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Building Diversity in Early Rome

John N. Hopkins

New York University / Institute of Fine Arts

Early Rome’s architectural and urban monumentality and complexity have seen increased attention in recent scholarship.  An essential part of this work has been to investigate how architectural elements, urban spaces, and social changes reciprocally informed one another; new decorative styles and building technologies generated ever changing spaces in which to “practice everyday life,” and the new practices in these spaces informed still further change to the urban landscape.  

Yet little scholarship has addressed the socio-cultural implications of the new architectural elements for our understanding of the diversity of the Roman lived experience.  By ca. 500, Rome boasted multiple impressive structures whose compositions point to a connected city, with architectural elements of local, regional and wider Mediterranean roots.  

It is my contention that this environment also inscribed the early city as a space of visible-tangible ethnically and culturally blended practice even before the formation of the Republic.  In this talk, I look to the physical remains of the early city to suggest that the urban fabric is an ideal space to contemplate the non-state actors who populated and crafted much of the city, as well as to consider the sense of belonging and othering that architecture and construction can engender.  

Despite problematic sources, the archaeological remains and a few salient passages do allow a glimpse at the men and women engaged with these spaces as well as the craft communities—local and non-local—who collaborated in the construction and life of the early landscape.  

Thus, I propose an altered perception of the diverse styles, compositions, construction practices, materials and outcomes of the architecture. As a material record of diverse populations—a vast majority of whom would have a lived perspective from outside of the elite, outside the male dominated culture, or outside of Rome (even outside the western Mediterranean)—I suggest these buildings bear witness not only to new connections and architectural practices, but to the diverse assemblage of the lived early Roman cityscape, beyond the politicians and the elite. 

Session/Panel Title

Between Myth and Materiality: The Origins of Rome 800-500 BCE

Session/Paper Number

69.6

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