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Domus Augustiana

 p158  Article on pp158‑166 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.

Domus Augustiana: * (CIL VI.8640, 8647‑9; XV.1860) or Augustana (ib. VI.2271, 8651; XV.7246): 'denoted the whole imperial residence (except Domus Tiberiana, q.v.) at any given period. Domus Flavia (not Domus Commodiana, q.v.), domus Severiana are modern terms for the parts erected by these several Emperors' (Pl. 143). This seems to state the case as clearly as possible. Domus Palatina (q.v.) is also used for the whole group.

For the original house of Augustus, see Domus Augusti, and for the remains of the Domus Transitoria and Domus Aurea, see those articles.

It is clear, from examination of the construction, that what is now existing above ground is due in main to a great restoration by Domitian's  p159 architect Rabirius, which was only completed in 92 A.D. (Mart. VII.56.2: (Rabiri) Parrhasiam mira qui struis arte domum; cf. X.71, a poem on his parents' death). The cornices have two rings between the dentils, a characteristic of Domitian's work (BC 1918, 35).

Two fragments of a marble epistyle, bearing an inscription in letters once filled with bronze, which now lie at the main entrance of the palace and were doubtless found there, are attributed to the reign of Vespasian (CIL VI.31496a) but might better be assigned to the beginning of that of Domitian (81‑83 A.D.). The inscription may have related to the construction of a porticus. The building is described by Martial, writing in 93 A.D., as a lofty pile (VIII.36); in ib. 39 he alludes to the completion of the triclinium, of which Statius (Silv. IV.2) also speaks, in a poem of extravagant praise; cf. also Mart. I.70; VIII.60; IX.13, 79; XII.15.

Suetonius (Dom. 14) tells us that Domitian had the walls of the porticoes in which he usually walked lined with selenite (phengites lapis),​a so that he would see what was going on behind him; but otherwise we have little definite information, and practically nothing about the fate of the building after his time.

All the accounts we have are too vague to be referred to this particular palace (see Palatinus Mons), and many of them (in Hist. Aug.) have been doubted by v. Domaszewski; see Lavacrum Plautiani, Templum Elagabali, Diaetae Mammaeae, Sicilia, Stabulum, etc.

In Christian times the edges of the hill were occupied by churches, but the central portion (perhaps owing to the destruction caused by the earthquake of Leo IV)º seems to have been almost entirely left alone. Both the Anonymus Einsiedlensis and the writers of the Mirabilia barely mention it, and we know very little about its mediaeval history, though the pallacium divi Augusti described by Magister Gregorius in the twelfth century (JRS 1919, 31, 52) is probably this palace​1 (it is to be noted that he connects the aqueduct with it) and that the main aqueduct is spoken of as still running, though the distributing pipes are not; and the inscription that he says he saw among the ruins, domus divi Augusti clementissimi, may belong either to Domitian's restoration or to a later one.

The palace of Domitian may be said to occupy the whole of the south-eastern half of the hill — the Palatium. It falls into several sections:

(a) The first consists of a group of state apartments entered from the north-west.  p160 

The lofty façade was originally decorated with a colonnade in front; but Rabirius's neglect to fill up properly the earlier buildings below made it necessary for Hadrian to support it with walls projecting at right angles (Ill. 15; cf. AJA 1912, 238, fig. 4), in which many of the columns were enclosed (the same procedure was necessary in the case of the so‑called templum Divi Augusti). Under­ground chambers were also constructed against the façade wall.

[image ALT: Some decaying walls. They are part of the ancient Roman masonry of the Domus Augustiana, or palace of Augustus on the Palatine, in Rome.]
Strengthening walls of façade (p160)

The state apartments are arranged round a huge peristyle with columns of Numidian marble (cf. NS 1907, 282) and an elaborate entablature; in the centre was a large shallow open water basin.​2 The north-east part of this court occupied the summit of the hill, as is shown by the fact that the Mundus (if such it be) is excavated in the natural rock; while the ground sloped away towards the forum and the circus Maximus, which accounts for the presence of earlier buildings (see above) under the halls to the north-east and south-west of the peristyle. Domitian abandoned the use of this lower level, and all the state apartments are on the level of the peristyle, which was entered between lobbies (a latrine is distinguishable) from the north-west, where the main door of the palace was.

Of these halls, that at the north angle has the form of a basilica, though there was certainly no clerestory. It was too lofty to sustain the weight of its roof, and the apse has been thickened and piers inserted in the two angles at the other end. There are therefore no true aisles, and the transenna across the chord of the apse is perhaps an arbitrary modern restoration (DAP 2.xv.130). Outside the basilica the branch from the cryptoporticus of the Domus Tiberiana (q.v.) reaches the peristyle.

The next hall, almost square in plan, had a span of about 100 feet, and niches for statues in the walls. For the frieze, see Mél. 1921‑2, 303‑318 (trophies with allusions to Domitian's triumphs over the Chatti and the Dacians). The third hall, the so‑called lararium, is a good deal smaller. Adjacent to it is the only staircase ascending to the upper floor of which we have any trace. On the south of the peristyle is the triclinium, which, as Statius tells us, was a room of great size, decorated with a variety of coloured marbles. It is not certain whether it was vaulted or roofed with a flat roof. Fragments of the huge columns of grey granite which stood in the opening towards the peristyle (as well as round the interior) and of the entablature which rested on them may still be seen, as also portions of its marble pavement, that of the apse being later than the rest (HFP 72). It was flanked by a nymphaeum on each side, which originally opened on to it by means of large windows; but these were filled up before the interior of the triclinium was faced with marble for the last time, as it has come down to us.

Under the basilica are remains of a house of the very early empire (see Mitt. 1927, 66, where they are attributed to the second period of the second Pompeian style),  p161 which cuts through still earlier buildings. It was first excavated in 1724, and drawings of the paintings on its walls were made (Mitt. 1895, 257‑260; HJ 90, n117, who thinks it may have formed part of the older domus Augusti;º PBS VII. p58, Nos. 3, 4; Egger, Krit. Verzeichniss der Handzeichnungen in Wien, Nos. 110‑113). It was in turn destroyed by the construction of a water-cistern with five chambers, to which Boni (JRS 1913, 246‑247, cf. YW 1912, 11) wrongly referred the statement of Suetonius, Nero 31: 'we are told by Suetonius that Nero caused sea-water to be brought from the sea to the Palatine,' which really concerns the domus Aurea. Finally Domitian sunk his foundations through the whole group of buildings when he raised the general level of this part of the imperial palace (ZA 202, 203, 205).

Under the 'lararium' Boni discovered the remains of a house of the first century B.C., which belongs to the first period of the second style (ibid.), which he wrongly attributed to Catiline, below which were terra-cottas of two still earlier houses (third and fifth century B.C.). The lower floor, accessible by a staircase, and originally lighted mainly from the north-east (where, under the foundations of the platform of the palace, other remains may still be seen), consists of a number of small rooms, with paintings of a transitional period between the first and second Pompeian styles, in which columns have begun to make their appearance, and there is an attempt at perspective. The pavements are of simple mosaic. One room also has a fine lunette with two griffins in high stucco relief. Scanty remains of the pavements of the upper story may be seen some 6 feet below the level of the floor of the 'lararium'; in some cases marble pavements have been laid over them (JRS 1913, 248; ZA 204).

The portion of the site to the south-west of the triclinium lies outside the main group. On the upper level are two apsidal halls lying side by side, also belonging to the time of Domitian, and by some supposed to be restorations of his day of the Greek and Latin libraries of the temple of Apollo, the orientation of which they follow (JRS 1914, 204).

Halfway down the hill, and built against it, is a group of chambers of the same period with a semicircular exedra in the centre, in front of which is a row of columns. Below the line of columns the excavations have not been completed, and the plan is therefore uncertain — for a room belonging to the lower floor, see PBS VIII.91‑103. The only information we have is from the numerous inscriptions scratched on the walls. The fact that in one of the larger rooms a list of valuable garments occurs, makes it likely that the building served for the keepers of the imperial robes. In two of the smaller and darker rooms, however, the phrase exit de paedagogio occurs several times. Paedagogium might well be interpreted as a euphemism for prison (cf. Garrucci; Graffites de Pompei (Paris 1856), pls. 12, 25, 30, 31; Storia dell' Arte Cristiana VI.135‑140; Ann. d. Inst. 1857, 276; 1882, 217 ff.;  p162 Giorn. Arc. 1867, 147‑171; BC 1893, 249‑260; 1894, 89‑94; Mél. Boissier, 1903, 303‑306; HJ 92, n118a; and for the famous graffito of the Crucifixion, cf. HF 1669; PT 169). Still lower down the hill is a private house at a different orientation, belonging to the Severan period or a little later, containing some interesting paintings (described and illustrated PBS cit.). It cannot be identified with the Domus Gelotiana (q.v.).

(b) The second section of the palace lies to the south-east of the first, and appears to have contained the residential apartments. From a curved terrace on the south-west a large arched opening (now closed, but visible in drawings of the sixteenth century (Ill. 18); cf. esp. Heemskerck II.92v., 93; Wyngaerde's panorama repr. in Mél. 1906, 179, pls. IV‑VII) led into a courtyard, surrounded by a colonnade, behind which were rooms of elaborate plan. The slightly curved exedra in front of the courtyard under the garden of the Villa Mills towards the Circus Maximus may be an ornamental façade, perhaps added by Trajan when the seats of the circus were carried up thus far (Gnomon, 1927, 593). The façade of the state apartment towards the north-east, with a low portico in front of their outer walls, resembles that of early Christian basilicas; and perhaps a part of a similar façade, belonging to the Domus Faustae, was preserved at the Lateran till the seventeenth century (Gnomon, cit.; cf. Egger, Röm. Veduten, I. p42, text to pl. 86; Festschrift für Wickhoff, 154, 158).

They were excavated and plundered at the end of the eighteenth century (Guattani, Mon. Ined. 1785 passim; the plans are not altogether correct), and were then filled up again. Three rooms on the north-east side of the peristyle are accessible: the central one has an interesting barrel vault (not a dome with spherical pendentives, as Rivoira, RA 108‑109, thinks), while those on each side are octagonal and domed. The construction, again, belongs to the period of Domitian, though the brick-stamps betoken later restoration (NS 1893, 358, 419). From the north-western side of the peristyle passages lead through a great staircase with a large light well in the centre (from which light was transmitted to the surrounding rooms by means of arched openings), indicated in Guattani's plan, which leads on to the level of the triclinium. There is no trace of the corresponding staircase on the south-east; and his plan is apparently incorrect on this side, at any rate on the lower level. For from it a staircase of quite a different form led up to the second order of the 'Hippodromus' or 'Stadium,' which blocked completely the passage which the modern visitor uses, but which did not exist in ancient times. The Villa Mills, once more, lies on a mass of solid rock, and there is no lower floor under it. It is built into the walls of this section of the palace, the plan of which is somewhat difficult to determine. The excavations made in the garden, both in 1869 (Gaz. Arch. 1888, 143, and pl. XXI; Coll. Lampué No. 258) and recently, and the evidence of the Marble Plan are sufficient to prove that it extended over the whole garden, and that the temple of Apollo cannot have stood there.

(c) The third section of the palace is the hippodromus Palatii, as it is called in Acta S. Sebastiani (Acta SS. 20 Jan. ii.278): Diocletianus iussit eum in hippodromo Palatii duci et tamdiu fustigari quamdiu spiritum exhalaret. The name hippodromus was already in vogue in the time of Pliny the younger (cf. Ep. V.6.19, 40) for a garden in the  p163 shape of a (circus or) stadium, as this building is generally called (Jahrb. d. Inst. 1895, 129‑143; Ausonia 1909, 72), and traces of the edgings of the paths, in white marble, are to be seen, and of a gutter in the same material outside the arcades.

It is a long, narrow area, 160 metres long and 50 wide, the north-east end of which is straight (above it is a fountain, not a library as was previously thought) and the south-west curved. The rooms at the former end supported a balcony. They have coffered ceilings, but were almost entirely closed at a later date. The rooms outside the latter end may be connected with the imperial tribune for viewing the performances in the circus Maximus.

The open space in the centre had a semicircular fountain at each end. It was enclosed by arcades with projecting half columns of brick, faced with porta santa marble (the bases and capitals being as usual of white marble), which date from the original construction of Domitian. Above the arcades was perhaps a colonnade (but see the restoration in Haugwitz, Der Palatin, fig. 10; some others, e.g. Pascal, also omit the colonnade; and it may be that the granite columns​3 which are still to be seen lying in the Stadium belong to the church mentioned below). The arcades collapsed, and were restored by Septimius Severus, who built counterpilasters all along the outer wall to strengthen the vaults. After his restoration at any rate there was no approach to the garden from the north-west, but only to the top of the arcades.

On the south-east side is a huge semicircular exedra with a semi-dome; this is generally attributed to Hadrian, on the evidence of brick-stamps (HJ 95); but while the distinction between the work of Domitian and that of Septimius Severus can easily be discerned (though there are some points of difficulty, e.g. where a wall originally constructed by the former has been refaced by the latter; cf. AJA 1912, 233, fig. 1), there seems to be no trace of an intermediate period.​4 The lower part of the exedra was a good deal altered by Severus, but it was not, as a whole, his work (contrast RA 165, 166, and cf. JRS 1925, 125. For the paintings, see Mau, Geschichte der Wandmalerei, 459; Mitt. 1911, 147; and for the graffiti, BC 1895, 195).

An elegant round frieze found in the stadium, with olive branches between lyres and masks, belongs to some small circular building not certainly identified (HJ 76, n90; PT 129; for a fragment at Milan,​5 cf. BC 1883, 202). Two statues of nymphs or muses were found here; one is still on the spot; for the other, cf. PT 111. Repairs by Theodoric  p164 and Athalaric are vouched for by brick-stamps (CIL XV.1665 a, 1, 1672), and, perhaps in this period, considerable changes were made. Another porticus was built across the hippodromus from the north end of the exedra, and a wall parallel to this porticus, from the south end of the exedra, thus dividing the whole area into three parts. Within the southern division an elliptical enclosure was erected, the walls of which were tangent to the cross-wall and the colonnade. The masonry of this enclosure is of the latest period, and the walls, although the remains are a metre high, have no solid foundations, but rest on the debris of the area. This elliptical wall was strengthened at certain points by spur walls extending to the colonnade. The only entrance to the enclosure was at the south end, where two pedestals from the house of the Vestals were built into the doorway. Openings, somewhat over a metre in width, were made in the wall itself at regular intervals, and within one of these openings is a basin or trough with two compartments. It is probable that this enclosure was a vivarium, built to contain wild animals, a sort of private menagerie of the emperors.

The site of the church of S. Cesario in Palatio, between the middle of the twelfth and the beginning of the fifteenth century, has recently been fixed by Hülsen about the middle of the 'stadium,' while from the seventh to the middle of the ninth century the name belonged to an oratory in the Lateran palace. This does not mean that the church on the Palatine was not of older origin; but the frescoes of the Byzantine period in one of the chambers under the Villa Mills described by Bartoli (BCr 1907, 200‑204) must then be attributed to the monastery connected with the church (Hülsen in Misc. Ehrle II. (Studi e Testi vol. 36) 377‑403; HCh 232‑233; RAP III.45‑48).

Excavations have been made and recorded at various times since 1552 (LS II.44, 45, 83; III.112; Mitt. 1894, 6; 1895, 276‑283; Rosa, Relazione, 1873, 78 ff.; Gori, Arch. Stor. II.374 ff.; NS 1877, 79‑80, 109‑110, 201‑204; 1878, 66, 93, 346; 1893, 31‑32, 70, 162‑3, 358‑360, 419), and permit a fairly accurate description of the building to be given (GA 1888, 216‑224; Mél. 1889, 184‑229; Jahrb. 1895, 129‑136; Mon. L. V.16‑83; Sturm, Das kaiserl. Stadium, Würzburger Programm, 1888; HJ 94‑97; Pascal in D'Esp. Mon. II.119‑122).

(d) To the south-east of the stadium is a fourth division of the palace; the substructions, for a certain distance, belong to the period of Domitian (for a painting in a lararium in them and for still earlier remains of the time of Nero, see Mél. 1889, 228; PBS VII.120‑123), while the superstructure (thermae) was in the main the work of Septimius Severus, who also erected at a slightly later period the huge arched substructions (Ill. 17, 19) which still tower over the valley of the circus Maximus, and which must have once extended a considerable distance further, right to the edge of the circus itself. Their constructive  p165 peculiarities are worth noting (RA 163‑167). The Septizonium (q.v.) was built to screen them.

Of the superstructure, which must have had a somewhat fantastic plan, with rooms of irregular shape and form, but little is left. The so‑called tower of Theodoric is a circular latrine. Where the imperial tribune for watching the races in the circus Maximus (supposing always that Severus erected a new one), is to be sought, is quite uncertain; while the story that Severus wished to make the entrance to the Palatine from the via Appia, and that Alexander Severus had the same intention but was hindered by ritual reasons (Hist. Aug. Sev. 24.4), is doubtful.

(e) The fifth section of the imperial palace is the huge rectangular platform supported by terrace walls, which occupies the east angle of the Palatine (Ill. 20). The identification with the Adonaea (q.v.) is doubtful, but the shape of the whole area (the Vigna Barberini, in the centre of which rises the church of S. Sebastiano in Pallara) seems to be that of a garden; and its construction is probably due to Domitian, though brick-stamps of Hadrian have been found (Nibby, Roma Antica II.447, 473; cf. RL 1909, 527‑539; Rassegna contemporanea, 1911, No. 9; JRS 1919, 186; ZA 219‑221). Others place here the temple of Jupiter Ultor (q.v.) or the temple of Apollo (q.v.). For mediaeval fortifications here, cf. RL CIt.

That the Palladium was still preserved on the Palatine in the middle of the fourth century A.D. is clear from the inscription of a Consularis Campaniae of that period, found at Privernum (Piperno), in which he is spoken of Praepositus Palladii Palatini (CIL X.6441; Bull. d'Inst. 1863, 212). The regio Palladii6 or Pallaria is distinguished from the Palatium maius in the sources of the eleventh-thirteenth centuries; and the church of S. Maria (or S. Sebastiano, as it is now called) de Palladio or in Pallaria, with paintings of 970, still exists in the middle of the Vigna Barberini, where Hülsen places the temple of Apollo, in which he thinks the Palladium was kept (Wilpert, Mos. u. Mal. Taf. 224, 225; HCh 353‑355).

On the south-west of the Vigna Barberini lies the church of S. Bonaventura built over a large reservoir, which was supplied by a branch of the Aqua Claudia (q.v.; see also Arcus Neroniani), and between it and the 'Stadium' was a nymphaeum. Below the summit of the hill on the south-east slope are remains of private houses, attributable to the same general period.

Inscriptions of slaves and freedmen, including a priest of Mithras, connected with the domus Augustiana, from the second century onwards, are published in CIL VI.2271, 8640‑52; cf. XV.1860, 7246.

For the representation of the domus Augustiana (Flavia) in the Marble Plan, see Hülsen in DAP 2.xi.111‑120; and pls. II, III. Which,  p166 if any, of the paintings drawn by Bartoli and others (PBS VII.1‑62 and especially 33 sqq.; VIII.35 sqq.) in the course of the Farnese excavations belong to the buildings of the period of Domitian is a difficult question, as no remains of paintings are now visible and the records of locality are entirely insufficient.

Cf. LR 157‑189; HJ 87‑111; BA 1914, Cr 73; ZA 198‑221; Toeb. 85, 96‑97; RA 100‑110. See also ASA 134‑138; HFP 66‑75. No official record of the recent excavations has as yet been published. For restorations, see D'Esp. Mon. II.119, 120, 122 (Hippodromus), 121, 123, 124 (general). For the first section see Bühlmann in Zeitsch. f. Gesch. d. Architekt. 1907‑8, 113‑134; a good plan is given by Hough in Mem. Am. Acad. II.3.

The Authors' Notes:

1 This is Rushforth's view. Hülsen, however, points out that the 'Palatium LX imperatorum' (JRS cit. 36, 53) must be the Palatine; cf. the reference to S. Cesario in Palatio in the list of twenty abbeys given by Petrus Mallius and Johannes Diaconus as 'in palatio LXX regum' (HCh 232). The 'Pallacium divi Augusti' is more likely to be near the Lateran, as the connection of the aqueduct with the Porta Asinaria shows; while the inscription is a mere fabrication.

2 An octagonal maze has been reconstructed in the centre from rather insufficient indications.

3 Hülsen points out that there are only eight of them, all entire.

4 Deglane (Mél. 1889, 213) is of the same opinion.

5 HF 1263; SScR 63. It is identical in design (if not actually) with one of the fragments drawn in the sixteenth century by Dosio, Uffizi 2039; see Mitt. 1895, 28‑37, where they are attributed to a (perhaps) two-storied tholos in or near the peristyle of the state apartments. The building is believed by others to have been a temple of Vesta.

6 The form Palladium is found in Deusdedit (eleventh century); see RL 1912, 768‑772.

Thayer's Note:

a Selenite is Platner's identification. The name covers a wide variety of rather different minerals of similar composition: for photos of them, see Alan Guisewite's page. For now, I'm not going along with this identification, because selenites are either transparent or light-colored, and whatever stone was used to provide mirrorlike reflectivity would have had to be dark: black would have been best, and would have fit in with the emperor's notorious tastes and personality.

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