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Stephen L. Dyson, Archaeology, ideology and urbanism in Rome from the grand tour to Berlusconi

Filippo Carlà-Uhink
p. 283-285
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Stephen L. Dyson, Archaeology, ideology and urbanism in Rome from the grand tour to Berlusconi, Cambridge et New York, Cambridge University Press, 2019, 327 p., $ 105 / ISBN 9780521874595

Texte intégral

1Research in the history of archaeology, its connections with political authority and its role in shaping identities and cultural memory has been blossoming for more than two decades now; yet the possible topics and angles for further research are far from being exhausted. The author of this monograph is not new to this kind of studies, as he is the author, among other publications, of Ancient Marbles to American Shores. Classical Archaeology in the United States (1998) and of In Pursuit of Ancient Pasts: A History of Classical Archaeology in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (2006). Dyson has also published in 2003 a volume on the studies on the Roman countryside (The Roman Countryside) which seems to represent a sort of mirror to this new book on the city of Rome.

2The history of Italian archaeology, and of Italian Classics in general, has been thoroughly studied in the country, with a very critical eye, starting with the collective volume Matrici culturali del fascismo (1977, absent in Dyson’s bibliography). In this sense, the author of this monograph makes through this volume many most important results of such Italian research available for a wider readership who may not be able to gain direct access the Italian-language works of scholars such as Marcello Barbanera (as for example his seminal L’archeologia degli italiani, 1998) or Daniele Manacorda.

3Yet it is particularly surprising that the contributions to the topic by Mariella Cagnetta, in the mentioned collective volume of 1977 and elsewhere, are missing from the bibliography.

4The present study proceeds chrono­logically through its eleven chapters: after a short introduction, the author begins with the Enlightenment, and more precisely with “Rome in the Eighteenth Century” (p. 8-32), to investigate then the revolutionary period and Napoleonic domination (p. 33-56), the last decades of the Papal States (p. 81-100). The book then follows the new ideological and practical challenges set to Rome and its archaeological heritage by the new role as capital of the Kingdom of Italy (p. 101-128), with a special focus on museums, displays and the antiquities market, dealt with in a separate chapter (p. 129-153). The next two chapters are dedicated to the Fascist period, “Archaeology and Urbanism in Fascist Rome” (p. 154-179) and “Mostras and Museums in Fascist Rome” (p. 180-202). The final section of the book looks at the second half of the 20th century and the very beginning of the 21st: after dealing with the 1950s and 1960s and their challenges (p. 203-235), the author focuses on the ‘new’ approach to archaeology starting in the 1970s, which he pinpoints to the biography of individual archaeologists as Adriano La Regina, Eugenio La Rocca or Andrea Carandini (p. 236-258). The final chapter (p. 259-286) is dedicated to the preparations for the Jubilee of 2000 and the debates that surrounded (and still surround) the new Ara Pacis museum, inaugurated 2006.

5The author seems to have stopped research for this volume in 2013 – this is the year of the most recent publications in the bibliography, with the sole exception of Posner’s God’s Bankers (2015). For a book published in 2019, this is a long gap – and indeed the author would have profited much from reading, among others, Antonino De Francesco’s The Antiquity of the Italian Nation (2013), Aristotile Kallis’ The Third Rome, 1922-1943: The Making of the Fascist Capital (2014; actually, none of Kallis’ publications are present in the bibliography – even if the author has been working for many years on the cult of the ‘Romanità’ in fascist Italy), Marcello Barbanera’s Storia dell’archeologia classica in Italia (2015), many contributions in Helen Roche’s and Kyriakos Demetriou’s Brill’s Companion to the Classics, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (2017), further journal articles that have appeared in the past six years.

6On a general level, the volume begs the question, who is the ideal reader, for whom it has been written. Specialists and scholars of Classics, Classical archaeology and Classical receptions may find it a useful summary and a possible work of reference for specific personalities and initiatives; but scholars of modern and contemporary history will not find much new. On the other hand, a broader interested public will find the structure of the book extremely hard to follow. The decision to follow a strictly chronological structure seems at many points to be unfortunate, as it compels the author to numerous repetitions, to anticipate often something that will be explained later, and break down complex histories, dealt with in different chapters. The general reader will therefore find almost no orientation in Roman topography, as interventions in different parts of the city are juxtaposed following chronology (not to mention the fact that even the chronological structure is sometimes lacking a clear order, see e.g. p. 92-94). Another example is that of the Collezione Torlonia, which reappears at different stages (p. 136-137; 239-240; 286), while a systematic treatment of its history would have been easier to follow and much more meaningful. Students of Classics (and maybe occasionally a scholar, too) will also be at a loss, as the historical frame of the 18th to 21st century is barely explained – the year 1861 and the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, for instance, are not mentioned anywhere, and it is expected that the reader already has a basic knowledge in the history of modern Italy.

7This lack of contextualization expands into a relevant weakness: the author does not deem necessary to consider the entanglement of archaeological research with education and higher education. Beyond the anecdotic reference to one or the other protagonist being a professor, there is little reflection on structures and the ways they condition archaeological research. In the end, the entire book relies more on narrative than analysis. It is a pity, for instance, that the stories about the creation of the various Roman museums are never put into their historical context – the birth of the national museums, their function for purposes of nation building, the birth and development of nations and nationalisms, etc. The role of diplomacy, of embassies and delegations in the development of interest in Classical Antiquity and in the birth of the foreign archaeological schools in Rome are also insufficiently dealt with – the lack of attention given to a protagonist of this scene is exemplified in the description of Christian von Bunsen as merely “der gelehrte Diplomat” (on Bunsen, see F. Carlà-Uhink – S. Giorcelli Bersani, Monsieur le Professeur… Correspondances italiennes, 1853-1888. Theodor Mommsen, Carlo, Domenico, Vincenzo Promis, Paris 2018, p. 70-80).

8Yet, on the other side, political institutions are presented and discussed in their ‘interferences’ with archaeology. While the author argues that the inauguration of the new Ara Pacis museum is a good episode to close the volume (what happened later is mentioned briefly, but it does indeed probably represent a too recent history to be correctly assessed), the reader gets a strong impression that the author wanted to close on a pessimistic note, revealing strong doubts and fears about the future of Roman archaeology (the Ara Pacis is thus “the last creation of a dynamic archaeological era which was about to pass”, p. 286). This tone comes across strongly throughout the book, except for a few moments when the author discusses archaeological figures whom he finds congenial. Despite the frequent assertions that Rome was no different from other European or American cities, and that the challenges posed by the Urbs are incomparable to those posed by other modern metropoles, the volume develops throughout a sort of ‘paternalistic’ stance that seems to imply that Italian states and governments could never have been able to take care of their cultural heritage were it not for a few ‘illuminated’ colleagues, whose merits and achievements are frequently represented in the book as a sort of one-man-campaign against the institutions. The “One-man-campaign” narrative foregrounds a pronounced gender bias of the book – women are conspicuously absent, even in the last chapters, dealing with a time in which many were active in Italian archaeological scholarship. Margherita Guarducci is mentioned only once (p.205), in reference to the Vatican excavations; she is curiously portrayed as “a highly respected scholar, but also a devout Roman Catholic”, without any reference to her tenure as the chair of Greek Epigraphy and Antiquities from 1931 to 1973, or to her other institutional roles; Clementina Panella is never mentioned: her excavations at the Arch of Constantine, which led to the discovery of the Meta Sudans, are anonymized as “provocative” excavations (p. 252).

9The lack of attention and care for institutions and structures generates sometimes glaring mistakes: for example, when the author does not seem to distinguish between regions and provinces, two very different administrative units in Republican Italy (p. 275). In general, the book shows a surprising lack of care – also and especially of editorial care. Typos and mistakes abound throughout the volume. Some of them are particularly jarring, and most notably the fact that throughout the entire book Antonio Muñoz has become Antonio Mũnoz. Almost every sentence quoted in Italian is wrong, sometimes in ways beyond comprehension (the name Vittorio Emanuele, for instance, in English Victor Emmanuel, becomes Victor Emmanuele, or even Vittore Emmanuele!). For an author who stresses, among the strengths of the archaeologists he particularly likes, such as La Regina or Carandini, that they know English, adding that this is ‘unusual’ among their colleagues, this complete lack of attention for the Italian language smells again of anglophone ‘paternalism’.

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Filippo Carlà-Uhink, « Stephen L. Dyson, Archaeology, ideology and urbanism in Rome from the grand tour to Berlusconi »Anabases, 33 | 2021, 283-285.

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Filippo Carlà-Uhink, « Stephen L. Dyson, Archaeology, ideology and urbanism in Rome from the grand tour to Berlusconi »Anabases [En ligne], 33 | 2021, mis en ligne le 10 avril 2021, consulté le 02 février 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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