Horti Lamiani

Towards the end of the first century BC, Lucius Aelius Lamia, from a wealthy family whose members had repeatedly held public offices and a personal friend of the emperor Tiberius, came into possession of a vast area on the highest part of the Esquiline hill, between today’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and Piazza Dante. This estate, named Horti Lamiani in the inscriptions, comprised garden and orchard areas, dotted with pavilions surrounded by greenery. In accordance with the fashions of the time, strongly influenced by Hellenistic models, the house was designed to offer a perfect synergy between built areas and the natural environment: residential rooms, banqueting halls, buildings for theatrical performances and baths were not collected in a single structure, but were separate buildings set on terraces that exploited the irregularities of the slope. The desire for constant contact with nature was such that the closed rooms, especially those partially underground like the cryptoporticoes, were decorated with vivid painted depictions of natural landscapes, lush gardens full of flowers, fruit and birds. The philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who visited the estate in AD 38, described the luxurious reception rooms, where window glass was replaced by sheets of precious onyx and the walls were decorated with antique paintings. Following a tradition inaugurated by Maecenas, who left his estate on the Esquiline to Augustus after his death, these horti became the property of the emperor Tiberius when Lucius Aelius Lamia died; from then on this area was part of the imperial estate. The imperial horti on the Esquiline reached their maximum splendour during the reign of Nero, whose Domus Transitoria, later the Domus Aurea, connected the Esquiline to the Palatine hill in a single, vast estate, a material expression of the boundless powers of the emperor. After Nero’s death, the Domus Aurea was returned to the people by the emperors of the Flavian dynasty with the building of public infrastructure. The Colosseum was erected over the emperor’s artificial lake, private buildings were transformed into the Baths of Titus, and we can assume that something similar also happened in the area of the Horti Lamiani though the evidence is inconclusive. However, the estate was still under imperial control, to the extent that, two hundred years later, we find evidence of the activities of the emperor Alexander Severus in this area of the Esquiline. This was the last major phase in the overall arrangement of the area. In later centuries, the luxurious buildings belonging to these large estates were probably abandoned. In the fourth century, numerous statues that must have belonged to the sculptural decoration of the horti, evidently long since abandoned, were used to build the foundations of so-called “small baths” in Via Ariosto.