BSR Ancient Rome Summer School

Katherine Paines (Communications & Events Assistant) looks back on her time as a student on the BSR Ancient Rome Summer School.


Summer School 2014 group with Robert Coates-Stephens (BSR) and Ed Bispham (Braesnose College, Oxford). Photo by Antonio Palmieri

‘Yes, I have finally arrived to this Capital of the World! I now see all the dreams of my youth coming to life… Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome.’
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Italian Journey

‘I was lucky enough to be one of the 23 students selected to take part in the 2014 Ancient Rome Summer School, and I now see myself once again living behind the Lutyens façade as a member of staff. My decision to apply for a job here was due, in no small part, to the experiences I had in that fortnight in September.

The BSR Summer School consists of an intensive two-week programme of visits to sites, museums and monuments organised into daily themes and supplemented by evening lectures. It is open to students studying classics, ancient history, classical archaeology or a related subject. As a student on the course, you live within the BSR itself, giving you access to the fantastic library and archive resources as well as the course material provided.

The programme is definitely not for the faint hearted! With an 8.30 a.m. start every morning and not returning to the BSR until after 3 p.m. you do find yourself on your feet for most of the day. However, what really keeps the enthusiasm levels high is the variety of sites that Stefania Peterlini (BSR Permissions Officer) organises entry for. From one day at the Roman Forum, to the next walking the length of the route of the triumphs to the next visiting the remains of Imperial bathhouses, all with the incredible combined knowledge of Robert Coates-Stephens (BSR Cary Fellow) and Ed Bispham (Braesnose College, Oxford) narrating as you go. It really was a course that changed, corrected and expanded my perceptions of the ancient city.


Group with Ed Bispham and Robert Coates-Stephens (right). Photo by Robert Muscat


Group walking down Monte Testaccio. Photo by Robert Muscat

It’s hard to pick exactly what my favourite bits of the course were – there were just too many! – but if I had to it would probably come down to a three-way tie.

Firstly, the House of the Griffins on the Palatine hill, it is not normally open to the public and so we had a private tour to view the absolutely exquisite late second-century wall painting. As a site I had studied since my GCSEs it was such a special experience to finally get to see it in real life!

house of the griffins

House of the Griffins. Photo by Brontë Bowen

Secondly, the Baths of Caracalla complex. I was writing my dissertation on Roman bath water, so felt like I knew this site fairly well, however visiting it accompanied by all-round Roman topography authority Robert Coates-Stephens allowed me to see it in a completely different way than I had previously from books and lectures, and helped develop my skills of reading monuments on the ground. We even got taken to see the Mithraeum contained within the complex – something that I had never previously had the chance to visit.


Baths of Caracalla. Photos by Bronte Bowen

Finally it would have to be Ostia. The trip to Ostia was fortuitous for two reasons: firstly it was a blissfully sunny day (we had had a couple of really rainy ones earlier in the week!), and secondly we were accompanied by Costas Panayotakis (University of Glasgow; BSR Balsdon Fellow 2011-12), an expert on Roman theatre, who gave us a mini-lecture in the theatre there. My acting career began and ended on that stage when I was used to demonstrate the acoustics of the site!


Katherine Paines on the remains of the stage, Costas Panayotakis below. Photo by Robert Muscat

These two weeks were not only a fantastic intellectual experience, but I also got to know like-minded students from other universities, who still remember their BSR days fondly:

The summer school provided a valuable insight into the ancient city, and in much greater depth than I had studied before. It helped me to decide my path for my modules in my final undergraduate year. It even encouraged me to apply for a masters degree, and I am now so excited to be back at the BSR on the postgraduate City of Rome course‘. (Brontë Bowen, Masters in History and Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World, University of Cardiff)

The course was the highlight of my summer, and it really helped when I was writing my dissertation. The site visits helped me change my perspective on how I viewed material evidence, which led me to create a more innovative argument when doing the final write up‘. (Elle Reynolds, Graduate in Classics and Archaeology, University of Cardiff)

It made me feel connected to a wider range of scholars outside of my own university, and it encouraged me to apply for a masters degree‘. (Lucy Harris, Masters in Classical Archaeology, University of Oxford)’


Left to right: Lucy Harris, Brontë Bowen, Katherine Paines and Elle Reynolds. Photo by Sky Emery

Director Christopher Smith added, ‘We are proud of the fact that the taught courses we offer inspire students to take a journey towards creative research. Just as many summer school-ers go on to taught masters, so many of our City of Rome students will go on to research, as we saw at the recent international Roman Archaeology Conference here at Rome. It has always been a key part of our mission to bring the city of Rome alive for as many people, and at as many different levels, as we possibly can.’

Katherine Paines (Communications and Events Assistant)

The support of the Cambridge Classics Faculty, the Craven Committee of the Faculty of Classics, Oxford University, the Gladstone Memorial Trust and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies is gratefully acknowledged.

Applications are now open for the 2016 BSR Ancient Rome Summer School:

Deadline for applications: Monday 2 May 2016.