On International Women’s Day 2017, our group traveled across time and space to the ancient ruins of a once bustling port city for the Roman Empire: Ostia. Although a strike by the public transportation services delayed the trip shortly, a forty-five-minute taxi ride to the western coast allowed us to experience city, highway, and countryside driving while seeing the drastic difference between Rome and rural Italy. I must admit: I was extremely skeptical of walking around a bunch of ruins for an entire day. However, no other single experience on the trip proved to be as valuable to both my intellectual and personal development as Ostia. Inside the city of limits of Rome, buildings and other structures have continually been built on top of one another like a city of layers for over 2,000 years—one must be able to construct ancient structures using the imagination. At Ostia, excavations have revealed and preserved ancient buildings and structures that once fueled the major port city largely responsible for providing Rome with grain, meats, everyday commodities, and a great number of other exotic goods. For example, Benjamin Cox ’20 led the group around what we believe to be an ancient market square; each of the trading stalls had beautiful mosaics depicting the profession or type of goods available at each miniature store. Similarly, Dr. Hartnett led us into a 2,000-year-old bar, and we were immersed into a social space not very different to those we are able to enjoy today (See Picture). For lunch, we enjoyed a beautiful picnic inside a theatre that would have housed public entertainment for all social classes and served as a meeting place for the entire city (See Picture). On a different note, my presentation covering the Cult of Cybele provided the group with an example of a foreign religion entering traditional Roman society for a specific purpose: protecting the Republic from outside invaders. Brought from modern day Turkey via Ostia to Rome, a meteorite believed to be the ancient goddess Cybele provided Rome with protection from foreign adversaries and ensured fertility among Roman women. Although Roman citizens were forbidden to join the actual Cult of Cybele due to common practices of self-castration, Cybele was honored in traditional Roman practice: large annual feasts with singing, dancing, game, and competition. All-in-all, traveling to Ostia allowed us to explore and experience the quiet remains of a once vibrant and bustling port city while imagining the importance—or lack thereof—of individual structure’s relative weight in social, political, economic, and religious spheres of everyday life.
Benjamin Cox ’20 — Today was our excursion to Ostia, the port city of Rome. It started on a somewhat hectic note, as our original travel plans were dashed by a train worker’s strike. Thanks to the quick wit of Dr. Hartnett and Dr. Nelson, we were able to get cab rides out to our destination. The day was bright and beautiful, the first sunny day we’ve had. Unfortunately for one of the fair skin, I sit writing this with quite a sunburn. We began by visiting the ruins of the old city, which were much more intact than I’d expected. Following a presentation by my fellow student Calem Parish over the cult of Mithras, we headed to the remains of the open-air theatre where we ate a picnic lunch ripe with carbohydrates and fermented grapes. After Dr. Hartnett loosened up the men with a Vatican joke, it was then my turn to present the commercial center of Ostia, the Piazzale Delle Corporazioni (an overview of the piazzale can be seen here http://www.ia-ostiaantica.org/news/piazzale-delle-corporazioni/). It was a great experience to finally see the work from the first half of the semester come to fruition. Of course, my presentation was not without faults, but our class is one that embraces errors because we can learn from them. And with Dr. Hartnett and Dr. Nelson around, we never go without gentle correction and the right information. Following that, we listened to presentations by Austin Brown and Aaron Tincher before having free time to explore the extensive ruins of ancient Ostia. In this time I had to roam alone, I was able to apply what I’d learned in class so far. There really is nothing better than getting hands on experience with topics we’ve been studying. For someone like me who had never left the U.S., seeing such buildings from 2,000 years ago was a profound experience. It is awe-inspiring to see what people have accomplished in the past, and gives me a drive to one day have a similar lasting impact. We have been here less than a week, but I have grown much closer with my fellow Wallys than I had ever thought possible. All in all, I proudly enjoy the pain of my Mediterranean sunburn.
Spencer Newmister ’19 — After my first ever flights, I was stuck in a senses bubble with no escape after the plane ride derailed my ability to hear. My life’s dream to experience the city of Rome being in the palm of my hand seemed secondary to blowing my nose. However, even though my excitement had temporarily subsided, it was not due for an exit so much as a reemergence at the proper moment. Getting to the hotel and thereafter going on our first adventure the others and I quickly discovered that as, Tim Leath so aptly stated, “They don’t make Rome for big people,” and realized that the city had a longstanding problem of people tossing chamber pots from their second story windows acclimated the group and conditioned us to then see the splendor. Since this is Roma only food analogies will do so the trip over in comparison with each experience here on the ground has been like eating your greens before then getting desert or, perhaps more fittingly, drinking boxed sangria before any “vino rosa della casse” in the city.
I may suffer from a slight depression period upon returning stateside due to the food being more than any broke college student deserves or can find in America. However, I have learned a great deal about myself during my short time here. First, I have rediscovered how much my faith means to me. Upon entering the St. John Lateran Basilica, I was humbled by the veneration that the martyrs received being depicted as great statues but was then reminded of why Lutheranism has been such a great influence on my view of the world. I quickly became disgusted with the grandiose baroque style once I stumbled upon the bookshop inside the church and no more than 40 feet from the altar. My respect for how the veneration of these important and brave people was then at war with my shame knowing that this church was most likely decorated using funds gathered by the very injustice that Martin Luther was fought against. Furthermore, I have also noticed that our view of the world is narrowed considerably but we aren’t as bad off as some might say. As I look around this city, I see faces that are so cold and I enjoy living in a nation that allows me to say hello to strangers on the street.
Calem Parrish ’17 — Today, we went to the port city of Ostia. It was an absolutely mesmerizing experience. The journey itself was a big challenging, because we experienced a transportation strike in the city. However, with some quick adaptations, we were all able to make it to Ostia in a timely manner. When we arrived, the area was breathtaking. I will always appreciate being able to finally see these significant archeological findings in person (rather than a textbook). One phrase that we had heard several times throughout the day was “democratizing a rather hierarchical system,” which seemed like an overwhelming point to keep in mind throughout the day; however, this phrase was continuously brought to mind. Everywhere that we visited demonstrated this pivotal point. One overlooked place for this was the public restroom in Ostia. In one of the city’s streets, there was a full restroom for approximately 20 people to freely use in antiquity. In terms of “democratizing a rather hierarchical system,” the restroom would have allowed the poorer citizens to share space with the upper-class people in Ostia. Thus, instead of stratifying the classes to a greater extent, the different classes were able to co-exist and interact.
Later in the day, I was able to give a presentation on one of the oldest cults. Here, I was best able to utilize different aspects of my liberal arts experience. I had the opportunity to practice my rhetoric by giving a public speech, classics by showing my general knowledge from my major, sociology by discussing how people were involved in the cult and why, Latin by being able to translate what was found in the mosaic, and much more. This experience has helped me to realize how much I have learned over the past four years and demonstrate how I am able to think critically even when presented with something, just previously, unseen to me.
Lucas Esparza ’19 — One of my favorite days while being in Rome was visiting Ostia Antica. The day was full of adventure from the start when we left the hotel at our usual time; we took a bus to the train station. As we tried to enter the train station, the train station workers guided us out like cattle. Little did we know there was a transportation strike that day, although it staggered our plans at the moment it was exciting to see the people at the train station get in heated discussions with frequent train users about the strike. We prevailed and found a couple of cabs for us to smash ourselves into, and we finally made it to Ostia. The city is entirely in ruins, so there is a lot of imagination that has to be used while walking around, and that was by far my favorite part. We walked around as a group visualizing what the city would have looked like when it was in action. Seeing the people walking down the cobble stone road with their donkeys carrying wheat to get ground up and made into bread on the other side of the city. As a class, we sat down and discussed what the city might have smelled, looked, and sounded like it was awesome when we all pieced together these elements of the city. We all concluded that it would have been a pretty cool place to be at the time. Later that night I went out to eat with some of the guys, and at dinner, we couldn’t stop talking about Ostia and how beautiful and amazing it was, we all wished we could have seen that style of life while is was happening. The conversation ended up drifting to the topic of Wabash, we all sat there at dinner and really took a moment to say out loud how awesome it was that our school is willing to fund experiences like this for students. I think about how I cannot wait to take this knowledge and experience that has been given to me by Wabash and continue to pass it on to the next generation of Wabash men. It is something that I believe truly changes lives, for not only the student but for his family and friends as well. I believe this because I am currently living it, Wabash has changed my life for the better. I can see it in my friends and family’s eyes when I come home for breaks how they almost can’t believe the things I’ve done. I like to think it gives them hope in believing that if someone like me who is just like them can do these things then so can they. Not only that, but they can ask me for advice on how to do and they know I’ll be happy to help. Thank you for everything, Wabash. I will never forget this experience.
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.
Andrew Merced ’19 — Rome is easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is also one of the most iconic. When people think of empires and grand arenas, Rome is the first to come to mind. The city is ancient, yet it remains one of the busiest cities in the world. While in Rome, we saw numerous monuments and important sites dedicated to the Roman Empire as well as the beginnings of Christianity. The locations we visited include the Theater of Pompey, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Roman Forum, and much more. We took countless steps to see as much as we possibly could for the duration of the trip. We explored multiple streets and buildings within the Roman city of Ostia while also exploring the vast amounts of streets in Rome. As for the food, few can equal the fresh tastes and smells we encountered as a class. The pasta is extremely flavorful, and the meats are seasoned to perfection. There was not a single meal that did not exceed my expectations. Some of the most delicious meals included scamorza with salmon, fettucine, lamb, and numerous other foods worth trying. Some of the best portions of the trip included the on-site presentations given by Wabash students. Each presentation dove into the history and context of different locations and artworks. It was interesting to have fellow Wabash men explain such important monuments to the class, and it was one of the best experiences to have.
From the trip, I have learned how complicated Constantine actually was. His belief in Christianity is clearly seen while also being questioned because of various things he did while emperor. He converted to Christianity, giving the new religion a great deal of power and sway, and yet, he did not forget his pagan history. The readings done in class were supported by the evidence we saw in person. Rome, although full of churches now, still maintains pagan influences in each church we saw. In Santa Costanza, for example, the symbols within the church are open for interpretation because the images within the church can be viewed as either Christian or pagan. Such an ambiguous representation is the best way to explain Constantine’s true faith. There is an argument to be made for both sides. In the end, the trip itself enabled us, as a class, to grasp a better understanding of who Constantine truly was and how Christianity grew to its current size and stature. Rome holds so many secrets, and it is because of this that the phrase “Rome is a city built upon itself” continues to ring true.
Ja’von Langley ’19 — Ciao da Italy. In my short time, here in Rome with my classmates for Religion 260/Classics 212, I have had the experience of a lifetime. So far, we have visited the Forum Romanum, St. Clemente Basilica, and the Vatican just to name a few. To understand the city of Rome, I have learned from class discussions and my time in the city that Rome likes to look back to their past. Romans thrive off it and reference it through history. Not only do they like referencing their past, the city itself is a city of layers. What I mean by this is that there are several buildings that are built on top of previous buildings. For example, we went to visit the St. Clement Basilica on Monday and it serves as a prime example. It is a 12th century church that is built on top of a 4th century church which is also built on top of a church from the 1st century. Another example of this is a restaurant that is only a couple blocks away where you can walk down the steps of restaurant into the a room where you can see the walls of the Theater of Pompey. Now, I don’t know about you, but there aren’t many times I have been able to walk into a restaurant and walk down a flight of steps to discover important Roman relics and Roman history such as this one.
As from a cultural standpoint, I can also tell you that I might have suffered from a couple of food comas. When I heard that the food here is to die for, I wasn’t quite sure that they were telling me the truth. After a couple of days though, I have found no matter what you order the food is mouthwatering such as wild boar meat I had yesterday. I have also learned, along with the phenomenal food, the important phrase “Permesso” or excuse me in English. It’s important to use so I can weave in and out of the busy traffic at bus stops so that I can’t lose my speedy Professor Dr. Hartnett as he’s racing to the Colosseum.
Thank you to the Alumni, Wabash College, and Professor Hartnett and Nelson for this opportunity
Braden Slavens ’19 — Today’s schedule was lighter than usual. No orders to wake up at 7:30am were given and the kilometers expected to be traveled were much shorter than in the previous days. Instead we were given an informational packet containing the names of 3 different churches, each located about 20 minutes south of our hotel. The first of which was the Basilica di Sabina. This church was the largest of the three churches we had planned to visit. It was surprisingly surrounded by three orange tree gardens, each providing an amazing view of Rome. The church itself contained the oldest known portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. After finishing our full tour of the Church of Sabina we ventured further up the street in an attempt to find the famous “keyhole” the Dr. Nelson had informed us of. After a short search, we found what we believed to be the keyhole and after taking a quick glance through the small hole in a large green door we were more than sure that this was the place we were looking for. The keyhole provided a view unlike any other. It looked down a long pathway defined by tall green trees. At the end of the path appeared St. Peter’s in the Vatican. This image that was seen through the keyhole was one that reminded us of just how much preparation and planning went into the construction of each and every structure in the beautiful city of Rome. This place was not a city built one unbelievable structure at a time, but built as one living body where each construction introduced a structure that added something to the one before it.
On a less serious note; today was our seventh and last full day in Rome. Not to my surprise, today was also the day that an entire squadron of American girls showed up at the check in desk of our hotel to enjoy their own week in Rome. I never would have guessed that the capabilities of our all male campus would still apply even after flying over the Atlantic Ocean… That did not stop us though from standing at the highest point in Rome and chanting Old Wabash for all of Italy to hear. This trip has been one that I will surely never forget and it has provided me with yet another group of Wabash brothers I will forever be thankful for.
Aaron Tincher ’18 — We went to Ostia today to visit the ruins. Unlike Rome, Ostia has not been built over multiple times and therefore provides a good snapshot of what life would have been like in ancient Italy. There was one small hiccup in getting to Ostia, the transportation workers went on strike, and therefore the train was shut down. We were able to catch some cabs and make it to Ostia. In Ostia we heard four different presentations from students, and I gave a presentation on the Jewish Synagogue in Ostia. We learned about and saw the cult of Mithras, the market at Ostia, and the cult of Cybele. Each gave an interesting contrast to that of Christianity, it was important to visualize and try to understand how these religions competed with Christianity. We also ate a picnic lunch in the Ostian theatre; we ate a wide variety of authentic meats, cheeses, and bread. It was a great meal and good bonding experience for our group. We learned from class how Rome was such a cosmopolitan city and was very diverse. Visiting Ostia only reinforced what we learned, because we saw many different religions and learned how busy and diverse the market was by analyzing tiles painted on the floor. The tiles had pictures of different food, different animals, and different goods from different countries. Visiting Ostia also reinforced the idea that while ancient Rome was a hierarchical structure, the city was open enough to let lower class people rub up against the elites of society. I was not expecting Ostia to be as large as it was, and I was not expecting the ruins to be as intact as they were. Seeing the city helped replaced the mental image I had of ancient Rome with a real one, which will help in future studies of the ancient city. I have been impressed all week with the craftsmanship and building ability of the ancient Romans, and today was no exception. I am blown away with how detailed their work was and how long it is able to last, they truly don’t make it how they used to.