A name originally applied to one of the seven hills of Rome, the Mons Palatinus, upon which the earliest city was built (see Roma); but from the time when Augustus made his permanent residence there the word came to mean a palace, and par excellence the imperial palace of the Caesars.
The house of Augustus (domus Augustana) was built upon the southwestern edge of the Palatine Hill and overlooked the Circus Maximus. He had at first purchased the house of the orator Hortensius, also on the Palatine, and when it was struck by lightning he consecrated the spot to a temple of Apollo, and bought some neighbouring buildings, where he built a house for himself (Vell. Pat. ii. 81; Dio Cass. xlix. 15; Suet. Aug.29Suet. Aug., 72).
The house of Tiberius (domus Tiberiana) on the Palatine is mentioned as distinct from that of Augustus, though it adjoined it, the palace of Augustus being more conspicuous towards the Forum, while that of Tiberius formed the back front. Its situation is indicated by the statements of the ancient writers that Otho descended through the back of the palace of Tiberius into the Velabrum ( Hist.i. 27; Suet. Otho, 6), and that Vitellius surveyed from it the conflagration of the Capitol ( Vitell. 6). During the reign of Augustus, Tiberius lived first in the house of Pompey in the Carinae, and afterwards in that of Maecenas on the Esquiline, but when he became emperor he probably resided in this house on the Palatine till he withdrew to Capreae. In later [p. 1159]
times this palace was the residence of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, and a library was established there ( Gell.xiii. 19). The palaces of Augustus and Tiberins were destroyed in the fire of Nero; but they were rebuilt, as they are mentioned as separate buildings in the Notitia; and Josephus tells us that the different parts of the complex of buildings forming the imperial palace were named after their respective founders ( Ant.xix. 1. 15).
The palace of Augustus was excavated in 1775, and drawings made of it by Gnattani (Monumenti Antichi di Roma, 1785); the whole was soon covered in again, and no part is now visible. That part of the plan shown here, which represents the palace of Augustus, is taken from Guattani's plan.
This palace, which was of very modest size, had a number of small rooms in two stories grouped round one peristyle: its comparative simplicity must have formed a striking contrast to the stately splendour of the public halls, libraries, and temples in the adjoining Area Apollinis, all built by Augustus, and adorned by him with countless works of art of every kind. Nevertheless, though the palace [figure in text: Plan of the Palace of Augustus and the Flavian Emperors.] of Augustus was small, yet it appears to have been designed with great taste, and decorated with considerable richness in its mixture of white and coloured marbles. That it was a very carefully designed architectural affair is shown by the base plan with its domed and vaulted halls and small apse-like recesses arranged with some complications and much ingenuity.
The Flavian Palace, which is shown on the same plan, was built by Domitian, adjoining the Area of Apollo and the Palace of Augustus on the northwest side ( Popl. 15; Mart.viii. 36; Stat. Silv.iii. 4Stat. Silv., 47; iv. 2). Extensive remains of this building still exist, and are among the most conspicuous of the imperial palaces on the Palatine. It was a very different building from that of Augustus, being not so much a place of residence as a magnificent series of State apartments intended for public use. Hence Nerva had the words aedes publicae inscribed on it (Pliny , Panegyr. 47). At one end is a very splendid throne-room, with a lararium or imperial chapel on one side and a basilica for judicial business on the other. At the other end of the peristyle is the triclinium for State banquets, and beyond it a series of stately halls, which may possibly be libraries (bibliothecae), and an Academia for recitations and other literary purposes. A sort of Nymphaeum, or room containing a fountain, with flowers, plants, and statues of nymphs and river-gods, was placed at one side of the triclinium, if not on both, so that the murmur and coolness of the water and the scent of the flowers might refresh the wine-heated guests. The whole of this magnificent palace was adorned with the greatest richness, both of design and materials, with floors, wall-linings, and columns of Oriental marbles, alabaster, and red and green porphyry. Even the rows of colossal statues which decorated the throne-room were made of the very refractory basalts and porphyry from the quarries of Egypt, at a cost of an almost incredible amount of labour: remains of these were found early in the last century. The position of the Flavian palace is remarkable; it is built on an immense artificial platform which bridges over a deep valley or depression in the summit of the Palatine.
Remains of a lofty building of Republican date still exist deep below the floor-level of the so-called libraries; and a small house of early imperial date, richly decorated with marbles and paintings, can still be seen buried under the great peristyle. In many parts of the palace traces are distinctly visible of restorations made by Severus after the great fire in the reign of Commodus (A.D. 191), which devastated a large portion of the imperial palaces. The cracked and partly calcined marbles which suffered in the fire were broken up, and used to make concrete for the new walls of Severus; and thus, in many places, the somewhat curious sight is to be seen of concrete made of the most costly Oriental marbles and porphyries.
The enormous palace of Caligula occupied the northern corner of the Palatine Hill and the adjoining slopes as far as the Forum, covering the ground once occupied by the houses of Clodius, Cicero, and other wealthy Romans (Dio Cass. lix. 28; Suet. Cal.22; Pliny , Pliny H. N.xxxvi. 111). The equally large palace of Severus occupied the opposite end of the Palatine. They are both remarkable for the gigantic substructures on which they stand, constructed so as to form at the foot of the hill a basement for State rooms on a level with the highest part of the ground, or, in other words, at both places the Palatine itself was enlarged by the construction of an artificial hill of massive concrete walls and vaults. On one side Severus used the stately palace of Hadrian as a sort of platform on which to extend his new palace at the higher level; and so we see the rough concrete walls of Severus's substructure cutting through and rendering useless the richly ornamented halls of Hadrian. The enormous height of the palace of Severus must have made it one of the most imposing of all the buildings of Rome: its southern part, which stood at the foot of the Palatine Hill, not only equalled the hill in height, but towered high above its summit. In costliness of material, though not in delicacy of design, this palace more than equalled the buildings of the earlier emperors, with the exception of that which Nero built. Some additions and improvements were made to the palace of Septimius Severus [p. 1160] [figure in text: Palace of the Caesars. (Restoration by Benvenuti.)]
by Elagabalus and Alexander Severus (Lamprid. El.iii. 3 El., 8 El., 24; Alex. Sev. 24, 25).
The Golden House (domus aurea) of Nero, which covered part of the Palatine and Esquiline hills and the great valley between them, must have been a building of the most marvellous splendour and extent. It was nearly a mile in length, and included large gardens and parks for wild animals, all surrounded by a triple porticus or colonnade of marble. The interior was decorated in the most lavish way with gold, ivory, and jewels ( Tac. Ann.xv. 42; Suet. Nero, 31; Spect. 2). Some rooms, according to Suetonius, were entirely plated with gold and studded with precious stones and pearls. The supper-rooms were vaulted with ivory panels (lacunaria), from openings in which flowers and perfumes were scattered on the guests. An enormous number of works of art of every class collected from Greek cities were brought to adorn the palace, and others were made by Nero's orders, such as the bronze colossal statue of himself, 120 feet high, the work of the Greek sculptor Zenodorus, and a painted portrait on canvas of the same ridiculous size. See Colossus.
The destruction of the Golden House and the restoration of most of its site to public uses were among the most popular acts of the Flavian emperors. Both the Colosseum and the great Thermae of Titus stand on part of the site of Nero's palace, of which a small portion was used, after being stripped of its rich marble linings, to form the substructures of part of the Thermae of Titus. This is almost the only part which now exists: remains of a large peristyle and the lofty rooms round it are still fairly well preserved; the vaults are richly decorated with stucco reliefs and paintings, which are rapidly perishing. It was the discovery of these elaborate ornaments early in the sixteenth century which gave so great an impulse to the growing love for classical methods of decoration. Raphael and his pupils with great skill copied the stucco-work, and painted arabesques in the Vatican palace, in the Villa Madama, and in a large number of other buildings. Owing to these magnificent rooms having been used as the substructures of the baths of Titus, most writers on the subject have described the paintings as being part of the work of Titus. But, though the walls of these two structures are mixed in a somewhat complicated way, it is very easy to distinguish one from the other. Titus's walls are of plain brickfaced concrete, without any stucco covering, while Nero's are in all cases either coated with painted stucco or with the cement backing of the missing marble lining. Even where the stucco has in some places fallen off Nero's walls, clear evidence as to its former existence is given by the marble plugs with which the wallsurface was studded to form a key for the plastering.
See Lanciani, Ancient Rome, pp. 106- 133 (Boston, 1888); and Middleton, Remains of Ancient Rome, vol. i. pp. 158- 219 (London and Edinburgh, 1892).