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

INSTRUCTOR: Ambra Spinelli
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: T9:15 AM 12:00 PM
PREREQUISITES: On-site; mandatory trip; activity fee: €40 or $52

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.

This course introduces ancient Roman civilization and urban living by investigating three diverse urban centers: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia. It will begin with the evidence for the earliest settlement in Rome and continue through the development of the Republic, the Empire, and the transition to early Christian Rome. The course will explore different building types in their historical and topographical contexts, including civic, religious, commercial, and funerary monuments, as well as domestic architecture (from small rental apartments, to aristocratic houses, villas, and imperial palaces). This broad range of settings will provide a unique opportunity to discuss specific aspects of Roman social, urban, and private life, including benefactions and civic patronage, religious beliefs and institutions, cross-cultural influences and exchanges, and social structure and mobility, among others.

While the city of Rome itself will be our primary focus, we will also investigate comparative material from the well-preserved towns of Ostia and Pompeii to understand the transformation of Roman cities through time. The course will be conducted entirely on-site, and therefore the two fieldtrips to Pompeii and Ostia are mandatory.


**The fieldtrips to Pompeii and Ostia will take place respectively on Friday, Oct. 27th and Saturday, Oct. 28th.


Students will acquire knowledge on the main subjects of the discipline by analyzing several different types of evidence, including material culture and literary sources. The first-hand experience of monuments in their historical context will allow them to critically analyze the social, political, cultural, and economic background that informs the ancient archaeological and architectural evidence. Students will also gain knowledge and understanding of the importance of Roman cities for our understanding of ancient urban culture, as well as of modern urban culture. The on-site exercises, discussions, written and oral assignments are aimed to a further development of research and communication skills.

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberCommentsFormatLocal BookstoreOnline Purchase
The Ancient Roman CityStambaugh, John John Hopkins University Press. 978-0801835742  Hard Copy  
Rome: An Oxford Archaeological GuideClaridge, AmandaOxford University Press 978-0199546831 Ebook is fine too.Hard Copy  

Participation & On-Site Activities 10%
Midterm Exam 20%
Oral Report (On-Site) 15%
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 cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday 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.

Attendance is mandatory. You are expected to participate in all scheduled classes. Classes start on-site and thus punctuality is essential; three tardy arrivals will count as one unexcused absence. Absences and late arrivals will result in the lowering of the final class 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 (specified below in the class schedule). Please refer to the university catalog for attendance and absence policy.


ATTENTION: For legal reasons no visitors are allowed to follow the class.

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.


**The fieldtrips to Pompeii and Ostia will take place respectively on Friday, Oct. 27th and Saturday, Oct. 28th.


IMPORTANT NOTE: classes on campus (Chapel, Room 2) start at 8:30am. Regular on-site classes at 9:15am. Check carefully the schedule, please!


Week 1. September 5

TOPIC: Introduction to the Course. Logistics & chronological overview, history, topography, and foundation myth

MEETING PLACE: JCU Classroom (Chapel, Room 2) at 8:30am.

READING: Claridge 2010: 4-59 (Roman history, documentary sources, building types and techniques).

[Recommended: Beard M. “Meet the Romans” (3hrs, YouTube videos in preparation for the course)].


Week 2. September 12

TOPIC: Survey of Early Rome + Discussion of oral reports, paper topics, guidelines, and expectations.

Tiber & Cloaca Maxima; Forum Boarium, Archaic Temples of Sant’Omobono, Capitoline Hill, Palatine Hill, Forum Romanum (overview).

MEETING PLACE: JCU Classroom (Chapel Room, 2) at 8:30am. Second part of class on-site.

READING: Claridge 2010: 4-9 (history), 63-67, 75-77, 83-84, 105-111 (Forum Romanum), 132-133 (Hut of Romulus), 259-262, 268-70 (Capitoline, Temple of Jupiter), 282-288 (Sant’Omobono & Forum Boarium), 257-258 (Tiber Island); Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 1 & 15.


Week 3. September 19

TOPIC: Religion and architecture walk: military success & urban "spectacle" in Late Republic and Early Empire

Theater of Pompeii, Victory Temples at Largo Argentina, Circus Flaminius, Temple of Apollo Medicus/Sosianus, Portico of Metellus/Octavia, Theater of Marcellus.MiC Card needed.

MEETING PLACE: At the Tower in Largo Argentina (“Torre del Papito”). 

READING: Claridge 2010: 9-12 (history), 239-246, 250-256 (Theatre of Pompey, Victory Temples at Largo Argentina, Portico of Metellus/Octavia), 274-282 (Theater of Marcellus, Temple of Apollo Medicus/Sosianus, Forum Holitorium); Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 3 & 13.


Week 4. September 26

TOPIC: Society and freedom: Rome between Late Republic and Early Empire

Forum Romanum: Tabularium, Rostra, Curia, Comitium, Temple of Saturn, Basilica Aemilia, Porticus of Gaius and Lucius, Basilica Julia, Temple of the Castors, Temple of Divus Julius, Temple of Vesta, Forum of Caesar & Forum of Augustus. ParCo Card needed.

MEETING PLACE: At the Column of Trajan (near Piazza Venezia).

READING: Claridge 2010: 10-15 (history), 63-75, 85-87, 92-95, 100-103 (Forum Romanum), 160-169 (Forum of Caesar), 177-180 (Forum of Augustus); Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 2, 6 & 7.


Week 5. October 3

NO CLASS (used for Pompeii trip)


Week 6. October 10

TOPIC: The development of a new urban image: Augustan Rome + Midterm Review

Mausoleum, Res Gestae, Ara Pacis, Solarium, Agrippa’s Pantheon and building program. MiC Card needed.

MEETING PLACE: At the entrance to the Ara Pacis Augustae Museum, (Lungotevere in Augusta).

READING: Claridge 2010: 12-15, 40-43 (history & building materials), 197-216, 232-233 (Augustan Campus Martius); Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 4.


Week 7. October 17

Midterm Exam.

MEETING PLACE: JCU Classroom (Chapel, Room 2) at 8:30am.


Week 8. October 24

TOPIC: Introduction to Pompeii and Ostia

*Paper’s outline due today - bring printed copy in class + brief oral presentation in class

MEETING PLACE: JCU Classroom (Chapel, Room 2) at 8:30am.

READING: Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 17(Pompeii) & 18 (Ostia); Take a look at the guidebooks for Pompeii and Ostia to begin learning about the sites before our fieldtrips.


Friday, October 27

Fieldtrip to Pompeii.

TOPIC: History of the Town, Private and Public Infrastructures, Daily Life

MEETING PLACE: Piazza Trilussa at 6:50am! (Departure bus: 7:00am!).

READING: Berry 2007: Ch. 5 & 6; Kleiner 2010: 18-45; Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 10, 11 (only 191-194) & 12.

To locate and learn about Pompeii’s monuments, see:




Saturday, October 28

Fieldtrip to Ostia.

TOPIC: History of the Town, Public and Private Infrastructures, Roman Economy

MEETING PLACE: Outside the entrance to Porta San Paolo Train Station at 9:00am! (We will take together the Ostia lido train).

READING: Coarelli 2014: 450-476; Kleiner 2010: 203-215; Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 8.

To locate and learn about Ostia Antica’s monuments, see:




Week 9. October 31

NO CLASS (used for Pompeii trip)


Week 10. November 7

TOPIC: Reshaping of a neighborhood: entertainment, politics, and the Rome of the Flavians

Domus Aurea, Arch of Titus, Forum of Peace, Forum Transitorium, Colosseum, Ludus Magnus, Circus Maximus. ParCo Card needed.

MEETING PLACE: At the Arch of Constantine (Forum side). 

READING: Claridge 2010: 16-18 (history), 121-123 (Arch of Titus), 169-176 (Temple of Peace, Forum of Nerva), 299-300 (Circus Maximus), 301-308 (Domus Aurea, Meta Sudans), 312-319 (Colosseum, Ludus Magnus); Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 5 (only 67-75) & 14.


Week 11. November 14

TOPIC: Making Rome a metropolis: urban development during the High Empire

Stadium and Odeum of Domitian, Pantheon, Hadrianeum; Forum, Column, and Markets of TrajanMiC Card needed.

MEETING PLACE: At the Tower in Largo Argentina (“Torre del Papito”).

 READING: Claridge 2010: 18-21 (history), 197-204 (Campus Martius), 223-238 (Hadrianeum, Pantheon, Stadium and Odeum of Domitian), 180-96 (Forum and Markets of Trajan); Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 5 (only 75-81), 9 & 13.


Week 12. November 21

NO CLASS (used for Ostia trip)


Week 13. November 28

TOPIC: The Transformation of the City in the Late Empire through centuries: transition from Pagan to Christian + Review Class

Arch of Constantine, Basilica Nova, Temple of Venus and Roma, Basilica of San Clemente  

*Term Paper Due Today - bring printed copy in class & submit digital form via Moodle

MEETING PLACE: At the Arch of Constantine (Forum side).

 READING: Claridge 2010: 21-28 (history), 115-117 (Basilica Nova), 118-121 (Temple of Venus and Roma), 306-308 (Colossus, Meta Sudans), 308-312 (Arch of Constantine), 319-324 (San Clemente); Stambaugh 1988: Ch. 5 (only 81-85); Walsh 2018: 4-12 (cult of Mithras).


Week 14. December 5

TOPIC: Course Review

MEETING PLACE: JCU Classroom (Chapel, Room 2).


Week 15. December 12

FINAL EXAM (9:30-11:30am; Chapel, Room 2)