Discovery of Nero’s Theater

Posted by on Aug 9, 2023 in Stuff You Should Know, World History

Archeologists in Rome believe they have discovered the theater of Roman Emperor Nero. Nero ruled between 54 C.E. and 68 C.E. While Nero’s theater is mentioned by writers of his time, its location was a modern mystery. The discovery came as part of a reconstruction project. A portion of the Palazzo Della Rovere, a Renaissance-era palace, is being transformed into a luxury hotel. The theater was discovered while archaeologists were digging in the garden area that is in the center of the palazzo. In addition to the theater, archeologists at the site have discovered glass goblets, pottery, musical instruments, and personal items.  

Nero’s Reputation 

Bust of Roman Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar
Bust of Roman Emperor Nero

Historians have described Emperor Nero as a cruel man who used violence to maintain power. Modern historians debate whether Emperor Nero’s reputation is accurate or exaggerated. The ancient Roman historian Tacitus was critical of Nero’s behavior and leadership. He wrote a famous story that when a fire burned out of control in Rome in 64 C.E., Nero played his lyre (a harp-like musical instrument) while watching the city burn. Historians do agree, however, that Nero was an enthusiastic fan of the performing arts. He was both an enthusiastic spectator and participant of the arts—including reciting poetry, acting, and playing the lyre.  

Construction Project is Located Near Vatican City 

Adding to the interest of the discovery of the theater, the site is located about two football fields away from St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Vatican City is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. It is surrounded by Rome, but it is an independent city-state. The palazzo is on the Via Della Conciliazione, the street that leads to St. Peter’s Square. The luxury hotel is being added in preparation for the 2025 Jubilee Year of the Catholic Church. Jubilees are special celebrations in the Catholic Church that typically occur every twenty-five years. The city of Rome is preparing for millions of additional visitors expected for the upcoming Jubilee. 

What Comes Next for the Site? 

Archeologists are working to confirm their theory that the theater belonged to Emperor Nero. Evidence supporting the theory includes mentions of the theater in the historical record and the dating of bricks and other artifacts. Further evidence includes some very expensive materials found at the site. These discoveries include African marble columns and gold leaf decorations. Items dating through the fifteenth century were found. The items that can be removed will be placed in museums to be studied and viewed. Once the excavation site has been thoroughly studied, it will be reburied. 

Dig Deeper To better understand the significance of this discovery, use maps to locate the key places mentioned in the story: Italy; Rome; Vatican City. You may even be able to locate the Palazzo Della Rovere.