Skip to main content

Taught MA in Visual and Material Culture of Ancient Rome - Student View

City of Rome Course 2009

I do not think I have been able to find the right words so far to describe my experiences in Rome. I still feel completely overwhelmed by the two amazing, albeit intense, months that I spent on the British School at Rome’s City of Rome Course.

The course took all of us on a journey starting from Rome’s humble beginning, focusing on its origins and myths, right up until the very end of what we know as ‘late antiquity’. All involved felt extremely privileged to be able to partake in this journey with our extremely knowledgeable and energetic course leader, Dr Robert Coates- Stephens. We were treated to site visits to monuments that were not often open to the public, and some which I have to admit I had never heard of before! Our daily site visits were certainly unique and it was amazing that some of Rome’s oldest and most important monuments could be found in the most obscure and unlikely places. For example, one day we could be viewing sections of the ancient monumental walls that were integrated into some of the train station walls or in the basement of a McDonalds, or studying other monumental buildings in the basements of restaurants and in the houses of local residents. In the same day we could be standing in awe above ground admiring the grandeur of Rome’s better known buildings such as the Colosseum or in the Forum Romanum. It was truly a unique way to understand the fabric of the city and appreciate the continuing urbanism of Rome. After our daily site visits we attended public lectures and private seminars given by some of the leading voices in archaeology and ancient history, both in Italian and English. To be able to engage with current debates regarding the topography of ancient Rome in this way was fantastic and certainly entertaining. Not only were we all encouraged to discuss our own ideas with these ‘celebrities’ of our academic field, but we were lucky enough to see the sparks flying between the passionate and dramatically opposing camps of Carandini and Coarelli and their followers.

And the workload: I am not going to lie...this is not a holiday! To get the most out of the daily site visits each student was expected to have done some preparation on each site and then contribute to the discussion and evaluation of the monuments each day. Course participation is one of the many things that you will be assessed on if you take part in the course. Each student was also asked to give an onsite presentation of a monument or building of their choice, which was not part of their own research for the essay. And finally halfway through the course we had two days of student presentation back at the BSR with discussion to present you work in progress and discuss further research ideas or changes that could be made to the 5,000-6,000 word essay that had to be handed in before leaving the school. Many of us at Rome also felt that it was an excellent opportunity to begin research for our dissertations back in England and took every opportunity while there to do so.

There were several highlights for me during my two months there. The first had to be without a doubt the impromptu trip that Professor Frank Sear organised for our group. He drove us through Lazio and shared with us some sights in Rome in small villages tucked away in the hillsides. Being armed with our individual British School at Rome permesso’s also opened many doors for us when we went on group or individual visits to museums and excavations. The best of which was when we coasted through the queue of the Vatican Museums without having to wait, although we were the target of many death stares! I was also completely taken aback by our chance to climb Marcus Aurelius’ column. As this is located next to all the parliamentary buildings it was a rare thing for the authorities to allow anyone to ascend the two hundred plus steps of the column. But once up there the views of Rome were truly stunning, although scary too as the balcony was tiny!

I strongly encourage MA student thinking of studying anything to do with ancient Rome to apply for this course. Having spent two months visiting every possible ancient monument from Rome, and witnessing how the current archaeology is being conducted and debated, I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of this wonderful city. The community at the British School is extremely warm and supportive and I would like to thank them once again for making my whole experience truly unforgettable.

Ersin Hussein, June 2009