Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rome Guide 3: Rome: an Oxford Archeological Guide by Amanda Claridge

Rome: An Archeological Guide starts with a historical overview going from the ancient start of the city to the 6th cent AD. It makes an excellent introduction to the history of the city with just the right amount of detail.

Rome is supposed to have been founded in 753BC by a man called Romulus. He was a king with a group of supporters which reminded me of the comitatus of the Indo-Europeans described in the Empires of the Silk Road book I read earlier this year. By means of trade, they managed to gain ascendance over the neighbouring tribes.

At the end of the 6th cent BC the regal system was abolished and replaced by two elected consuls. Soon the patricians (wealthy families) had a monopoly on the consulship. This was challenged by the plebeians who formed their own state within the state and in the 4th cent BC they won equal rights.

The Roman conquest continued in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Enemies were made into allies and they contributed to the war effort. Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Southern Spain and then Carthage (nr Tunis, northern Africa) were taken. Much of the rest of Iberian peninsular and southern France, the Greece, the Balkans, some Asia Minor, the Aegean and central north Africa taken. In the city temples were built, then drainage systems improved and the streets paved.

In 90-31BC there were civil wars as the pace of expansion slowed. In the city, the main development, apart from planning by Julius Caesar, was the decoration of houses owned by the wealthy.

From 31BC to 14AD Octavian became leader (or princeps) with the title Augustus. Military campaigns were consolidated and the empire expanded. A fifth of the population of Italy settled in colonies overseas. During this time the city of Rome took shape. The population doubled in size from 200,000 in 2nd cent BC to 500,000 in 14AD. It was overcrowded, but there were building regulations and fire brigades (which also acted as a sort of police force), and aqueducts were reconditioned. A court style developed. Suburban houses(called 'Gardens') were developed.

From 14 to 54 AD there were a series of emperors from Tiberius to Claudius. More aquaducts, forts, and improved palaces were built. However, fires started to be a problem. These culminated in AD 64 when, under Nero, there was a great fire. At first, Nero was a popular emperor with a programme of luxurious public building projects, as well as more private projects, such as a golden house for himself and associated gardens. But when fire raged for 9 days, Nero's reaction unimpressive. although he then started to improve roads and buildings and make them more fire-proof, there were conspiracies and Nero eventually committed suicide.

Flavians, from 69-96 AD inherited and continued Nero's programme of urban renewal. He dismantled Nero's palace and built the colosseum. Quarries providing fine marbles were developed and there was increasingly ambitious concrete architecture.

The years 96-180AD were the period of 'High Empire'. The emperors: Trajan, Hadrian and Antonines had no sons - so their successors were chosen by ability. They built the forum, basilica, public baths, docks, circus maximus and vestals house. Hadrian, in particular, had a great effect on the city's architecture. The run ended with Commodus - who became unbalanced towards the end of his reign.

Severans ruled from 193-238. He campaigned against the Parthians and installed his two sons as potential emperor and caesar. A succession of other usurpers followed. During the later 3rd century there were 18 emperors in 50 years. People on the outskirts took this period of instability as an opportunity to invade. In 285AD the empire was divided into two. Various projects were undertaken to improve Rome and their 'Gardens'. A huge new wall to protect against the Gauls was built. At this time the population of the city was probably over a million.

In the fourth century various shenanigans with the east and west emperors led to Constantine displacing Maxentius as emperor. Maxentius had devoted huge resources to public projects including palaces and temples. These were finished by his successor Constantine. Constantine subsequently became 'the Great' by taking over the eastern part of the empire too.He became a Christian in order to incorporate the Christians into the kingdom - a cynical rather than spiritual move. The prosecutions of the Christians came to an end and it became the state religion in 312.

The church of St Peters was made for the bishop of Rome (the pope) at the Vatican. It represented an ideal of universal government, a model for life, relevant to an emperor who came from outside the city. In 330 he moved the capital to Constantinople and this initiated the final decline of Rome as the hub of the Roman Empire.

After Constatine's death his three sons rules over the various parts of the empire, one taking over another, with a cousin called Julian eventually inheriting in 361. Julian was an educated man and gifted philosopher, and advocated equal rights for Christians and non-Christians. This enabled cults and temples to be reinstated in Rome. Intolerance returned with Gratian (and Theodosius in the East Roman Empire) in 379. In 394 the Vestal Virgins told to disband.

Overall fourth century Rome must have been an amazing place to live. There were festivals, amazing house (to encourage the rich back into the city), free pork, olive oil and and bread, marble decoration, fountains, streets, squares, magnificent public buildings like the colosseum , forum, pantheon and the palantine.

In the 5th and 6th centuries, Huns displaced Goths from their homelands, who then, in turn, invaded the Roman Empire. After being repulsed they were joined by more Germans to form the Visigoths, and eventually, to everyone's surprise, managed to sack Rome in 410. The Romans retook their city, only to have it taken again by the Vandals. Eventually the Ostrogoths held sway peaceably alongside the old Roman aristocracy. Civic life went on as normal with some places, like the baths and colosseum, repaired.

In 536 the Eastern Romans (Byzantine), on order from Justinian, took over the western Roman empire until the Ostrogoths retook Rome under Totila in 546. After this Italy was fragmented into kingdoms and duchies. The Roman senate was last mentioned in 580 and by then Rome was on the way to becoming a papal state.

After this interesting history, comes a glossary, and then (which forms the bulk of the book) a section which describes the antiquarian sites at various places e.g. the Forum and the Palatine. These are described in detail with plans and pictures. This is very interesting, but maybe better appreciated when it is there in front of you. Like the other books, it whets the appetite, and makes me think I would need to spend a few months in Rome to properly appreciate the place, taking a week to investigate each site. I don't think I'll ever have the chance, but it would be a fascinating thing to do - with the help of this book.


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