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COURSE NAME: "Cities, Towns & Villas: Rome, Ostia, Pompeii"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Sophy Downes
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TH9:15 AM 12:00 PM
PREREQUISITES: On-site; mandatory trip; activity fee: €40 or $52
OFFICE HOURS: by appointment

Rome, Ostia and Pompeii are three of the best- preserved archaeological sites in the world. Through their study, we are able to comprehend the physical and social nature of Roman cities and how they transformed over the course of centuries. We explore the subjects of urban development, public and private buildings, economic and social history, and art incorporated into urban features (houses, triumphal monuments, etc.). In Rome, we focus primarily upon public buildings commissioned by Senators and Emperors: temples, law courts, theaters, triumphal monuments, baths. In Ostia, the port-city of Rome, we are able to experience many aspects of daily life: commerce, housing, religion, entertainment. Pompeii represents a well-to-do Republican and early Imperial period city that was influenced by the Greeks and Romans and preserves some of the most magnificent frescoes in the world.

The course is an introduction to urban living in the ancient world that will provide students with an appreciation of the multifaceted character of urban spaces, monuments and artworks in their historical context. 


The course will investigate three diverse urban centers in order to consider their particular characteristics and developments, as well as their place in a composite and vast empire. In particular, it will explore urban living as a stage for social relationships and civic status, and consider the importance of public patronage. 


Investigations of the agency of individuals and cities in the cultural discourse of Roman identity will form the framework for the course. These include: civic and domestic space as areas for the performance of status and social exchange; gift giving and benefaction as political currency and engagement; and cultural interaction as a dynamic relationship, not the least across a vast and cosmopolitan empire.


Classes are taught entirely on site at archaeological sites and in museums in a first-hand encounter with the monuments, spaces and artworks discussed. Historically it focuses primarily on the period from c. 100 BC-AD 300, the late Republic and Empire.




Ability to analyze – and contextualize – characteristics of ancient Roman culture

         Ability to understand key aspects of Roman art and to analyze motives of their creation and reception. Ability to identify trends and developmental aspects, as well as cross-cultural inspirations 

Ability to analyze art, architecture and material culture as primary sources

         Ability to interpret diverse artistic media and their impact, and ability to use relevant historical, art historical and architectural terminology to effect. Understanding of the context of public and private art and architecture – and the ability for comparative analyses of these 

Ability to contextualize the construction of cultural identities and artistic developments

         Ability to analyze material culture as dynamic interactions of inspiration, response and emulation – not simply imperialism or military control. Appreciation of diversity of directions of artistic inspiration. Ability to see the selectivity in adoption or rejection of forms, 



Communicative skills – writing and oral competence

     Term paper: Organization of material, focus on topic, and nuance in discussion 

     Exams: Contextual and nuanced discussion, focused presentation of data 

     Class presentations: Public speaking (presentation and development of argument) and didactic methods (engaging audience, posing questions) 

     Participation: Analytical responses; participating in debates; posing questions 

Cognitive skills – critical thinking and interpretation

     Class presentation: Evaluation and analysis of evidence; reflection on significance

     Participation: Reasoned consideration of evidence and methods; willingness to adapt/revise ways of thinking; openness to alternative perspectives

     Term paper and exams: Subtlety, nuance and engagement in approach to the topic

     Lectures and class presentations: Visual analysis; historical contextualization; interpretative thesis

Collaborative and shared inquiry skills

     Lectures and participation: Investigative response-skills; collaborative contributions; open debate

     Class presentations: Test, explore and communicate complex ideas

Investigative skills and evaluation of data

     Term paper and class presentations: Using and evaluating diverse secondary texts; interpreting the arguments presented

     Lectures and participation: Evaluation of context and impact of objects and spaces

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
A History of Roman ArtStephen TuckWiley9780199546831     
Rome: An Oxford Archaeological GuideAmanda ClaridgeOxford0192880039     

Academic participation 10%
Class presentation 15%
Mid-term exam 20%
Term Paper 25%
Final Exam 30%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


·    You are expected to participate in all scheduled classes; absences will be noted and may affect your final grade. Please refer to the university catalogue.

·    Punctuality is necessary; late arrival will be noted and may affect your final grade.

·    You are responsible for identifying the location of, and route to, the meeting points of the classes. You should calculate around 40-50 minutes travel time to our meeting points. For bus/subway route planner see www.atac.it. For details of locations with links to googlemaps see details posted on Moodle.

·    Class will take place no matter the weather. Please dress accordingly and appropriately for visiting public sites and museums in the city. 


Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Students should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed.

Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam: a major exam (midterm or final) cannot be made up without the permission of the Dean’s Office. Permission will be granted only when the absence is caused by a serious impediment or grave situation. Absences due to conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, etc. will not be excused.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.



 1.  Introduction to the Course, and to Rome.

Meet: JCU classroom

 2. From Romulus to Caesar, the Roman Forum

Meet: Campidoglio (next to the statue of Marcus Aurelius)

 3. The Republic – Triumphs and Temples

Meet: Piazza Farnese 

4. Republic to Imperial Rome: Portraits and Sculpture

Meet: Campidoglio (next to the statue of Marcus Aurelius)

5.  Pax Augusta

Meet: Entrance to the Ara Pacis Museum.

 6.  *Mid-term Exam* 

Meet: JCU classroom

7. Palaces, Nero and the Flavians

Meet: Metro Colosseo

 8. The High Empire: Imperial Fora and the Campus Martius

Meet: Trajan’s column

 9. Tetrarchs to Constantine: Re-using Rome 

Meet: Campidoglio

 0. No class (used for Ostia trip) 

 0. No class (used for Ostia trip)

0. No class (used for Pompeii trip)

0. No class (used for Pompeii trip)

 *Term Paper due*

10.  Review Class                                      

Meet: JCU classroom

11.  *Final Exam*

Meet: tba


*Fri. Oct 13th, Pompeii: Civic identity, the Roman house

Meet: Piazza Trilussa – 6.50 am


 *Sat. Oct 28th. Ostia – Rome’s Port and Roman Houses 

Meet: Ostiense train station (next to Metro stop “Piramide”) - 10.00 am