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Locked in with Archaic Rome

Written by Nikoline Sauer |

Under normal circumstances, the ICS hosts visitors from all over the world, although the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has interrupted this element of our activities. In this post Academic Visitor Nikoline Sauer (Aarhus University) shares her experience of visiting London pre- and post-lockdown.

 

This spring, I spent three months as an Academic Visitor at the Institute of Classical Studies (March 1 – May 31). The research stay was part of my PhD studies at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions at Aarhus University, Denmark, where I investigate the Archaic period in Rome (c. 6th century BCE) through a case study of the Forum of Caesar. As I am now in the third and final year of my studies, I have reached the writing phase of project, and needed an outstanding library in Classical Studies. The purpose of my stay at the ICS was therefore to make use of the world-class library while also experiencing a new research environment.

During the first few weeks of my stay at the Senate House, located in the fashionable Bloomsbury neighbourhood, everything proceeded as planned. I went to the library, attended seminars, and ate my lunch at the British Museum across the street from the institute. In my second week there, I gave a talk as part of the ICS Fellows’ Seminar series, entitled “Rome Was Not Built in a Day: The Urban Development of Rome in the Archaic period (620–480 BCE)”. The talk was well attended and the comments very useful. But on March 20, the ICS was forced to close by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pottery from the Archaic period found on the Capitoline Hill and exhibited in the Capitoline Museums

I spend the rest of my stay in London in relative isolation (though accompanied by my boyfriend) in our apartment on Broadway Market in southern Hackney. What was supposed to be a research stay became instead a writing retreat. The lockdown gave me time to finish up the first two articles of my article-based dissertation, as well as completing a rough draft of the third article and several other minor projects.

My dissertation is about Archaic Rome. The Archaic period is conventionally known as the short interval between the end of the Iron Age and the beginning of the Republican period. It was a time of major changes in Rome, as the city began to stand out among the other Etruscan and Latial cities in central Italy, by dint of its monumental public buildings and rapid population growth. The later literary tradition, such as Livy’s Ab urbe condita (written 27–9 BCE), played a crucial role in the commemoration of Archaic Rome, profoundly influencing the modern interpretation of archaeological data. The dissertation aims to study Archaic Rome through a solely archaeological approach, combining traditional archaeological findings with state-of-the-art scientific methods, in order to circumvent the skewed image of the period produced by ancient literature. The subject is investigated through four interlinked articles, which will be published independently.

The present-day Forum of Caesar in the centre of Rome.

My PhD project is also part of The Caesar’s Forum Project, which excavates in the Forum of Caesar in the centre of Rome. The forum was founded by Gaius Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE) in the Late Republican period, creating a precedent for the subsequent four Imperial Forums. The ongoing project aims to provide new insights into the site and its long-term development by studying the previously unexcavated third of the site. The Forum of Caesar is an especially rich archaeological site, and previous excavations have revealed some of the best-preserved remains from the Archaic period. The site is, therefore, the point of departure for several of the articles in my dissertation.

I very much hope that I can revisit the ICS at a later time, especially since my stay there was cut short by the worldwide lockdown. Still, I managed to make the most of my stay in London, turning it into an intensive writing retreat, with plenty of time to think about Archaic Rome on my walks along Regent’s Canal.

by Nikoline Sauer

Image credits: Nikoline Sauer