The footage of jubilant Iraqis tearing down a statue of Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the Iraq war reminds us how highly charged with meaning statues and other monuments can be. Arguably no people in history has set up as many monuments in public space as the ancient Greeks. Their markets, streets, gymnasia, theatres and bathhouses were full of bronze and marble sculpture, tombs and public inscriptions. The numbers of monuments on display reached its peak at the height of the Roman Empire in the 2nd Century A.D, the result of accumulation over centuries and of new monuments being erected with increasing frequency. This phenomenon is one of the most remarkable characteristics of ancient Greek urbanism yet the impact public monuments had on polis society and culture has never been subject to systematic investigation. That is the aim of this project.
Crossing the boundaries between ancient history and archaeology and drawing on spatial theory the project will look at the many ways that public monuments were used to define and contest relationships of power within the Roman period polis (c.200 B.C – 200 A.D). I will compile a database for all monuments attested as standing in public spaces in Greek cities in the Roman period which will be used to explore their significance The central focus in this enquiry will be how spatial context gave monuments their meaning. I will investigate how different groups (e.g. emperors, elites, civic authorities, families, trade associations) deployed monuments in different public spaces in order to cement or challenge relations of power. I will also explore the impact that monuments had on the lives of the Greeks who moved among them. The project will challenge the current consensus that increasing numbers of monuments under Roman influence transformed Greek civic centres into museum-like spaces devoid of meaningful human interaction and will deepen our understanding of the post-Classical polis.
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