This month, as a direct result of the heat wave and water shortages across much of Europe, an ancient bridge reappeared in the Tiber in Rome. The structure, which was supposedly built by Emperor Nero in the first century, has attracted criticism and some mockery for its poor construction and design. Perhaps the more interesting story though, is the ways in which the bridge’s sudden reappearance manifests something characteristic of Nero himself. His legend and legacy refuse to die.
The bridge, also known as the Pons Neronianus, emerged out of the water because of the record low water levels in the Tiber caused by drought. Many news reports have stressed that the location of the bridge was poorly chosen. Dr. Rabun Taylor, a classics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told Live Science that it was built “on a tight bend in a floodplain.” Taylor further explained that, “River bends cutting through pure sediment tend to wander and change shape, so their banks are prone to losing contact with [the] bridge abutments” that connect the bridge with the ground.
It’s not at all clear, however, that the site for the bridge was selected by Nero. A number of scholars have suggested that the bridge was constructed before the reign of Nero and that the Neronian bridge was just a refortification and reconstruction of this earlier crossing. If this is the case, it seems unfair to blame Nero for the location.