The southern foot of the Palatine had the paedagogium. This building was likely a school for educating pages at the imperial court. A famous graffiti is preserved to this day, where Jesus with a donkey head is nailed to the cross). The inscription reads: ‘Alexamenos worships his God’. A depiction of a crucified Christ with a donkey head was a standard way of mocking Christianity.
Would the drawer have considered the satire by the Greek Xenophanes when he made this graffiti? This Greek singer, poet and philosopher wrote the following:
‘Ethiopians say the their gods are flat-nosed and dark, Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired.’ […] If oxen and horses and lions [donkeys] had hands, they would draw the shapes of gods to look like horses and oxen to look like oxen, and each would make the gods’ bodies have the same shape as they themselves had.’
Cited and translated from: Luciano de Crescenzo, ‘ Geschiedenis van de Griekse filosofie van de prescocraten tot de neoplatonici’, Bert Bakker, Amsterdam 1991 p. 104
If this is not the case, then Alexamenos instead of Christ is the donkey in this drawing. Unfortunately, this question cannot be answered and it remains but a speculation.
Under the reign of emperor Septimius Severus (193-211), the aqueduct at the east side of the Palatine was restored and a bathhouse was constructed. This did require the construction of a plateau supported by barrel vaults. The hill on the eastside of the Palatine had a steep slope. This is how Severus expanded the hill. The south-eastside had a similar expansion where he had a palace constructed.
Finally, Septimius had the Septizonium constructed. The emperor, who came from Africa, commissioned a skene at the south-east foot of the Palatine. A skene is a wall used in theatres for the dressing rooms of the actors and it also served as a background for the stage. Travellers who arrived from the south – also those from Africa – through the Via Appia, were the first to behold this wonderful seven-story high skene, in this case the Septizonium.
The Septizonium (septum zonae or seven floors) had columns of African marble. In between the columns were fountains and statues. Over the years, the Septizonium, given all its precious marble became a popular marble quarry. There were just three floors remaining in the Renaissance, and the statues were missing.
A part of the demolition can be found back in the well-preserved archives of the Vatican. In it, you can you read that the cost for demolition was 905 scudi. Thankfully, the marble gained from the demolition brought in a lot more money. Thirty-three blocks were used as a pedestal for the obelisk on the St. Peter’s square. One hundred and four marble blocks were used to restore the column of Antoninus and for the base of his statue. The columns taken from the Septizonium were used in many churches and chapels. Presently, you can only tell by the pavement and the trees what the floor of the Septizonium was.
The history of the Palatine after the decline of the Roman Empire is rather vague. The Goth king Theodoric restored the palace of Domitianus with the hippodrome in the mid-5th century and turned it into his residence. Even after the fall of the West-Roman Empire, the emperors from Byzantine (East-Roman Empire) still considered this hill as their spot and had themselves represented by courtiers from Constantinople. Eventually, the Popes were in command. The lararium of the Domus Flavia turned into a chapel devoted to the holy Caesarius. Close to the palace you could also find a Greek monastery, and the old temple of Heliogabali became the spot for a church dedicated to the H. Sebastian.
The famous, holy Sebastian received the death penalty because he refused to renounce his Christian faith. The Roman archers pierced him with their arrows, but Sebastian did not die, on the contrary, he healed miraculously. The emperor at the time, Diocletianus, who didn’t get along with Christians, saw this Christian being alive and well and ordered to have Sebastian beaten to death. The clubs seemed to suffice, and his body was thrown in the cloaca maxima.
The gardens of Farnese
After Augustus, the emperors Tiberius (ruled from 14-17 AD.) and Domitianus (ruled from 81-96 AD) radically changed the Palatine. Tiberius constructed a large palace, the Domus Tiberiana, in the north-west corner of the Palatine (map VII: domus Tibiana). Caligula (ruled from 37-41 AD) expanded the palace of Tiberius even farther north-eastward. The complex of Tiberius and Caligula survived two large fires, including one under Nero. Since 1520, the palace has disappeared mostly underground. The cardinal Farnese had a terrace constructed atop the vaults of the palace. This is where the first true botanic garden was laid. Important 16th century artists like Michelangelo, Vignola, Antonio da Sangallo and Zuccari participated.
The layout of the garden is based on the traditional Roman garden from Antiquity. The first Roman ‘gardens’ were vineyards, which later changed into real gardens used only for personal entertainment. These gardens often had a shed (casino), a nympheum and aviaries, as seen at the palace of Domitianus in the Domus Augustana. Below the hot Italian sun, scholars, artists and cardinals alike enjoyed conversations where they reminisced on the old classical authors like Cicero, who lived in a house on the Palatine some 1500 years ago. Presently, this garden can still be admired.
In the 12th or 13th century, a certain Gregory of England documented how he experienced his visit. After thanking God and elaborating on Rome’s never-ending splendour, Gregory continues with
“Even if Rome is naught but a ruin, nothing that is intact can compare with it. That is why one says: ‘Nothing compares to you, Rome, while you are naught but a ruin. With how small you are now, you may show us how grand you were then.’ I am convinced, that all Rome’s rubble shows us clearly that all goods on earth perish with time, when Rome, the capital of all worldly goods, weakens and wobbles daily.” From: Magistri Gregorii narratio de mirabilibus urbis Romae. Translation Leo Nellissen
It was not until 1870 that the entire area fell into the hands of the Italian state, and ever since it is a rich and precious quarry for archaeologists, but also a beloved camera object for the modern tourist.