1-10 of 341 Results  for:

  • Roman Material Culture x
Clear all


Eric Poehler

The movement of people, animals, and vehicles through the ancient urban environment had a significant impact on the shape of ancient cities, but as an object of study, urban traffic is a relatively recent area of interest, one that has tended to focus on the Roman world. The range of methods available to consider the topic, however, are relatively many, including literary analysis, archaeological field survey, and a battery of technical methods, such as Space Syntax, Network Analysis, and Agent-Based Modeling. In all of these approaches, two models of movement—pedestrian and vehicular—remain paramount. The results of studying urban traffic have shed new light on the impact of different forms of urban design, the ways in which ancient people navigated those designs, and norms and formal systems in place in urban environments to order the movement of people and vehicles.

Whether on foot or borne by animals or vehicles, the movement of people and goods through ancient cities shaped those cities and the lives of those within them. The clustering of humble shopfronts on commercial streets and the monumental facades of processional routes alike owe their character to the passage of people moving for different purposes along their lengths. Indeed, as one of the most common elements of everyday urban life, interest in wheeled and pedestrian traffic consequently has become more defined in the classical world as greater attention is paid to non-elites and their material culture. Urban traffic is in fact another window onto everyday life, opening up opportunities to examine the reciprocal effects of city plans and their architectural elaborations on the political, economic, and social landscapes draped over them.



Kelly Olson

The stola was a long, sleeveless overdress or slip-like garment suspended from shoulder straps that is claimed by literary sources to be the distinguishing garment of the Roman matrona. The stola was worn over the tunic and belted with a cord (see Figure 1). It was a sign that the wearer (perhaps freeborn) was married in a iustum matrimonium. The term is not mentioned by Terence, Cato, or Plautus, and so the garment may not have been commonplace before about 50 bce. It is by no means referred to by all authors even after this date: often the garment of the married woman is referred to in general terms as longa vestis (e.g., Ov. Fast. 4.134), which may refer to her long enveloping tunic, and not the stola at all. It is uncertain whether or not freedwomen wore the stola (see ILLRP 977; = CLE 56; Macr. Sat.


The imperial-age Greek Progymnasmata in which the term ekphrasis first appears show that the rhetoricians of the Greco-Roman world identified “descriptive speech” as an important component of rhetorical narrative and other elements of an oration insofar as it created “vividness” (ἐνάργεια) and “clarity” (ͅσαφήνεια) so as to bring persons, places, events, objects, etc. “before the eyes” (ὑπ’ ὅψιν) of listeners. The Roman rhetoricians draw upon Greek concepts and terminology to express the value in oratory of vividness (evidentia, illustratio, repraesentatio) imparted through description (descriptio, sub oculos subiectio, etc.). Many examples of such techniques can be found in Roman oratory as well as the Roman historians, who, like most Roman authors, share with the orators a strong familiarity with rhetoric. But if, in general, neither oratory nor historiography exhibits a high degree of self-consciousness about differences between ekphraseis/descriptiones in Greek and Latin, one type of ekphrasis—that of art objects in Roman poetry and the Roman novel—does. This constitutes one reason why it merits separate attention, in spite of the fact that the Progymnasmata suggest that in Antiquity it was viewed as a subcategory of the larger phenomenon.


The polychromy of Greek and Etrusco-Roman architecture comprises the chromatic effects and surface treatments of exterior façades and roofs, as well as interior floors, walls, and ceilings. Colour and/or contrasts of light and shadow are the basis for all architectural ornamentation. The practice is characterized by a large variety of materials and techniques, which draw from different genres of the visual arts such as stone, plaster and stucco working, toreutics, tessellation, sculpture, panel painting, terracotta, and glass making. The treatment of architectural surfaces is thus intimately connected to changes in both construction knowledge and building economies, while their visual effects depend on changing architectural forms and designs. Both texts and archaeological remains underline the importance of colour and material as an integral part of ancient architectural design; they play a key role for the sensory and atmospheric experience of architecture and could influence its symbolic meaning.Despite strong regional traditions and a general lack of standardization, a few overall developments can be pinpointed: a triple colour scheme of dark (black, blue), light (white, cream), and red hues dominated both Archaic Greek and Etrusco-Italic architectural polychromy; its chromatic polarity became fundamental for the Greek Doric order and, as a basic combination, it remained a recurring motif of architectural surfaces into the Roman Imperial periods. During the Greek Classical period, green, yellow, and increasingly, gilding joined the basic colour palette. Late Classical/Hellenistic innovations included illusionistic painting techniques, intermediality (the imitation of one material by means of another), as well as the increase of light and shadow effects. While variation (Greek poikilia) of both colours and materials was a guiding principle, it seems that there were also occasional reductions of polychrome accentuations on exteriors.


Jan Stubbe Østergaard

The term “polychromy” has been in use since the early 19th century to denote the presence of any element of colour in Greek and Roman sculpture. The evidence for such polychromy is literary, epigraphical, archaeological, and archeometric; research on the subject therefore requires collaboration between the humanities, conservation science, and natural science. Such research should go hand in hand with the investigation of the polychromy of Greek and Roman architecture, since it is symbiotically related to sculpture, technically as well as visually.

Knowledge of Greek and Roman sculptural polychromy is still very uneven. Scholars have focused on stone sculpture, and most research has been directed towards the Archaic, Early Classical, Hellenistic, and Imperial Roman periods. For terracottas, the Hellenistic period has enjoyed the most research, while investigation of the polychromy of bronze sculpture has only recently begun.

The scientific research methodology applied concerns the materials and techniques employed. The main colouring agents are paints, metals, and coloured marbles. Pigments are based on inorganic and organic materials applied with proteins, wax, or plant gums as binding media. Metals used are bronze, copper, silver, and gold. A range of coloured marbles came into use in the Roman Imperial period, but in all periods, assorted materials such as semi-precious stones and metals were used for inlaid details and attached objects like jewelry and weapons.


The inherent strengths, weaknesses, and availability of diverse Roman building materials governed the techniques used in construction and greatly influenced the final appearance of Roman architecture. Trace archaeological evidence exists of buildings and burials in Rome from the Italian Bronze Age (second millennium bce) or earlier, and substantial physical remains, in the form of Iron-Age huts and grave goods, roughly correspond to the Romans’ own belief of the foundation date of their city (traditionally 753 bce). Rome’s earliest builders sourced materials obtainable from the immediate environment and transformed them using practical knowledge. Within the span of a couple centuries, architectural design, implementation, and decoration reflect a broad interaction between Roman builders and their counterparts in the regions around central Italy (particularly Etruria to the north and Campania to the south) and also the wider Mediterranean world, particularly those areas where Greeks traditionally lived or had placed colonies. While southern Italy and Sicily represent the closest areas for the transmission of Greek ideas, Greek building practices on the Greek mainland and in Asia Minor also influenced Roman projects from the Archaic period onwards. As Rome grew wealthier and expanded abroad, patrons and builders imported marble to the capital from the Aegean, well before the discovery of more local, Italian sources. The importation of exotic stones grew exponentially over the period of the late Republic and the first two centuries of empire. The coloured marbles that embellished the buildings of Rome served as physical testimony to Rome’s control over the eastern Mediterranean. Nothing, however, was as transformative as the adoption of concrete in the late 3rd century bce, the mass production of fired brick, and the ensuing experimentation that resulted in the vaulted structures that have become the hallmark of Roman architecture.



Miko Flohr

The practice of fulling woollen garments was never part of an integrated textile production chain in the Greco-Roman world, though in several contexts, there were developments towards large-scale investment and rationalization in fulling workshops. Fullers, particularly in the Roman period, developed a strong, and positive, occupational identity, and were well-integrated members of their respective urban communities.

Fulling was a procedure that aimed to refine or recover woollen garments (see wool), particularly tunics and mantles. It could include, but was not limited to, cleaning: its core aim was to improve the quality of the surface of the textile (see textile production) by raising and curating the “nap”—a soft layer of interlaced fibres that gives woollen textiles a soft, ideally even shiny surface, and makes them warmer and more comfortable to wear. Because it involves a chemical treatment and brushing, fulling has a slightly abrasive effect on textiles: garments can be subjected to the procedure repeatedly, but not endlessly. In practice, fullers worked with new as well as with used garments, and the available sources do not distinguish clearly between fulling newly woven textiles and recovering used ones—both categories of textiles seem to have been subjected to an identical procedure, though previously unfulled textiles may have required a more thorough and lengthy treatment. While the procedure was common, not all woollen textiles were fulled, and the frequency with which textiles were refulled could vary.


Street-side enterprises providing food and drink offered a hallmark of Roman urbanism, and were described by any number of terms. Repeated endeavors to tease out distinctions among the names and to match them with evidence on the ground have largely met with frustration. Aside from caupona and taberna, which often indicate a place where lodgings, in addition to food and drink, were on offer, Romans appear to have used the terms relatively indiscriminately. (Thermopolium, a term used often in site guides and the like, appears only in Plautus as thermipolia.1) Moreover, some of these establishments’ activities, such as furnishing temporary accommodations, are difficult to trace archaeologically, since they featured few architectural forms to distinguish them from residences.To judge from the evidence of Pompeii and Herculaneum, bars typically opened directly onto the street, being separated by a broad doorway whose shutters could be stowed during hours of operation, thus minimizing any interior-exterior distinction (Figs.


Jean-Pierre Adam

The skilled work of the Roman carpenter (lignarius or tignarius faber) was essential to the construction of domestic and public buildings, creation of machines and structures for military purposes, and overcoming natural features. Composed in the 1st century bce, Vitruvius’s ten-book illustrated commentary on Roman architecture and architectural techniques, De architectura, comprises the primary textual evidence for the architectural techniques employed by Roman carpenters and engineers. In his various books, Vitruvius discusses the characteristics of different types of wood (supplemented by descriptions in Pliny’s Natural History); machines used on work sites, such as hoists and hydraulic machines; and covering frameworks for houses and the larger spans of basilicas and other massive public structures. For the latter, Roman carpenters devised the triangulated truss, a complex construction corroborated by surviving visual evidence. Archaeological evidence fills many gaps in Vitruvius’s coverage of practical carpentry methods and provides the only extant evidence for woodcutting and finishing implements, such as felling axes and handsaws. Houses at Pompeii and Herculaneum preserve traces of key carpentry techniques: timber framing, stairways, and load-bearing ceiling frameworks. The carpenter’s expertise also extended to shipbuilding and construction of strategic wooden bridges, most notably those erected during military campaigns under Caesar and later Trajan.


Deborah N. Carlson

The Lake Nemi ships were two enormous, palatial houseboats built by the Roman emperor Caligula (r. 37–41ce). Lake Nemi is a small volcanic crater lake just 1.8 km (1.1 miles) wide and 35 m (115 feet) deep, situated in the Alban Hills 30 km (18 miles) southeast of Rome. Attempts to recover the Nemi ships drew the attention of key historical figures across five centuries, until in 1928–1929 Benito Mussolini ordered the water pumped from the lake to expose the two wooden hulls, which were in a superb state of preservation following immersion in fresh water for almost two millennia. At a length of more than 70 m (230 feet), the Nemi ships remain the largest ancient ships discovered to date. The ships’ complete destruction by fire at the close of World War II constitutes one of the great tragedies of nautical archaeology.