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Ben White

M3C PhD Student, Faculty of Arts

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Research Summary

Thesis: The 'Roman' porticus: promenading from Republic to Empire.

My project looks to explore the development of the architectural space known as the 'porticus ' in the city of Rome. Colonnades were a fundamental building block of ancient Roman urbanism and appeared in almost every architectural context: domestic, civic, sacred, commercial etc. At their most basic, a porticus was a roofed linear space with a row of supporting columns. However, these spaces were increasingly constructed with multiple wings which created an architecturally defined open space (L-shaped, Π-shaped, and piazzas). Given the fluidity with which these urban features could connect and create space, they became ubiquitous in Rome, so prolific in fact, that one could walk from Rome's Forum to the Vatican completely under the cover of colonnades. These roofed spaces were particularly suited to the Mediterranean climate in providing shelter from the rain and winds, and respite from the mid-summer heat. In addition, in a world without the instant forms of communication and urban transport infrastructure of the modern day, the porticus provided the space to meet clients and patrons, congregate and discuss spectacles/lawsuits/artwork and an all-weather arena for the culturally charged passeggiata or ambulatio. The outcome of my thesis is to recognise that these spaces were lived in and consider how these experiences developed throughout different social groups as the Romans extended their hegemony over the Mediterranean and transitioned from Republic to Empire (c. 150BCE-100CE).

Fortunately, our sources, in various media and genres, highlight the remarkable diversity in function these porticus had in antiquity and also help us populate the spaces with their urban participants. Poets speak of seeking out prospective lovers, avoiding previous ones, browsing the plethora of exotic gubbins on display, taking pleasure in a leisurely stroll through the shade, and brown-nosing patrons in order that they might eat that evening. Historians inform of us of the secular and religious activities taking place in these complexes, whilst also providing interesting political commentary on their reception. Visual media, such as Pompeian wall-paintings and imperial marble reliefs, visually represent the anecdotes found in the literature and can be corroborated with the abundance of archaeological data from the city of Rome. Taking this evidence together, I aim to reconstruct the experience of these spaces in antiquity and consider how they functioned within wider topographical landscapes.

My project will attempt to check the long-standing scholarly tradition which claims that the Roman porticus was merely a manifestation of the Greek/Hellenistic stoa. The picture was of course far more complex than this. I would like to view the development of the Roman porticus as an interesting and constructive model for appreciating the fluidity and plurality of what we might term 'Roman identity'. Eventually, I hope to consider the development of these spaces in the provinces and explore the complex interrelationship Rome had with her provincial urban centres.

Supervisors: Dr Mark Bradley (University of Nottingham), Professor Diana Spencer (University of Birmingham), and Dr Alex Mullen (University of Nottingham).

Past Research

My PhD builds on the research taken over the course of my MA. I explored the Porticus of Octavia and its functional relationship with the wider Circus Flaminius, I argued the Temple of the Deified Claudius on the Caelian Hill functioned as a promenading space with a close spatial and conceptual relationship with the Colosseum, and finally, I have looked at how the city of Rome functioned as a text and particularly, how its monuments were collectively 'read' by urban participants.

Future Research

Other Research Interests:

  • Italy and the Grand Tour
  • The visual culture and history of the Augustan Principate
  • Digital Humanities and reconstructive approaches to the ancient world
  • Roman wall-paintings (esp. 2nd style) and luxury private dwellings in Campania
  • Provincial identity in the Western Roman Empire
  • The City of Rome through time
  • The etchings of G. B. Piranesi (1720-1778)

Department of Classics and Archaeology

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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