All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page revised in June 2023.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page revised in June 2023.
"Roma quanta fuit, ipsa ruina docet" (the ruins of Rome spell its past greatness) is a sentence by Bishop Hildebert of Lavardin (1055-1133) which comes to the mind of visitors to the
Palatine archaeological area. The marbles and the columns of the imperial palaces are gone,
but the remaining structures which supported them are impressive.
While some monuments of ancient Rome were saved by being used for other purposes (Pantheon, Hadrian's Mausoleum, Hadrian's Temple) and others because the floods covered them with earth (Area Sacra di Torre Argentina), the palaces built by the emperors were systematically spoiled for almost a thousand years, after they were abandoned by the Byzantine officers in ca 780 because the Popes, helped by Charlemagne, became the secular rulers of Rome and they did so from their residence in the Lateran.
(left) Clivus Palatinus with one of the gates of Orti Farnesiani along Via di S. Bonaventura and the bell tower of S. Francesca Romana in the background; (right) the location of Arco di Domiziano
During the XVIth century the Palatine was divided into two villas: the north-western part belonged to the Farnese (Orti Farnesiani), the south-eastern one to the Mattei (Villa Celimontana). The monuments of these two Renaissance villas are shown in separate pages. This page covers: Lupercal and Scala Caci; Iron Age huts; ancient cistern; early altar; Domus Tiberiana and views from it; Paedagogium; Schola Praeconum; Nero's Cryptoporticus; Domus Transitoria; Domus Flavia; House of the Griffins; Domus Severiana. A second page covers the Houses of Augustus and Livia and some nearby temples and a third one shows some views of and from the Palatine.
The main access to the imperial palaces (Clivus Palatinus) was built by Emperor Domitian: it started near the arch he erected to celebrate his brother Titus and his father Vespasian and it ended at the entrance to the palaces with another arch, which is lost. Another access to the Palatine was built by Domitian at the western end of the hill.
South-western spur of the Palatine: the site of "Lupercal" and "Scala Caci"
The oldest and most venerable sanctuary of kingly Rome
was the Lupercal, a grotto consecrated by the emigrants
from Alba to Faun, called Lupercus; that is to say, the
"driver-away of wolves" and the protector of herds. This
grotto, through which an icy crystalline spring flowed into
the green field below, opened under the northwest spur of
the Palatine. On February 15, it was the centre of great
rejoicings and of religious ceremonies called the Lupercalia,
during which the head shepherds, clothed with skins, used
to run around the precincts of their Palatine village, asking
the protection of Faunus Lupercus on their flocks of sheep.
These Lupercalia show clearly what was the condition of
the founders of Rome: they were shepherds.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries - 1888
Before becoming the residence of the emperors, the Palatine was accessed from its south-western corner which was located very near Velabro, the trading quarter of ancient Rome. The steep ascent leading to the hill was called Scala Caci (Cacus' steps). Today the cave of Lupercal is thought to have been at the south-western corner of the Palatine.
Site of the "Huts of Romulus" at the top of "Scala Caci" showing evidence of the holes for the poles which supported the roof of three huts
It seems that from the time the city was built on the Palatine Hill to its destruction by the Gauls on the 13th of July, 390 B.C, the Romans dwelt in huts with thatched walls and conical roofs, not unlike
those which to the present day give shelter to the shepherds of the Campagna. As long as this system of habitations lasted, families dwelt in a single room level with the ground; (..) These primitive huts, scattered in disorder over the hill were made accessible by means of rough paths or stairways cut out of the live rock.
Rodolfo Lanciani - Ancient and Modern Rome - 1925
In 1907 archaeologists uncovered remains of three huts from the Iron Age; this evidence confirms that the south-western side of the Palatine housed the first settlements of Rome.
(left) An illustration from "Rodolfo Lanciani - Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries - 1888"; (right) Museo del Foro: a hut-like cinerary urn found in an early necropolis in the Roman Forum (see a similar one at Lavinium)
In the consulship of Appius Claudius and Gaius Norbanus, (38 BC), the populace revolted against the tax-gatherers, who oppressed them severely, and came to blows with the men themselves, their assistants, and the soldiers who helped them to collect the money. (..) Now many events of a portentous nature had occurred even before this, such as the spouting of olive oil on the bank of the Tiber, and many also at this time. Thus the hut of Romulus was burned as a result of some ritual which the pontifices were performing in it.
Dio Cassius - Roman History - Book XLVIII - Loeb edition.
The death of Agrippa (12 BC), far from being merely a private loss to his own household, was at any rate such a public loss to all the Romans that portents occurred on this occasion in such numbers as are wont to happen to them before the greatest calamities. Owls kept flitting about the city, and lightning struck the house on the Alban Mount where the consuls lodge during the sacred rites. The star called the comet hung for several days over the city and was finally dissolved into flashes resembling torches. Many buildings in the city were destroyed by fire, among them the hut of Romulus, which was set ablaze by crows which dropped upon it burning meat from some altar. Cassius Dio - Book LIV
The house of Romulus on the south-west corner of the Palatine hill, represented by a hut of straw with a thatched roof, was regarded with great veneration and restored, whenever injured by fire, in the same style. It may have perpetuated the memory of the existence of actual huts, traces of which were found in 1907.
Antiquarium Palatino: cremation tomb
A cremation tomb was found by chance in 1954 beneath the House of Livia. A dolium, a large jar contained a funerary urn with a lid in the form of a hut roof and eight smaller funerary urns (a practice which can be noted also among the Etruscans). The tomb is dated Xth century BC; for the time being it is the only one near the huts, which could mean that the adult male whose cremated remains were placed in the main urn was a man of particular importance.
Ancient cistern near the House of Livia and the Huts of Romulus
The section approaching the house of Germanicus (Livia) is very ancient, perhaps contemporary with the first colonization of the hill. There is something impressive and solemn in the aspect of these old lautumie (stone quarries), which at a later period were turned into a water-tank. There were several wells communicating with the ground above, but only one is kept open. (..) The puteal or mouth of the well is of modern restoration; the shaft is ancient and lined with slabs of Alban stone, with holes to make the descent into the reservoir easy. A conical heap of terra-cotta ex-votos was found at the bottom of this well. This find reminded us at the time of the passage of Frontinus: "In the present abundance of water (brought to Rome by eleven aqueducts) we have not forgotten the historical springs from which drank our forefathers".
Rodolfo Lanciani - The ruins and excavations of ancient Rome - 1897
Sextus Julius Frontinus, a general of Domitian, is best known for a treatise on the aqueducts of Rome. He was proconsul in Asia Minor in 86 AD.
(left) An illustration from "Rodolfo Lanciani - Pagan and Christian Rome - 1893"; (right) Antiquarium Palatino: altar to an unknown divinity (early Ist century BC)
In 1829, while excavations were proceeding near the western corner of the Palatine, an altar was discovered, of archaic type, inscribed with the following dedication: "Sacred to a Divinity, whether male or female. Caius Sextius Calvinus, son of Caius, praetor, has restored this altar by decree of the Senate." (..) As a rule, the priests refrained from mentioning in public prayers the name and sex of new and slightly known divinities, especially of local Genii, to which they objected for two reasons: first, because there was danger of vitiating the ceremony by a false invocation; secondly, because it was prudent not to reveal the true name of these tutelary gods to the enemy of the commonwealth, lest in case of war or siege he could force them to abandon the defence of that special place, by mysterious and violent rites. The formula "Sei Deo Sei Deivae", "whether god or goddess," is a consequence of this superstition. Lanciani - 1893
A similar earlier altar was found in 1886 near Aggere Serviano, a stretch of the Republican walls.
Walls supporting the southern part of Domus (House) Tiberiana
Octavian at the very beginning of his political career lived near the upper end of Scala Caci. He then bought some nearby houses and by the time he was given the title of Augustus
he had linked his properties to form one residence which is covered in a separate page.
It was just the house of a wealthy man, not the mansion of a monarch.
The work of Augustus was continued by his successor and kinsman, Tiberius, who built a new wing (domus Tiberiana) near the south-western corner of the hill, overlooking the Velabrum. Lanciani 1888
(left) An illustration from "Rodolfo Lanciani - Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries - 1888" showing the walls supporting the north-western corner of Domus Tiberiana; (centre/right) modern images
Caligula filled with new structures the whole space between the domus Tiberiana and the Roman forum. Lanciani 1888
Augustus' successors Tiberius (and after him Caligula and Nero) were keen on emphasizing their supposed supremacy over the Senate and over the other bodies of the Roman State. In order to achieve this objective they acquired the properties between the two western corners of the Palatine and turned the site into a royal palace. The ground was levelled to obtain a very large terrace and this was partly done by building colossal walls.
View towards Campidoglio
Caligula built out a part of the Palace as far as the Forum, and making the temple of Castor and Pollux its vestibule, he often took his place between the divine brethren, and exhibited himself there to be worshipped by those who presented themselves. (..) He built a bridge (..) and thus joined his Palace to the Capitol.
Suetonius - The Lives of the Twelve Caesars - translation by J. C. Rolfe
Domus Tiberiana faced Campidoglio, the Capitoline hill, the religious centre of Rome, where the most important temples were located: in a way the emperors placed themselves at the same level as the gods. Caligula built a bridge between the two hills so that he could reach the temples directly from his residence: for many centuries an isolated column was thought to be part of that bridge.
View towards Via Sacra, the main street of Foro Romano, and its temples
The Forum was the heart of Rome: here the most important citizens came to go to the tribunals in Basilica Aemilia or Basilica Julia, to attend the meetings of the Senate in Curia Julia or just to learn what was going on. The imperial residence had a commanding view over the Forum and an entrance at its level on the site where later on S. Maria Liberatrice was built.
(left) Domus Gelotiana aka Paedagogium; (right) a granite column with a marble capital
Caligula appears to have purchased and embodied in the crown property another large house, belonging to a certain Gelotius and hence called domus Gelotiana; and this acquisition was made, not for any want of additional space and accommodation, but to satisfy the mania of the prince for the games of the circus, for horses and grooms. Caligula was a passionate supporter of the squadron of the greens, so much so that he used to spend days and nights in their stables, sharing their dinners and suppers, and indulging with them in all sorts of excesses. Lanciani - 1888
This house of Gelotius was bought because it lay nearer to the circus than any other building
on the Palatine, and because, by simply crossing it, the
prince could reach, undisturbed and unseen, his favorite
place among the "greens." Lanciani - 1888
The Schola Praeconum is located on the lowest terrace of the Palatine at the level of the Circus; it was most likely connected, especially in ancient times, with the Domus Gelotiana which stands above it. The Schola was the seat of the guild of heralds, those who announced the circus parade. Its construction on the site of pre-existing buildings occurred when the Severan dynasty was carrying out a general restructuring of the southern side of the Palatine. It is characterised by the presence of a lost rectangular courtyard overlooked by a tripartite system of vaulted rooms, the central of which is larger than the lateral ones. It is fairly certain that the building and those who used it performed functions closely connected with the Circus and the related events.
(left-above) Domus Gelotiana aka Paedagogium seen from the edge of the southern part of the imperial palaces; (left-below) seen from Circus Maximus (the trees hide the view of "Schola Praeconum"); (right) Antiquarium Palatino: Alaxamenos graffito
The graffiti, discovered in the year 1857, in the domus Gelotiana, introduce us into the intimacy of the life of court servants of a higher class. It appears from them, and from the records they contain, that after the murder of Caligula the house became a residence and a training-school for court pages. (..) The boys must have been delighted at (..) their admittance into the palace; and accordingly they chronicle the happy event on the walls of their new residence with inscriptions. (..) But by far the most interesting and most widely celebrated graffito of the whole set is the one (..) which was removed soon after to the Kircherian Museum at the Collegio Romano. (..) It contains a blasphemous caricature of our Lord Jesus Christ. (..) He is represented with the head of a donkey, tied to the cross, with the feet resting on a horizontal piece of board. To the left of the cross there is the figure of the Christian youth Alexamenos, with arms raised in adoration of his crucified God, and the whole composition is illustrated and explained by the legend "Alexamenos worships (his) God." Lanciani - 1888
(left) Nero's Cryptoporticus (covered passageway linking the northern to the southern part of "Domus Tiberiana"); (right) a fragment of the elaborate stuccoes which decorated it (another detail can be seen in the image used as background for this page)
As regards Caligula's buildings, which extended from
Tiberius's palace to the northeast corner of the hill, overlooking the forum, the best preserved portion of them is
a long cryptoporticus, or subterranean passage. On January 24th, a. d. 41, a scene of horror took place in this dark corridor, - the murder of the Emperor Caligula. Lanciani - 1888
The architects of Domus Tiberiana paid a lot of attention to its logistics by providing it with a system of underground passageways for the movement of commodities, servants and guards. It might have been occasionally utilized by the emperors because its walls were carefully decorated. It is now dated Nero's time. A similar approach was followed by Emperor Hadrian in the design of his villa at Tivoli.
Antiquarium Palatino - Domus Tiberiana: (left) "opus sectile" (marble inlay) decoration (Ist century AD); (right) marble wings of a statue of Victory, perhaps from a nearby temple
In 1856 a parcel in the former Villa Mattei was assigned to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary and a nunnery was built near the southern edge of the Palatine. Today it houses some of the works of art which were discovered during the excavations which were carried out after 1870. They were found in almost all the sections of the palaces.
Antiquarium Palatino: frescoes from "Domus Transitoria"; the lower strip depicts scenes from the contest between Apollo and Marsyas
Emperor Nero bought some properties on the Esquiline Hill where he eventually built a large pavilion (Domus Aurea). Archaeologists have called Domus Transitoria a complex of halls and courtyards by which the Emperor wanted to link the palace on the Palatine to the Esquiline. Parts of this complex were identified under a terrace which was built at a later period.
According to historical records Nero built on the Palatine also Coenatio Rotunda, a revolving dining room with a view over the sky and his properties; its location was identified in 2009.
We climbed the Palatine hill, where the magnificent Palace of the emperors stood. Since it has suffered many changes, we must believe that the ruins we now see date from the time of Domitian. We saw a superb hall from which one can judge the grandeur of this
From James Boswell's letters on the Grand Tour related to his visit to Rome in 1765.
The imperial residence was greatly enlarged by Emperor Domitian with the addition of Domus Flavia, a set of halls and peristyles (colonnaded porticoes surrounding an internal garden and embellished with fountains). They partly stood above Domus Transitoria, because the Flavian Emperors were keen on erasing the memory of Nero.
Ancient Romans did not have living rooms with sofas where they entertained their guests; they followed Aristotle's practice of walking to and fro while talking: so the emperor discussed state matters with his advisors or just chatted with friends in these peristyles: the fountain at the centre of the one shown above had the layout of the Cretan Labyrinth. Domus Flavia was also referred to as Domus Augustana (the Emperors' Palace).
Domus Flavia - Throne Hall: side wall
A hall of immense size was discovered about the beginning of the last century, concealed under the ruins of its own massive roof. The pillars of Verde antico that supported its vaults, the statues that ornamented its niches, and the rich marbles that formed its pavement, were found buried in rubbish; and were immediately carried away by the Farnese family, the proprietors of the soil, to adorn their palaces and furnish their galleries. The hall is now cleared of its encumbrances and presents to the eye a vast length of naked wall, and an area covered with weeds. As we stood contemplating its extent and proportions a fox started from an aperture once a window, at one end, and crossing the open space, scrambled up the ruins at the other, and then disappeared in the rubbish.
John Chetwode Eustace - A Classical Tour through Italy in 1802
Three halls open on the front of Domitian's palace: the throne-room, aula regia, in the centre; the chapel, or lararium, on the left; and a basilica, or court-room, on the right. (..) The throne-room, built of bricks from the kilns of Flavia Domitilla, is 160 feet long and 120 wide, and was decorated with sixteen columns of pavonazzetto having bases and capitals exquisitely cut in ivory-colored marble. There were three niches on either side for colossal statues or groups, and each of them was flanked by smaller columns of porphyry. (..) On either side of the great door, opening on the front portico, stood two columns of giallo antico, which the Duke of Parma sold to the stone-cutters Perini and Maciucchi for 3000 scudi. (..) The throne, or augustale solium, was placed opposite the door, in the apse where Bianchini in 1726 set up his mendacious praise of Francis I., Duke of Parma and Piacenza, the last destroyer of the Palatine. Lanciani - The ruins - 1897
Archaeological Museum of Naples - Farnese Collection: reliefs from Domus Flavia
The Epitome of the Chronicon Cassinense, which dates from the time of Stephen II. (752-757), says that after the "recovery of the Cross" made by Heraclius in 629, the Emperor betook himself to Rome, where he was proclaimed Emperor, and given the imperial diadem in the throne room of the palace of the Caesars. This passage of the Chronicon shows that the palace,in spite of the pillages of Totila, of Genseric, and of the Romans themselves, could still be used for state ceremonies in the first half of the seventh century. This great structure had never been used as a dwelling by the emperors, but simply as a state residence where they held their levees, delivered their decisions, presided over councils of state, received foreign envoys, and gave official banquets. The building had never required repairs, on account of the enormous solidity of its construction.
Rodolfo Lanciani - The Destruction of ancient Rome - 1899
In 1724-1726 Francesco Farnese, Duke of Parma, promoted excavations at Domus Flavia under the direction of Francesco Bianchini, an astronomer and archaeologist. They led to the discovery of statues and of several columns of pavonazzetto, porphyry, basalt and other fine marbles which were used to embellish a new ducal palace at Colorno near Parma. Some reliefs enriched the Farnese collection of ancient art in Rome (it was moved to Naples in 1787).
In the basilica the prince delivered judgment in cases pertaining or submitted to the crown. (..) The basilica was excavated for the first time in 1724. There is an account of the results, from which we gather that the two colossal statues of Bacchus and Hercules in black basalt, now in the Museo at Parma, were found lying on the floor on April 20 of the same year. Lanciani - The ruins - 1897
(left) Site of the House of the Griffins underneath the "lararium" of Domus Flavia; (right) paintings of the house which are projected inside Nero's cryptoporticus
The House of the Griffins is perhaps the most interesting Roman house preserved in the underground of the city. The name comes from the painted stucco decoration showing a pair of griffins in heraldic symmetry flanking an elaborate scrolled vine springing from a clump
of acanthus. It was built during the IInd century BC, but its paintings are dated early Ist century BC.
The house was discovered in 1912; it had two storeys, the upper of which retained its decoration. Griffins were a popular decorative motif also for reliefs, e.g. in the friezes of Basilica Ulpia and Tempio di Antonino e Faustina.
Antiquarium Palatino - Domus Augustana: (left) Hercules with the Leontè, the skin of the Nemean Lion, copy of a Greek original of the second half of the IVth century BC; (centre) female torso, perhaps a dancer, copy of a Greek original of the Vth century BC; (right) Dionysus, with traces of gold paint (IInd century AD)
The palaces of the Caesars, in the Palatium, have been filled with most splendid statuary.
Pliny the Elder - Historia Naturalis - Book XXXVI - Translation by John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley
In a chapter which deals with sculpture in marble Pliny listed 225 famous Greek statues, many of which embellished Rome. In their praise of Greek sculpture the Emperors were not selective (at least initially); they commissioned copies of Greek statues, both of the Classic style and of the Hellenistic one. Statues which were not mere copies of Greek ones show a preference for the latter style.
Antiquarium Palatino: (left) alabaster statue depicting a tiger, the stripes of which were made of marble from Cape Tenaro aka Cape Matapan; (right) reliefs in "giallo antico", usually a marble from Africa
We now carry away the barriers that were destined for the separation of one nation from another; we construct ships for the transport of our marbles; and, amid the waves, the most bolsterous element of Nature, we convey the summits of the mountains to and fro. (..) For what utility or for what so-called pleasure do mortals make themselves the agents, or, more truly speaking, the victims of such undertakings, except in order that others may take their repose in the midst of variegated stones? Pliny the Elder
The discovery of an underground floor is not mentioned nor illustrated by Bianchini, and I had to make a pilgrimage to Verona, Eton, and Paris to collect information about it. Without entering into particulars I will merely mention the discovery of a bathroom 21.30 metres long and 11.50 metres deep, the richest and most beautiful apartment, as far as we know, in the whole palace of the Caesar. The walls were incrusted with mosaic work in pietra dura, alternating here and there with marble bas-reliefs set in a richly carved frame, and with niches for statues. A colonnade of porphyry shafts, each two feet in diameter, ran along three sides of the hall; while on the fourth side five lions' heads of gilt bronze threw jets of water into a marble basin. Each fountain was flanked by ten columns of porphyry, serpentine, giallo, verde, and pavonazzetto, with capitals and bases of gilt bronze. Lanciani - The ruins - 1897
The palaces were decorated with all kinds of marbles and their interior had a very gay and coloured aspect.
Stadium in March 2023: in the foreground one of the two turning points and in the background an oval manège (you may wish to see it in a 1909 watercolour by Yoshio Markino)
The name of Stadium has been given to the circus-like edifice, 160 metres long and 47 wide, which separates the house of Augustus from the Baths of Septimius Severus. The giving of this name seemed justified first by the oblong shape of the place, with a slightly curved end; secondly, by the measure of 160 metres, which comes very near that of a stadium (177.40); thirdly, by the two fountains which occupy the place of the goals. Professor Marx thinks the name to be wrong, and that the place was a garden, a xystus. (..) One theory does not absolutely exclude the other. (..) The foundation of the Stadium is attributed to Domitian while rebuilding the Domus Augustana. The style of the brickwork is the same in both, and so are some of the brick stamps. (..) Originally it was nothing but a level space of ground, perhaps laid out in grass and flower-beds, inclosed by a wall slightly curved at the western end. There was no portico, no seats, no steps, nothing characteristic of a place of public meeting. Hadrian probably built the two-storied portico, as shown by the style of masonry and by the brick-stamps of the years 123-134, found in great numbers in the excavations of 1871 and 1893. (..) The portico was included by Septimius Severus in his general reconstruction and embellishment of the place. (..) Last of all, King Theodoric tried to stop the ruin and the fall of this part of the Imperial buildings. His name has been read many times on bricks discovered by Visconti in 1868 and by myself in 1877. Theodoric seems to have propped with buttresses the walls which threatened to collapse, and to have also transformed the plan and the destination of the building. The arena, once used for athletic sports or for flower-beds, was then occupied by a large oval basin, which we would call a swimming-bath were it not for the absence of a water-tight floor. (..) The Stadium must have been half ruined in Theodoric's age, probably in consequence of the earthquake mentioned in the contemporary inscriptions of the Coliseum.
Lanciani - The ruins - 1897
In 500 Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, visited Rome (he usually resided at Ravenna) and watched some of the last races in Circus Maximus from the Palatine. He ordered some repairs/changes to be made to the imperial palaces including an oval manège inside the stadium. The use of engaged columns by Roman architects was very frequent, the best known ones being those of Colosseo.
Fountain of the "Peltae" in March 2023, in the square courtyard ("tablinum") of Domus Augustana
The courtyard was discovered in the 1930s during excavations conducted by Alfonso Bartoli. The initial aspect of the courtyard was that of a two-storied perystile surrounding a water basin. At a later time the basin was decorated with four "islets" having the shape of peltae, the small shields of the Amazons (you may wish to see a pelta in a relief in the Museum of Corinth). The "islets" might have had holes to be used by fish during spawning. Bartoli decided to emphasize this feature of the courtyard.
Fountain of the "Peltae"
Today a modern fountain surrounds the reconstructed evidence of the old one. The design of its spouts was suggested by Amazzone Mattei. See some of the columns and capitals by which it was decorated.
Antiquarium Palatino - from the area of the stadium: (left) Aphrodite/Venus, copy of a Greek original of the Vth century BC, aka Hera/Juno, because of its resemblance with statues supposed to portray that goddess; (centre) Winter (early IVth century AD); (right) a nymph on a rock (Ist century AD)
Almost all the statues which were found in the imperial palaces are dated between the late Ist century BC to the early IIIrd century AD. The relief portraying a season might have been made at the time of Maxentius, who is known to have resided on the Palatine, where he restored some facilities.
Antiquarium Palatino: busts of Emperors Antoninus Pius (centre), young Marcus Aurelius (left) and Lucius Verus (right) with female members of the family, from the imperial palaces or the Forum
The Emperors of the IInd century did not use the imperial palaces frequently and so they made only relatively minor adjustments to them. Trajan personally led many military campaigns; Hadrian travelled to almost all the provinces of the Empire and when in Rome preferred to stay at his villa at Tivoli. Antoninus Pius rarely moved from his villa at Lanuvio. Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus spent many years in campaigns to protect the borders of the Empire. A particularly fine bust of Antoninus Pius which was found near the stadium shows that the palaces were well kept and were ready for a visit by the Emperor.
View over Circus Maximus from the terrace of Domus Severiana
The chronology of the group (of builders of the palaces), as far as important or interesting additions are concerned, ends with Septimius Severus, who built a magnificent palace at the south corner of
the hill, facing the Appian Way and the road to Ostia, in
order (..) that his African countrymen, arriving in Rome by the way of Pozzuoli (near Naples)
and Ostia, might be struck at once with a specimen of his
grandeur. Lanciani - 1888
You may have a feeling of what they saw by visiting a page with a Grand View of the Palatine Hill. The new wing had a large terrace which allowed the emperor and his court to watch the races at Circus Maximus.
Row of cypresses marking the site of Septizodium or Septizonium and S. Gregorio al Celio on the hill to the left
And magnificent indeed was the wing of the palace called Septizonium,
because it was seven stories high. The terrace on the top
of the building towered to the height of 210 feet above the
level of the surrounding streets, commanding one of the
finest views over the metropolis. Lanciani - 1888
Neere the Circus were of late three rowes of pillars, one above the other; and this monument is called Il Settizonio di Severe, of seven souldiers engraved thereupon, and is thought to be the sepulcher of Septimius Severus, but the Pope Sixtus the fifth pulled it downe.
Fynes Moryson - An Itinerary: Containing His Ten Years Travel Through .. Italy (in 1594)
The site of Septizodium seen from the western end of Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
Septizodium was decorated with the finest marbles of the Empire. Its name suggests that it was dedicated to the gods of the seven days. In 1586 the remaining part of the building (you can see it in a 1575 etching by Etienne Du Pérac - it opens in another window) was pulled down by Pope Sixtus V to utilize its columns and marbles in the new chapel he built at S. Maria Maggiore.
(left) Arches of the aqueduct; (right-above) ruin of a "nymphaeum", a monumental fountain near S. Bonaventura; (right-below) system of cisterns in Domus Tiberiana at the other end of the hill
Nothing is known of the water supply of the Palatine before the time of Domitian. The fact that Augustus would take his siesta in summer months "by the fountain of the peristyle," proves that his house was well provided with water from the time of its first construction. After doubling the extent of the Imperial domain on the hill, Domitian carried a powerful siphon from the reservoir of the Arcus Caelimontani (Aqua Claudia) by the temple of Claudius, to the highest point of the hill by S. Bonaventura. The pressure must have been enormous, as the siphon crossed the valley between the two hills at a point 41 metres below the feeding reservoir. (..) Domitian's siphon is thrown into the shade by the exploit of Septimius Severus. After rebuilding, repairing, and connecting in one mass the various sections of the palace; after raising another palace of his own, to which the Septizodium served as a façade; after providing the Imperial residence with thermae of great size and magnificence, he carried the channel of the Claudia from the top of the Caelian to the top of the Palatine, making it span the valley at a prodigions height. The viaduct, composed of four lines of arcades, measured at least 425 metres in length and 42 metres in height. (..) The water was stored in the great reservoir, afterwards turned into a refectory for the monks of S. Bonaventura. Lanciani - The ruins - 1897
Domus Severiana: walls of the baths
The new wing included imposing baths which were left unfinished by Domitian. Their thick walls recall those of Terme di Caracalla which were built a few years later. One of the reasons which explain why so many Roman monuments survive to the present day is that those involved in building them were held accountable for their work/materials. The bricks were stamped with the symbol of the factory where they were made and tests were made to ensure the construction was properly built (see the inscription placed by L. Fabricius on a bridge).
(above) House of the Severian age on the north-eastern slope of the Palatine; (below) its frescoes
The end of the Severan dynasty led to a period of military anarchy during which the palaces were seldom utilized. Aurelian was the last emperor to reside there. Other emperors, e.g. Constantius II in 357, stayed at the palaces during short visits to Rome.
Antiquarium Palatino - from Domus Severiana: (left) base of a square pillar; (right) capital
Move on and visit the House of Augustus or wander about the Palatine.