The infamous excesses of Emperor Nero have made a spectacular comeback yesterday, as archaeologists unveiled his legendary rotating banquet hall. Experts excavating in the Domus Aurea (Golden Palace, literally ‘Golden House’) on Rome’s Palatine Hill have found what they claim to be the remnants of a platform and mechanism described by the ancient historian Suetonius, in his opus The Twelve Caesars.
The incredible discovery was made during routine maintenance work at the Palace, which is now located beneath theBaths of Trajan. “This cannot be compared to anything that we know of in ancient Roman architecture,” says head archaeologist FrancoiseVilledieu. An additional space found in the Palace is thought to have once been a kitchen, in which extravagant feasts were prepared for Nero and his powerful guests. Suetonius wrote that the room, which experts believe was water-powered, revolved ‘day and night, in time with the sky.’ He also claims the ceiling contained sliding ivory panels, which poured forth flowers and perfume on diners.
“This discovery has no equal among ancient Roman architectural finds,” says Maria Antonietta Tomei, the site’s superintendent. Her and her team are working hard to ensure the Palace does not succumb to the Baths’ weight. The hall’s discovery will once again shine a light on one of Rome‘s cruelest and most callous rulers. Described by Suetonius as ‘malodorous’ and with a ‘prominent’ belly, Nero was known for his opulent feasts, orgies and narcissistic artistry during his reign between 54 – 68 AD. He also killed several members of his family, including his mother, on his path to power.
The Golden Palace itself was destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome, which swept through the city in 64 AD, while Nero famously played the fiddle. However this legend is almost certainly untrue, as Nero was staying in his home town of Antium, some 30 miles away. Nero committed suicide following a tax revolt. As he prepared for his demise, his is famously said to have declared, “What an artist the world is losing!” Yesterday’s discovery has left state archaeology chief Angelo Bottini in no doubt as to Nero’s fervent megalomania: “The heart of every activity in ancient Rome was the banquet, together with some form of entertainment. Nero was like the sun, and people were revolving around the emperor.”