Domus Flavia

3d model and reconstruction

Domus Flavia

A large grassy space surrounded by the remains of the brick wall allows us to locate the site where the splendid throne hall of the Domus Flavia stood, known as Aula Regia.

In the apse, where the emperor’s throne stood, an epigraph mentions the excavations in this area during the eighteenth century by Monsignor Francesco Bianchini on behalf of the Duke of Parma e Piacenza Francesco I.

These excavations actually involved systematic stripping of the monument, to the extent that the famous archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani called Bianchinithe final destroyer of the Palatino“.

The remaining columns were actually removed, with bases and capitals, as well as the small pophyry columns around the niches. Also two colossal basalt statues were recovered, today at the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Parma. The Greek marble threshold was reused for the Pantheon altar. Nevertheless Bianchini himself left some drawings, published in the 1920s by the archaeologist Giuseppe Gatteschi, which are an excellent starting point for the reconstruction.

In the modern age the hall has been studied in particular as regards its ceiling: it has been confirmed, based on its width and on the wall thickness, that it could not have been a vault but trussed, covered by panels. The comparison with a coin of the time of Emperor Domitian, possibly showing the facade of the Domus Flavia, has led to assuming that there might be a completely open colonnade on the top part of the hall, which however would be ill-suited to supporting the heavy truss.

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Short history of

Domus Flavia

The Domus Flavia is the official and public section of the grandiose dwelling built by the architect Rabirius on orders from Domitian on the southeast slope of the Palatine.

Generally, the complex is conceived as being divided into three sections, conventionally named, from west to east as Domus Flavia, Domus Augustana, and the Stadium.

In reality the complex was supposed to have been known with the single name of Domus Augustana: the dwelling, that is, of Augustus, as a sign of continuity with the home of the first prince, the founder of the empire. Work on the complex, probably initiated at the beginning of Domitian’s reign, were terminated in 92 AD. There is evidence to support the hypothesis that they began with the so-called Domus Flavia and ended with the Stadium. The center of the Domus Flavia is constituted by an immense rectangular peristyle, with a portico of columns of Numidian (antique yellow) marble.

In the middle of the peristyle is an octagonal fountain with little walls forming a labyrinth. A few large rooms face onto this peristyle. In the middle of the north side is a vast hall, called by the 18th century excavators the Regal Hall (Aula Regia). On receiving days the hall hosted the salutations of the Emperor, seated on the throne in the center of the apse in a dominating position.

The walls of the hall were broken up by niches holding gigantic statues in colored marble. To the west of the Aula Regia was the so-called Basilica, a room with an apse, where meetings of the Emperor’s advisors were probably held. It was here that concrete decisions were made about the administration and policies of the empire. In the so-called Lararium, located on the east side of the Aula Regia, was a room designed to host the praetorian guard, assigned to protect the main entrance to the palace. The opposite side of the peristyle, to the south, is almost entirely occupied by a grandiose hall flanked by two smaller rooms. It still includes a part of its rich marble floor, raised above a hypocaust or central heating system. It is very likely that this is the grand dining room of the emperor, of which news has come down to us from literary sources. Of the two, symmetrical lateral rooms, only the one on the right is sufficiently preserved to be studied; in the center is an oval fountain, which could be seen by invited banquet guests through the large windows in the triclinium.

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