Monday, April 13, 2015


Ulrike Wulf-Rheidt, "Den Sternen und dem Himmel würdig": kaiserliche Palastbauten in Rom und Trier. Trierer Winckelmannsprogramme, 24. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2014. Pp. viii, 44. ISBN 9783447102353. €19.80 (pb).

Reviewed by Eric M. Moormann, Radboud Universiteit (

Version at BMCR home site

Ulrike Wulf-Rheidt is one of the greatest experts on imperial palaces and their use (and users), ideology, and practical archaeological interpretation. As a trained architect and 'Bauingenieur' she has worked extensively in Asia Minor, especially in Aizanoi and Pergamon. In her position as director of the architectural section of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, her attention is now directed to the Palatine, where interest has been directed on the research of the residences of Augustus, Tiberius Claudius (Domus Tiberiana), Nero (Domus Transitoria and Domus Aurea), Domitian and his successors (Domus Flavia and Domus Augustana). Excavation and study of the residences in the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor, especially in late Antiquity, is also underway, as is also briefly shown in this book with the example of Felix Romuliana (nowadays Gamzigrad in Servia, p. 23, pl. 5, 1.3).

This slim volume forms part of a high-quality series of publications of extended versions of lectures launched by the relatively young but very active archaeological institute of the University of Trier. Wulf-Rheidt presents a summary of the work carried out on the Palatine and analyses Domitian's palace and its later extensions. In the second part she tries to find correspondences with Constantine's residence in Trier. In Rome the remains of the palaces on the Palatine are rather well preserved, but Trier suffers of a much less clear set of data, although both cities have been vibrant from antiquity up to now. As a matter of fact, most visitors only associate the 'Palastaula'(Aula Palatina) in Trier with Constantine, but we are instructed that at least the 'Kaiserthermen' and maybe parts of buildings found to the east of both, up to the modern museum, and to the north, including the zone of the Cathedral, belong to an extended area comprising the imperial residence (figs. 10 and 12). This must have consisted of various buildings, as does the Palatine complex, and Wulf-Rheidt makes clear how these bits and pieces might be interpreted and (partly) reconstructed. In a conclusive section, the author hopes to demonstrate the nexus between the palaces in Rome and Trier in the sense of composition of elements (e.g. circus and baths) and the use of architectural devices like façade compositions and galleries. Her rather dark, yet useful plates 1-8 visualize the reconstructed views from various standpoints, especially those where citizens came together, i.e. the circuses.

As Wulf-Rheidt's various references in her text make clear, correspondences also existed with the other Late Antique complexes mentioned above and I wonder why Trier's connection with Rome should be emphasized so much in a time, when Rome had a much lower status than these new foci of power. Maxentius' bath on the Palatine formed the only major intervention of c. 300 and stems from a man not accepted by all his peers, to put it mildly. The much more important residences in the eastern part of the Empire, all dating to the last decades of the third century or the beginning of the fourth century provide enough (and maybe even more) material to anchor the innovations observed in Trier. The importance of circuses was traditionally connected with the mob who could hail he emperor, but in these new residences the military forces may have formed a much more important and substantial public. Some space might have been dedicated to the interaction in late Antiquity between East and West, rather than between (only) Rome and the West.

One other minor point of criticism concerns the reconstruction of the northern facade of the section of Domitian's palace which includes the Aula Regia – still partly standing erect up to 23 meters – and the adjacent empty space, once probably destined as an entrance. The virtual reconstruction of pl. 4.4 does not wholly convince me and does not precisely correspond with the ground plan of fig. 3. The northwestern block has a colonnade on a base and misses an entrance to the Aula Regia, while steps and ramps are lacking at the left and right sides. The conjunction with the open area called 'no man's land' by the author – indeed missing most vestiges and therefore difficult to reconstruct – should have had a sort of entrance arch. I think of a construction like that of the Sebasteion in Aphrodisias.1 As a whole, the group of buildings or building elements at the north side might have had one single facade. The plan of fig. 3 does not show the columns drawn in the reconstruction.


1.   See reconstruction in R.R.R. Smith, Aphrodisias VI. The Marble Reliefs from the Julio-Claudian Sebasteion. Darmstadt/Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 2013, chapter 2.

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