Timeline of Roman antiquities, 500 B.C. - 609 A.D.
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500-200 B.C 200-31 B.C. 30 B.C.-53 A.D. 54-96 A.D. 98-138 A.D. 138-360 A.D. 312-609 A.D.

Rome, Nero and the Flavians (54-96 A.D.)

Emperor Nero, who came to power in 54 A.D., was an admirer of all things Greek, particularly Greek culture. He wrote poetry in Greek. Many Greek artists and craftsmen, working as slaves to Roman masters, created statues, paintings, decorations, mosaics enjoyed by Romans in Italy and in the colonies. In 66 A.D., Nero "liberated" Greece and traveled throughout the country, collecting statues, pottery, coins. However, for unknown reasons Nero refused to visit Athens or Sparta.

After the Julio-Claudians, a massive bureaucracy governed Rome and the emperors called themselves emperors rather than mere leaders. Rome dispensed with the pretense of republicanism. During this period Rome consolidated its Middle Eastern Empire and Middle Eastern concepts of artistic representation, religion, and government. Nero's rule also introduced an age of unparalleled prosperity, criticized as excessively luxurious and soft by some. He was unpopular with the lower classes.

In 64 A.D. a fire that destroyed much of Rome increased his unpopularity. It also provided the occasion for rebuilding, following Greek architectural models favored by Nero. The scale, however, was not Greek. For instance, a statue of himself, which he put in the Coliseum, was 120 feet high. Nor was the level of ornamentation (as seen in the lion head furniture decoration below), which far exceeded anything common during the Golden Age of Greece.

Vespasian, a general, succeeded Nero as emperor. He had once been castigated by Nero for falling asleep while Nero was singing. Vespasian married Flavia Domitius, who was not a Roman citizen at the time of their marriage. They had three children: Titus, Domitius, and a daughter also named Flavia. Both the daughter Flavia and Vespasian were deified after they died. Titus was emperor from 79-81; Domitius was emperor from 91-96 A.D. Domitius was the last emperor of the Flavian Dynasty.


Bronze lion head mount; ca. First Century A.D.; cast bronze, probably used as a terminal in furniture; 4.3 x 1.9 cm; private collection, United Kingdom.


The naturalism of the object above has its roots in Greek art. But unlike the Greeks, the Romans liked obvious, and minutely-detailed representations of animals and plants inside their dwellings. To the Romans, having images of animals and plants in their homes was a way of re-creating the harmony of gods and nature. During the period of Nero and the Flavians, an interest in astrology also became widespread in Rome. Perhaps the animal-themed home d�cor element above had its origin in astrological symbols.


Unguentarium, glass, ca. First Century A.D., 14 x 2.5 cms; private collection United Kingdom.


Elaborate designs in glass were first seen in the time of Nero and the Flavians. Glass-blowing first appeared in the Roman territories of the Middle East in the First Century B.C. In the mid to late First Century A.D. the Romans devised mold-blowing for glass, which meant they could make the same shape over and over again. The most popular object made this way was a wine flask with a bunch of grapes. Glass flasks in the shape of heads were also produced in great number during the time of Nero and the Flavians. The chemical composition of much Roman glass makes it unstable, and decoration with gilding, paint or enamel sometimes added to the fragility of the glass. It is rare to find an unblemished, whole piece such as the one above.


Bronze drinking cup with repouss� patterned design; ca. First Century A.D., 5.4 x 11.5 cm; Private Collection, United Kingdom. (unprofessionally repaired areas visible particularly around the rim)


The Romans were the first in the Mediterranean world to add lead to bronze. This made it flow more easily when in molten form and meant that it could be very thin, as it is in the example above. By the time of the Nero and the Flavians, lead was often 20 to 30 percent of bronze. The original cup probably had some polychromy. Today it is covered in a typical patina of brownish green. The Romans not only polished but oiled their bronze objects.


Green glazed pottery wine cup with two rings and thumb-pieces; 7 cm (2 � inches); private collection United States.


The wine cup above is similar to the Greek styphos shape common in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries B.C. By about 100 B.C., the Romans were making direct copies of Greek pottery. They adapted Greek (and sometimes Etruscan) shapes to their own uses. The quality of the decorative painting was often not up to Corinthian or Athenian standards. Decorated with reliefs, the wine cup has the red slip typical of Arrentine ware from Tuscany. This is a pleasing piece, and in reasonably good condition. However it was not meant to be a luxury item or unique. During the time of Nero and the Flavians, Roman kilns often held as many as 40,000 pieces. There are many such wine cups that survive from the early Roman Empire.


Silver cup inscribed to Jupiter Ruminus Optimus Maximus (Jupiter Highest and Greatest); depicts a pair of chimerae with a trident separating them; ca. First Century A.D., private collection United Kingdom.


The word for silver in Latin was "Argentum." The word is derived from the Greek word argos meaning shining. Most Roman silver was mined in Spain, in mines that even today are productive. Some Roman silver came from Syria or Asia Minor. A great deal of silver was used by the Greeks and Romans for coinage. Some of the silver used by the Romans came from Carthage and had already been made into useful articles. Here the design is repouss� meaning "pushing out." The Romans used repouss� only on the thinnest gauge silver. The design was engraved very faintly as a guide, then delicately pushed out with a hammer-like object, finally the object was set in resin to set.

Jupiter Ruminus Optimus Maximus was the manifestation of the god that had to do with war, specifically an ancient vow made by the Roman leaders in a decisive battle against the Sabines. The inscription, symbolism, and lucky creatures on the cup reveal the intimate connection between the visual, spiritual, and political power in the Roman Empire.

This cup is relatively free of fussy embellishment, which characterized many objects made during this age. It is in exceptionally fine condition.


Alabaster relief of lobster with wall of shrine and landscape, ca. 70 A.D., found at Pompeii, private collection Germany.


On August 24, 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius, a volcano near Naples, erupted. It buried the towns of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum under about ten feet of ash and pebbles. The volcanic eruption, however, preserved a great deal of archaeological evidence about how real Romans lived: those of the middle class and lower class. Pompeii and Herculaneum were prosperous trading centers, ports, and manufacturing towns. Then as now agriculture thrived in the rich volcanic soil. The original Oscan language and culture of the region had essentially been supplanted by Roman ways by the late Republican period.

The relics of Pompeii and Herculaneum are valued because they vividly a unique story. Emperors and their families were memorialized in statues, histories, coinage and inscriptions of various kinds. Without Pompeii and Herculaneum, we would have almost no information about the possessions of ordinary people. The area was home to many former slaves, who had gained their freedom, and started prosperous businesses. These freedmen/merchants had a profusion of wall paintings and mosaics in their homes. Many veterans (enlisted men, not officers) also moved to the Pompeii/Herculaneum area during the first century of the Empire. They often had small farms.

Both Pompeii and Herculaneum were re-discovered in 1749. During the early nineteenth century, Pompeii, Herculanaeum and the vicinity of Naples, were governed by the French. Previously haphazard methods of archaeology were abandoned, and the sites were methodically excavated. But French rule only lasted for a couple of decades, successive governments each had their own archaeologists and various methods have been used on the sites with varying effects on the remains.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius also preserved an important temple, the Villa Item, meaning House of the Mysteries, which was founded in the First Century B.C. in the suburbs of Pompeii. The Villa was a center for the worship of Bacchus and the site for initiation into the cult. The celebration of the cult was called the Bacchanalia, the Latin name for the Dionysiac orgia. They were very controversial and very popular. The Roman Senate tried to outlaw them during the Republican period but they continued to spread, particularly in southern Italy. By the mid to late First Century A.D., the cult was no longer suppressed.

The piece above is of superb quality, but enigmatic. We don't know where and how it was found, whether it was found in a private or public temple. Some scholars believe it is a shrine to the god Priapus. Lobsters can live for up to a century and often symbolize longevity. Sea urchin and tuna were both considered delicacies in antiquity. Lobsters still exist in the Eastern Mediterranean and probably were common in Italy in antiquity.


"Carousing couple." Wall painting from before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.; The woman seems to be receiving something in a box from a servant while the man is drinking wine from a rhyton. Herculaneum Basilica.


The Romans of the Imperial period had a taste for art that told a story, it could be religious, historical. Other pieces seem to simply convey a mood. The piece above is a combination of story-telling, though it is unclear whether it is a myth or not, and the suggestion of a mood-the horn is being blown in the background, a mysterious box is being handed to a beautiful nearly unclothed smiling woman. Could it be the moment before a customer arrives to see a prostitute?

There was an earthquake in Pompeii in 62 A.D. that left much of the city in ruins. This wall painting must have been done after 62 A.D., but it was preserved in the rubble of the volcanic eruption of 79 A.D. The absence of defects and the clarity of detail, as well as vibrant color, and the engaging subject-matter make this a unique piece of museum-quality.

Of course, this is one of the best surviving pieces from Pompeii. Occasionally, fragments of wall paintings from Roman times are found on the market.


Mosaic triton, floor of the entrance to dressing room (apodyterium) the women's baths (Stabian Baths) in the Forum, Pompeii.


In Pompeii, public baths were a combination spa, health club, country club, and restaurant. There were private baths as well in the homes of the wealthy. They were smaller than public baths.

Most of the walls in baths of both public and private baths were serverely damaged in the earthquake. Floor mosaics for the most part remained unharmed.

In public baths, there were places for individual exercise and courts for games with balls, and there was a small, warmed swimming pool. After the warm swim, one went to the frigidarium (cold room) for a cold bath. After this cold swim, servants used scraper-like tools to remove dirt and sweat from the skin. The skin was oiled by the servant as well. Then there was a heated room for a separate warm, dry bath.

The room in the image above was the ancient equivalent of a locker room. Everyone brought her own supplies to the public bath: scrapers, towel, oil flasks, so there had to be someplace to store them. The mosaic is particularly intact and has a wonderfully vibrant image of sea creatures with a human in the middle.


"Rehearsal of a Satyr Play," Mosaic from the Tablinum, House of the Tragic Poet, in situ in Pompeii.


The picture mosaic came from the Greeks, and involved the use of very small tesserae-small pieces of stone or glass used to make a mosaic-- in a great variety of colors. The technique used for picture mosaics was called opus vermiculatum. There are said to be at least two million tesserae in the "Rehearsal of the Satyr Player." This mosaic is extremely well-preserved. Often, however, pieces of large mosaics break off and find their way into the private market.

The so-called House of the Tragic Poet was excavated in 1824-25 by British archaeologists. The mosaic above was in the living room. The House of the Tragic Poet was one of the smaller houses in Pompeii and considered a middle class dwelling. It was probably built after 80 B.C. and so was one of the newer houses. It was constructed of lava rubble and travertine. Most of the houses in Pompeii were built on the Hellenic model around a small garden. The garden was considered the central visual spot in the house by the ancient Romans.


Verso, hand mirror with image with woman in profile, excavated in a cache of silver at the House of Menander, Pompeii.


The Romans, like the Greeks before them, made mirrors of highly polished bronze. In Latin the word for mirror was speculum. The Romans added more tin to the bronze alloy for mirrors than the Greeks. Later Roman mirrors were often of silvered bronze or gilt. But the Romans did not apply mercury to the back of glass in order to render it reflective. The Romans began making glass mirrors, although very tiny ones, about a hundred years after the period of Nero and the Flavians. The Greeks and Egyptians favored ivory handles for mirrors. Romans sometimes attached a handle to the back of the mirror as a stand, and were the first to make rectangular mirrors.

It is rare to find a pristine example such as the one above even in a museum. Nevertheless, slightly damaged Roman mirrors are relatively common in today's marketplace.


Emaciated Man, First Century A.D. copy of Second Century B.C. Greek original, bronze, 11.5 cm high; Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC


Romans of the time of Nero and the Flavians were fond of Greek bronze sculptures. They often commissioned copies of favorite pieces.

The Greeks of the Hellenistic period, in sharp contrast with their Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Century ancestors, focused on the less-than-ideal human figure. This youth with a club foot and a nearly-skeletal body was probably a representation of Perdix, a mythological figure who was a beggar with a club foot. Perdix was identified with foot ailments. Greeks and Romans often commissioned a statue of a deity either to ask for divine intervention or to thank the god for helping them. The name inscribed on the cloth is Eudamidas, who probably commissioned the statue as an offering to Asklepios, the god of health. The theory was that offering such a statue would persuade Asklepios to help the person who paid for the statue with his foot problem.

This is an excellent piece in nearly perfect condition with only a few wear marks.


Marble torso the god Bacchus, Roman, late First Century A.D., 22 cm high; private collection Germany.


Under Nero, the persecution of Christians began. The upper classes increased their patronage of artists creating statues of pagan gods. We can tell this is Bacchus by his characteristic garment: the skin of a fawn. In Neroian times, Bacchus (or Dionysius) became more closely associated with death and rebirth.

During the Roman Republic, Rome was well-known in the Mediterranean world for its great devotion to its ancestral gods. But this was more a matter of praying for protection than hope for salvation; it did not stem from what moderns would consider a spiritual belief. As the Roman Empire increased in size, more aliens came to Rome, and exposure to alien beliefs quickened. Nero blamed the Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome in 64 A.D.

With Christians designated as scapegoats, the followers of Bacchus were no longer punished by the administration.

This marble torso is in average condition. There are often pieces of this condition on sale internationally. Bacchus is an appealing subject and the sculpture is rendered with very good, though not extraordinary, ability.

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