The thankless part of being the 'emperor' is that many people have complete misconceptions about the role. As if it’s all about wine, women and songs, decadent feasting while reclining on loungers, and box seats at the amphitheatre where you are mobbed by followers for days on end! The job in fact involves nights and nights of consultations, difficult decisions determining life and death, sleep-depriving threats of war, scheming court staff and power-hungry military seeking to contest your throne. So is it too much to ask for a bit of luxury and displaying of power when it comes to the throne room, if nothing else? Certainly not, thought Emperor Constantine the Great, who, around the year 310, ordered the construction of the Aula Palatina, today known as the ‘Basilica of Constantine’.
‘Go all out’ was the motto; with a black-and-white marble floor, porphyry statues, mosaics and marble wall plaques, anyone summoned to the emperor would get the sense they were about to meet a darling of the gods from the moment they stepped in the door. A darling who should want for nothing during his hard work. And so it was that the basilica with the largest pillarless hall construction in the ancient world was built for him, equipped with a monumental floor-heating system that managed to achieve something many people at the time could never even have dreamt of: It warmed the giant room so well that it kept occupants from freezing even in winter. This heating is no longer applied during the services held by the Protestant Church, which has been using the space since the mid-19th century (with much more modest interior décor). But imagining oneself sitting like an emperor in an ancient throne room is enough to warm the heart anyway.