Roman buildings intended for mass entertainment – the amphitheater, bath, circus, stadium, theater, and so forth – constitute a distinct class of public architecture found ubiquitously across the ancient Roman Empire, from modern Britain to Syria. This course will explore these and related monuments to understand how and why spectacle entertainments were fundamental to Roman daily life. Each “type” of entertainment will be studied in turn. We will consider first the art, architectural, and archaeological evidence, and then reconstruct the manner in which these buildings were used with the help of various literary sources in English translation. Where relevant, we will also discuss the late antique history of a particular type of entertainment – bathing and chariot racing, for instance, continued for centuries at Constantinople, even after gladiatorial games had faded into obsolescence.
The course format consists of lectures accompanied by PowerPoint presentations of related images; lectures are then complemented by class discussions. On Tuesdays, I will lecture on broad content areas. On Thursdays, we will discuss assigned readings related to specific monuments, works of art, or overall themes of the class. This course encourages students to engage artworks and monuments through careful observation and thoughtful visual analysis. Writing and critical reading, therefore, are crucial components of this class.