The David D. and Rosemary H. Coffin Fellowship for Travel in Classical Lands is awarded to secondary level instructors (grades 9–12) for the purpose of attending an educational program or undertaking individual research in classical lands. The 2016 recipient of the award was Tyler Nye, of Avon High School, Avon, CT. He used his award to attend the “City of Rome” postgraduate course offered by the British School at Rome.
When Varro published his Antiquitates, Cicero commented “we were like strangers in our own city (in nostra urbe pereginantes), visitors who had lost their way. It was your books [Varro’s] that, as it were, brought us back home, so that at last we could recognize who we were, and where we were.” Cicero’s statement draws attention to the fact that a retrospective and introspective study by the Romans of their own culture was essential to the formulation of Roman identity. Rome’s history dwells below the visible surface: every Renaissance palazzo is built upon a Medieval structure, which was in turn built upon a Late Antique foundation, having been constructed atop an Imperial edifice whose groundwork dates to the Republican Era and, in some cases, pre-historic remains below that. My studies in the British School at Rome’s “City of Rome” postgraduate course focused on conceptualizing and understanding these traces of past human activity in the Eternal City. To do so we studied the literary and archaeological evidence for an existing site, such as the underground grotto discovered on the Palatine Hill in the late 2000s, sometimes conducting site visits, and discussed various scholarly theories (see here, here and here) about the sites. Sometimes we even discussed our own theories. It was a fellow student on the “City of Rome” course who proposed (W. Ford, Letters to the Editor, The Times, 18 March 2008; paywall) the Palatine grotto was in fact a storm bunker built for Augustus (Suet. Aug. 29, 90), a theory cited and published by Coarelli himself.
The Casa Belleza, also known as the Domus Picta. Photo by Tyler Nye. This mid-1st century BC Roman villa is located 12 meters under an apartment complex on the Aventine Hill. Discovered in the 1950s during renovation work of the apartments above, the villa is normally closed to the public; it was an absolute privilege to have been permitted to visit it. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Our studies were not restricted only to sites or monuments visible in Rome today, though; relying heavily on the research of past scholars, we also studied sites and monuments no longer extant. Of particular fascination for me has been the Einsiedeln manuscript—an account written by an anonymous monk of the Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland who visited Rome around AD 800. The Einseideln manuscript was created as a guide for pilgrims; it describes the monuments which could be seen in Carolingian Rome (many of which no longer stand) and preserves their inscriptions for modern scholars. This manuscript became a significant resource for my final paper, “Titus the Triumphator’s Arch in the Circus Maximus,” in which I examined the evidence for this lost monument of Rome, and conducted a comparative analysis with the Arch of Titus in summa via sacra. The research I conducted for this paper will become an integral part of my curriculum for Stage 29 of the Cambridge Latin Course on Titus’ arch; I especially look forward to reading inscriptions from the Einsiedeln manuscript with my upper level Latin students. I am also eager to share my site photos with students for years to come, pointing out such unique artifacts as a funerary monument embedded in a house near Piazza San Callixto. In the future, I hope to lead study trips to Rome for my students, using my newly acquired expertise to navigate this labyrinthine city with ease. My time at the BSR has taught me that there is no substitute for walking the city as the ancient Romans once did. The full extent to which the BSR summer program has enhanced my teaching remains to be seen.
Funerary monument embedded in a house near Piazza San Callixto. Photo by Tyler Nye. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
I wish to express my utmost gratitude to the Society for Classical Studies for their generous financial assistance. With their help, my time in Rome has left me not only with a revived passion for the ancient world, but also with a renewed hunger for future sojourns to the imperial capital. Living in such close proximity to the remnants of the massive civilization that once flourished here was a transformative experience. Moreover, the Coffin Fellowship has proved instrumental for the research and development of my master’s thesis on Sextus Pompey.
I also wish to express my most sincere gratitude to Dr. Robert Coates-Stephens, Director of the “City of Rome” course, and to Dr. Edmund Thomas of Durham University, Balsdon Fellow at the BSR. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Christopher Smith, Director of the BSR, for his generous hospitality and the world class education received under his directorship.
(Header Image: "British School at Rome Library." Photo by Tyler Nye. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.)