AIA Lecture: Narrative Approaches to Counting Roman Amphitheaters

Sebastian Heath


By the Second Century AD, well over 200 amphitheaters had been built within the territory of the Roman Empire. The most famous of these, the 50,000+ seat "Colosseum" in Rome, is also among the most unusual by being the largest and most complex amphitheater around. While the crowds watching gladiators and animals fight, as well as criminals being executed, were huge at Rome, in Italy's smaller cities and in the Empire's provinces they could be very much smaller. This talk explores the diversity in the size and capacities of amphitheaters by emphasizing the visualization of their spatial distribution. This in part means making maps, but also making use of modern tools for representing and exploring large data sets. When the capacities of amphitheaters are totaled, it is likely that there were over two million seats available for watching all the activities that occurred in these uniquely Roman structures. That large number provides one avenue to a nuanced understanding of the role of amphitheaters in creating and maintaining the territorial and political stability of imperial Rome.

Sebastian Heath is Clinical Assistant Professor of Ancient Studies at ISAW.  He has an A.B. from Brown University in Medieval Studies and received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. His research interests include Roman pottery, numismatics and the role of Digital Humanities in the study of the Ancient World, including the use of 3d models in fieldwork and teaching. The focus of his work at ISAW is the role of technology in scholarly communication and publication, which includes editorial work on ISAW Papers and ISAW's born-digital books. From 2008 to 2011, Dr. Heath served as Vice-President for Professional Responsibilities of the Archaeological Institute of America. He came to ISAW from the American Numismatic Society, where he remains a Research Scientist and Fellow.

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