PALACES, IMPREIAL ROMAN

Imperial* palaces were a series of structures built for the early Roman emperors. These palaces included large areas for public functions and also served as the living quarters for the emperor and his family. The English word palace comes from Palatine Hill, the prominent hill in Rome on which most imperial palaces were constructed.

The palace of the emperor Tiberius, built on Palatine Hill, was the first major construction project that used concrete faced with brick. This material was sturdy and resistant to fire, making it well suited to large building projects. An enclosed rectangular structure, the palace was two or more stories high. Another palace belonging to Tiberius, built on the island of Capri, had a similar construction.

The emperor Nero is famous for his Domus Aurea (Golden House), an extravagant palace built in Rome after a disastrous fire in A.D. 64. Adopting the style of an elegant country estate, Nero created a great private park that covered a large section of the center of the city. The main residence overlooked an artificial lake. Unfinished at Nero’s death, most of the Golden House was later demolished, and the Colosseum was built over part of the site. The Baths of Trajan also later included portions of the palace.

The last and greatest of the imperial palaces was built for the emperor Domitian. Built into the southern side of Palatine Hill, Domitian’s palace was divided into clearly defined official and private quarters, and included a basilica* and a private box for the emperor to view the events in the Circus Maximus. (See also Architecture, Roman; Construction Materials and Techniques.)

* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire

* basilica in Roman times, a large rectangular building used as a court of law or public meeting place

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