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“Political Space and Citizenship in Ancient Rome” – Lecture of Dr Amy Russell (Durham, UK) offers insights into the interplay between Roman architecture and politico-social structures

Why is the structure in a lecture room – the lecturer in front, the professors and teachers around the table, the students in the row behind – totally clear from the first sight? With this starting question, Dr Amy Russell, lecturer for Roman History at the Classics Department of Durham University (UK), provided a modern, not only Chinese, example for her research on how the spatial and architectural structure reflects, and shapes, the existing structures and hierarchies in societies. In her vivid and concrete talk, she mainly dealt with the Forum Romanum, the core area of the political decision-making in ancient Rome during the Roman Republic. She argued that its structure with many buildings erected by different aristocrats and the close connection between the Curia, the usual meeting place of the senate, and the Comitium, where many assemblies of the Roman people took place, as well as the Rostra, the orators’ stage symbolize the gathering of the whole Roman people (populus Romanus) but also fix the roles: of the leading aristocrats in the senate and as the orators announcing the political agenda, and of the “normal” people listening and actively witnessing the correct procedures while feeling proud of being part of such a successful rule.

Afterwards, she compared this multi-vocal Forum Romanum where the competition and consensus of the leading elite is inscribed in the architectural structure, with the imperial Forum Augustum, planned and constituted by the first emperor, Imperator Caesar Augustus (reg. 27 BC to AD 14). There, she argued, the visitor is mainly reduced to a spectator of the greatness of the Roman past that is shown through the gathering of statues and honorific inscriptions of “great examples” of the Roman past, with Augustus as “father of fatherland” (pater patriae) in the middle. That Forum Augustum was not structured for politics anymore, due to the centralisation of power by and on Augustus. The political communication between emperor and other groups was channelled to other places and occasions, e.g. the theatre, where the new hierarchy was totally clear, too.

In the intensive discussion after her paper, the students of IHAC asked critically about the relationship between politico-social structure and architecture, e.g. on the change of functionalities of certain buildings or places according to the purpose of people gathering there, or the role of other groups of societies, e.g. women and slaves, who were also present at those “political” spaces.

                                                                                       (Prof. Dr. Sven Günther)