Roma renascens: the political motivations of ancient Rome’s urban renewals

  • Cornwell, H. (Invited speaker)
  • Carlos Lopez-Galviz (Chair)
  • Julio Davila (Chair)

Activity: Academic and Industrial eventsConference, workshop or symposium


The city of Rome was a city of memory; its history, particularly in respect of institutional and political structures, was intimately tied to the topography and architecture of the urban-scape, even if this history was a construction of contemporary ideologies. However, whilst the Rome of antiquity revelled in the monumentality of the past, it did not do so through the ruinenlust of Piranesi, but the maintenance and renewal of urban spaces that served to articulate the continued importance of the past to debates of the present.

Political life was a sited activity: it was not simply that political decision-making required physical interactions in specific and ritualized spaces within the urbs; the built space of the city provided a framework for the conceptualization of debate, and grounded the topics and circumstances of political discourse in urban fabric. Times of political instability and subsequent restoration of the res publica provoked competition for control of public space and continued reclamation of urban spaces in the name of certain ideological stances.

This paper will examine two different contexts which fuelled programmes of regeneration and renewal of Rome’s urban spaces in the late Republic and early Empire, which served in their own ways to construct the history of the city in relation to contemporary ideologies:

1) Continuity of structures seen as integral to the city as a political entity
2) Re-appropriation, reuse and reformulation of spaces and structures

Environmental factors also influenced the possible ways in which urban renewals could be packaged and framed, as regards questions of purpose and agency. Finally, a connective thread on control of the urban space and its relationship to ideas of ‘private’ and ‘public’ space will be examined.

The physical regeneration of such sites did not, of course, occur in isolation, but as part of a wider political discourse on the nature of power within the state; nevertheless, urban changes at Rome offered a contemporary audience and actors perhaps the most immediate indication of power dynamics and control of the state.
Period29 Aug 20181 Sept 2018
Held atRoma Tre University, Italy
Degree of RecognitionInternational