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Level 5

5AACAR17 City of Rome

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Dr John Pearce
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list  for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x essay of 2,500 words (60%); 2 x commentary of 750 words, (40%, with each commentary worth 20%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The city of Rome offers an unparalleled opportunity to examine the history of an ancient metropolis. Rome is, arguably, the richest archaeological site in the world, its spectacular monuments often still visible and occasionally continuing in use, either as free-standing structures or incorporated in later buildings. Its fabric has been the subject of study for hundreds of years and the city and the world’s museums are full of inscriptions, artworks and artefacts originating from the ancient capital. An extensive body of ancient texts survives that not only helps us to reconstruct the city’s form but also understand ancient responses to the city and its monuments.

Through the analysis of archaeological evidence this module explores the development of the city from its origins to its becoming a Christian capital in late Antiquity, with a particular focus on the period from the late Republic to the 5th century AD. It considers how Rome’s monuments inform our understanding of the impact of political processes on the city, in particular the use of buildings as permanent records of triumph by Republican dynasts, emperors and others. It also examines how the city’s massively unequal social hierarchy can be illuminated by a study of houses and tombs. Through the remains of structures, artefacts and human skeletal remains, it investigates the provision of food and other resources and amenities for a pre-industrial city of unique size and population density. The impact on the urban fabric of the city’s position as a cross-roads for the movement of people, commodities and ideas in the ancient Mediterranean is assessed. Finally it explores how the fabric of ancient Rome has been transformed and exploited by later generations up to the 21st century.

This course combines close study of individual pieces of archaeological and epigraphic evidence, including structures, inscriptions, images, artefacts and environmental remains with examination of broader change in urban form and the associated factors. It requires students to consider the respective contributions of archaeological evidence and textual evidence from Greek and Roman writers. It builds on students’ understanding of Roman monuments and material culture and of the relevant historical context established by the first year core modules in the art and archaeology and history of the Roman world.

Provisional teaching plan

1A. Writing the city: Introduction

1B A metropolis in the making

A Introduction to course aims, organisation, resources, assessment

B An assessment of the evidence for the development of the city from the 10th to the 4th centuries BC, exploring urban foundation, the growth of archaic and early Republican Rome, the form the city took and the cultural matrix of its earliest monuments. The insights from archaeological evidence and inscriptions are compared with those of the later textual tradition on the city’s first centuries.

2 Republican dynasts: homes for gods and men

An assessment of the evidence for the development of the city from the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, with a focus on the relationship between political process and urban form. Particular emphasis is given to monuments, especially temples, but also the spectacle buildings of Pompey and Caesars, as indicators of tensions between oligarchic Republican tradition and individual ambitions. The impact of Greek art and architecture, in particular models offered by the capitals of Hellenistic kings, is considered.

3 Restoring Rome? The buildings of Augustus

An assessment of the evidence for the buildings linked to the emperor Augustus, exploring how buildings were used to express the emergence of a new political structure. The form and scope of his building programme is compared with the account given of it by the emperor himself (Res Gestae) as well as with its reception in contemporary Roman literature.

4. Triumph, building and imperial legitimation

An assessment of the evidence for imperial building projects from the Julio-Claudian (AD 14-68) to the Severan dynasties (AD 193-235). Key structures will include spectacle building, triumphal arches and imperial forums and temples to deified emperors as well as the Pantheon. Particular emphasis will be given to the way in which the position of individual rulers as well as the nature of monarchy is negotiated through building.

5. Infrastructure and amenities as marvels and gifts

An assessment of the evidence for the provision of infrastructure and amenities in a pre-industrial city of unique size. The focus lies on roads and circulation spaces and on the management of water supply and evacuation as well as on rubbish disposal. It considers the ideological context of such provision and the ways in which it was manipulated for political advantage.

6. Feeding the metropolis

An assessment of the evidence for supplying foodstuffs to the million-plus population of the late Republican and imperial city. Physical evidence from the city and its ports for ensuring the safe arrival and security of food (docks, warehouses etc) will be considered as well as artefact assemblages from Rome and beyond which reveals the scale of its hinterland. New evidence from human remains for the diet and health of Rome’s citizens will also be appraised.

7. Reading the living: houses and society

An assessment of the evidence for the distribution and density of population in the city, alongside the consideration of housing as an indicator of social structure. This will draw extensively on the marble plan of Rome created in antiquity, as well as on the remains of houses form the city and its hinterland. Special attention will be paid to the remains of the emperor’s palaces and villas for their insights into the projection of imperial power.

8. Cities of the dead

An assessment of the evidence for cemeteries, monuments and burial rituals from Rome and environs for their insights into urban social structure. Particular attention will be paid to the funeral as an arena of political competition and to the cemetery as a liminal space in which non-elite groups such as freed slaves and performers enjoyed greater liberty than in the other spaces of the city to articulate their aspirations and claims to social advancement.

9. Rome in late Antiquity: a Christian city?

An assessment of the evidence of the development of the city from the late 3rd to 5th centuries AD, with a focus both on the construction of traditional imperial symbols and on the transformation of the city’s topography by the early churches. The fate of monuments from the city’s Republican and imperial past in the newly Christian capital is also considered, as are construction projects related to its new vulnerability to external threats.

10. The afterlife of Rome: the  manipulation of ancient monuments

An assessment of evidence for the exploitation of Rome’s ancient monuments in the post-Classical period. As well as studying the broader impact of natural and human agencies on the fabric of the city through earthquake and flood, quarrying and abandonment, the political manipulation of excavation and restoration is studied. How later rulers of Rome constructed and exploited a connection to the ancient city through its monuments is considered through case studies.

Suggested introductory reading

There is no specific textbook for the course. The following will be used extensively, but purchase of these books is not mandatory:

  • A. Claridge Rome, 2nd ed. (Oxford Archaeological Guides), (Oxford, 2010)

  • F. Coarelli Rome and environs : an archaeological guide (Berkeley, 2007)

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