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.

20 years of the City of Rome Postgraduate Course

2015 marks the twentieth year of the BSR’s City of Rome Postgraduate Course. The two-month course, aimed at students at Masters or early doctoral level, is led by the BSR’s indefatigable Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens, and gives students from UK universities the most thorough treatment of the ancient city. The course is enjoyable, but at the same time intellectually challenging and rigorous, with at least five contact hours a day including site visits (often led by experts who have been instrumental in the site’s excavation or interpretation), seminars and individual presentations. There are also weekly lectures by leading experts — Amanda Claridge and Filippo Coarelli were among those who shared their knowledge and expertise with students this year. At the end of the course all students submit an assessed essay.

Thanks to the tenacity of our Permissions Officer Stefania Peterlini in 2015 permessi were secured to see the fountain of Anna Perenna, the Villa of Livia, and the Altar of the Fire of Nero. Students were also lucky enough to visit the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Domus Aurea, the Basilica Julia and the House of Augustus, all of which have only recently re-opened.

Here’s what some of the 2015 City of Rome course students had to say:-

The lectures were excellent, giving an otherwise unknown insight into the current scholarship surrounding the study of Rome and current debates’

— Will Rigby, Classics and Ancient History MA, University of Manchester

Robert’s tutelage was incredible, especially in the way he was able to tailor the course to our individual needs. The course was the highlight of my Masters and no doubt will prove invaluable’

— Andrew Lee, MA (Res) City of Rome, University of Reading

[The course] made me think about Rome in a completely new light’

— Mollie Millward-Nicholls, Visual Culture of Classical Antiquity MA, University of Nottingham

Alumnus profile: Dr Carlos Machado (University of St Andrews)

This year we were delighted to welcome back as guest lecturer the familiar face of Carlos Machado, a former City of Rome student himself (2002), who returned to the BSR in 2005-6 as Rome Scholar, and has recently been appointed as a lecturer in Ancient History at the University of St Andrews. Carlos told us about his memories of the course:

Carlos Machado, City of Rome student 2002, Rome Scholar 2005-6.

‘Participating in the City of Rome course was one of the most important experiences in my academic life. Being at the BSR was an amazing opportunity for experimenting with new ideas, talking to great specialists in the field, and experiencing a truly international academic environment (not to mention the food and the weather!). The site visits offered a wealth of information and new insights on famous monuments as well as on those you don’t usually see in books. I will never forget entering through a tiny doorway to find a splendid early Imperial nymphaeum on via degli Annibaldi under the eyes of surprised tourists and passers-by. It was during the course that I finally managed to define the topic of my doctoral dissertation, as each visit gave me more confidence to deal with the material that I wanted to analyse. I also met many colleagues and friends while at the School, forming a network that has helped me in different stages of my career. I returned to the School many times after my course, and I even managed to live in Rome for a few years, but nothing compares to the excitement and the feeling of continuous discovery that I experienced during those two fantastic months’.

It is no exaggeration that this is the most in-depth course on the topography of Rome offered by any of the foreign academies and no surprise, therefore, that many course participants go on to doctorates. The BSR is proud of a course which for many students has continued to be a fundamental part of their own intellectual development. Alumni have gone on to work at the universities of Durham, Exeter, Nottingham, Oxford, Reading, St Andrews, Warwick, Augsburg, Leiden, Santiago de Chile and Sydney, as well as the British Museum, the Museum of London, the Estorick Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the BSR itself.

City of Rome students at Ostia Antica. Photo: Ali Hightower.

City of Rome students at Via Latina. Photo: Ali Hightower.

 See our website for further information about the course: 

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies