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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: March 2010

ONE - An Introduction to the Esquiline Wing of Nero's Domus Aurea



Whatever else can be said of Nero's reign, it must have been interesting. Never before nor since has an autocrat been so wholly devoted to the arts, regardless of cost and generally to the exclusion of all else. This phenomenon is well documented, both in ancient literary sources and in the artistic record, not only in terms of Nero's effusive patronage of the arts in all media, but also in terms of the high quality and often audaciously experimental nature of the works executed under his auspices. As was commonly the fate of emperors whose damnation was important to the subsequent dynasty, much Neronian art was systematically destroyed or reworked, leaving only a specter of its original grandeur for modern scholars. This is as true for Nero's architecture as for any art form – a tragedy in the face of a substantial literary record specifically focused on his building projects. In any case, and not surprisingly, the ancient literary tradition focuses especially on Nero's most personal building project – his palace, the Domus Aurea. That Nero would construct a building suitable for his grandiose notion of himself is perhaps predictable and, as far as we can tell, it was a project to which he was devoted from the earliest possible moment in his reign.

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