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C - 16 : What is the Style of your Palace?

If you were a Roman Emperor, what style would you use for your palace? Would it emulate Downing Street No 10? The Elysee? The White House? The Kremlin?


As Roman Emperor, your job description was as follows:

  1. You are the Pope (Pontifex Maximus)

  2. You are the Commander in Chief (Dux Militaris)

  3. You are the President and chair the Senate (the legislative body that approves laws)

  4. You are your own State Secretary and conduct business with other states - thus you hold lots of state receptions

  5. You are your own Treasurer and look after taxes and money

  6. You also are the Chief Justice - there is no court surrounding you however

Your palace has to accommodate all these six activities, guaranty your personal safety and has to be a place you can live in. To help you with your decision, here is how the Emperors Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), Hadrian (117 - 138 AD) and Diocletian (284 - 305 AD) dealt with the issue:

Augustus came to power after a brutal civil war to revenge the murder of his adoptive father Caesar. Many of his enemies were members of the Senate. Augustus had many opponents who secretly hoped to "dispatch" him one day and restore the glory of the old Roman Republic. To keep the peace, Augustus kept the veneer of the Republic and styled himself as Primus inter Pares (First amongst Equals). The fiction worked. Still, he felt the need for more personal security and created the 4'500 men strong Praetorian Guard.


In this context, he built a relatively modest palace on the Palatine Hills (which gave us the word for palace) - squeezed between the Hippodrome and the Forum Romanum where day to day politics happened (the Coliseum did not exist yet). It is the building with the inward white arches

A bit more than 100 years later, Emperor Hadrian built a completely different palace. There was no need any longer to pretend. His predecessors had secured the right to appoint Senators (as the Pope appoints Cardinals today - they both wear crimson red!) and reduced the Senate to a rubber stamping body. There was no need to be present in Rome any longer. As Commander in Chief he had the Legions firmly under his control and moved them out of Italy to fight in England (Hadrian's wall), Dacia (Romania) and Mesopotamia. By now, the Emperor had also become a God like figure. Temples were dedicated to him and his family all over the Empire. He also built the Pantheon in Rome that still stands today. Hadrian choose to build an Elysian Style of Palace - one that reminded everyone that they were entering paradise on earth - of which he was in command. Impress your visitors!

Diocletian who lived 200 years later was not so fortunate. After pandemics devastated his Empire and killed half of his Legions, raids by German tribes often reached the Mediterranean and needed to be taken seriously. The need to defend both the Rhein-Danube and Persian border simultaneously made a central location imperative. Diocletian was an old soldier and built his palace to the requirements of the time. Killing his predecessor's son to become Emperor himself, he also needed a high degree of personal security. There was always someone plotting for revenge.


Diocletian's Palace in Split is thus built like a Roman Fortress on the Danube. Just bigger and more luxurious. It housed a large Praetorian Guard, had large storage facilities in case of a siege and a religious centre (the temple of Jupiter and Diocletian's own mausoleum - today's cathedral). There was no need to house the Senate any longer - Senators was now an honorary title with no duties attached. The seafront with the beautiful colonnades and its elevated gardens was reserved for the Emperor. Here, he received visitors from far and near who were asked to arrive by boat to be impressed by the spectacular view.


Which Palace would you build?


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