After a competitive application process, I was lucky enough to be awarded a place to spend two weeks this September studying at the British School at Rome, on their annual undergraduate summer school. As an ancient history student at Lady Margaret Hall, specializing in the politics of Ancient Rome, it was a fantastic opportunity to finally explore and see for myself the city about which I had read so much and focused so much of my studies.
The two-week course, led by Dr Edward Bispham (Brasenose College, Oxford) and Dr Robert Coates- Stephen (British School at Rome), took a meticulously-planned thematic approach to the exploration of the city, with each today focused on a particular theme. Days included ‘Politics and the Forum’, ‘Principes’, ‘Triumph of the Republic’, ‘Bread and Circuses’, ‘Cities of the Dead and Living’, and ‘Transformations of Late Antiquity’. Thus, a wide range of disciplines were incorporated, from archaeology and art history, to politics and economic history; and the history of the city from Archaic Rome, right through to Late Antiquity were explored. Likewise, the twenty-four students on the course came from a wide-range of British universities and academic backgrounds, with historians, classicists, archaeologists and art historians all well-represented within the cohort.
Site visits formed the basis of the teaching and each day’s activities, with over 15 different Roman sites visited on some days, as we criss-crossed the city. While all the famous sites were given due attention (with a whole morning for the Roman Forum, and another for the Colosseum), there was a notable emphasis on many of the lesser-known sites, including many not open to the public. Thanks to the hard-work of the BSR’s permissions officer, permits were attained to visit closed off areas, including some recently uncovered and semi-excavated shipyards on the banks of the Tiber, the Sant’ Ombono Sacred Archaeological Area, the tomb of the Scipios, the Domus Aurea, and the Forum of Augustus. Teaching was supplemented by daily evening lectures from Dr Bispham and Dr Coates-Stephens, covering a range of thematic topics, often in preparation for the following day’s activities, or to introduce a lesser-discussed aspect of Roman history. On the one day set aside for independent exploration, I travelled with some friends to Anzio, where the remains of a Neronian villa are sprawled across cliffs overlooking a wide sandy beach – who says Roman history and beach holidays can’t overlap!
Particular highlights of the trip included day trips out of Rome, to the sprawling and well-preserved remains of Ostia Antica, Rome’s port city, and on the final day to Tivoli, a beautiful medieval hilltop town 30km east of Rome. Tivoli’s Roman origins remain clearly visible in its architecture, surviving temples and amphitheatre, and most spectacularly of all, the enormous villa of Hadrian. This gigantic construction, built in the early 2nd century AD and covering at least a square kilometre, was used by Hadrian has his official residence from 128 AD, and became the seat of government towards the end of his reign. Partially-excavated, the villa showcases the personal philhellenism of the Emperor Hadrian, as well as the riches and diversity of the provinces of the empire. This visit was of particular significance to me, as my research has recently been focused on the political appointments made by Hadrian during his reign, and the effect which his origins, background, and personal tastes and idiosyncrasies affected the choices he made. It was thus of extreme value to be able to explore the single greatest set of archaeological remains relating to Hadrian’s reign, remains which are a clear reflection of the emperor’s personal tastes and character.
The British School at Rome was a fantastic environment in which to pursue my research project, with a renowned library on hand 24/7, a relaxed yet academic environment, and a lively but academically-focused group of companions with whom to study and discuss our interests – not to mention the beautiful building and generous facilities which the British School had to offer.
I am extremely grateful to the Faculty of Classics for the Charles Oldham Scholarship, and to Lady Margaret Hall for the Armorel Travel Award, without which none of this would have been possible.
BA Ancient and Modern History, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford