Every cloud has a silver lining, as the saying goes. And whilst the severe drought in Italy is a rather large cloud, the lining is that an archaeological treasure – Nero’s bridge – has come to light.
As the drought leads the river Tiber to drop, so a piece of ancient archaeology has risen to the surface. It is a bridge reportedly built by the Roman emperor Nero – Pons Neronianus.
Emperor Nero ruled as the Roman Empire’s fifth emperor from A.D. 54 to 68. A controversial figure, he built public structures and won military victories abroad, and focused much of his time on the arts, music and circuses. As a result, Nero neglected politics and drained Rome’s coffers. He killed his mother and at least one of his wives and struggled to rebuild Rome after a huge fire ravaged the city in A.D. 64.
Despite the bridge’s name, it’s not certain if the bridge was indeed built by Nero. It is possible, it is a reconstruction of an earlier crossing.
“The remains of this Roman bridge are visible whenever the water level of the Tiber falls, therefore whenever there are lengthy periods — like now — of very low rainfall,” Robert Coates-Stephens, an archaeologist at the British School at Rome, told Live Science.
The name Pons Neronianus “appears for the first time only in the 12th-century catalogues of Rome’s monuments,” Coates-Stephens said. “It’s true that Nero had extensive gardens and properties in the area of the Vatican, and so a bridge at this point would have given easy access to these.”
Where did the bridge lead to?
Nero’s Bridge connected Rome to an area that was largely undeveloped during the emperor’s reign. One side of the river had the Campus Martius. It was a drained wetland with some public buildings and was used to organise military parades. On the other side, where the Vatican now stands, there were some large houses, which were mostly private estates until the fire of 64.
The Pons Neronianus was strategically and symbolically important, and likely part of the parade route. It may also have been the crossing used by St. Peter when he was taken in chains after his trial to where he was crucified in around 64AD.