Movement in the Ancient City: new approaches to urban form and theory

David Newsome (University of Birmingham),

This session examines the dynamics of movement in the ancient city; both in terms of the archaeological practicalities of ‘finding’ movement and in terms of the theoretical approaches used to understand that movement.  It redresses the theoretical imbalance in scholarship that the highly dynamic spaces of urban landscapes remain predominantly studied from fractured, isolated and static positions.  The infrastructure of movement in the city is implicit in all studies of urban form and theory but, more often than not, this is purely contextual; as the mise-en-scène against which the narratives of singular monuments, dwellings or industries are played out.  Increasing awareness of methodological advances in urban geography and spatial theory are allowing a way beyond these limitations.  By employing new approaches to urban space (e.g. space syntax, GIS, network centrality, computer simulation) we can begin to offer new empirical analyses that are the basis of interpretations that are configurational, dynamic and experiential. 


Traffic (broadly defined as the aggregation of pedestrians or vehicles moving through a particular locality at a particular time) is a fleeting and irrecoverable behaviour.  However, archaeological research into the spatial parameters within which such patterns existed allows us, to some extent, to reconstitute this dynamism in the ancient city.  The city street has never been so susceptible to detailed quantitative analyses and theoretical reappraisal.


 Themes for papers might include, but are not limited to: What was the temporal cycle of movement across the city throughout the day (or over longer periods, with the periodic intrusion of markets, festivals or processions)?  How can movement patterns in the city be related to Lefebvre’s theory of rhythmanalysis and the appropriation of spaces in a non-political way, or to forms of repetition and function in urban life (e.g. ‘rush hour’, coming, going, stopping, flowing etc)?  How did patterns of movement reinforce social relations by repetitive behaviours mediated in the use of urban space?  How might movement and economic patterns be related? What processes (regulated or otherwise) framed the juxtaposition of social classes in the public space of the street, where common social-boundaries may be temporarily indistinct?  How did processions within urban space relate to wider patterns of movement and/or their disturbance?  How might we reconcile our contemporary theory of centralised traffic regulation with the pre-Industrial city?


Papers are particularly encouraged that have a diachronic focus; examining changing patterns of movement across time.  Also encouraged are papers that deal with one of the most frequently neglected elements of movement infrastructure in the ancient city; the river as an urban-route.  Papers that merely describe movement infrastructures will not be considered.  The aim is to build a greater understanding of modern spatial theory and quantitative analyses and their practical applications to the interpretation of urban dynamics in archaeology.  Whilst the city is a highly susceptible place for such research, papers on equivalent themes in non-urban settlement space (c.600 B.C. – A.D. 1500) will also be welcome.




Centrality in the ancient city: defining the media urbis in ideology and experience

David J. Newsome, Institute of Archaeology & Antiquity, University of Birmingham


The centre of the ancient Roman city appears, after generations of scholarly attention, to be a well understood phenomenon.  The open, easily identifiable, civic spaces seem the clear equation to centrality; such that centrality is often inferred as the apex of the hierarchy of public spaces, most commonly the forum.  However, the media urbis extended into the local sphere; civic space had no monopoly on the ancient definition of the centre of one’s city.  Rome’s lack of obvious, lived centrality led Aelius Aristides to comment that “wherever one may be in Rome, there is nothing to prevent him from being equally in the centre”. 


On the one hand, the city of Rome was topographically and conceptually overlooked by its ideological centre on the Capitoline, above the traditionally understood political centre of the city, the Forum Romanum.  Provincial cities are typically understood to have incorporated their own model of this ideological centrality in their own fora, thus perpetuating the notion that centrality in the Roman city is a corollary of their public spaces and monumental showpieces. 


On the other hand, the Capitoline and fora were beyond the realm of the vast majority of everyday experience.  For most Romans, centrality was local.  With the increasing specialisation of public spaces in the Roman city, from the mid-Republic onwards, the concept of centrality must be reconfigured.  By the end of the Republic and the start of the Principate, we instead have a city composed of multiple, discrete centres; defined at the increasingly localised resolutions of regiones, vici and compita. 


With such evidence in mind, this paper suggests that we should rethink how such spaces monopolise our scholarly interpretation of, and approach to, central space in the Roman city.  Here we examine the issues discussed above and show how we might approach localised centres by employing new methods of spatial analyses.  These tie centrality to networks of movement that can be analysed at both the local level between neighbouring streets, and totam urbem, as routes across cities that themselves generate and sustain multiple centres.  This paper explores the theoretical and methodological implications for studying the centre of the ancient city.



Activating the Map: Movement as Variable in Spatial Analysis

Eric E. Poehler, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


The patterned movement of people or vehicles is one of the most difficult behaviors to identify in the archaeological record.  While certain architectural forms prescribe certain flows, such as the vomitoria of the Colosseum or the spiral ramp in the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the actual moment of passage can rarely be observed.  Rarer still is evidence which gives that movement a direction. In Pompeii, the combined richness and vastness of the material remains has permitted just that. After a decade of fieldwork, I have reconstructed that city’s system of traffic through a detailed study of wear patterns left by ancient vehicles on curbstones, stepping-stones and other street features. Once established on a firm evidentiary foundation, the systematic movement of vehicles becomes an artifact in own right, which can be employed to serve other analyses of the urban environment. This paper explores the theoretical basis of this idea in the works of Henri Lefebvre (space and social production), Timothy Earle (materialization), and Arjun Appadurai (commodity theory) and examines the methodological implications for studying the economy and urbanism of an ancient city.


 Beyond the Walls: Determining Patterns of Extramural Movement at Pompeii

Virginia Campbell-Lewis, Department of Classics, University of Reading


Recent scholarship pertaining to movement in the ancient world specifically addresses the manner by which people and goods moved either within the city, or between two points, i.e. over long distances.   An oft neglected element of urban form that warrants further examination is the area around the city: how the ancient population moved once beyond the city walls, and how traffic patterns were determined by extramural structures such as gates, tombs and ring roads.  The nature of the remains of Pompeii, especially its containment within a complete circuit of walls, makes the city particularly suitable for this type of study.


Tombs lining the streets beyond the walls of a city are a common feature of any Roman town.  Whilst these monuments are commonly studied in terms of the information they contain about those who built them, I suggest that they can also be used to indicate patterns of movement both into and around the city of Pompeii.  The location of particular tomb types, namely the schola or bench tombs, suggest a place in which people were expected to stop.  Their presence, or lack thereof, beyond specific gates, demonstrates a conscious decision to control movement.  In addition, the spatial relationships of the tombs to the city gates and the roads out of town indicate patterns of movement.  Most tombs are placed along roads running out of the city, perpendicular to the walls.


The tombs at Porta Nuceria follow a plan that is parallel to the city walls, suggesting the existence of a ring road around Pompeii.  This idea has been supported by excavations at other gates, and is a viable option for a busy port town such as Pompeii by keeping intramural traffic to a minimum.  The existence of a ring road is further supported by the proximity of Porta Nuceria to the amphitheatre: traffic would have increased exponentially on game days, and the desire to keep spectators and visitors from other places moving away from the city would have been great. 


The city of Pompeii served a number of populations besides its own as an economic centre and a location for entertainment.  This necessitated the regulation of the movement of people and goods through the city, and more importantly, around the city walls.  In order to understand how traffic flowed through the city, it is crucial to also be aware of the methods employed for moving beyond the city walls. 


Symbolic landscapes and urbanism: approaching an analysis of movement in the towns of Roman Britain

Adam Rogers, Department of Archaeology, University of Durham


This paper argues that one method of tackling the ways in which movement was conducted in the ancient city from an archaeological perspective is to put greater emphasis on theoretical approaches towards understanding urbanism and the way in which the cities, as places, were perceived and experienced and also interacted with symbolic landscapes. The focus here is on urbanisation in Roman Britain, although it has potential for examining and comparing other parts of the Roman Empire, as well as other areas and periods in time. The locations of towns in Roman Britain have traditionally been explored in militaristic and economic terms concentrating on the practical considerations of the sites for defence and the rivers for sanitation, transport and commerce. Though useful, it is unlikely that the pre-Roman peoples, and indeed the Romans themselves, will have necessarily experienced or understood towns and their settings in solely such practical terms. Changing social attitudes to understanding land and perceptions of the body, such as the creation of ‘landscape’, the predominance of the economic and the rejection of symbolic and mythical land, will have impacted upon the way in which studies have often approached issues such as urbanism, and movement within cities, in the past.


As a way of examining this, the paper looks at some case studies of sites at which towns were located – a number of which incorporated ritually significant watery locations within complex landscapes – and the ways in which these may have continued to have importance in the Roman period with urbanisation creating a complex understanding of towns and their hinterlands. This in turn is likely to have impacted upon the way in which life within towns and their surroundings was conducted. As places, towns can be considered in terms of entities gathering people in deeply acculturated ways and their significance would have built up over time, interacting with the pre-existing meanings attached to place, through human action, memory and encounter. This approach to the experience of urbanism contrasts with notions of the disconnected nature of place and the solely functionalist and economic roles of cities.



Integrating the Insulae: Street network and place-based activity in 2nd century Ostia

Hanna Stöger, Leiden University


Ostia, next to Pompeii and Herculaneum is one of the few Roman cities where the full complexity of urban space can be explored. This paper will focus on the city’s maximal expansion during the 2nd century AD. This period has been largely described as a boomtown phenomenon prompted by an enormous influx of newcomers into the city. While the city seemed unable to balance its vast expansion with an adequate formal infrastructure, informally the inhabitants found various ways to negotiate the city and managed to carve out their own space in old, new and contested terrain.


Using examples from particular place-based activities in urban space (seats of voluntary associations, insula-living with inward trend) this paper explores how Ostia’s street network was re-negotiated and adapted to specific situations. Preliminary results of a Space Syntax analysis applied to the street network together with selected areas of the built environment will allow a more nuanced understanding of how the inhabitants engaged with socially prescribed space.


Classic Maya social space: changing patterns of access, spatial segmentation and social status in the Maya lowlands

Jeffery Seibert, Department of Anthropology, Trent University


This paper seeks to analyse the changing nature of patterns of movement through urban environments in the Maya area over time, examining both the changing morphology of Maya centres and the concomitant changes in movement through these cities them. This paper will look at both the nature of movement in cites themselves, in particular the points of articulation between the broader urban fabric and architectural complexes and buildings, shedding light on the changing relationship between “public” and “private” space in the region. While this paper can hardly be exhaustive given the amount of data available, it does seek to elucidate some general trends concerning the changing nature of spatial patterning and movement in Maya cities, and how these changes reflect concurrent changes in Maya society. This analysis will be conducted through a combination of architectural, art historical, and spatial analyses (in particular space syntax analysis).



Dr. Dominic Perring, University College London