Archaeologists in Rome have uncovered what they believe to be the vestiges of a first century AD theatre where warrior-poet Emperor Nero himself is believed to have performed.
The discovery happened during work on Palazzo della Rovere, a medieval palace east of Vatican City, on Via della Conciliazione, leading to Saint Peter’s Square. Beneath its walled garden, a semi-circular seating section was found, along with precious marble, and storage rooms presumed to be for costumes. Previously leased by an ancient Vatican chivalric order, the building is being turned into a Four Seasons Hotel in 2025, ready for the Vatican’s jubilee.
An archaeology team led by Marzia Di Mento has been working at the site for three years.
It is a superb dig, one that every archaeologist dreams of. Being able to dig in this built-up, historically rich area is so rare.Marzia Di Mento, archaeology team lead
Rome’s fifth emperor, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. ruled for 14 years from AD 54 to AD 68. A warrior but also a poet, he had a profound interest in theatre. He is known to have worked on poetry and musical performances and to have played the cithara, a seven-stringed harp-like instrument.
Though he is thought to have committed suicide, he supposedly declared self-confidently, “What an artist dies with me!” on his deathbed.
Until now the only knowledge of the existence of the theatre where he performed came from ancient Roman texts, such as those by Roman philosopher and author Pliny the Elder, who described the venue in detail. Interesting Engineering notes that the archaeologists found “distinct marble columns and plaster decorated in gold leaf” that appear to match Pliny’s records.
3. Rare medieval finds
Other artefacts found at the site include musical instrument parts, revelatory ceramic pieces, coins, cooking pots, and seven rare 10th-century coloured glass chalices, indicating the ruins were accessible and in use 1000 years ago, a period in Rome’s history about which little is known.
Officials have indicated that all objects able to be transported will be moved from the discovery site to a museum where they will become the subject of years of study. Meanwhile the theatre ruins will be covered over again at the end of the dig to make way for the estimated 30 million visitors and pilgrims expected to visit the ‘Eternal City’ for the Vatican Jubliee year of hope. What a treasure trove dies with this!