Christopher Smith on ancient Italy

‘One of the extraordinary features of life in Rome is the access to current archaeological discoveries from across Italy. There is nowhere better in the world to catch up on what is new and the BSR has been proud to contribute to this through collaboration across a range of regions and times.

The Roman Archaeology Conference, and accompanying Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, which we organised with Sapienza, Università di Roma and The Roman Society, was a terrific experience – much of it taking place near the university’s magnificent cast gallery. With 600 delegates from over thirty countries, and representatives of 23 UK universities and 9 UK museums and archaeological organisations, it was a genuinely international occasion and the largest RAC/TRAC ever held.  We were particularly pleased to see many former award-holders and City of Rome students at the conference – we counted over twenty, showing the strong continuity which the BSR is proud to uphold. We were also delighted that former BSR architecture award-holder, Adam Nathaniel Furman (Rome Prize in Architecture 2014-15), provided the striking logo.

RAC Logo

RAC 2016 logo, designed by Adam Nathaniel Furman (Rome Prize in Architecture 2014-15)

The intellectual range of the conference was deliberately broad, as we set out to cover not only the city of Rome but also the provinces from Britain to Morocco, from Syria to Portugal. BSR projects were very much in evidence, with our new collaboration with Sapienza, Università di Roma and Groningen to create what will be one of the largest contiguous survey databases in Europe, and the Portus Limen project, both being showcased in their own sessions. One of the two plenary lectures was by BSR Research Professor Simon Keay, and the concluding excursion was led by Simon and other BSR staff to Portus itself.

It was a richly rewarding opportunity to bring British and international scholars together.

Staying closer to home, many will know that the BSR’s own Robert Coates-Stephens has been blazing a path around the city again this year with the City of Rome course, and every Wednesday evening has offered an opportunity not just for the BSR community, but also the wider academic community, to catch up on the latest news and ideas, from current and former award-holders Nigel Spivey, Barbara Borg, Edmund Thomas, Meaghan McEvoy and Maureen Carroll, as well as luminaries of the Italian scene, including Filippo Coarelli who showed that Rome had looted temple decorations from Delos for some iconic Roman temples in the Augustan period, and a team led by Mariarosaria Barbera, discussing the recent discoveries at a persistently fascinating monument, the Minerva Medica. We are podcasting as many of lectures as possible in order to give a wider audience the chance to follow the work presented here.

Images: top left shows Meaghan McEvoy (Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main) lecturing on Pious generals? Military investment in churches at Rome in the fifth century AD,
Top right shows both Nigel Spivey and one of the
 PowerPoint slides from the lecture, Looking like Caesar: a case-study of personal likeness and group assimilation in Roman portraiture
Bottom image shows current City of Rome students in the Sainsbury Lecture Theatre.

Two recent conferences have shown the vitality of archaeology in Italy. We were delighted to showcase work in southern Italy and Sicily, taking advantage of the presence at the Swedish Institute in Rome of a group of students just about to head off to Francavilla di Sicilia with Director Kristian Göransson, and the presence at the BSR of our friend Roger Wilson. This gave us the chance to organise a workshop in which we learnt about Daunia (from this year’s Coleman-Hilton Scholar Camilla Norman), south Italian and Sicilian pottery production, the major centres of Naxos and Lipara, Roger’s own villa site at Gerace (which offered interesting parallels with Maureen Carroll and Tracey Prowse’s work at Vagnari in Puglia). We closed with Roger’s presentation of his work at Caddeddi. This late Roman villa presents mosaics that are comparable with those from Piazza Armerina – and Roger was able to make compelling arguments about its date and the African origin of the mosaicists. It is a brilliant volume, and highly recommended.


‘Caddeddi on the Tellaro’ by Roger Wilson

And just last week we were honoured to be involved in the splendid conference on Etruria and Anatolia organised by Lisa Pieraccini (Berkeley) and Elizabeth Baughan (University of Richmond). The keynote was delivered by Alessandro Naso (CNR and Naples), who gave a brilliant account of the material connections and parallels between the two areas, and this was further explored through the conference at the Villa Giulia, hosted by another BSR friend Maria Paola Guidobaldi. Textiles, furniture, banqueting customs show many similarities, and new evidence of tomb and house painting in Anatolia is really changing how we may envisage the flow of information between the two areas in terms of cultural connectivity and artistic exchange. This is a theme which will be picked up again in October in a major conference on the orientalising period in Italy, the culmination of a cycle of seminars organised by the BSR, CNR, and the German and French schools on the orientalising phenomenon across the Mediterranean.

Material Connections.jpg

We can be proud that the BSR is making its own contribution to Italian archaeology, with the support of our many partners. We have nofewer than seventeen discrete projects across Italy and beyond this year. The BSR will be conducting and supporting projects in Rome alongside the Capitoline hill (in collaboration with the University of Southampton, funded by the British Academy), Pavia (Lombardy, collaboration with the University of Pavia), Monte Rinaldo (Marche, collaboration with the University of Bologna), Vulci (Tuscany, collaboration with the University College London, funded by the British Academy), Falerii Novi, Lucus Feroniae, Hadrian’s Villa (Lazio, collaborations with the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Pavia), the Sangro Valley (Abruzzo, collaboration with Oberlin College), and Vagnari (Puglia) and Francavilla di Sicilia (Sicily, collaboration with the Swedish Institute in Rome), both mentioned above. New work at Segni, and a second season at Pompeii with the University of Valencia and the Museu de Prehistòria de Valencia – Department of Conservation, are both also to come.

And since we have arrived at Pompeii, we cannot pass over the excellent news that Sophie Hay was last week awarded a PhD for her work on Insula IX, Region 1 – congratulations to Sophie!’


Sophie Hay, Geophysics Officer

Christopher Smith (BSR Director)