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“Auditorium” of the Gardens of Maecenas

The modern name of a private building from the time of Augustus (63 B.C.-A.D. 14) in the area of the Gardens of Maecenas. Maecenas (70-8 B.C.) was a wealthy supporter of Augustus and patron of the arts. The form recalls a large triclinium (banquet hall): a rectangular hall with a semi-circular apse at the west end. A Greek epigram celebrating wine and love reinforces this interpretation. The floor and steps of the apse were covered with marble. After Maecenas' death, garden scenes were painted in the niches with extensive use of the expensive red pigment, cinnabar. This may date to the period when Tiberius (42 B.C.-A.D. 37) lived in the Gardens of Maecenas, after returning in A.D. 2 from seven years of exile on the island of Rhodes.

Auditorium Maecenatis

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 60-61.

The modern name of the remains of a building that stands in the angle between the via Merulana and the via Leopardi. This building is constructed of opus reticulatum of the time of Augustus, and stands obliquely across the line of the Servian wall. In form it is a rectangular hall with a semi-circular apse at the west end, the total length being 24.10 metres and the width 10.60. Since the floor is 7 metres below the ancient level of the ground, the hall had to be entered by an inclined plane. The walls reach 6 metres above the ancient ground level, and the roof was probably vaulted. In the apse are seven rows of curved steps, arranged like the cavea of a theatre. Above the steps in the apse are five niches, and six more in each of the side walls of the hall. All of these were beautifully painted with garden scenes and landscapes in the third Pompeian style, but the frescoes have mostly disappeared. The original pavement was of white mosaic, over which a later pavement of marble was laid. The purpose of this hall is unknown. It is probably not an auditorium, but may have been a sort of conservatory, although it is difficult to see how it could have been properly lighted. It has been ascribed to Maecenas because his Horti (q.v.) were supposed to have extended as far south as this point, but this is very uncertain (HJ 351; AJA 1912, 390, 394; Reber 488-491; Bull. d. Inst. 1874, 141-44; 1875, 89-96; Ann. d. Inst. 1880, 137; BC 1874, 137-171; 1875, 118; a good plan is in BC 1914, 139, where Pinza calls it the Odeon (q.v.).)

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Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    72. Gardens of Maecenas. Commentary.

    Maecenas was for a time one of Augustus's closest advisors, and a famous patron of artists, including the poets Horace, Virgil, and Propertius. The land for his estate on the Esquiline was acquired by covering over the burial pits located just outside the Rampart of the Republican Wall on the Esquiline. Both Horace and Suetonius refer to some sort of tower on the estate that gave views of both the city and the mountains, but this has not survived. A suggestive hall, however, does remain, near the crossing of Via Merulana and Via Mecenate called the Auditorium of Maecenas today, it was probably a banquet and performance hall, perhaps where the artists under his patronage would debut some of their work.

    Many tombs from the earlier burial ground have also been found, as well as some of the pits. Observing work on the new Via Napoleone III in 1887, the topographer Rudolf Lanciani describes the excavations of seventy-five pits, which also included the remains of animals “reduced to a uniform mass of black, unctuous matter.… The field of death served also as a dumping place for the daily refuse of the city. This hotbed of infection was suppressed by Augustus at the suggestion of his prime minister Maecenas. The district was buried under fresh earth to the depth of 24 feet, and a public park, a fifth of a mile in extent, was laid out on the newly made ground”(The Destruction of Ancient Rome, p. 14).

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