Clip | Nero’s Sunken City - Nero’s banquets in Baiae

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Nero was a cruel, eccentric psychopath who persecuted Christians and, it’s said, burned Rome to the ground. Baiae was his escape where he could indulge in his sadistic fantasies. Nero spent a fortune on indulgent banquets in Baiae. But these banquets weren’t just about food. They featured sex and debauchery.

Secrets of the Dead: Nero’s Sunken City premiered Wednesday, March 29 on PBS.

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Nero spent a fortune on indulgent banquets here. This is exactly the sort of food that Nero sought when he came to Baia, in fact we have passages from this historian, Tacitus, talking about this very thing But these banquets weren't just about food. They featured sex and debauchery.

He wouldn't have sat in these hills as we are today, so much as sail around the coast in these well outfitted barges, rowed, not by sailors but by young male prostitutes. Along the coast he set up taverns and inns run by very respectable matrons who played the part of innkeepers and even prostitutes and he invited the entire town to participate as if inviting them to his own house to enjoy in this party and the spectacle Nero felt such a connection to Baiae that he began to covet the villas of others, including those of his family. He couldn't wait to get his hands on his Aunt Domitia's villa for example, with its magnificent fish ponds. The Roman historian Suetonius recorded the extraordinary measures Nero was willing to take to gain possession of his aunt Domitia's villa. When she fell ill, an opportunity presented itself. Sick and bed ridden, she summons Nero to her bed chamber, stroked his beard and said, 'When you shave this off... at you're coming of age. Send it to me and I will die a happy woman.' He looked at her and said, 'Well, I'm gonna shave it off right now.'

The following morning, she was dead, and Nero occupied her villa. Did he really murder his aunt for the villa? It's, it's difficult to say but it is easy to see that he gained substantially from this tragic event. Nero was now the owner of two villas: his aunt's as well as the imperial villa inherited from Claudius. Baiae became Nero's favorite playground, where he could rule the empire while indulging in a lifestyle of extreme decadence. There were no limits to its decadence until a catastrophic event hit the town in the fourth century AD. Over half of Baiae gradually sank beneath the waves. It was destroyed by its very location in one of the most seismically active landscapes on earth. Baiae is surrounded by 24 volcanos, including Vesuvius and Solfatara.