imperial fleet stood ready for the emperor’s command. The lighthouse collapsed a few days before Tiberius’ death in ad 37 (Suet., Tib. 74).
After the death of Tiberius, Caligula, son of the popular Germanicus, was proclaimed emperor by the Praetorian guard, and began his reign amidst general enthusiasm, but his cruel excesses resulted in his being murdered by his own guards after only four years. During that period he did make some notable architectural contributions, by dedicating the Temple of Deified Augustus and completing the restoration of the Theatre of Pompey which had been left unfinished by Tiberius (Suet., Cal. 21). It was not, however, dedicated until the time of Claudius (Suet., Claud. 21). He probably built the large temenos dedicated to Isis and Serapis just east of the Saepta, because Augustus had banned the worship of Egyptian deities within the pomerium (Dio, 53.2.4). He despised the amphitheatre of Statilius Taurus, and so began building a wooden amphitheatre near the Saepta, which involved the destruction of many large buildings (Dio, 59.10.5). Two engineering marvels, the Anio Novus and the Aqua Claudia, were both begun by Caligula in ad 38. These were finally completed by Claudius, but the amphitheatre project was abandoned (Suet., Cal. 21). Caligula constructed a Circus in the Vatican, parts of which are said to have been found under St. Peter’s (Suet., Claud. 21). The 25.5-metre-high obelisk from Heliopolis which now stands in the middle of St. Peter’s Square is thought to have stood on the spina. It was brought to Rome by a ship of huge dimensions (Suet., Claud. 20). The ship was later sunk in the harbour at Ostia to provide a foundation for the lighthouse of Claudius.
It is said that Caligula extended the Domus Tiberiana to the Forum and converted the Temple of Castor and Pollux into a vestibule (Suet., Cal. 22). Suetonius goes on to say that he would often stand between the two statues to be worshipped by those who came there. Boni’s excavations of 1900–1901 in the angle between the Vicus Tuscus and the Temple of Castor and Pollux revealed a complex comprising an atrium, measuring 27 × 22.5 metres, and an adjoining piscina set in an open area measuring 41 × 23 metres. Immediately to the SE of the piscina was a ramp leading up from Forum level to the Palatine. It has been suggested that the entrance to this complex was through the Temple of Castor and Pollux via a bridge over the gap between the two buildings.2 This implies that the principal rooms of the Domus Gai were on the first floor at about the level of the temple podium.
In 1928 the level of Lake Nemi was lowered to reveal two enormous pleasure galleys buried in the mud. They were presumably like the ones described by Suetonius (Cal. 38):
He also constructed ten-oared Liburnian galleys with sterns studded with gems, multicoloured sails, and ample space for baths, porticoes, and dining rooms, and with a great variety of vines and fruit-bearing trees; reclining on these ships all day long he would sail along the Campanian coast amid choral dancing and singing.
The ships found at Nemi no longer exist because they were destroyed in 1944, but they were well documented and much of their furnishing survives. They were very broad in the beam, 20 metres and 24 metres respectively, and were 72 and 73.5 metres long. They were 1,100 tonnes in burden, ten times as much as Christopher Columbus’ largest ship. Flat tiles set in mortar were found in the hulls, which were laid over the oak decking. The pavements were of polychrome marble and mosaic. Flanged tiles were found which suggests that there were heated floors and perhaps baths on board these sumptuous vessels. The galleys contained a number of technical devices such as pump-pistons, pulleys and anchors. We hear of Ptolemy IV building an exotic pleasure galley equipped with similarly lavish equipment in 200 BC (Athenaeus, Deipn. 204E-208), which suggests that the inspiration for this type of pleasure galley was probably Hellenistic.
When Caligula was murdered by the Praetorian guard his uncle, Claudius, was proclaimed emperor. Claudius (ad 41–54) had a strong practical streak and his reign was mostly notable, as far as building was concerned, for engineering projects like draining of the Fucine Lake, repairing the emissary of Lake Albano, completing the two aqueducts begun by Caligula and building the harbour at Ostia. Claudius finally rededicated Pompey’s theatre which had been damaged by fire in ad 22 (Tacitus, Ann. 3.72). He ‘opened the games at the dedication of Pompey’s theatre … from a raised seat in the orchestra, after first offering sacrifice at the temples in the upper part of the cavea and coming down through the tiers of seats while all sat in silence’ (Suet., Claud. 21.1). In ad 51–52 a single arch flanked by engaged Corinthian columns was built over the Via Lata to commemorate his bringing under Roman control ‘barbarian people across the Ocean’, an allusion to his conquest of Britain. It may be that Agrippa’s crossing of the Aqua Virgo over the Via Lata was turned into this commemorative arch (CIL 6.920, 31203).
One of the aqueducts begun by Caligula was the Anio Novus, and the other is now known as the Aqua Claudia. Running at a steady incline above and below ground, through mountains, and across valleys, the two aqueducts were considered by Pliny to be the most remarkable in the world (Nat.Hist. 36.24.122–3). The Aqua Claudia, finished by Claudius in ad 52, is perhaps the most impressive of Roman aqueducts. Its arches, which begin near the seventh mile of the Via Latina, are still a remarkable sight as they approach Rome, and must have been particularly spectacular at the two points where they intersected and crossed the arches of the Aqua Marcia. The Anio Novus was carried on the same arches in a channel (specus) immediately above.
The Claudia was carried over the Via Praenestina by a double archway, built of heavily rusticated travertine masonry, later incorporated into the Aurelianic walls and now known as the Porta Maggiore (Figure 5.4). The twin openings are flanked by three aedicules each with a pair of Corinthian half-columns supporting a tall triangular pediment. The attic carries three inscriptions put up successively by Claudius, Vespasian and Titus. The masonry of the lower part of the arch was deliberately left rough and the columns supporting the aedicules are actually composed of a number of battered or unfinished Corinthian capitals laid one on top of the other. This curious mannerism may well have been a fancy of the emperor because other examples of rusticated work exist from this period. The arch which carried the aqueducts over the Via Labicana is known from by a Rossini drawing of 1829 to have also had rusticated masonry. The emissary which regulated the level of Lake Albano, originally constructed in the fourth century bc, was repaired at about this time, possibly by Claudius. The
Figure 5.4 Rome, Porta Praenestina, now known as Porta Maggiore, built by Claudius (ad 41–54) to carry the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus over the Via Praenestina and the Via Labicana, and later incorporated into the Aurelianic walls.
masonry around the mouth of the emissary has rusticated and irregularly projecting voussoirs like those on the two Claudian aqueduct arches. The Porticus of Claudius at Ostia and the early first century ad amphitheatre at Verona have similar rustication. However, there are earlier examples of such rustication, for example the Roman theatre at Iguvium (Gubbio) dating to 40–30 bc3. A final work which has stylistic similarities with these other Claudian monuments is the Temple of Deified Claudius on the Caelian Hill, which had been begun by Claudius’ wife, Agrippina, but left unfinished until the time of Vespasian (Suet., Vesp. 9). Part of the platform may still be seen in the gardens of the Passionist Fathers just opposite the church of Sts. John and Paul. This interesting survival is important because it employs a similar type of rusticated blocks, heavily rusticated arches, sharply projecting keystones and flat pilasters only partly carved out of rough unfinished masonry (Figure 5.5).
Claudius died in ad 54, probably of poison (Suet., Claud. 44), and was succeeded by his adopted son, Nero. At the beginning of his reign he deified his predecessor, Claudius, while his mother, Agrippina, started his temple. Once he had murdered his mother in ad 59 Nero pulled down the Temple of Claudius, apart from its substructures part of which he used for the Domus Aurea. Although wits mocked his singing, acting and chariot-racing, Nero left a great legacy in terms of art and architecture. Because many important artistic developments took place during his reign much is owed to this versatile emperor’s patronage. Sculptors in marble and bronze, mosaicists, painters, engineers and architects and other artists of ability and renown worked for his court, and many of their achievements are still to be seen. It can be argued that the discovery of his Golden House (the Domus Aurea) at the end of the 15th century was the greatest single stimulus for artists of the Italian Renaissance. His reign is
Figure 5.5 Rome, Temple of Deified Claudius, completed by Vespasian after ad 70: temple terrace
regarded as a turning point in the exploitation of concrete as a building material. His court painter, Famulus or Fabullus, worked on the Domus Aurea and was probably responsible for much of the intricate wall and ceiling decoration which still survives. The Domus Aurea also contains one of the first major examples of glass mosaic on a vault. His court sculptor, Zenodorus, created an astonishing bronze statue of the emperor, 35.5 metres (120 Roman feet) high, which stood at the entrance to the Domus Aurea. His patronage too must have stimulated the minor arts to judge by a passage in Pliny (Nat.Hist. 37.7.20) in which he is said to have paid 1 million sesterces for a single bowl.
When Nero became emperor, hostilities broke out with the Parthians over Armenia (ad 54). Domitius Corbulo captured Artaxata in ad 58 and statues and arches were voted in Nero’s honour (Tacitus, Ann. 13.41.4). There were some setbacks and an arch, decreed earlier, was set up in the middle of the Capitoline Hill (Tacitus, Ann. 15.18.1). Nothing now survives of it although it is shown on coins of ad 64 as a single arch with freestanding Corinthian columns and a gilded bronze quadriga (four-horse chariot) containing Nero accompanied by Pax and Victoria above the attic.4 In ad 59 as part of an initiative to remove commercial activities from the Forum Nero built a great market (macellum magnum) on the Caelian Hill (Dio, 62.18). Shown on a coin with the inscription MAC AUG on the reverse (Macellum Augusti, but less probably Machina Augusti, referring to Nero’s revolving room), it seems to have had a tholos (circular building) in the centre enclosed within a peristyle around which were rows of rooms or tabernae, an arrangement similar to markets at Pompeii and Pozzuoli.5 Tacitus mentions a vast amphitheatre erected by Nero in ad 57 (Ann. 13.31), although it was perhaps only a temporary wooden amphitheatre to replace the amphitheatre of Statilius Taurus, probably in the southern part of the Campus Martius. Awnings (vela) of sky blue and spangled with stars were hung on ropes in it (Pliny, Nat.Hist. 19.6.24). Nero’s architects/engineers, Severus and Celer, proposed a navigable canal from Avernus to the mouth of the Tiber, which was actually begun. Its length was to be 160 miles and its breadth sufficient to allow ships with five banks of oars to pass each other (Suet., Nero 31). This project was ridiculed by Tacitus as incredible, pointing out that the only water available to feed such a canal was in the Pontine marshes (Tacitus, Ann. 15.42).
The second great bath building, after that of Agrippa, was built NW of the Pantheon by Nero in ad 62 (Tacitus, Ann. 14.47). At the same time, he built a gymnasium at whose dedication in ad 62 Nero dispensed oil with Greek abandon (Tacitus, Ann. 14.47). The gymnasium was struck by lightning and burnt down in ad 62. The baths, and the gymnasium, if they formed part of the same complex as some scholars contend, were rebuilt in ad 63 or 64. The baths were said to be very luxurious and were also very popular. A plan made of the complex by Palladio, when portions of the building were still visible, has been shown to be broadly accurate by recent explorations in the cellars of buildings in the area of Palazzo Madama, Piazza S. Luigi dei Francesi and Piazza del Pantheon. However, the whole complex was rebuilt by Alexander Severus in ad 227 (SHA, Alex.Sev 25) and very few of the remains are Neronian to judge by Palladio’s plan, which shows a symmetrically arranged bathing complex of the Imperial type complete with natatio. There is no way of telling how much of this is Neronian and how far the original building lived up to Martial’s verdict: ‘What is worse than Nero? What is better than Nero’s Baths?’ (Martial, 7.34).
Nero resided at a number of residences in the vicinity of Rome. At some time before ad 60 he built a villa at Subiaco along both banks of the river Anio. Three complexes survive, but these represent only a small part of the original villa. The largest complex is on the north bank, linked by a great bridge to another complex on the south bank, which features a large curved niche. Tacitus tells the story of how Nero was almost struck by lightning while dining there (Tacitus, Ann. 14.22). In the monastery of S. Scholastica at Subiaco there is a portion of a barrel-vault from the villa, with rectangular, square and circular panels of polychrome glass mosaic set into a ground of pumice. The vault is reminiscent of the much larger vault in the triclinium of the Domus Aurea with an octagonal panel in polychrome glass mosaic set into a ground of pumice (see later). Another example of glass mosaic is on a niche found at Antium (Anzio) showing a seated Hercules which apparently dates to the time of Nero. Its decoration too is similar to that of the Domus Aurea. At Antium, which was his birthplace, Nero built a large villa where the Apollo Belvedere was found and a new harbour covering
60 hectares (148 acres) around which was a row of warehouses called the ‘grottoes of Nero.’
The first palace Nero built in Rome was the Domus Transitoria (passageway) because it linked the Palatine and the Esquiline (Suet., Nero 31). The imperial estates included the Villa of Maecenas on the Esquiline which had been bequeathed to Augustus. The main portion of the Domus Transitoria to survive is the so-called ‘Baths of Livia’, the name given to it by the excavators of 1721.6 It is a nymphaeum which owes its preservation to the fact that it was incorporated into the foundations of the Aula Regia of the Flavian palace. A pair of symmetrical staircases lead down to it (Figure 5.6). On the north side is a shallow semicircular recess pierced by a pair of niches each side of a stepped water cascade. In front of this, looking like the stage of a Roman theatre, is a row of nine low fountain niches ornamented with small free-standing columns which originally had bronze Corinthian capitals. Opposite was a dining pavilion supported on ten columns around three of its four sides and a small pool. At the sides were two barrel-vaulted rooms, each preceded by two columns. The paving and wall inlay were in polychrome marble, porphyry and serpentino. Some of the paintings on the
Figure 5.6 Rome, fountain court of Nero’s Domus Transitoria, destroyed in ad 64 and later incorporated
into the substructures of Domitian’s Palace: axonometric view. (After A. Boethius and J. B. Ward Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970].)
vaults have survived, forerunners of the paintings of the Domus Aurea. Delicate borders of relief stucco divide the vault and the lunettes into small panels which are filled with medallions, plaques and figured scenes surrounded by elegant scrolls studded with blue glass. One vault is finely decorated with octagonal coffers in white relief stucco. This small complex reflects Nero’s taste for refined opulence and hints at future extravagance. The palace was probably unfinished when it was destroyed by the great fire of ad 64.
The fire was the most terrible Rome had ever experienced. It began on 19 July in the Circus Maximus and in nine days completely destroyed three regions of the city, caused great damage to seven and spared only four. Nero was at Antium when the fire broke out and he returned to the city only when the fire was approaching the Domus Transitoria. The flames could not be prevented from overwhelming the Palatine, including his palace. It also seems to have destroyed a number of old and venerable buildings.
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