Senses of the Empire: Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Senses of the Empire

Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture, 1st Edition

Edited by Eleanor Betts


232 pages

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Hardback: 9781472446299
pub: 2017-03-06
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The Roman empire afforded a kaleidoscope of sensations. Through a series of multisensory case studies centred on people, places, buildings and artefacts, and on specific aspects of human behaviour, this volume develops ground-breaking methods and approaches for sensory studies in Roman archaeology and ancient history. Authors explore questions such as: what it felt like, and symbolised, to be showered with saffron at the amphitheatre; why the shape of a dancer’s body made him immediately recognisable as a social outcast; how the dramatic gestures, loud noises and unforgettable smells of a funeral would have different meanings for members of the family and for bystanders; and why feeling the weight of a signet ring on his finger contributed to a man’s sense of identity. A multisensory approach is taken throughout, with each chapter exploring at least two of the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The contributors’ individual approaches vary, reflecting the possibilities and the wide application of sensory studies to the ancient world. Underlying all chapters is a conviction that taking a multisensory approach enriches our understanding of the Roman empire, but also an awareness of the methodological problems encountered when reconstructing past experiences.


"…a stimulating contribution to a still relatively new question in the study of ancient life worlds, which has great potential for knowledge."

- Ursula Quatember, University of Graz, Austria, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017

"This volume explicitly sets out to spark a debate about sensory studies and antiquity … papers on different senses are deliberately interwoven rather than separated into sections on taste, touch, smell, etc … Perhaps the best feature of the book is its encouragement to experiment with sensory methods and its positioning of itself as the beginning of a conversation rather than a definitive statement."

- Britta Auger, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA, The Classical Journal 2018

Table of Contents

Introduction: SensesofEmpire

Eleanor Betts

Chapter 1 The Sounds of the City: from Noise to Silence in Ancient Rome

Ray Laurence

Chapter 2 The Multivalency of Sensory Artefacts in the City of Rome

Eleanor Betts

Chapter 3 Beyond Smell: the Sensory Landscape of the Roman fullonica

Miko Flohr

Chapter 4 Soundscape of the Street: Architectural Acoustics in Ostia

Jeffrey Veitch

Chapter 5 Sensory Archaeologies: a Vindolanda Smellscape

Thomas J. Derrick

Chapter 6 A Sense of Grief: the Role of the Senses in the Performance of Roman Mourning

Valerie M. Hope

Chapter 7 Blood, Fire and Feasting: The Role of Touch and Taste in Graeco-Roman Animal Sacrifice

Candace Weddle

Chapter 8 Babes in Arms? Sensory Dissonance and the Ambiguities of Votive Objects

Emma-Jayne Graham

Chapter 9 All That Glitters: Roman Signet Rings, the Senses and the Self

Ian J. Marshman

Chapter 10 Tuning into the Past: Methodological Perspectives in the Contextualised Study of the Sounds of Roman Antiquity

Alexandre Vincent

Chapter 11 Motion Sensors: Perceiving Movement in Roman Pantomime

Helen Slaney

Chapter 12 Scents of Place and Colours of Smell: Fragranced Entertainment in Ancient Rome

Jo Day

Afterword: Towards a Methodology for Roman Sensory Studies

Eleanor Betts

About the Editor

Eleanor Betts is Baron Thyssen Lecturer in Classical Studies at the Open University. Her research focuses on the multisensory interrelationships of the human body, material culture and archaeological landscapes. Her particular areas of interest are Roman urbanism and religion in Roman and Iron Age Italy (primarily Picenum, modern Marche), with an emphasis on concepts and use of space.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / Ancient / General