Politics, Power and Architectural Production

Dr. Penelope Davies,
Dr. Margaret Woodhull,
Dr. Alison Shah,
Dr. Nayla Muntasser,
Smilja Milovanovic-Bertram
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It is a rare public building in the western world that has not been influenced in one way or another by Roman architecture. The most straightforward reason for this is that Roman architecture is an architecture of power: its forms express strength, often through explicit over-engineering, and the repetition of its characteristic forms, the column and the arch, suggest an inescapable presence. Yet, more than that, from early in their history Romans also recognized that these built forms could express forceful hierarchies, by literally shaping human behavior. As a result, a ruling elite across the ages in and beyond the Mediterranean have kept careful control over the practice of architectural patronage and its Classical expression as a hegemonic practice.

This session explores the impact of political systems on architecture in and beyond Italy. The first paper, “Power Building: Architecture and the constitution in Republican Rome,” examines the birth of Roman public architecture, and argues that Rome’s overwhelmingly persuasive architectural forms grew out of the tension created by a political system that closely controlled patronage of buildings on the one hand, and yet fostered extraordinary competition for public office on the other. Constrained as they were, magistrates first discovered ways to disguise political ambition as religious piety, and then exploited the mandates of their offices to promote their own careers, as well as developing types of monument over which the senate had no immediate control.

In the Empire, it was almost exclusively the imperial family who commissioned buildings in Rome; other members of the elite saw the dangers of competing in the capital, and built only in other cities. The second paper, “Dynastic Designs: Women, Architecture and Patronage in Imperial Rome,” discusses the emergence of a new group of patrons as a result of the change of political system: women. The first emperor Augustus’ wife, Livia, became an active patron of buildings in Rome, such as the Porticus Liviae, through which she stamped the city with her presence. Though her commissions explicitly supported Augustus’ social policies, they also supported his heirs: for as critical as a woman’s child-bearing role was for maintaining the citizen population during the Republic, it was only with the shift to a hereditary monarchy that her role was directly and publicly relevant to maintaining the status of the ruling elite.

The third paper, “The Palladian Palace and the Politics of Allegiance in 19th century Hyderabad, India,” examines the rise in popularity of Suburban palaces displaying Italian heritage in Hyderabad.The final paper, “Politics son, archaeology and technology: Lepcis Magna as a case study for an interdisciplinary approach to ancient sites,” takes the discussion out of the center of Rome to a north African city that underwent dramatic changes in image through the centuries as a result of its altering relationship with Rome and its administration. In the early Empire, local Punic patrons commissioned buildings that attempted "Romanization" with local civic identity. By the early third century, when one of its sons, Septimius Severus, was emperor of Rome, Lepcis’ residents became full citizens of Rome. All the same, his architectural benefactions to his home city differ strongly from those in the city of Rome, emphasizing indigenous beliefs and values. This paper focuses on the impact of the Italian government’s nationalist policies upon Lepcis’ most recent phase, its excavation in the 1930’s. It explores the effects of developing archaeological technologies and political and scholarly agendas upon the site’s construction in the modern age.

The session concludes with a the comments of a discussant.

Keywords: Architecture, Rome, Politics, Constitution, Women
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Colloquium in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Penelope Davies

Associate Professor, Department of Art & Art History, University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas, USA

Penelope Davies received her PhD in Classical Archaeology from Yale University. She currently teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the intersection between art and architecture and politics in ancient Rome. She is the author of Death and the Emperor: The Funerary Monuments of the Roman Emperors (Cambridge University Press), and co-author of Janson's History of Art, seventh edition. She is currently working on a book on art, architecture and politics in the Roman Republic.

Dr. Margaret Woodhull

Graduate Interdisciplinary Studies Program, University of Colorado, Denver and Health Sciences Center

Dr. Alison Shah

Department of History, University of Colorado, Denver and Health Sciences Center

Dr. Nayla Muntasser

Institute of Classical Archeology, University of Texas at Austin

Smilja Milovanovic-Bertram

School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin

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