Friday, February 9 2018
University of Groningen

Public Works: Building for the Greater Good

No city without public works. In order to create a functioning and thriving city, its people will inevitably need to invest in communal architectural projects such as infrastructure, open facilities, public spaces and public buildings. However, such buildings did not solely have a utilitarian function. From aqueduct to amphitheatre and from park to public toilet: public works play an important social, political and economic role. At the same time their architecture offers a place for elites to showcase their wealth and power through ostentation. 


This symposium explores the variety of functions public works have had and the diverse roles they have played within ancient Mediterranean societies. In addition, to bridge past and present, we want to reflect on how these public works of the past continue to play important roles in present-day societies.

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click here to download the programme and abstracts (PDF)

 

Programme

Venue: University Library (Broerstraat 4) – 4th floor
10:00-10:30 Registration and coffee 
10:30-10:45 Opening 
                            Session 1 (Chair: Dr. Rocco Palermo)
10:45-11:25 Dr. Tymon de Haas
The scale and impact of large-scale infrastructural projects: road building and land reclamation in the Pontine plain
11:25-12:05 Drs. Pieter Houten
Waves of monumentalisation on the Iberian Peninsula
12:05-12:45 Dr. Gemma Jansen
Roman public toilets – for what greater good?
12:45-14:00 Lunch break
                            Session 2 (Chair: Dr. Corien Wiersma)
14:00-15:00 Keynote:
Dr. Ann Brysbaert
Mycenaean building projects under construction
15:00-15:40 Dr. Christina Williamson
Portals of epiphany. Doors in Greek temple architecture
15:40-16:10 Tea break 
16:10-16:50 Dr. Nathalie de Haan
Building the Central Baths. The design and construction of a public bathing complex in Pompeii
16:50-17:30 Prof. Gert-Jan Burgers & Dr. Matteo Merlino
Defining public space from Antiquity to the present: the Porticus Aemilia Project
17:30-18:30 Drinks

 

Abstracts

The scale and impact of large-scale infrastructural projects: road building and land reclamation in the Pontine plain
Dr. Tymon de Haas (Universität zu Köln)

The creation of cadastral systems (centuriations) ranks amongst the major achievements of the Roman Empire. One of the earliest such projects was carried out in the late fourth century BC in the Pontine marshes. This project entailed both road building and the excavation of ditches and canals, and implied massive investments and considerable technological inputs. It surely benefited ´the public´ by providing ample opportunities for employment during construction and in maintenance, and by generating arable land for colonist farmers to exploit. At the same time, these projects were undertaken within a highly dynamic historical context. Hence, the political, strategic, and economic relevance of the project also changed, and this in turn had implications for the extent to which the investments were indeed sustained over longer periods. This point will be illustrated in a discussion of, first, the scale of investments in the construction of the Via Appia and accompanying reclamations; and second, of the colonization and subsequent exploitation history of the Pontine marshes, which in the late fourth century BC served as a hotspot of agricultural and demographic expansion at a relatively short distance from Rome. But despite the scale of the investments, settlement in the area declined within a few generations, suggesting that the exploitation of this specific niche was no longer sustained.

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Waves of monumentalisation on the Iberian Peninsula
Drs. Pieter Houten (Leiden University)

The monumentalisation of urban centres in Hispania cannot be placed within one period nor can it be attributed to one region. Each region has its own development depending on the period of conquest and its integration into the Roman Empire. The aim of this paper is to understand the different epochs of construction and remodeling of urban monuments by investigating the amphitheatres, circuses, fora, theatres and thermae. For the peninsula as a whole the major epochs of construction and remodeling will be established. Moreover, the paper will combine the monumentalisation of cities with the epigraphic and numismatic record to observe whether these are related. Do cities with a more visible elite have more (visible) monuments? In addition, the use of the monuments in Late Antiquity will be taken into account in order to understand the last developments of the monuments.

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Roman public toilets – for what greater good?
Dr. Gemma Jansen

In Roman cities extensive systems of public toilets were common. Toilets tell us a lot about Roman life and reveal that Romans had different perceptions of life than we do today, making them an interesting research topic.
One of the main questions surrounding this topic is “who ordered the building of these toilets for public use?” As Roman society was focused on self-sufficiency, the regional government did very little to invest in and build public goods such as public toilets. The local elite took the responsibility to build baths or theaters; however, they were not necessarily keen on associating their name with the construction of a sewer or public toilet. The other – and perhaps more intriguing – question to address is: “why were these public toilets built, and moreover what greater good was served by installing them?” One possibility is that these toilets offered a basic service and convenience to the users of public space, as the forum, theater, or baths. Preventing people from urinating and defecating in the streets might be another reason for providing public toilets. A third reason to build them could be to create a more hygienic public space, might be another reason for providing public toilets. Both questions will be investigated extensively in this contribution. The result might be deviating from what one expects.

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Keynote
Mycenaean building projects under construction
Dr. Ann Brysbaert (Leiden University)

Greek Mycenaean monumental architecture has been well-studied. However, the extent to which large-scale building programmes may have contributed to the socioeconomic and political changes and crises that took place in Late Bronze Age (LBA) Greece (c.1600-1100/1070 BC) has not been investigated through actual field data based on architectural studies. The overall aim of the SETinSTONE project is to assess if and how monumental building activities in LBA Greece impacted on the political and socioeconomic structures of the Mycenaean polities in the period between 1600 and 1100 BC. The large-scale prolonged building programmes undertaken in the Argolid and beyond resulted in impressive citadels, burial monuments, waterworks, roads and bridges. These projects must have mobilized substantial labour forces over sustained periods of time. At the same time, since agriculture and animal husbandry were people’s predominant subsistence strategies during the LBA, such intensive building efforts, requiring a consistent amount of human and material resources, likely affected people’s local economies. Past research has suggested that mobilizing these workforces may have been detrimental to the sustainability of the socio-political structures towards c. 1200 BC. Therefore, the potential effects of such resource use within the Mycenaean societies in the Argive Plain deserves to be revaluated in a much wider setting of dynamic conditions. This keynote will focus specifically on the architectural aspects of this wider resource-impact project.

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Portals of epiphany. Doors in Greek temple architecture
Dr. Christina Williamson (University of Groningen)

While not every place of cult in the Greek world included a temple, those that did were largely dominated by them. Monumental temples were magnets of desire and are the features most often portrayed in ancient descriptions of sanctuaries, with Pausanias as prime example. Temples have long been considered a luxury that primarily expressed the wealth and pride of their communities, objects largely to be admired from the exterior, while access to their interior, with the cult image and often treasury, was assumed to be restricted to priests. Only recently have scholars begun to examine temples as ritual spaces, with a reassessment of the degree of access by the public at large. This new approach requires a further reconsideration of temple doors. Obviously doors had the practical function of allowing people in or shutting them out. However, they were also among the sculptural jewels of temples ‒ often made of gold and ivory, or bearing sculpted panels ‒ and possessed a style of ornamentation that was initially exclusive to sacred architecture. Why were they so elaborate? In this paper I examine the use of temple interiors, then proceed to explore ways that the cult image was perceived and the crucial role of doorways in facilitating the transition of movement and light. Drawing on a wide variety of examples, I argue that temple doors were critical in mediating encounters between a community and the deity that protected them.

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Building the Central Baths. The design and construction of a public bathing complex in Pompeii
Dr. Nathalie de Haan (Radboud University Nijmegen)

The building of the Central Baths, a large public bathing complex at Pompeii, had started some years before AD 79. The building was not yet finished when Mt. Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii. As a consequence, the Central Baths were never used. Moreover, as is the case for most public and private buildings in Pompeii, these baths are relatively well preserved. Thus, they offer a rather unique opportunity to learn more about the various building processes, the sequence of work and the division of labour of a bath building under construction. Moreover, the baths were designed and constructed in a crucial phase in the development of Roman baths and bathing culture, due to a number of technical innovations, such as window glass and advanced heating technologies. This paper seeks to reconstruct the design, the construction and the planned use of the baths, offering an analysis based on full archaeological and architectural documentation and some small-scale excavations on selected spots. Finally, the possible role of local authorities and private parties in initiating or facilitating this ambitious building project will be discussed.
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Defining public space from Antiquity to the present: the Porticus Aemilia Project
Prof. Gert-Jan Burgers & Dr. Matteo Merlino (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

The interpretation of the ancient building called Porticus Aemilia is still a matter of debate between scholars. Despite the intensive urban expansion of Rome at the beginning of the 20th century, the remains of this impressive public building still function as landmarks to its surroundings in the modern Testaccio district. Between 2011 and 2013, a Dutch-Italian team, under the aegis of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR) and the Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologica, Belle Arti e Paesaggio of Rome, investigated this iconic monument, by using archaeological excavation, archive research, and photometric surveys. This integrated approach allowed us to reconstruct the long-term history of the building, and at the same time to study how its ruins can be re-integrated into the modern-day urban tissue, as meaningful public space. The present paper will focus on both sides of this project.

 

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