Indiana University

 FINA A214

Art and Life in Ancient Rome

Fall, 2005


MW 1-2:15 
Fine Arts 010
Section # 26682 

Dr. Deborah Deliyannis                                                                                   

Office:  Ballantine 708                                                                                   

Office hours:  Thurs. 2:30-4:00                                                                 

Phone:  855-3431   






During the Roman imperial period, architects and artists produced a wide range of buildings, sculpture, paintings, pottery, metalwork, carved gems and jewelry, coins and medallions, and textiles. We now categorize many of these objects as "works of art" and view them in the austere galleries of the world's art museums.  In antiquity, however, these objects were displayed in different public and private settings where they fulfilled a variety of functions: temples and cult statues were erected to honor the gods; civic buildings and statues were set up to serve the administrative needs of the government and to promote the political agenda of the ruling power; domestic decor was purchased to affirm the status and good taste of the homeowner; and funerary monuments were produced to commemorate the dead. 


This course will examine Roman art within the context of daily life, addressing questions about how art objects were used, where they were displayed, and who would have seen them.  We will also explore how works of art can be used as evidence to help us reconstruct the daily activities, societal roles, and beliefs of the Roman people.  The course is organized thematically around different spheres of Roman life, including politics, religion, business and commerce, spectacle and entertainment, domestic life, and the lives of women and children.



Books and resources


The following books are available for purchase in the Fine Arts Bookstore, located in the Fine Arts Building:


Eve D'Ambra, Roman Art. (Cambridge, 1998).

Jerome J. Pollitt, The Art of Rome C. 753 B. C.- A. D. 337: Sources and Documents (Cambridge, 1983).


A few additional required readings are available online or in e-reserves, as noted on your syllabus.  The e-reserves password is "theater". 


Assigned readings for each week should be completed on the MONDAY of each week.  It is likely that we will use readings for each week in small-group discussions during that week.  If it seems that people are not doing the readings, pop-quizzes may have to be instituted.


Note:  an online copy of this syllabus can be found at  Powerpoints will be posted on Oncourse for this class, under "Resources".




Attendance                                                                                                       10%

3 short papers (15% each)                                                                                  45%

midterm exam                                                                                                  18%

final exam                                                                                                        27%


Attendance will be taken in class every day.  If you have an excusable absence, please e-mail me to let me know so that you are marked "excused" (documentation will usually be required).  You will be granted two "free" absences (i.e. you can miss 2 classes without it counting against you).


The midterm and final exam will consist of short answer questions, definition of terms, and short essays based on slide comparisons.  The images will be selected from objects that have been discussed in class and appear on the course web page.  You will not be required to memorize labels for these images, but you will be expected to discuss them intelligently.  The powerpoint presentations from class will be made available on the Oncourse web page for this class, under "Resources".


Three short papers are required; instructions for each can be found at the end of the syllabus.  For all written work you are required to include a bibliography of books and electronic resources consulted and to use footnotes or endnotes where appropriate.  Plagiarism is a serious offense that will result in automatic failure for the course, and possibly more serious penalties at the university level.


Papers are due in class on the day that they are due.  Any time after class will be considered late.  Late papers will be marked down one letter grade for each day that they are late.


A NOTE ON COMPLETING COURSEWORK:  Excuses will only be given if you can provide documentation of a legitimate excuse (i.e. a note from a doctor).  If you fall behind in this class, DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE END OF THE SEMESTER to discuss matters with me.  University regulations state that you are not allowed to take an incomplete in a class if you are failing the class. 



Tentative Schedule




Aug. 29     Introduction:  art and life

Aug. 31     Sources and materials

                        Pollitt, pp. 66-74 (Cicero, Verr.)


Sept. 5       Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Ostia


Roman public art and architecture


Sept. 7       Rome and the empire

                        D'Ambra, pp. 9-37


Sept. 12     The emperors

Sept. 14     The social order: identity, status and class

                        FIRST PAPER (Coins) DUE in class on Sept. 14

                        D'Ambra, pp. 92-112, 39-57, 60-70,

                        Pollitt, pp. 20-22 (Portrait Statues), 53 (Polybios), 104-106 (Suetonius), 115 (Pliny XXXV, 26-28), 154 (Pliny XXXVI,101-102), 169 (Pausanias, Dio Cassius)


Sept. 19     Rome in the Movies

Sept. 21     The military and its monuments

                        D'Ambra, pp. 80-91

                        Pollitt, pp. 24-25 (Triumphs and Plunder), 159 (Josephus)


Sept. 26     The Roman city

Sept. 28     Theaters and theatrical events

                        D'Ambra, pp. 59-80

                        H. Dodge, "Amusing the Masses,"in Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire, eds. D. S. Potter and D. J. Mattingly (Ann Arbor, 1999), read pp. 208-224 and pp. 236-243 (on e-reserve)

                        Vitrivius, De Architectura, Book 5, chs. 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9


Oct. 3        Athletic venues and events

Oct. 5        The spectacles in the amphitheater

                        H. Dodge, "Amusing the Masses," read pp. 224-236, 243-255  (on e-reserve)

                        Pollitt, p. 146-7 (Pliny XXXV, 51-52), 158 (Suetonius; Martial)


Oct. 10      Bathing and public baths

Oct. 12      Decoration of the baths

                        SECOND PAPER (city) DUE in class on Oct. 12

                        Vitruvius, De Architectura, Book 5 ch. 10


Oct. 17      Roman gods and their temples

Oct. 29      Synchretistic religious practices

                        J. Rives, "Religion in the Roman World." In Experiencing Rome, ed. Janet Huskinson, (London, 2000) 245-74 (on e-reserve)

                        Pollitt, pp. 8-9 (Pliny, Plutarch, Livy), 121-123 (Vitruvius)


Oct. 24      MIDTERM EXAM

Oct. 26      Mystery religions


Roman private life and art


Oct. 31      Religion in the home

Nov. 2       Town houses

                        D'Ambra, pp. 126-145

                        Vitruvius, De Architectura, Book 6 chs. 3-5


Nov. 7       Villas

Nov. 9       The decoration of the Roman house I

                        Pollitt, p. 54 (Pliny), 115-116 (Pliny XXXV, 116-17), 127-129 (Vitruvius, Book VIII, 5), 171-174 (Pliny, Epistulae)


Nov. 14     The decoration of the Roman house II

Nov. 16     The decoration of the Roman house III

                        Pollitt, pp. 76-77 (Cicero, ad Atticum), 226 (Philostratos the Younger)


Nov. 21     The art of eating

Nov. 23     NO CLASS - Thanksgiving

                        Petronius, selections from the Satyricon, chs. 29-35


Nov. 28     The Roman tomb

Nov. 30     Art and death

                        PAPER 3 (museum) DUE in class on Nov. 30

                        D'Ambra, pp. 112-125

                        Pollitt, pp. 192-193 (Dio Cassius)


Dec. 5        Christian vs. pagan in the Late Roman Empire

Dec. 7        The "Fall of Rome"?

                        D'Ambra, pp. 147-167

                        Pollitt, pp. 212-213 (Lactantius)


FINAL EXAM:  Monday, December 12, 12:30-2:30 p.m., Fine Arts 010



PAPER 1 (due Sept. 14)


This paper focuses on the imperial imagery found on coins.  To complete it, you should use one of the following two online databases which contain images of many coins:




for the second one, you should select Department:  Roman; Format:  images only; Keyword:  [name of whatever emperor or empress you want]


Select an emperor or empress for whom you can identify at least 8 different coins.  Good choices are Augustus, Nero, Hadrian, Faustina the Elder (wife of Antoninus Pius), Faustina the Younger (wife of Marcus Aurelius), Marcus Aurelius, Septimius Severus, Julia Domna (wife of Septimius Severus), Caracalla, and Constantine, but you are not confined to these. 


Write a 2-3 page paper in which you describe, in an organized fashion, what is found on these 8 coins (if your emperor has more than 8, choose 8 to discuss), both in terms of portraiture and in terms of what is on the reverse.


For portraiture, be sure to mention whether the image of the emperor/empress changes over time or in some other way, or remains the same.  For symbols on the reverse, discuss whether they all promote the same symbolic message for the empire, or whether they differ and in what way.




Be sure to include information about the material and denomination of each coin.  Tell which coin you thought was the most interesting, and why.


If you use information from these or any other websites or books, you must cite it correctly in footnotes.  If you do not do so, you are liable to be accused of plagiarism, which would automatically lead to a failing grade for the class.


Please note that 2-3 pages refers to pages that use 12-point font, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins all around.




PAPER 2 (due Oct. 12)



For this paper, you will analyze the layout of a Roman city, based on groundplans found on the web.


Go to the website for plans of Ostia Antica:




Select one regio (but not regio II), and then within the regio select one of the blocks that is pretty much fully excavated (i.e. the square/rectangle is full).  If you have any questions about what to choose, ask the instructor! 


Study your block carefully, looking at the color-key.  Write a 2-3 page paper describing what facilities are found in your block, how much space each kind takes up, and how they are organized relative to one another.  Do you think you would like to live in this section of the city?


Note that if you move your mouse over the block and hold the cursor in place, the exact building will be identified. If you click directly on the block you get a page with further information and pictures.  If you quote any of this information in your paper, please footnote it appropriately.  Finally, at the bottom of each regio's page there are links to larger views of each block.


You are expected to understand all the terms for different sorts of buildings; if you do not, look them up. 


Please note that 2-3 pages refers to pages that use 12-point font, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins all around.



PAPER 3 (due Nov. 30)



This assignment has two main objectives.  One is to have you learn to look very carefully at real objects (all objects are in the IU Art Museum).  The other is to have you learn to use words to describe what you see when you look at the objects, and what it means in the bigger context of Roman art.


Select one of the following objects that can be found in the IU Art Museum:


Balsamarium, Bust of Antinuous, 2nd-3rd c. AD, Bronze

Bronze mirror with libation at the shrine of Diana, Burton Y. Berry Collection, 62.117.114

Sarcophagus Panel, Roman, ca. AD 220, Marble, 66.27

Bowl with molded decoration, clay (Arretine red-gloss ware), 79.9.6



These objects are all objects that have a particular function and also something depicted on them.  In 2-3 pages, describe the relationship of the decoration to the object.  What is the function of the decoration?  What impression does it create?  What does this object tell you about the way the Romans experienced art in their lives?  Do you think this object was expensive?  Why?? (think carefully about this as you justify your answer, and explain exactly what you mean, using specific words to let me know how you arrive at this conclusion).

If you don't know the meaning of all the terms on the label, you should look them up.  Youl are welcome to do additional research to provide you with more information about your object, but do provide me with a list of all the sources that you consulted.


If you feel that you need some help with this sort of writing, I encourage you to consult Sylvan Barnet's A short guide to writing about art, which is on reserve in the Fine Arts Library.


Note that the IU Art Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 10-5, Sunday 12-5, and is closed Monday; you must plan your work around this.  Also please note that only pencils are allowed in the gallery; museum staff have pencils that you can borrow if you only have pens.


Please note that 2-3 pages refers to pages that use 12-point font, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins all around.