Knutson ’17 – Rome is like an Onion

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 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: ) 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.

Merced ’19 – Rome: The Key to the Kingdom

2017 Rome Immersion Trip

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.

Langley ’19 – Rome Immersion Trip

Ja’von Langley

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

Slavens ’19 – Rome Immersion Trip

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.


Tincher ’18 – Ostia: Traveling Back in Time

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.

Chrisman ’20 – Little Giants take on the Vatican

Jacob Chrisman at the Vatican Museums

Jacob Chrisman ’20 — Today we explored the Vatican City where we started off looking at Early Christian art in the Musei Vaticani. The biggest take away was Christian expressionism pre-Constantine and post-Constantine. Pre-Constantine a lot of Old Testament images were used, however a transition to New Testament images and greater Christian expression was prevalent post-Constantine.

Another thing we did in the morning was explore the other parts of the museum. There were many imperial age busts; friezes, or inlaid wall sculptures; sarcophagi; and mosaics along with many renaissance art selections. To see these side by side was cool because of the influence of Roman art on the renaissance era.

We capped off the morning by looking at the Sistine Chapel and this has been by far the most amazing part of the trip for me. Ever since I saw pictures of Michelangelo’s paintings I’ve wanted to visit the Vatican. When I saw Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam I didn’t know how to feel. I was so over come with joy and emotion all I could do was stare at the scene for several moments. This feeling was unique to me, even in a city where wonders like this are around every corner.

In the afternoon we encountered was St. Peter’s Basilica that is built over the tomb of St. Peter. This was amazing despite the fact that I’m not particularly religious. To have “someone” that is one of the founders of Christianity, one of the 12 original apostles, right in front of you 2000 years later was amazing.

One thing that stood out to me was the Greek inscription that’s when translated says, “Peter is within.” Though this means almost nothing for the confirmation it acts as a grave marker or tombstone type deal that acts with the other elements that lead us to think that it is Peter. One of the early accounts of this is when Dionysus of Corinth writes to the Roman Church telling them about the burial place of Peter around 174 AD.

What’s most amazing to me is that about 138 years later Constantine builds a Basilica/Church with the alter over the tomb and then in the 16th century the Basilica/Cathedral is rebuilt but the high altar is in the same place. This is all done without confirmation of the tomb, but rather out of faith and belief that Peter is there. I think this speaks of the power of Christianity over people and this is evident in all the churches and religious symbols in the city.

Eley ’19 – Bigger than Life

Anthony Eley ’19 — Ever since I stepped into my first Classics class, in the spring of last year, I have been captivated by the art, archeology, and extensive history of Rome. With this emersion course I have been able to experience all of those aspects of the ancient Roman and how they relate to the development of Christianity. The part of the trip that has had the biggest impact on me is the scale. Not just the scale of the city itself, but the monuments that inhabit the city. During my studies in the art, archeology, and history of Rome, the true size of the monuments and buildings that still inhabit the city never fully sunk in through the power points or pictures about the monuments. But when I approached the 112 foot Column of Trajan, the true scale of everything came into picture. I slowly began to realize that this city of emperors and the center of the greatest empire in the ancient world was truly to scale to its reputation. This city is truly like no other and from the forum, to the Basilica of Saint Peter, it’s enormous buildings and monuments support this notion even more. Walking into a building like the Pantheon, a building that is over 1900 years old, and seeing the grandure and beauty of the building and being astonished at the fact that it was built within the help of power tools or machines completely baffles my mind. Everyday so far has brought to life a piece of art, architecture, or a piece of history that has truly astonished me and I hope that trend continues for the rest of the trip.

Azar ’19 – Rome Immersion Trip

Patrick Azar (l) in Rome

Patrick Azar ’19 — Today we spent much of our day exploring the roman forum after visiting some churches in the city including the basilica di Sante Croce (basilica of the holy cross) and the Lateran baptistery. The Basilica of the Holy Cross was built in the fourth century and holds many church relics including Saint Thomas’s finger that touched Jesus’ wound, wood fragments, a nail, and the sign from the Holy Cross, and thorns from Jesus’s crown of thorns. All of these relics were brought to the city by Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena after her visit to the Holy Land.

The Lateran Baptistery originates from the time of Constantine however the structure seen today was built in the fifth century. This structure for a long time was the only baptistery in the world. This was very important as Christians from all over the world would travel to Rome to be baptized by the pope. These two Churches made the city of Rome very important in early Christianity because many Christian’s would travel from all over the world to see the relics in the Church of the holy cross and to be baptized in the Lateran.

Much of our time today was spend exploring the Roman Forum and the significance of the structures there. We see that the forum was a very public place that all the citizens would spend time in. Because the forum was such a public space, emperors would take advantage of it and use the space to demonstrate their power. For example we saw how Julius Caesar built shrines and large monuments with his name on it in front of those of the old republic. I presented on my site today which was the Portico of the Dei Consentes and described to the class how it’s restoration in the fourth century represented pagan resistance to the rise of Christianity in post-Constantine Rome. Finally, we saw the gigantic basilica Constantine built in the forum and furthered the conversation we had in class debating whether or not Emperor Constantine was truly Christian referencing the works of Macmullen and Eusebius. Seeing these amazing sites and presenting to my classmates in the old roman forum was an amazing experience and I’m thankful for Wabash College and Dr. Nelson and Dr. Hartnett for giving me the opportunity to see this city especially with all the knowledge we learned in the classroom leading up to the trip.

Leath ’18 – Larger Than Life!

March 2017 Rome Immersion Learning Trip

Tim Leath ’18 — You would think that traveling a city for eight hours a day that you would run out of things to explore. That is the complete opposite case here in Rome. It seems as though every building you explore leads you to another. We spent a lot of time looking at the surviving pieces in the Roman Forum, which at the time was a great focal point for the city. In the forum, we could see the types of buildings that would have been put up at that time. Types of structures such as temples dedicated to gods, but also structures like the Basilica Nova that would be placed by the Emperor (Constantine at the time) to exemplify his power. These buildings were not normal sized, this one in particular was over 100 of feet tall, approximately 350 feet wide, and approximately 150 feet wide. By no means were these small buildings, but built on a grand scale to show how much power the emperor would have held. When I saw the forum, I was blown away with the amount of building that has survived for over a thousand years. It is also worth mentioning the detailed artwork that would be put onto the buildings that gives them character and bring them to life. The Roman Forum is a site that offers a look at the past directly and is a great opportunity that I am glad I had.

Johnson ’19 – Constantine: Conqueror and Corruptor

Brandon Johnson ’19 — The vast difference between the Roman Constantine and the Christian, the man trying to appear to be the most Roman, while also attempting to appear the most devout, has shown me the duality of history. Regrettably, nothing in history is as simple or perfect as it seems at first glance — there is always some sort of hidden mirror of intent which, upon finding and peering into, offers an opposing reflection, shifting what you thought you had found.

I made such a realization today upon visiting two seperate monuments commissioned by Constantine: the Triumphal Arch of Constantine and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Both are very different structures, yet both still fully represent Constantine. Between these two, there is a great juxtaposition of culture and religion. The Triumphal Arch is very Roman in nature, depicting Constantine as the social point of several group scenes as well as numerous subjugated enemies, with inscriptions on the inside of the arch calling him the “liberator” and “founder.” Most interestingly, the side which most would walk through was opposite the Colossus of Apollo, a statue measuring over 100 feet, quite interestingly creating a pagan focal point for the Triumphal Arch of the famously first Christian emperor.

Another of Constantine’s famous construction projects was the Basilica of Saint Paul Outisde the Walls, a massive church. Interestingly, framing the apse of this church is another arch, which helps represent a different type of conflict: the battle between life and death. Dr. Nelson postulated that this arch, and the depiction of Christianity as some sort of battle or war between life and death, good and evil, light and dark, are potentially evidence of the fact that Constantine so corrupted the church that it was taken away from its peaceful roots.

These creations are not what you would typically believe go be associated with a great Christian figure, and the stark difference between the two surprised me. Both offer a lot to consider concerning Constantine. The most significant thing these monuments have taught me is that the past, just like the present, is three dimensional. The lens of history should not change that.