In June of this past summer, I had the privilege of participating in the taught-abroad course History 308: Rome: Building and Living in the Ancient City. Over the course of the month, our small group analyzed the cultural and historical significance of several extant aspects of Ancient Roman society, including sculptures, monuments, temples, aqueducts, inscriptions, and even the layout of the ancient city itself. We began our studies in the small medieval town of Narni, proceeded to the Bay of Naples (where we explored the preserved ruins of Herculaneum, Pompeii, and the Villa of Poppaea), and concluded the final two weeks of the course in Rome itself.
Each day, we would learn about Ancient Roman society and culture while exploring the city or town we were visiting and directly engaging with its Ancient Roman remains. While I found this an exciting way to learn in itself, we were also responsible for a number of assignments which complemented the knowledge we had gained through exploring our environments. These included giving two presentations on important structures or sites, collaborating with other students in a group video project, and writing a scholarly blog. The blog assignment in particular encouraged us to explore our specific interests, as we each chose a broad theme related to Ancient Roman culture and researched any number of narrower topics within that theme.
For my blog assignment, I chose to focus on epigraphy and other public writing, a subject of particular interest to me because most of the ancient inscriptions I would encounter would be in Latin. I have taken all of the Latin courses offered at the University of Saskatchewan, and in April of this year I actually completed the last of the requirements to obtain the Certificate in Classical and Medieval Latin. Since I find the language fascinating and have enjoyed studying it for the past three years, I was excited at the prospect of studying this language in its original context. However, my experience in Latin was primarily in Latin prose, and epigraphy is a vastly different medium. In my research, I had to adjust to the challenging conventions specific to epigraphy. The most prominent of these conventions is the consistent use of abbreviations, which was an obstacle in translating and situating the inscription in context.
Over the course of my blog, I explored the cultural implications of different kinds of inscriptions, such as honorific, dedicatory, funerary, and imperial epigraphy. I addressed a range of topics: I discovered that the epitaphs in the Tomb of the Scipios were, curiously, written in verse form; I learned of varying interpretations and implications of the inscription on the Arch of Constantine; and I explored the conventions of Ancient Roman and Early Christian funerary inscriptions. We encountered new and diverse inscriptions each day that I could analyze and incorporate into my personal research. In fact, there were so many inscriptions available for study that I could not even address all of the epigraphs I wished to, and so I hope one day to be able to return to Italy and study Latin epigraphy in person once again.
My interest in this topic also correlated with the subject of my group video project, which was ancient graffiti . Although in one of my blog posts I did investigate some graffiti scratched into the pavement, as well as the inscribed game board alongside it, I tended to focus my research on more formal epigraphy in an attempt to produce an assignment with different content. That being said, I nevertheless appreciated the way in which I could address this broader theme of inscriptions in all of my assignments, and the fact that I could draw on my daily experiences to create my blog posts. I was able to incorporate my research on inscriptions into my presentations on the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum, and the Arch of Constantine. We even visited and studied the Vatican’s epigraph collections as a class for an extended period of time, which was a truly fascinating experience that I was able to include in my blog.
The entire experience was incredible. The way the course allowed me to engage so directly with the remnants of Ancient Roman society, and enabled me to see personally what I read in the course textbooks, made the class so much more interesting. It was fascinating to walk through such remarkable feats of architecture in a city with such ancient roots. Even the assignments contributed to this experience, as they were so diverse and relevant to our everyday activities that they enabled us to explore subjects which interested us in far greater detail. I am so grateful that I was able to take advantage of this unbelievable opportunity.
By Jaclyn Morken