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Arche to Architecture: The Forum in Republican Rome.

Part 1 Dissertation 2010
Morgan Lewis
University of Cambridge Cambridge UK
The origins of the forum/agora was reciprocal with the emergence of the first democratic city-states. In turn, the decline of the Forum was intimately connected with the end of Roman Republican government. Therefore, as well as being the most diverse and probably the most sophisticated public space in history the Forum illustrates a remarkably tight symmetry between architectural/urban form (the Forum, significantly, is of an intermediate order) and social organization. In order to unpick this relationship the Dissertation began by asking: what role did the Forum play in Republican Rome?

This dissertation explored this simply by an investigation into the Forum’s origins and its late-Republican transformation. These formed the two principle avenues of investigation. The first involved placing the formation of the Forum in the context of a Mediterranean-wide process of urbanization in order to better understand the general relationship between the forum, the city and the changes in the self-understanding of ancient societies. This understanding was then used to clarify the sequence, and the significance, of Rome’s foundation. The second avenue involved examining the causes and characteristics of the reinterpretation of the Forum at the end of the Republic. This hinged upon exploring the reciprocity between imperial expansion, institutional change and the changing means of representation.

The Dissertation was most rewarding for the diversity of research that it required. Establishing connections between complex and incomplete material remains and enquiries into how the self-understanding of a society informs its modes of representation was highly stimulating. The classical City was the source (and eventually, in its perspectivised form, the paradigm) of most of European culture and architecture. Thus I also found the conclusions worthwhile.

Morgan Lewis


Morgan Lewis’ Dissertation reviewed the fundamental question of the establishment of the Roman Forum, and its absorption into late Hellenistic perspectivity at the time of Caesar. Drawing upon the ancient sources, the most recent archaeology, as well as upon studies pertaining to the nature of ritual, to political order in the ancient world and to architectural representation, he has provided a substantial revision to a story rarely questioned, particularly within architectural history.

Among these revisions may be included:
- By realising that the evolution of the Roman Forum took place as part of a broad spectrum of urban transformation in the Mediterranean, it is no longer seen as a derivative of the Greek Polis, but part of that larger order.
- It now appears that the identity of the urbs proceeded in two main phases, a domestic cult having its centre on the NE corner of the Palatine and, somewhat later, the establishment of the political centre at the western end of what is then clearly a Forum.
- The significance of the ritual topography in maintaining the identity of the Roman Forum distinguishes it from, for example, Greek towns, and helps to account for the importance of architecture to Roman representation generally.
- The influence of late Hellenistic [particularly Alexandrian] thinking on Roman representation (e.g, the interaction of myth and history, perspectivism, a form of iconographic combinatorics in architecture) produced the vision of architectural embodiment of civic ideals that so inspired the Renaissance and our subsequent understanding of city.

Remarkably well-researched and clearly argued, the Dissertation manages to compress within its brief compass a very rich and profound interpretation of both the origins of Rome and of the meaning of city. At a time when cities are for us mostly economic topographies, Lewis’ Dissertation is a most apposite contribution.

Tutor(s)
Mr Peter Carl
2010
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