Abstracts and Handouts

Detail of Piranesi’s Plan of Rome…, from Le Antichità Romane c. 1756, showing fragments of the Severan Map. Public Domain.

This page is a work in progress as speaker’s submit materials.  It will be finalized about 12-24 hours before the conference.

Conference Home Page, Participant Bios

Dominik Maschek, “The eternal building site: some thoughts on construction works in the city of Rome (200 BCE-14 CE)”

In his influential study ‘The Building of Renaissance Florence’, Richard Goldthwaite described temple-building in ancient Greece as ‘an occasional activity’ that ‘hardly sustained a large industry’ (Goldthwaite 1980: 117). Far from being an isolated case, this view reflects a prevalent tendency in economic history to regard construction as a fundamentally negligible sector of the Graeco-Roman economy, more wasteful than productive and essentially confined to the aesthetics of classical columns and friezes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from being ‘occasional’, ancient construction and restoration works were continuous undertakings, stretching across multiple generations. Within social groups and political communities they shaped the development of institutions, societal obligations, specific modes of decision making, and risk taking. Moreover, they led to idiosyncratic types of spatial organisation, including the exploitation and distribution of materials and resources, the creation of transport networks, and the general impact of building sites on their immediate surroundings for an extended period of time. By focusing on monumental construction projects in the city of Rome, from the early 2nd century BCE to the death of Augustus, this paper aims to sketch out some of these aspects in order to emphasise the crucial role of architectural creation as a driver of socio-economic and political change.  (PDF of relevant references)

Marguerite Ronin, “What could possibly go wrong ? Organisation of the building site and neighbourhood conflicts”

Handout (PDF Version)

Diane Favro,“Constructing Meaning in the Roman City: The Act of Building as Propaganda”

Almost without pause, the noise and bustle of construction work echoed throughout Roman cities.  Public projects seemed never to finish; most city centers were continuous building sites.   While there were legitimate reasons for delaying completion, the act of building itself generated positive propaganda and thus could be extended.  Construction provided jobs, stimulated the economy and overtly advertised the donors’ commitment, wealth, and stability.  Busy workers, like bees, demonstrated Roman skill at logistics, while the huge lifting equipment and the scale of projects affirmed technological superiority.  Today, research on “the unfinished” and the new field of Construction Archaeology are providing rich information about work forces, materials, techniques, and phasing.  With more information at hand, scholars are reassessing the ancient Romans’ response to the process, as well as the product, of building work. In antiquity, the erecting of city walls became a popular metaphor for civilization. Mega-projects like amphitheaters impressed not only by their size, but by the architects’ ingenuity and the deployment of complex machines. The structures themselves often proudly presented evidence of their making; some building features were left in place and became decorative motifs.  Of course, building construction was, and is, disruptive.  In dense cities the movement of gigantic stone pieces blocked streets for long periods.  On the positive side, construction parades also provided entertainment, especially for the large numbers of unemployed Romans.  Less positive were the pan-urban disruptions of noise and particulates.  Yet even these could be given a positive spin.  The expanded use of marble at Rome under Augustus primarily concentrated in select nodes, but the dust generated when finishing the hard stones covered the entire city in a white mantle that strengthened his famous boast that he had materially transformed the capital. 

Zoe Fox,  “Luxuria or Munificentia? Augustus’ Calculated Demolition on the Palatine”

Handout (PDF Version)

Thanks to the marble-clad glamour of the end result, it is easy to forget that before the Augustan building project, there was the Augustan demolition project. This talk will investigate Augustus’ sophisticated, tactful approach to land acquisition, demolition, and reconstruction, specifically as it played out at the Palatine Complex of Apollo and the House of Augustus. It will argue that Augustus toggled between widespread demolition and low-impact “renovation” as it suited his ideological messages, and would even employ both strategies side-by-side at the same location. He was careful to avoid destruction of private property if said destruction would suggest luxuria, but was able to demolish entire structures if he was able to legitimize his actions through religious or civic reasons. In this way, Augustus was able to control the public perception of his demolition project, in order to set himself up for success with his building project.

Christina Triantafillou, “Rebuilding Rome’s Emporium in the early 2nd century AD”

Handout (PDF Version) –UPDATED

In Rome’s Testaccio region, three sections of the Tiber riverfront harbor, commonly referred to as the Emporium, have been excavated, consisting of stretches of quays, ramps, and at least two levels of storerooms in brick and reticulate-faced concrete – evidence of the crucial supply network to Rome of goods from its hinterland and the wider Mediterranean. Brick stamp evidence reveals the rebuilding works to have taken place primarily in the early second century AD, a period of intensive building construction in the imperial capital. This paper explores the evidence for the construction of the Emporium, the practicalities and issues involved in building works taking place on the water’s edge, and an understanding of the size and scale of the workforce required for its construction. The faced concrete of the ramps and quays necessitated the creation of cofferdams, enclosures in the river next to the construction areas that enabled the water to be removed in order to allow work to take place below the waterline. Vitruvius provides information on the possible methods of construction for cofferdams as well as for mechanisms for the large-scale extraction of water. The spatial constraints of building in Rome’s congested urban environment would have necessitated the use of boats for storage of equipment and building materials as well as for working platforms for the driving in of wooden piles for the foundations and to create the cofferdams. Conducting a quantitative analysis of the building materials used in the Emporium and referencing pre-industrial labor manuals, it is possible to estimate the minimum size of the workforce needed for the Emporium’s reconstruction. The results of this study show the Emporium was a well-choreographed building project requiring significant planning in order not to impede the constant flow of traffic on the Tiber which was so essential to Rome’s existence.

Virginia Closs, “Remaking Rome in Martial’s Epigrams”

Much of Martial’s poetry bears witness to Rome’s transformation under the Flavians. This paper examines a series of poems in which Martial contrasts the present state of the city with its recent past in order to praise a current leader (and, implicitly or explicitly, to criticize a past one). As this poetic strategy develops over some two decades, it offers “snapshots” not only of a succession of emperors, destructions, and renewals, but also of the precarious nature of the relationship between authors and emperors. In in the second poem of his Book of Spectacles (Liber Spectaculorum), Martial celebrates the new dynasty’s most ambitious building effort, the Flavian Amphitheater, as a “return of Rome to herself,” distinguishing the city’s new rulers from Nero, whose efforts to rebuild after the 64 fire are characterized in the poem as a tyrannical land grab. Ep. 5.7 celebrates Domitian’s lavish renewal of Rome’s cityscape after the devastating fire of 80, but an array of Ovidian citations create a tension between the emperor’s material beneficence and his potential capacity to destroy lives. Three other epigrams explicitly juxtapose the recent past (nuper) with the present (nunc) to describe the condition of the city and its populace. Ep. 7.61 celebrates Domitianic legislation to clear street space and make the city more livable, yet poems from Martial’s final book of epigrams (e.g., 12.2[3] and 12.15) both celebrate the new Trajanic city, recasting the recent conditions under Domitian as a time of oppression. Although each of these texts individually paints a picture of restoration and progress, taken together they suggest that this vision is erased as quickly as it appears. Thus, the landscape of Martial’s Rome informs the constant tension between notions of ephemerality and permanence, between past and present, between center and periphery, and between the author’s literary “stamp” on the city and the monumental legacy of the princeps.