Domus Aurea

Nero was a tyranny to the core. Knowledge about Nero's reign comes principally from three ancient writers, “the Roman historian Tacitus, the biographer Suetonius and the Greek historian Cassius Dio” (Griffin, p. 37).

There is a lot said about how Nero’s Golden House came into being, but from reliable sources it can be said that Rome’s blazing fire and Nero’s Golden House had a lot in common. Roman architecture was an advanced form of Greek architecture. The Romans took with them the knowledge and designs of the Greeks, and modified them to make them their own.

A recent study of Eastern Roman architecture illustrated the ‘imperial’ style and universality of Roman architecture, drawing upon Greek prototypes but designed to be of single theme to integrate a ‘common cultural basis.’ Architecture was seen as a manifestation, a tool to enforce its power over subject nations by a common, imposed vocabulary seen to be the same in every city of the empire, except for some minor decorative details and construction techniques. There is a homogeneity to Roman architecture cannot be denied, but it was never the overriding factor either. Nowhere was regionalism more important in Roman architecture than in the East. In this past, this has been minimized, usually because Roman architecture has been viewed almost wholly from the Classical perspective (Ball W, p.247).

The style found in the Golden House is similar to the 4th Century Pompeian style, and while certain technical and design characteristics are diminutive in style in comparison to the size of rooms, it has become a subject of intense speculation (Griffin, p.126).

Executive Summary

In recent years, archeologists uncovered what they believe to be the rotating dining room of roman emperor Nero. It is believed that the 2,000-year-old ‘coenatio rotunda’ which was unearthed, was designed and created by Nero in the 1st century palace he built as his home on the Palatine hill in Rome. This assumption comes from the understanding that Nero was famed for his lavish entertaining and debauched lifestyle. There is an assumption among archeologists that the remains, including the table, are indeed a part of the dining area described in a section on the Domus Aurea of golden house by the ancient historian Suetonius in his lives of the Caesars (Pisa, p.18).

Suetonius wrote that “the chief banqueting room was circular, and revolved perpetually night and day in imitation of the motion of the celestial bodies. All the dining rooms had ceilings of fretted ivory, the panels of which could slide back and let a rain of flowers, or of perfume from hidden sprinklers, fall on his guests" (Pisa, p.18).

The room moved with the help of spheres underneath powered by canals of water. This dining room was most luxurious and technologically advanced that it was one of the many attractions of the pleasure dome of the emperor, who reigned from AD 54 to 68.

The dining room excavated so far, extended for 60 metres, and they also uncovered several pillars, a key, and a perimeter wall (Pisa, p.18).

After Nero's suicide in AD 68, the palace was stripped of its marble, jewels and ivory, and rebuilt.  

Augustus died A.D 14 and was succeeded by his stepson Tiberius. He was followed by Caligula, a cruel tyrant, who ruled Rome from A.D 37 to A.D 41. Caligula was succeeded Claudius I (A.D 41–A.D 54), but more than his power, it was his wives who dominated him and power. During his reign, Claudius made Thrace, Lydia, and Judaea Roman provinces. It was then the time for Nero, Claudius’ stepson Nero to rule Rome from A.D 54 to A.D 68. Nero’s rule has gone down in history for his tyranny. The great fire which engulfed the whole of Rome took place during his reign in A.D 64. The fire erased everything between the Caelian, the Palatine, and the Esquiline, and Nero moved the population to the right bank of the Tiber, where he built well-designed roads and buildings. This was the time Christianity, made its presence felt in Rome. On Nero's orders many converts to Christianity, were killed, including St. Peter and St. Paul (CUP, p.41780).

Literature Review

Nero was emperor of Rome from 54 to 68. He murdered his mother, and had a hand in the fire that burnt Rome. He was said to have slept with his mother whom he killed, and also executed one stepsister whom he married. He was such a tyrant that he barely left any of his close family and relations alive. After incinerating Rome, he built his Golden House. He conveniently placed the blame for the fire on Christians, some of whom he hung up as human torches to light his gardens at night. While there are many atrocities attributed to Nero, he was an able administrator. He would attack those elite of Rome like he did the Christians.

Whatever else he may have been, Nero was a clever man, and one who was much more attuned to the psychology of his people than were some disgruntled elitists or angry sectaries. In order to understand Nero's actions, one needs to understand the Roman public life. 

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The power of myth relates to the Romans belief in the stories of gods and heroes in offering a symbolic language to bind together rulers and ruled. By appropriating myths and legends, Roman politicians, Emperors, and Hellenistic kings presented images which were easily recognizable to a broad general public. “Everywhere, from the coins in their purses to the grand decorative programs of their greatest public buildings, citizens could decipher with relative ease the claims of their leaders when they were couched artistically in mythical and legendary terms, claims which the literate could also read in contemporary writings” (Champlin, p.97-8). World conquerors like Pompey the Great or Mark Antony turned naturally to the global exploits of Dionysus, or Alexander the Great to represent their own deeds symbolically, even to the point of dressing like them or claiming them as ancestors.

Roman Architecture

Counter Reformation attitudes however are not reflected or influenced the architectural development in ancient Roman architecture. The influence of early Christianity and Scholasticism can be seen in some isolated cases, such as the Cathedral of Mantua in 1545 by Giulio Romano, where colonnades, architrave, and flat ceiling of the nave can be traced back to Old St.Peter’s (Kruft H. W, p.93).

The Romans contribution to architecture remains exemplified through its robust presence throughout Europe and North America by way of arches and domes of governmental and religious buildings (Early Christian Architecture, n.d).  

During the 17th century, Roman Catholic churches reveled in artistry that combined architecture as well as painting and sculpture. The interiors were conspicuous by the baroque combines all three arts to produce a sense of emotional exuberance. This style differed from the Renaissance. The Roman Catholic world was the home of baroque, and the Catholic Church enjoyed an aura of centuries of authority and prestige. St. Peter’s Church in Rome set the example for numerous other churches built and decorated in the 17th century to put baroque. Welcomed by rows of saints, gesticulating eagerly in stone from alcove or roof line, the interior was full of mingling curves of columns, altars and sculpted groups, breaking up the solidity of side walls, leading up to an illusionist ceiling that became a source that provided light to the inside. The ceilings were decorated with angels and people of fame or virtue, streaming upwards into the distant clouds of heaven (Historyworld, n.d).

Frescos’ were predominant Roman style architectural revelations. The Romanesque and Gothic St Mary's Cathedral, built between the 9th and 14th centuries, featured impressive frescos, an 11th-century bronze portal, a Romanesque crypt, and paintings by Hans Holbein the Elder. The survival of a few twelfth-century windows displaying the prophets (see photo at the end) are among the oldest stained glass windows in German churches (HHOG, 2006).  

Erfurt's landmark is dwarfed by Mariendom (Cathedral of Mary) and the Severikirche (St. Severus Church). The churches are standing examples of German architectural masterpieces of gothic style. The ‘Gloriosa’ (1497) (see photo), also called, the ‘queen of bells,’ has been praised for centuries for her magnificent sound. Inside the cathedral one sees the impressive gothic choir with its colorful cycle of stained glass windows that number 13 in all. They are over 40 feet high and are considered to be among the greatest works of medieval stained glass art. The Cathedral houses many noteworthy treasures of art created over the centuries. A wide and impressive open air stairway leads up from the Cathedral Square to the Cathedral and the Church of St. Severus (HHOG, 2006).

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Architectural Delight

The architectural centerpiece of this new era was the notorious Golden House, which was begun before the ashes of the Fire had cooled. It was meant to be perceived, as Seneca resentfully suggests, as the Palace of the Sun. Not so much a house as a huge country mansion, it overlooked a great park, a bowl of open countryside (roughly around where the Colosseum is today, though we have to imagine a deeper valley) dotted with woods, pastures, fields, animals, and different buildings, all scattered around an artificial lake: it was a suburban villa set down in the heart of the city. The palace itself had a tremendous two-story façade over 360 meters long, gilt and inlaid with jewels, and carefully oriented east-west--the only public building in Rome to be so oriented and at a tremendous cost in engineering. The effect of sunlight hitting such a façade from dawn till dusk would be blinding: it might indeed be taken for the palace of the Sun. This Golden House looked down from the periphery onto a world in miniature with, we are told, an artificial sea, artificial cities, and artificial countryside of all kinds, stocked with tame and wild animals. It was in fact intended as a microcosm of the world: looking down on one side was the house of the Sun, while high above its entrance stood the statue of its master, Nero, as the charioteer Sol, holding the world in his hand. The Golden House was an enormous conceit, meant to blind, to overwhelm the mortal viewer.

The Golden House aroused a lot of criticism both in Nero's life and after his death, for its perceived indifference to the suffering of the citizens, and particularly for its swallowing up of much prime real estate. But its size was wildly exaggerated by hostile contemporaries, and they have been followed in this by modern historians and archaeologists; an anonymous graffito said that one house was taking over the city (Champlin, p.106).

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