Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Pieces of Roman Puzzle Wait to be Found

Rome has been in the process of expanding its subway system for years now. The process is painfully slow (from the perspective of engineers) since every time a shovel is stuck in the ground, ancient artifacts are found and archaeologists must be called in. The subway tunnels themselves are far below the oldest strata of the city, but the locations of stations require digging from the top down. One such site may yield some exciting new discoveries in the near future. Work is slated to begin on the former site of the Forum of Peace. This Imperial forum and corresponding temple was once home to the giant marble map of the ancient city known as the Forma Urbis Romae. About 10% of the map exists today, but archaeologists are hoping to find more once excavations begin. They also hope to learn more about the forum and temple which housed the map.

Though we know much about the layout of ancient Rome, there are many questions that remain unanswered. You can stroll through Rome today and see many ancient sites, but one must always remember that most of the ancient city is below one's feet. Centuries of sediment buildup mean that the terra firma that Romans walked on is sometimes meters below the current ground level. The existing fragments of the Forma Urbis Romae give us a clear picture of how the ancient city was laid out, and any new fragments would add greatly to our knowledge.
The Forum of Peace was finished in 75 CE by the emperor Vespasian to commemorate his victories in Judea. The forum/temple complex was built adjacent to the Republican Forum, Forum of Julius Caesar and Forum of Augustus. In later years this area was see even larger and more splendid forums built by succeeding emperors. The Forma Urbis Romae was installed much later, finished in 211 CE by the emperor Septimius Severus. The map measured 60x45 feet and comprised of 150 carved marble slabs. The city was depicted in its contemporary layout, circa early 3rd century CE. Like many ancient artifacts and buildings made or marble, the map fell victim to Medieval plundering and destruction. Fragments began to be excavated during the Renaissance and today we have an assortment of 1,186 fragments.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Peroni Colosseum

Here in Milwaukee, we are no strangers to corporate sponsorship. Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, bears the name of, you guessed it, Miller Brewing Co. The signs are certainly big enough, so there's no doubt as to who helped finance the stadium. We've also got the U.S. Cellular Arena and the Bradley Center (named after its locally famous benefactor), where the Bucks play. I have no problem with breweries or cellphone providers plastering their names on sports complexes. Often, their capitol is needed for these buildings to be constructed in the first place, and they rightly expect a little advertising in return. Could the Colosseum soon join the ranks of corporately sponsored sports arenas?

One would think that the best way to maintain ancient monuments and sites is to throw money at them, and one would be right. Unfortunately, money is often hard to come by, especially in Italy. The Italian government just doesn't have the money to maintain its huge catalog of archaeological treasures. Admission is already charged at most famous sites, like the Colosseum and Pompeii, but ticket sales aren't enough. What is Italy's solution? Advertising. Italy hopes to find a corporate sponsor to spend over $30 million to restore the Colosseum. For that hefty fee the yet unnamed sponsor will get the right to print their logo on Colosseum admission tickets, place posters around the base of the building and conduct their own private tours. Miller Park is one thing, but the Peroni Colosseum? While I am not thrilled with this latest development, I understand its necessity. I only hope that a balance can be found between corporate investment and scholarship. Scholarship should never take a back seat to corporate interests, and I hope that whoever decides to fund the Colosseum restoration understands that they are nothing more than stewards of the building, keeping it safe for study, enjoyment and most importantly, future generations.
The Colosseum, known in antiquity as the Flavian Amphitheater, was completed in 80 CE by the emperor Titus. The project was begun by Titus' father, Vespasian, who wished to replace Nero's Golden House with something more egalitarian. The amphitheater was a Roman invention (the earliest example is found in Pompeii) and was constructed solely for public displays, such as gladiator fights, beast hunts and executions. With seating for 50,000, the Colosseum was the largest amphitheater ever built in the Roman world. It continued to be used through the 6th century CE, after which it fell into disuse, was damaged by earthquakes, and eventually became a marble quarry. The name Colosseum is a reference to the colossal statue that once stood near the arena. The 100 ft. tall bronze statue was built by Nero, in his likeness, and remained through antiquity, though the head was changed to resemble Sol Invictus.