March 2016

Roman Archaeological Conference/Theoretical Roman Archaeological Conference, Sapienza University of Rome, 16-19 March 2016. (Sessions covering sensory approaches)


Organised by: Eleanor Betts (The Open University)

Roman archaeology is currently experiencing both a spatial and a sensory turn. Taking as its theme the multiple perspec- tives of sensory space, this session explores the role played by the senses in recognising, understanding and using Roman urban space, with a specific focus on movement within the cities of Rome, Ostia and Pompeii.

The multisensory body is the locus of human identity, experience and memory, and the body in motion gives meaning to space and place. Bringing these perspectives together, this session explores the value of applying a sensory approach to the archaeology of Roman urbanism. It will examine the extent to which the senses played a central role within distinctive cultural, social, political and economic activities, with the aim of increasing our understanding of how people identified and interacted with the city as they moved within it.

In particular, the speakers will ask how we might develop and apply methodologies for recreating experiences of Roman urban landscapes, as well as the activities, behaviours and meanings associated with them, with attention given to how em- pirical sensory data may combine or conflict with that of ancient sources. Consideration will be given to the impact sensory stimuli had on the perceptions and experiences of those who lived in Rome, Ostia and Pompeii, and the extent to which an attempt to recapture sensory data and reconstruct sensory experiences alters our perceptions of these cities. Were sensory stimuli instrumental to navigating urban space and characterising particular locales or activities, or did they cut across them?

A further aim of the session is to develop methodologies for reconstructing sensory experiences of space, with a particular focus on movement through urban landscapes, as well as to consider the issues of approaching movement from a multisensory perspective, some methodological problems and their solutions.


A Multisensory Exploration of Movement through Rome’s Urban Bridges

Catherine Hoggarth (University of Kent)

The urban bridges of ancient Rome have been relegated to obscurity by scholars; conventional wisdom perceives them as structures devoid of agency and impact, or simply as extensions of roads. However the bridges that spanned the Tiber were far from passive structures, they were agents of change: they shaped the topography of Rome, created iconic routes and determined key areas of trade and ritual.

The bridges spanning the urban section of the Tiber represented a unique and diverse series of spaces and multisensory experiences. The array of sensory stimuli a person would have encountered when approaching and crossing one of the bridges illustrates the bridges’ unique role within urban movement: crossing between light spaces and dark, and from enclosed to open areas, the sense of the elements on the skin and the visual assault of the decoration, all served to create discrete sensory experiences. These experiences would also have altered significantly over time, as wood was replaced by stone and as increased building and the erection of walls changed the visual landscape, altering the Tiberscape beyond recognition. An exploration of the senses can offer a new perspective on Rome’s bridges and demonstrate their central role in both the life and movement of the city.

Experiencing Rome’s Tiberscape

Simon Malmberg (University of Bergen)

How did people experience the spatial relationship between river and city – the Tiberscape of Rome? By the Empire, the Tiber was mostly screened from view by a dense mass of housing, with only brief moments of engagements as travellers crossed the bridges – much like the Servian Wall, which was only glimpsed when passing one of the gates. Indeed, in Late Antiquity the Tiber banks got its own set of city walls, described by Claudian ‘as they were two cities parted by the sundering waters: with equal threatening height the tower-clad banks rise in lofty buildings’.

The river was thus mainly experienced in Rome when used, either on river craft or from the docks. The tight curves of the Tiber’s urban course give rise to a series of spaces and visual revelations. The series of river spaces were often framed by bridges, working as both portals and viaducts. The bridges were decked out with symbols and inscriptions similar to triumphal arches or city gates, creating delimited spaces that could be viewed as elongated riverine fora. This interaction between river and city, the Tiberscape of Rome, became central to the city’s commercial and social life.

Multisensory Mapping of Ostia’s Regio I.IV

Eleanor Betts (The Open University)

Underpinned by a theoretical framework which builds on Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception and the concept of the human body as a ‘universal measurement’, and Lefebvre’s Architecture of Enjoyment, in which he categorises sensations (2014, pp. 114-15), this paper examines the role played by sensory data in the definition and use of space within insula I.IV in Ostia. It presents a methodology for obtaining multisensory data from the archaeological record, as well as use of comparative data mined from textual sources. The main focus is a quantitative assessment of the architectural spaces within and bordering the insula, which illustrates how particular sounds, smells, tastes, textures, visual effects and kinaesthetic experiences defined


those spaces, as well as movement within and between them. In combining spatial theory and sensory approaches, we can begin to better define and understand the ‘intimate’ and ‘open’ spaces within the insula, as well as the relationship of the in- sula to the surrounding streets, in the context of the rhythms of everyday life in Ostia. A key question addressed is the extent to which sensory stimuli helped characterise particular locales and activities, and how reconstructing sensory data alters our perceptions of this ancient city.

Structure of Noise: Aural Architecture and Movement in Ostian Streets

Jeffrey Veitch (University of Kent)

In this paper the streets of Ostia will be analysed for their acoustic properties. The architecture of streets, consisting of facades, carriageways and street furniture, provide the foundation for the acoustic character of the street, an examination of which will nuance the role of Ostian streets in the sensory landscape. The density of doorways along Ostian streets is higher than that of doorways in Pompeii (Laurence 2007: 107), with the result that the two cities’ acoustic characteristics differ. The acoustic measures for Ostian streets can also be compared with space syntax studies of the street network (Stöger 2011; Kaiser 2011), offering insights into the way sounds influenced potential movements. The prevalence of porticoes along Ostian streets created an acoustic division between the carriageway and the portico, which also served to separate types of movement. This paper argues that the division of movement, between pedestrian and cart, was structured by the acoustic division of the street space. Through the use of porticoes, the inhabitants of Ostia were able to acoustically separate the different experiences of travelling along the streets.

Commerce and the Senses: Everyday work and the Roman Urban Landscape

Miko Flohr (University of Leiden)

Urban landscapes in Roman Italy were to a large extent defined and dominated by commerce. There was a proliferation of shops and workshops, especially along through-routes, which, through their wide openings, were closely connected with the street. This not only enhanced the possibilities of commercial interaction, it also had a deep impact on the sensory experi- ence of public urban space, particularly in cases where commercial space was used for activities in the productive sphere. This sensory impact of commerce has often been alluded to in discussions of Roman urban space, but it has rarely been critically investigated.

Starting from the material evidence of Pompeii and Ostia, this paper will discuss some new ways to assess and contextual- ize the impact of everyday work on the Roman urban experience, focusing not only on possible ways to identify locations with higher or lower sensory impact, and on comparing urban landscapes with each other, but also on the more complex issue of the extent to which perceived impact led to counter-measures or taboos. The paper will discuss the existence of sensory ‘hotspots’ in city centres and highlight some apparent spatial conflicts, particularly related to the use of fire and to food production.

Visibility and Movement in the Ancient Space: Some Thoughts about the Use of 3D GIS

Giacomo Landeschi (University of Lund)

A recently developed project about the digitization of insula V.1 in Pompeii has raised new research questions, not only concerned with visualisation, but also offering potential for multisensory analyses. The possibility of three-dimensionally acquiring and importing in a GIS the structures of the various buildings provided archaeologists with novel opportunities of investigation. A superimposed reconstruction of the house of Caecilius Iucundus was added to the still visible structures of the buildings, and new methods of spatial analysis introduced. The main purpose was to try to define a methodological framework through which to quantitatively assess the visual impact of artefacts originally placed within the space of the house. As the space of the private house was usually intimately connected to the patron’s self-representation, it is plausible that objects on display within the house were intended for a precise type of view. By making a quantitative assessment of this significance it has been possible to determine the existence of certain patterns of presence and areas of movement within the house. Compared to other methods of investigation recently explored, 3D GIS presents several advantages and encourages further investigation into the use of this platform as a ‘heuristic’ tool for multisensory analysis and interpretation.


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