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CLA 382: Roman Archaeology

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Peristyle of the House of the Vetii
Peristyle of the House of the Vetii, Pompeii

Instructor: John Gruber-Miller; x4326;

Class Hours during Week 1: M-W 9-11 a.m.; afternoons for workshops, guest presentations, films, and VRoma: 1-2:15 p.m.

Required Texts

  • Amanda Claridge. Rome. 2nd ed. Oxford Archaeological Guides. Oxford 2010).
  • David Watkin. The Roman Forum. Harvard 2009.
  • Paul Zanker. Roman Art. J. Paul Getty Museum 2010.
  • photocopies of maps, sites, plans, reconstructions, and articles
Recommended Texts


  • To appreciate the task of the archaeologist,
  • to learn how to "read" the material remains of the ancient Roman world,
  • to become sensitive to the relationship between space, time, and Roman values in the Roman world.
  • to explore the intersection of cultures: Romans, Greeks, native Italian communities, and others
  • to see how the material record helps us understand the diversity of individuals in the Roman world: freeborn and slave, male and female, noble and plebeian, city-dweller and farmer
  • to consider ethical and professional issues regarding conservation, preservation, private and public collections and museum display
  • to reflect on your experience of being a hospes "guest" in a country different from our own

By the end of the course, each participant should have a greater understanding of how Roman archaeology contributes to our knowledge of the culture, society, politics, and religious customs of the ancient Romans from the third century B.C. to the third century A.D., but also have a better understanding of how the Romans influenced the subsequent history of Italy.


I recommend that you keep a daily journal while we are in Italy. In it you can record your observations, comments, and reflections on the events of the day. It is not meant to be a diary (i.e. what happened), but an exploration of your reflections on your experiences (how or why it happened). You should of course comment on the archaeological record and how it helps you understand the ancient Roman world. What patterns, themes, parallels (and differences) do you see that help you understand the lives of those who populated the Roman world? In addition, you may reflect on how the Romans have influenced later periods, and on your interaction with modern Italian culture. In other words, you should comment not only on the archaeological portion of the trip, but also reflect on the "whole" experience.

Once during the course, you will be discussion leader for a day. Being a discussion leader means not only carefully reading the assigned readings that day and exploring the relevant entries in Claridge, but also preparing questions to lead the class to apply the readings' theoretical perspectives to the monuments we will see that day and also to consider larger issues that connect to the themes of the course: space, status, class, gender, slavery, patronage, etc.

While in Rome, you will write two short essays. These may be handwritten. Each essay should have a title and a thesis, and should cite the relevant passages from our readings. The first will explore the history of one monument from the Roman Forum, examine its origins, and trace its transformation and new significance the monument may have accrued over time.

Essay 1: Choose one monument from the Roman Forum and, using Watkin and Claridge, discuss its history. What was its significance in the ancient world? How did its architecture and decoration contribute to its function and importance in antiquity? In what ways was the monument transformed over time? What individuals or trends led to its metamorphosis? For what reasons? What new significance accrued to the monument over time? Finally, what approach to the monument's history do you take, the architectural or the archaeological, the aesthetic or the historically accurate? How can the history of the monument be preserved? Due: 2nd Thursday.

Essay 2: Gender offers an important lens through which to view the accomplishments of the women and men in Etruria, Rome, and Pompeii. Compare the role of women in two of these three places by examining closely two or three monuments from each site. To what extent do these monuments reveal women as equals to men, agents and contributors? What evidence is there that women's activity falls within the larger picture of the hierarchical nature of Roman society? How do women navigate these two extremes? Due: 3rd Wednesday.

Each participant will prepare one research project on a site or monument. A list of topics can be found here. The project can be divided in three parts: an introduction to the monument on site, a slide presentation on campus, and a final written research paper.

The first presentation is a brief 10-15 minute introduction to your topic on-site. Let your listeners know the basics: relevant background information, significant dates in the history of the site/monument, who planned and/or paid for it, materials used and where they came from, significant highlights. You may also wish to point out any useful or related objects while in Rome. Therefore, the more you know about your project in advance, the better. You may wish to document these objects with your camera. See the handout on Oral and Written Reports, especially numbers 1-3, for further details. Each report should be accompanied with a handout no longer than two sides of a single sheeet of paper. It should include a site plan (if not included in Claridge or our course packet), chronology, bibliography and a summary of the important features of the site or topic to be given to the members of the class on site. The written portion of the report will be due the first Friday at 4:00 p.m. The oral portion will be given on site.

The second presentation involves a Story Map presentation that should present a thesis about the the significance of the work in a larger context. Numbers 4-5 in the Guidelines for Oral Report are especially relevant here. These will take place upon our return on the last Tuesday and Wednesday of the block. Integral to the presentation is charting at least 10 places related to the subject of your site report and explaining how they are related and what new insights they give to your monument. The oral presentation should be well-rehearsed, as if you were presenting at a conference or Student Symposium. It will pose the questions you hope to answer, define terms, and place your monument(s) in a larger context. Most importantly, it will make an argument that ties together the various aspects of your project. Relevant photos will illustrate and provide support for your argument. Each oral report should be approximately 20-25 minutes followed by 5 minutes for questions.  I will signal to you when you have two minutes left so that you can begin to wrap up your presentation. The rest of the class will be expected to have at least one question or comment as a follow-up to each presentation.  Please come 15 minutes early to upload your presentation on the computer before class begins. 

The final paper is only about 7-10 pages, but these should be polished double-spaced papers with in-text citation, works cited, and illustrations appended at the end of the paper. This is a condensed, revised, and carefully crafted version of your slide presentation, and is due by 5:00 p.m. on the last Wednesday of the block. Be sure to cite your source:

  1. if you use the exact words of an author (if so, be sure to place the words within quotation marks);
  2. if you draw upon the ideas, arguments, or observations of others;
  3. if you include facts not widely available or known.

Relevant site plans, maps, photos, and illustrations should be added at the end of the paper, one per page, each one cited with relevant documentation (e.g., name of the work, location, approximate date, and credit to the source of the image).  When you refer to an image in the body of your text, place the figure number within parentheses before the punctuation mark (Fig. 1).

The final exam is meant to be a conversation about important topics that attempt to synthesize our knowledge of Roman archaeology. The format will be an oral exam 30 minutes long, 10 minutes per question. I will select the three members of each group, attempting to include individuals of different majors, stengths, and perspectives. Each person in the group is expected to participate in answering each question. The most successful groups often script their responses and have notes helping them remember key details. Just keep in mind that I will ask follow-up questions of everyone in the group.


  • punctuality, cooperation, preparation and participation in class and at each site, including being a discussion leader 10%
  • quiz on chronology, terms, forum, etc. 10%
  • first oral presentation on site 10%
  • Story Map presentation 15%
  • final paper 15%
  • final exam 20%
  • short essays 20%

Let's start digging!

Photo credit: Leo Curran, Maecenas: Images of Ancient Greece and Rome

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