George Mellgard

Contextualize the artifacts in their original setting in Rome & Perugia

The Inscription of Allia Potestas
The Inscription of Allia Potestas

Rome and Perugia, Italy: Summer, 2016

The Teasley Family Antiquities Fund enabled me to conduct hands-on research for my senior thesis as well as finally get to see the eternal city. My thesis focuses on the inscription of Allia Potestas, a freedwoman. The inscription is unique in its length, style, and content and gives the reader a lens into ancient idealization of freedwomen. Consequently, my research in Rome focused on exploring the inscriptions and tombs of various freedmen and freedwomen in Italy.

Through the donation I, along with Jacob Weiss (Trinity ’18), spent nine days in Italy exploring different sites. During our time there, we were able to travel to Ostia, Perugia, and throughout Rome to conduct research. In Ostia Antica, we explored the necropolis there and observed the customs for Roman tombs at the time. In Perugia, the birthplace of Allia Potestas, we explored their National Archaeological Museum and entered the tomb known as the Volumni Hypogeum. There, we gained insights into her geographical origins as well as the burial practices associated with the region. In writing about an individual who lived thousands of years ago, it helps to be able to picture the region and environment where they might have lived.

Finally, in Rome, we spent most of our days walking and visiting both tombs and museums. In the Roman Epigraphic Museum, we were able to work with the inscription of Allia Potestas first hand. Knowing both the artistic and visual impact an inscription has in person provides valuable insights into how it might have been viewed by a Roman. In addition, along with the inscriptions at the Capitoline Museum, we were able to both photograph and translate the works of various other freed people. Whether these inscriptions were a couple lines or paragraphs, they help to provide a notable comparison with the inscription of Allia Potestas. To provide further geographical context regarding the inscription itself, we also visited the Via Pincianna, the site of discovery for Allia Potestas. The modern structures that stand there today underscore just how ancient the inscription is.

To create further comparisons between various forms of burials, we also visited the Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker in Rome as well as Christian Catacombs on the Via Appia. In both cases, we observed examples of burial practices of freed people that stood in stark contrast to that of Allia Potestas in both style and magnitude.

Ultimately, this trip both impacted the work on my senior thesis as well as my general studies in the Classics. In respect to my thesis, I was able to see firsthand many of the sources I am currently analyzing. Consequently, I know from experience the visual impact they might have had to the observer as well as who might have seen them. In addition, it helped to add character to the figure of Allia Potestas despite the fact she has been dead for centuries. In this regard, the trip also changed how I view the Classics. After all, it is very easy to get caught up in images and texts and forget the role these artifacts might have once played in peoples’ lives. It has certainly validated my choice to study the Classics and provided the context needed for a successful thesis. Thank you so much to Mary Boatwright, the Classics Department, and all our donors, I could not have done it without you!