Did Nero use an emerald as a personal TV?


Forget about 3D TV and 4K. A Roman emperor may have come up with something better. Nero liked to watch his Pay-Per-View in an unusual way—inside an emerald.

Pliny the Elder describes Nero in The Natural History, and he focuses on the smaragdus (yes, just like today’s TVs, Nero’s had a special name). Pliny writes: “When the surface of the smaragdus is flat, it reflects the image of objects in the same manner as a mirror. The Emperor Nero used to view the combats of the gladiators upon a smaragdus.” Scholars speculate the emerald reduced glare without a drop in clarity.

Some people interpret Nero’s TV as primitive sunglasses, and in 1926 the British Journal of Opthalmology was offended at the notion Nero would have used the emerald as a kind of mirror. Since we can’t ask Nero, it’s up to the reader whether Nero used his emerald the magnify or reflect. But Pliny makes it sound like an appealing object, either way. He writes that the vision “is refreshed by being turned upon this stone, and lapidaries know of nothing that is more gratefully soothing to the eyes.”

That sounds tempting to our modern screen-exhausted eyes.

Start a Conversation

Do you think Nero used the emerald as glasses or as a TV?