Classics student presents on findings from Rome dig

Photograph courtesy of Gordon Kelly

By Paige Rolen

In order to fully absorb, understand, and contextualize research findings, students must tread out into the vast unknown and explore the world outside of the classroom. This deemed particularly true for Classics major Hannah Jay ’20. Over the summer, alongside Associate Professor with term in Classics and Chair of the Classics Program, Gordon Kelly, Jay excavated a villa in Rome, Italy, as part of her research for the Classics department.  

In her presentation titled “Roman Villas: Agriculture as Spectacle,” Jay talked about her research on how agricultural productions are a spectacle, as well as her five weeks of research that was conducted over the summer.  The purpose of the research was to, as Jay said, “examine the concept of agricultural production (mainly wine and olive oil) as a source of entertainment for wealthy Romans on imperial-era Roman villas in central Italy. The archaeological dig at Vacone was a way to get firsthand experience on the subject on one of the most prominent olive oil-producing villas in the imperial period in the upper Sabina Tiberina region.”

Following the excavation at Vacone, Jay and her team examined the layouts of the Villa Magna and the Villa Regina and studied and analyzed the written evidence from the Villa Magna. They concluded that agricultural production as spectacle was likely a key element of villa life for wealthy Romans. Jay presented these findings at the Classics colloquium on November 15 in Miller hall.

“It was a really cool experience, and it taught me a lot of things that I wouldn’t have learned in the classroom,” Jay said.

Jay’s colloquium also inspired young Classics students.

“You don’t really see how everything you learn about in the classics colloquium, and about Rome specifically, such as art, socioeconomic trends, cultural patterns, ect. really affect the people living there, or how it shapes the culture and atmosphere. It was amazing to see how all these artistic pieces affected the villa itself,” Laura Everson ’18, said.

Everson reflected on the fascinating items that were discovered under the villa, and how much private land there was to discover. She said the talk peaked her interest in archaeology.

The excavations gave Kelly a new perspective on teaching Roman and Greek antiquity.

“As a Classicist, I’ve been trained to read and interpret literary texts,” Kelly said. “Working at the excavations has made me look more closely at archaeological evidence and how it informs our knowledge of Roman civilization. As a result of my experience at the excavations, I try to incorporate more material culture into my classes.”

Furthermore, Kelly reflected on the value of hands on experience while conducting research with students.

“It’s always a great experience to work with students at the excavations, and to undertake research outside of the usual campus setting,” Kelly said. “Hannah did an outstanding job both in the library-based research on Roman villas, and then applied her research to the excavation site itself. She contributed a lot of insights to the project that really helped us to successfully combine both traditional text-based research with archaeological field work.”

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