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Colloquium: Flavian (Re)Configurations: Civic Ideals and Urban Realities


The Flavian Streetscape: Urban Homogeneity and the Spread of an Urbs Nova.
Steven Ellis, University of Cincinnati

Tacitus and the Flavians
Salvador Bartera, Mississippi State University

Remaking Rome in Martial’s Epigrams
Virginia Closs, University of Massachusetts Amherst 

Break: 4:45-5:00 PM

Flavian Infrastructure at the Death of a City
Eric Poehler, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Triumphal Echoes: The Afterlife of the Arch of Titus in New York City
Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

Paper Abstracts:

The Flavian Streetscape: Urban Homogeneity and the Spread of an Urbs Nova.

The Flavian period marks a critical episode in the story of Roman urbanization, with the fundamental reshaping of the city of Rome, the urbs nova, a process that triggered an altogether new blue-print for practically countless Roman cities across the empire.  It was at this time, for example, that we see something of a rapid development toward more homogenized and regulated urban forms.  While much has already been said of the causes behind the creation of a Roman urbs nova, in this paper I hope to take the opportunity of the present workshop to examine more closely the impact of these developments on a range of Roman cities.  So while some of the discussion will draw from the University of Cincinnati’s excavations of a large neighborhood at Pompeii, much attention will be given to an urban survey of more than 100 Roman cities across the Mediterranean.  The survey will show how early imperial Roman cities, which arguably represent the apex of Roman urban specialization and innovation, were reimagined from the Flavian era to become more ordered and standardized. That this was a development that impacted even - or perhaps especially - sub-elite architectures and urban forms throws important light on the knowledge networks that underpinned the organization of Roman cities.

 - Steven Ellis, University of Cincinnati


Tacitus and the Flavians

Although Tacitus composed his main historical works under Trajan and perhaps Hadrian, his political career and early life were shaped by the Flavian dynasty, under which Tacitus’ cursus honorum progressed all the way to the consulship, which he probably owed to Domitian. The events that led to the rise of the Flavians occupy the first books of the Histories. In these books, Tacitus engages with several events and characters that shaped the early years of the new dynasty, and particularly the way in which Vespasian positioned himself within Rome’s tradition. There is a certain tension, as it were, between what must have been the official Flavian propaganda and the way in which Tacitus characterizes some of the Flavians’ most important measures. One particularly symbolic episode was the burning of the Capitol in December of 69. This episode, I suggest, must be read in conjunction with Domitian’s ultimate rebuilding in the 80’s, after the Capitol had burned down again in 80. Although almost nothing is known of Vespasian’s Capitol, most ancient sources underline that exuberance of Domitian’s reconstruction, and its breaking with Roman tradition. Tacitus, I suggest, uses the event of the Capitol’s fire of 69 to memorialize a certain–Republican–past, which both Vespasian, despite his propaganda, and certainly Domitian, had in fact contributed to erasing.

- Salvador Bartera, Mississippi State University


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.

- Virginia Closs, University of Massachusetts Amherst 


Flavian Infrastructure at the Death of a City

In the middle fo the first century CE, disaster famously struck both Pompeii and Rome in the form of an earthquake (63) and fire (64). Inevitably there was much rebuilding to do. Rome witnessed a new arrangement of streets, a new style of architecture fronting onto those streets, and the arrival of a new Flavian dynasty. Pompeii, however, rebuilt largely unchanged, with new styles of construction and new building materials - not least the debris of the destruction itself - added mostly atop the city's orginal footprint. A few large scale changes were made to the Forum, Quadriporticus, and with the addition of the Central Baths, but as the end of the first century CE approached, the greatest change to Pompeii were the innovations in Roman infrastructure that were being experimented with and applied. The destruction of Pompeii in the middle of the Flavian period allows us to see a number of these innovations in progress. Some, such as the expansion of stone-paved streets are remarkable only for their pace, as more streets were under repair on the day of the eruption than any previous day. Other means of repairing streets, however, including the novel use of molten iron and iron slag to fuse the streets back together instead of replacement are known no where else. More consequential are the advances in drainage, which saw the Flavian era as a transitional period between the over- and under-street sewerage. Some of these are sizale alterations embedded in features supporting the city's reconstruction. Others are merely disparate hints about greater changes to the street form and architecture. These latter are short segments of masonry across street intersections, ramped at least at one end and often with a hole running through them to allow simultaneously for pedestrians to traverse the intersection unimpeded while wheeled traffic and waste water are facilitated or blocked based on the needs of their two systems. These small interventions thus represent not only the intentions of those who would manage urban environments in the Flavian era, but also, by their incompleteteness, a future for Pompeii's urban infrastructure that never happened.

- Eric Poehler, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Triumphal Echoes: The Afterlife of the Arch of Titus in New York City

Erected by Domitian in honor of his elder brother’s victory in Judea, the Arch of Titus publicly articulated the basis of the Flavian Dynasty’s claim to the imperial throne through a rich sculptural program, as well as through the architectural form of the arch and its placement in Rome’s landscape. The arch occupies a prominent place along the Sacra Via, effectively serving as a monumental entrance to the Roman Forum. The arch and its placement in the landscape have had a rich afterlife, inspiring reinterpretations almost as soon as Late Antiquity. This paper considers the lasting legacy of the arch and Flavian urbanism through the reception of the arch in later periods, with particular focus on New York City. In New York, the Arch of Titus, as mediated through European interpretations such as the Porte Saint Denis and Arc de Triomphe, was reinterpreted in the Washington Square Arch, the Soldiers and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Brooklyn, and the lesser known arch that serves as the monumental approach to the Manhattan Bridge. These three arches appropriated architecture of the Arch of Titus and elements of its sculptural program, or those of other ancient monuments, like the Parthenon, in the case of the arch of the Manhattan Bridge. By examining these arches’ sculptural programs and architecture, as well as their position in the landscape, we can understand how the architects creating these monuments, such as Stanford White, understood the Arch of Titus (as a “triumphal” arch) and how impactful Roman arches, sculpture, and urbanism were in the creation of key New York monuments and urban intersections between 1885 and 1915.

 - Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York


Speakers Biographies: 

Salvador Bartera (Mississippi State University)

Salvador Bartera is an Assistant Professor of Classics Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures at Mississippi State University. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Urbino and a PhD in Classics from the University of Virginia. He is a specialist in classical languages and literatures; his current research focuses primarily on Latin Literature, particularly historiography. His talk today draws upon his research on Tacitus, which has yielded publications including a chapter in an edited volume on “Flavian fides in Tacitus’ Histories,”  another on the tradition of  “Commentary writing on the Annals of Tacitus,” and, most recently, an an article on the early Italian translations of Tacitus, forthcoming with Hermathena. His commentary on Book 16 of the Annals is forthcoming. Salvador has recently been awarded the 2020 Society for Classical Studies Outreach Prize for his work co-organizing “Classical Week” at MSU.

Virginia Closs (UMass Amherst)

Virginia Closs, who holds a doctorate in Classical Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is primarily a Latinist working on early imperial literature and cultural history, with strong interests in material culture and epigraphy. Her first book, entitled While Rome Burned: Fire, Leadership, and Urban Disaster in the Roman Cultural Imagination, is due out from the University of Michigan Press in early 2020. Some of the research for this book is reflected in recent and forthcoming publications, such as her 2016 Journal of Roman Studies article “Neronianis Temporibus: The So-Called Arae Incendii Neroniani and the 64 Fire in Rome’s Monumental Landscape.” With her colleague Elizabeth Keitel, she has also recently co-edited a volume entitled Urban Disasters and the Roman Imagination, forthcoming from De Gruyter’s Trends in Classics series. Her paper today includes material from her next book project, which focuses on the intersection of literary and material culture in the poetry of Martial.

Steven Ellis (University of Cincinnati)

Steven Ellis is a Roman archaeologist whose research activities and publications spring from his interests in ancient cities and urban life. He has conducted fieldwork principally throughout Italy and Greece, but with other field activities in Spain, Portugal, France, Morocco, and Algeria. Steven directs the University of Cincinnati’s excavations at both Pompeii (the “Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia”) and Sardinia (the “Tharros Archaeological Research Project”), and co-directs urban surveys at Isthmia (with Timothy Gregory and Eric Poehler) and Pompeii (again with Eric Poehler). The results of these activities are a range of publications that cover field reports to synthetic works, on diverse topics across the field of Classics such as Roman retail spaces; urban waste management; Greek and Roman superstitions; Roman coins; site formation processes; urban and sacred infrastructure; movement in cities; social structures and their hierarchies, especially the urban sub-elites; the use of new technologies in archaeological fieldwork; and the Roman fish-salting industry. His books include The Roman Retail Revolution (2018, Oxford) and an edited volume: The Making of Pompeii (2011, JRA). The recipient of several major grants and fellowships (from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Loeb Classical Library Foundation, National Geographic, and the 'Rome Prize' from the American Academy in Rome), his forthcoming work includes a book with Princeton University Press on “The Pompeian Context,” as well as a multi-volume publication with Oxford University Press on his Pompeii excavations. Steven is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Cincinnati.

Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis (The Graduate Center, CUNY)

Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis is Associate Professor and the Executive Officer of the M.A. Program in Liberal Studies at The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. She is interested in the gardens and architecture of the Middle East and North Africa in the Classical and Islamic periods, as well as in their reception. She has published on a wide range of topics, from the topography of Roman Damascus to the reception of Classical and Egyptian architecture in New York City. Her books include Housing the New Romans: Architectural Reception and Classical Style in the Modern World (2017, Oxford), Classical New York: Discovering Greece and Rome in Gotham (2018, Fordham), and Bayt Farhi and the Sephardic Palaces of Ottoman Damascus in the late 18th and 19th Centuries (ASOR/Manar al-Athar, 2018). She is also the deputy director of the open-access photo-archive She is currently completing a book on the reception of ancient architecture in New York City. Her talk today draws up on this research.

Eric Poehler (UMass Amherst)

Eric Poehler is an Associate Professor in the Classics department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Director for the Five Colleges Blended Learning and Digital Humanities programs. His primary research interests include Greek and Roman archaeology, Roman urbanism and architectural history, ancient infrastructure, archaeological theory and method, and digital technology in archaeological research. His major projects include the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project, the Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project, and the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project. With co-investigator Sebastian Heath, he has recently begun work on the Pompeii Artistic Landscape Project, which is supported by a grant from the Getty Foundation. He is Assistant Director for the Tharros Archaeological Research Project on Sardinia and the co-investigator on a legacy archaeological project in Corinth. Eric’s recent publications include The Traffic Systems of Pompeii (2017, Oxford University Press), and a co-edited volume entitled Pompeii: Art, Industry and Infrastructure (2011, Oxbow Books).

Sponsored by the UMass Amherst Department of Classics and College of Humanities and Fine Arts

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