“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.”
All things change, but nothing is ever destroyed. This quote is most famously attributed to Pythagoras, a character in Ovid’s epic poem The Metamorphoses. As an observer of a great transition, from the Republic to the Augustan age, Ovid, and Pythagoras by proxy, have much to say about the nature of transformation. Among the things that transform, Ovid notes the fall of great cities such as Sparta and Athens, and the rise of the nascent Rome, which would one day become the center of the world. Much to-do has been made about the rise, fall or transformation of the Roman Empire before and after 476 CE. Depending on whom you read, this failure of state either plunged Europe into a thousand year dark age, or saw Roman traditions continue undisturbed into the early Middle Ages. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between.
Ovid’s focus was on cities, and so is ours. While people as far apart as Rome, Constantinople, London, Palestine, Segovia, Carthage, and Athens all considered themselves Romani, or Romans, they also lived in an immediately present, ever-changing urban landscape, most of which did not cease to exist with “Rome.” Late Antiquity — often signposted by Constantine on one end, and Mohammed and Charlemagne on the other — was a period of vivacious urban activity, some of the structures of which still stand to this day. In focusing on these structures, this project seeks to understand how both Romans and non-Romans lived in their cities.
What was everyday life like for people in Late Antiquity? How did they manage through the fall or transformation of Ovid’s great city and the empire that surrounded it? Is a wall ever just a wall, or a home ever just a home? Please join us, and view these snapshots detailing what it meant to be a “Roman.”
This project is the creation of graduate students at Saint Louis University, as part of a seminar mentored by Dr. Douglas Boin.