Elvis is in the building: Nero in Rome

Events, What's New — By Erica Firpo on April 12, 2011 at 8:25 am

Nero, ancient arsonist, violinist and inspiration for 21st century burn suites, is back in Rome.  Archaeologist Darius Arya, American Institute for Roman Culture, goes behind the scenes at Rome’s latest ancient exhibition NERONE, April 12 through September 18, 2011.

–Excerpt from DariusAryaDigs.com

Who was Nero?

Nero (37-68 AD) was one fascinating Roman ruler.  Can you imagine becoming the emperor when still a teenager, after your mother poisoned your stepfather!?!  It’s a predicament that I don’t think that they cover in such outrageous dramas as Gossip Girl and True Blood.  Though, never fear, parts of the rest of his adulthood were a mess and spiraled down to great depths. And even after his suicide in AD 68, he remained very popular, with many ‘sightings” of this dramatic ruler — think Elvis of the Ancient World.  Just take a look at his portraiture throughout his life. In his teenage years, he had his  hair combed to appear as a Julio-Claudian successor, while in adult-age, he flaunted an exuberant style- wavy hair and fuller face, long sideburns, dare I say lamb chops a la “70s” Elvis??

Historically, he’s blamed for the great fire of 64 even though he was conveniently out of town and his newly built palace on the Palatine,  Domus Transitoria, was one of the first things to be torched.  He’s also notorious for putting Christians on the map. . . and in the arena.  Notwithstanding these actions, Nero rebuilt Rome in a modern fashion after three-quarters of the city was destroyed.  He was in many ways an innovator and fair administrator, though his megalomania did grow over time , as did his appetite for excess, as he “matured”.


The Nero exhibition traverses all three venues of the Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum.  Yesterday afternoon, I  checked it out with many academic colleagues .  It’s a scary sight to have so many academics and superintendents walking through the forum; we’re all lost in catching up and looking around at the new exhibition.  I caught up with German colleagues who are studying the Basilica Julia; casually met an Altemps (delightful!).  I also caught an earful from a dear colleague at the Medieval museum in EUR because during her recent trip to Boston I had forgotten to introduce her to some colleagues there! Pazienza!

Here’s why I think the show will be a great success:

  • Antiquities: the showcased pieces are quite good– from the many Nero portraiture in the darkened Curia w/ quotes and the ancient sources  (from Suetonius and Tacitus) projected on the inner wall to the modern paintings of scenes from Nero’s life line the walls.
  • Videos: the round “Temple of Romulus”  features video scenes from a variety of movies about Nero– movies from international directors of the 1950s and 60s to present. It’s light, it’s fun, and I am willing to be it will engage a lot of visitors, as they to expect more and more visualizations of the past.
  • Palatine: two structures attributed to Nero are highlighted.   The Domus Transitoria (most important – though inaccessible area is located under Domitian’s Coenatio Iovis dining room) has a famed cryptoporticus full of antiquities.  Sections from Domus Tiberiana are finally visible from the Farnese Gardens (though below lurk recent excavation with corridors where I had a chance to explore for Ancients Behaving Badly – Caligula).
  • Colosseum: the grand finale has a pretty impressive collection and referral to the transformation of the space from Domus Aurea to Colosseum.
For those without time to traipse the exhibition, you can still enjoy Nero in technicolor, larger-than-life glory.  During Roman evenings, images of Nero will be projected on the back external wall of the Curia  at Via Fori Imperiali for the exhibition.  Hope the neighbors won’t mind the light show!
Tags: Archaeology, Art, Culture, Events, exhibitions, Italy, Lazio, Monuments, Rome, Things to Do, What's New