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Domus Tiberiana

Domus Tiberiana

Despite its name, this palace on the northwest sector of the Palatine was not erected by Tiberius but by his successors, Caligula and Nero. Very little is known about its design and phases because it is still buried beneath the Farnese Gardens, laid out in the 16th century by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The mad emperor Caligula, linked the palace to the Temple of Castor and Pollux by a bridge. The emperor would appear there and receive divine honors along with the cult statues of the Dioscuri. After Caligula's assassination, Claudius (10 B.C.-A.D. 54) removed the bridge.

Domus Tiberiana

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 191-194.

The palace erected by Tiberius on the north-west half of the Palatine. It is first mentioned in the accounts of the assassination of Galba (Tac. Hist. I.27 (Otho) . . . per Tiberianam domum in Velabrum, inde ad miliarium aureum sub aede Saturni pergit, cf. III.84; Suet. Otho 6; Vitell. 15 cum (Vitellius) . . . incendium (on the Capitol) e Tiberiana prospiceret domo inter epulas; Plut. Galba 24), and must have been destroyed, not in the fire of Nero, but in that of 80 A.D. (Suet. Tit. 8; Hieron. a. Abr. 2096), for we are told that Vespasian ὀλίγα ἐν τῷ Παλατίῷ ῷκει (which, if this palace, as well as the domus Transitoria, had been destroyed, he could not have done at all), and, as the construction and the brickstamps show, have been rebuilt under Domitian. Remains of an earlier house, in opus reticulatum, may be seen on the north side of the hill facing the Capitol, in and under the later substructions.

Caligula extended the palace towards the north-east (Suet. Cal. 22: partem Palatii ad Forum usque promovit, atque aede Castoris et Pollucis in vestibulum transfigurata, consistens saepe inter fratres deos, medium adorandum se adeuntibus exhibebat; cf. Cass. Dio LIX.28; Josephus xix.11 (71) certainly refers to the Basilica Iulia (q.v.)), and thus made it into so imposing an edifice as to excite Pliny's remark bis vidimus urbem totam cingi domibus Gai et Neronis (NH XXXVI.111).

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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]

    64. The Palace of Tiberius (Domus Tiberiana). Commentary.

    After Augustus, the building of palaces began. His successor Tiberius must have built something grander than Augustus's collection of homes, since the large area now taken up by the Farnese Gardens became known as the Palace of Tiberius (the Latin word for this and Domitian's palace continued to be domus). The earliest palace foundation here, however, appears to go back only to Nero, who no doubt had to rebuild the palace after the Fire, and perhaps took the opportunity to make it larger. The Palace of Tiberius, whatever transformations and expansions it underwent, would have been the principal Roman imperial residence for Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero in the early part of his reign. Nero made several attempts at a wholesale expansion via independent structures, first with his Domus Transitoria and then after the fire of AD 64, with the Domus Aurea, and there are significant though mostly subterranean Palatine remains from his reign. The colorful marble floor exposed in the western courtyard of Domitian's banquet hall, a consummate example of ancient Roman stonecraft, goes back to the Domus Aurea phase of Nero's reign.

    After Nero's death, Vespasian, perhaps as part of a general attempt to dissociate himself from the excesses of Nero, seems to have avoided the palace. His son Domitian was responsible for the next, and grandest, expansion of palace buildings, and in the process built over much of what was distinctive from Nero's reign. The Palace of Tiberius, however, continued to be used under its own name at least into the reigns of the Antonines and perhaps much longer.

    There is little in the sources on the construction and appearance of the Palace of Tiberius in any of its phases, with the exceptions of Caligula's extension of the Palace of Tiberius out over the Forum and the bridge he built to connect the Palatine to the Capitoline. Although in the first instance Caligula's architecture, in the service of his intimacy with Castor and Jupiter, is illustrative of a notoriously unbalanced megalomaniac, it is also part of the ongoing and evolving imperial attempt to increase and express the power of the imperial office. It is as if what the other emperors (above all, Augustus) were able to manipulate symbolically, Caligula tried to embrace all too literally, a not uncommon dysfunction.

    64. The Palace of Tiberius (Domus Tiberiana). Sources.


    Up until now I have been discussing Caligula in his capacity as an emperor. We must now consider him in his capacity as a monster.…

    When Caligula was on the verge of assuming a royal crown, converting the appearance of the Principate into the institution of monarchy, and someone pointed out to him that he already rose above both emperors and kings, Caligula began to claim for himself divine status. He gave out orders that the exceptionally revered and beautiful statues of deities, such as the Jupiter at Olympia, were to be brought to Rome from Greece, decapitated, and supplied with a head of his own likeness. He also extended a part of the Palatine palace all the way out to the Forum, transforming the Temple of Castor and Pollux into an entrance hall for the Palace. There in the temple he would often take his seat between the twin gods, presenting himself for worship to those who approached. Some even greeted him as Jupiter Latiaris, [a form of Jupiter worshipped on Mt. Albanus].

    On clear nights when the Moon was full, he would welcome the lunar deity into his bed with passionate embraces, but by day he had private words with Jupiter Capitolinus, and would whisper in the god's ear or put his own ear to Jupiter's lips. At times he would raise his voice and even quarrel with the god: once he was heard to quote Homer in threatening tones, “Either you move me, or I move you…!” Finally Caligula announced that he had been won over by Jupiter's entreaties to live together. He then built a bridge above the Temple of the Deified Augustus to connect the Palatine and the Capitoline, and soon laid the foundations of a new house near the Temple of Jupiter.

    Suetonius, Caligula 22.1-4


    [The praetorian conspirators assassinated Caligula.] Even when the emperor fell dead they did not hold back, but kept stabbing him savagely, some of them even tasting his flesh.… Thus did Caligula learn that he was not in fact a god.

    Dio, History 59.29.7


    [Claudius, the uncle of Caligula, was long the object of jokes and humiliation. But when Caligula was assassinated in a conspiracy of centurions and tribunes,] Claudius, at the age of fifty, became emperor in the strangest manner imaginable.

    When the conspirators had killed Caligula and were dispersing the crowd by pretending that the emperor was still alive and just wanted to be alone, Claudius, excluded along with the others, withdrew into a summer room called the Hermaeum. A short time later he heard a report that Caligula had been murdered. In terror, Claudius slipped outside to a balcony off the Hermaeum, concealing himself behind the curtains that hung across the doorway. By chance, one of the rank-and-file wandering around the Palace saw his feet sticking out from under the curtain. Checking to see who it was, the soldier recognized Claudius and pulled him inside. As Claudius fell to his knees in fear, the soldier hailed him emperor.

    The soldier led Claudius back to his fellow soldiers, who were still raging and roaming about without a plan. They placed Claudius on a litter, and since his own litter-bearers had run off, they took turns carrying him back to the [Praetorian] Camp.… But on the following day, while the Senate delayed out of weariness and disagreement over what should be done next, and while the crowd that had gathered outside demanded a single ruler and shouted for Claudius by name, Claudius allowed the soldiers to assemble in arms to swear an oath of allegiance to him. Claudius also paid them 15,000 sesterces each (becoming the first of the Caesars to secure the loyalty of troops with a cash payment).

    Suetonius, Claudius 10.1-4


    You're shocked by the vices of an ordinary woman?

    Regard the ones who rival gods, and hear what Claudius

    Endured in Messalina. No sooner was he snoring

    Than our hooker for a Highness donned a hooded cloak,

    Willing to trade her Palatine sheets for a tattered blanket

    And leave the Hill behind with a single servant in tow.

    No longer brunette but blonde, thanks to a wig, and wrapped

    In a ragged quilt, she'd sneak inside a hopping whorehouse

    To the room reserved for the Empress under the name of “Wolf-girl.”

    Then stripping down to her gilded nipples she went to work,

    Offering up the loins that bore the prince Britannicus,

    Absorbing the impact of man after man without a break,

    And when the boss dismissed his girls, it was too soon

    for Messalina; reluctantly she'd close up shop

    and sadly limp her way back up the Palatine.

    Juvenal, Satires 6.115-130


    The emperor Vespasian resided infrequently on the Palatine, spending most of his time at the estate called the Gardens of Sallust, where he would receive anyone who wished to see him, not just the senators.… He was considered an autocrat only in his care of the public welfare; in all other respects he lived a common life on the level of others.

    Dio, History 65.10.4, 11.1


    At the beginning of his reign [c. AD 81], Domitian customarily spent hours in seclusion each day, doing nothing other than catching flies and stabbing them with a finely-pointed stylus. When someone once asked if anyone was inside with Caesar, Vibius Crispus aptly quipped: “No one … not even a fly.”

    Suetonius, Domitian 3.1


    [There are many examples of Antoninus Pius's (AD 138-161) peaceful and generous character.] There was a Greek philosopher from Chalcis named Apollonius who had been summoned to Rome by the emperor. When Antoninus sent word for him to come to the Domus Tiberiana (where the emperor was then living) to tutor Marcus Aurelius, Apollonius said, “The teacher should not come to the pupil, but the pupil to the teacher.” Antoninus only smiled, saying “It was easier for Apollonius to get from Greece to Rome than from his own house to the Palatine.”

    Imperial Lives, Antoninus Pius 10.4


    [A tomb inscription:] Julia Gemella, wife of Isidorus, died at age 25. Albanus, slave of Caesar, assigned to the furnishings at the Domus Tiberiana, died at age 45.

    ILS 1773 = CIL 6.8654

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