Excavated ruins in Ostia Antica

Lucas Knutson ’17 — Traveling to Rome with Dr. Nelson and Dr. Hartnett for spring break was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had to date. While spring breaking with two of your professors isn’t a typical spring break trip for a college student, I had more fun and learned more in Rome than on any vacation in Florida. The reason for our trip was to examine first-hand how early Christianity manifested and propagated in Rome. Accordingly, we spent a majority of our time visiting Christian churches to analyze the iconography present in the artwork, how the shape and character of the city facilitated the growth of the early religion, and, conversely, how Christianity changed Rome.

One of the most startling observations I made in Rome was how Christianized Rome became after the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Starting with the magnificent Christian basilicas erected by Constantine, grandiose Christian churches were built all over, often on top of preexisting structures, as the early religion gained prominence. Our visit to the Basilica of San Clemente truly illustrated the changes that took place over time and how Rome is, in the words of Dr. Hartnett, “literally built on top of itself.”

Upon descending into what I thought was the basement of the basilica, it became evident that the current building – built around 1100 – was actually a three-tiered structure (see https://goo.gl/kd6tvi for an illustration). The basement was actually the foundation of a 4th Century Church, which was built on top of a 2nd Century pagan temple, which was built on top of 1st Century Roman buildings. This basilica was a perfect example of how Rome was Christianized over time and was, quite literally, built on top of itself leaving it layered like an onion.

In addition to exploring Rome, we also traveled to Ostia Antica, the harbor city of ancient Rome located at the mouth of the Tiber, to examine the physical characteristics of Imperial Roman city. Confirming Juvenal’s account of Imperial Rome in Satire III (see: https://goo.gl/6XtK3G ) that we read in class, it was clear that his account of noisy, crowded streets was mostly accurate, as the buildings were tightly packed together around streets paved with volcanic stones (Figure 1).

Additionally, it was interesting to observe that Romans still, in the words of Juvenal, “toe the line of fashion.” In contrast to a typical weekday at Wabash College, almost everyone in Rome was well dressed in stylish clothing. I think that I saw more people wearing skin-tight, black leather pants in one week in Rome than in 21 years in the United States. So, if you ever travel to Rome, be sure to pack plenty of dress shirts and skin-tight pants.  Nevertheless, this was an experience of a lifetime, and I encourage anyone interested in an immersive experience to apply. Finally, I would like to thank the alumni whose generous donations made this incredible experience possible.