The private theater of Roman Emperor Nero, mentioned by many ancient historians in their scripts, has been accidentally discovered in Rome during building works to construct a hotel.
The discovery unveils the venue where Nero rehearsed poetry and music, and lies near to where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands.
Nero was the fifth Roman emperor, ruling between 54 and 68 AD. An unpopular leader, he became famous for his extravagances and personal debaucheries.
The ruins of Nero's Theater, an imperial theater referred to ancient Roman texts but never found, have been discovered under the garden of the future Four Season's Hotel, steps from the Vatican, after excavating the walled garden of the Palazzo della Rovere since 2020, as part of… pic.twitter.com/rSrjUiGKeL
— Ticia Verveer (@ticiaverveer) July 27, 2023
Remnants of costumes discovered at Nero’s theater
The site includes elegant marble columns, gold-leaf decorations and storage rooms with remnants of costumes and backdrops used in Nero’s theatrical productions.
Officials said the findings were “exceptional” because they provided a rare look at a period of Roman history from the empire through to the 15th century.
Marzia Di Mento, the site’s chief archaeologist, said that previously only seven glass chalices of the era had been found, and that the excavations of this site had turned up seven more.
The ancient Theater of Nero has finally emerged in the hearth of Rome, after 3 years of excavations!!!! pic.twitter.com/Wq0a1eeUdv
— Nadia Rossetti (@NadiaRossetti24) July 27, 2023
Archaeologists found marble columns and plaster decorated with gold leaf, leading them to conclude that the Nero’s Theatre referred to in texts by Pliny the Elder, the ancient Roman author and philosopher, was indeed located at the site, just off the Tiber River.
Officials said the movable antiquities would be taken to a museum, while the ruins of the theatre structure itself would be covered again after all studies were completed.
Nero declared public enemy
Nero was popular with the members of his Praetorian Guard and lower-class commoners in Rome and its provinces, but he was deeply resented by the Roman aristocracy. Most contemporary sources describe him as tyrannical, self-indulgent, and debauched. After being declared a public enemy by the Roman Senate, he committed suicide at age 30.
Nero was advised and guided by his mother Agrippina, his tutor Seneca the Younger, and his praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus, but he soon sought to rule independently and to rid himself of restraining influences.
His power struggle with his mother was eventually resolved when he had her murdered. Roman sources also implicate Nero in the deaths of his wife Claudia Octavia – supposedly so that he could marry Poppaea Sabina – and of his step brother Britannicus.
Most Roman sources offer overwhelmingly negative assessments of his personality and reign. The historian Tacitus claims the Roman people thought him compulsive and corrupt.
Suetonius tells that many Romans believed that the Great Fire of Rome was instigated by Nero to clear land for his planned “Golden House”.
Tacitus claims that Nero seized Christians as scapegoats for the fire and had them burned alive, seemingly motivated not by public justice but by personal cruelty.