Aurora Raimondi Cominesi

Residences of Power: Anchoring political innovation through imperial residences (44 BC – AD 337)

Home > Projects > Residences of Power: Anchoring political innovation through imperial residences (44 BC – AD 337)
Residences of Power: Anchoring political innovation through imperial residences (44 BC – AD 337)

One main field in which important innovations took place throughout antiquity was that of political structures. In the four centuries that form the focus of this project, the Roman world changed from an anti-monarchical Republic into a Republican monarchy, to change once more into undisguised monarchy, first under one ruler, but ultimately under a group of four rulers, before returning to singe rule, under a Christian monarch. These important political innovations took place in a society in which change was suspect. Tradition bestowed legitimacy. It was, therefore, important for Roman rulers to develop modes through which they could position their ever-changing position into society; to anchor their rule in the minds of their many subjects.

Residences of Power

Among the many modes that were available to Roman rulers of expressing themselves, their residences were of great importance. The ways in which rulers chose to live was an important mode for positioning in the public eye. Too palatial a structure could have Hellenistic connotations and thus alienated people who objected to the increasingly dominant position of a monarch, but a too modest residence might not have sufficiently expressed the political power of its inhabitant, and might even have failed to include the many new activities that court life-entailed. Similarly, there was the choice between continuing to live in the houses of their predecessors, or build new palaces or residential palatial villas outside of Rome. The former case may have suggested continuity, but also brought with it connotations of previous rulers. If rulers chose the latter, did these buildings show architectural continuity, or were they explicitly innovative? To what extent was ‘monumental inflation’ important? What would it mean for a ruler to live in a residence that was in all aspects inferior to earlier palaces? And how could continuity be claimed when rulers chose to change their city of residence – one of the major political innovations in the late Empire?

This PhD project investigates the residences of Rome’s first rulers (Caesar and Augustus) in Rome itself; its most (in)famous palace, Nero’s Domus Aurea, and the new, but in architectural and decorative sense similar Domus Flavia-Augustana constructed by Domitian on the Palatine. Furthermore, attention will be paid to the residences of the rulers who chose to live outside of Rome, such as Tiberius (Capri) and Hadrian (Tivoli), the so-called Tetrarchs (Nicomedia, Milan, Trier, Thessaloniki), and of course Constantine (Constantinople). It will focus in particular on (literary) reactions to palaces, and the way in which these show how these residences could be used (and were perceived) to anchor political innovation, and on the technical (architectural) choices made in the design of palaces, and the way these choices were influenced by existing infrastructure or local customs. Relevant decorative programmes (painting, marble, sculpture) will be taken into account.