Dining room in Emperor Nero’s luxurious palace

Revolving dining room in Emperor Nero’s luxurious palace really existed

shareThis

The extravagant palace of Emperor Nero, the Domus Aurea, which boasts some 300 rooms covered in dazzling polished white marble, was first uncovered in 2009 by a team of French and Italian archaeologists. Recently, the luxurious palace revealed another surprise - a revolving dining room which once served the illustrious guests of the infamous ruler. Archaeologists called the 2,000-year-old revolving platform one of the most peculiar and sophisticated structures of antiquity. The discovery confirms a description of the palace by ancient historian Suetonius.

Nero was Emperor of Rome from 54 to 68 AD and the last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He focused much of his attention on diplomacy, trade, and enhancing the cultural life of the Empire. But he was also well known for both his tyranny and his life of extravagance.  In 64 AD, most of Rome was destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome, which many Romans believed Nero himself had started in order to clear land for his planned palatial complex. He is infamously known as the Emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned" and as an early persecutor of Christians. He was responsible for many executions, including that of his mother, wife, and most likely, his stepbrother Britannicus.

The construction of Nero’s palace began soon after the great fire had cleared away the aristocratic dwellings on the slopes of the Palatine Hill. Built of brick and concrete in the few years between the fire and Nero's suicide in 68, the extensive gold leaf that gave the villa its name was not the only extravagant element of its decor: stuccoed ceilings were faced with semi-precious stones and ivory veneers, while the walls were frescoed, coordinating the decoration into different themes in each major group of rooms.

The Palatine Hill in Rome

The Palatine Hill in Rome. Photo source.  

Historian Suetonius wrote a vivid description of the palace in the ‘Lives of the Caesars, Nero’:

Its vestibule was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the emperor a hundred and twenty feet high; and it was so extensive that it had a triple colonnade a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities, besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domestic animals. In the rest of the house all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining-rooms with fretted ceils of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens. He had baths supplied with sea water and sulphur water. When the edifice was finished in this style and he dedicated it, he deigned to say nothing more in the way of approval than that he was at last beginning to be housed like a human being.

The description appeared so over-the-top that modern-day historians were highly doubtful that it accurately reflected the actual palace. However, the latest discovery suggests that Suetonius’ description was at least partially correct.

Archaeologists were digging on an artificial terrace on the northeast corner of Rome's Palatine Hill when they found a round, 12-metre-high tower, with a large central pillar of four metres in diameter and 8 pairs of arches supporting two floors. Along the top of the upper arches, were lines of semi-spherical holes, filled with slippery clay – somewhat like the cavities that were used on large ships to contain primitive ball bearings, on which moveable platforms were mounted to transport heavy loads.

The dig on the Palatine

The dig on the Palatine. The tops of the arches that supported the revolving dining room are visible in the foreground. Photo source: Haaretz

The lines of cavities in the structure are believed to have housed metal spheres that supported the revolving floor. At the bottom of the tower, archaeologists also found indications that a mechanism had been built into the wall.  Calcite deposits on the surrounding stones suggest that the floor's constant movement may have been powered by water channelled through a system of gears.

A reconstructive model of the system of spheres on which Nero's revolving restaurant rotated

A reconstructive model of the system of spheres on which Nero's revolving restaurant rotated. Credit: Francoise Villedieu and Edikom

Maria Antonietta Tomei, an archaeologist and former official for the Culture Ministry's Archaeological Superintendency, which supervises the dig on the Palatine, said the discovery of the dining room sheds new light on the Emperor Nero. Although Nero has a terrible reputation, Tomei told Haaretz. "He was not just a negative figure." And now, in her view, the mechanical and architectural sophistication of his revolving dining room highlight his passion for science and technology as well as for the arts and culture.

Featured image: A brick structure incorporating a pillar was discovered during maintenance works at Rome's Forum Romanum Photo: EPA

By April Holloway

Comments

See article.

Very cool! ancient ingenuity at its finest.

Would be great to see modern recreations of the revolving dining room structure featured in Nero's 2,000+ year old palace.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Ancient Places

Opinion

Mosaic depicting Alexander the Great fighting Darius III of Persia
Interpreted by many historians as proof of a vision for the unison of man, much of Alexander’s dealings in Persia have come to be attributed with a policy of racial fusion. Accordingly, echoed in...

Our Mission

Ancient Origins seeks to uncover, what we believe, is one of the most important pieces of knowledge we can acquire as human beings – our beginnings.

While many believe that we already hold such knowledge, our view is that there still exists a multitude of anomalies and mysteries in humanity's past that deserve further examination.

We therefore wish to foster an open community that is dedicated to investigating, understanding and explaining the origins of our species on planet earth. To this end, we aim to organize, support and even finance efforts in this direction.

Our aim is to move beyond theories and to present a thorough examination of current research and evidence and to offer alternative viewpoints and explanations to those currently held by mainstream science and archaeology.

Come with us on a journey to explore lost civilisations, sacred writings, ancient places, unexplained artefacts and scientific mysteries while we seek to reconstruct and retell the story of our beginnings.

Ancient Image Galleries

Vessel in the form of a man on a reed raft
Administrative tablet showing the early development of cuneiform writing
The Great Pyramids
Next article