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Ben White

PhD: Classics 

Thesis Title: The Roman 'porticus': promenading from Republic to Empire


Dr Mark Bradley (University of Nottingham), Professor Diana Spencer (University of Birmingham), Dr Alex Mullen (University of Nottingham). 

Thesis Description:

Colonnades constituted the connective tissue of the ancient Roman built environment, appearing in almost every architectural context: domestic, civic, sacred, commercial etc. At its most basic, the porticus was a roofed linear space with a row of supporting columns. However, these spaces were increasingly constructed with multiple wings which created an architecturally open space (L-shaped, Π-shaped, and piazzas). Given the fluidity with which these urban features could connect and create space, they became ubiquitous in Rome, so prolific in fact, that one could walk from Rome's Forum to the Vatican completely under the cover of colonnades - an architectural awning, as it were. These roofed spaces were particularly suited to the Mediterranean climate in providing shelter from the rain and winds, and respite from the mid-summer heat. In addition, in a world without the instant forms of communication and urban transport infrastructure of the modern day, the porticus provided the space to meet clients and patrons, congregate and discuss spectacles/lawsuits/artwork and an all-weather arena for the culturally charged passeggiata or ambulatioThe outcome of my thesis is to recognise that these spaces were lived in and consider how these experiences developed throughout different social groups as the Romans extended their hegemony over the Mediterranean and transitioned from Republic to Empire (c. 200 BCE - 100 CE). 

Fortunately, our sources, in various media and genres, highlight the remarkable diversity in function these porticus had in antiquity and also help us populate the spaces with their urban participants. Poets speak of seeking out prospective lovers, avoiding previous ones, browsing the plethora of exotic artefacts on display, taking pleasure in a leisurely stroll through the shade, and vagabonds brown-nosing patrons in order that they might eat that evening. Historians inform of us of the secular and religious activities taking place in these complexes, whilst also providing interesting political commentary on their reception. Visual media, such as Pompeian wall-paintings and imperial marble reliefs, visually represent the anecdotes found in the literature and can be corroborated with the abundance of archaeological data from the city of Rome. Taking this evidence together, I aim to reconstruct the experience of these spaces in antiquity and consider how they functioned within wider topographical landscapes. 

My project will attempt to check the long-standing scholarly tradition which claims that the Roman porticus was merely a manifestation of the Greek/Hellenistic stoa. The picture was of course far more complex than this. I would like to view the development of the Roman porticus as an interesting and constructive model for appreciating the fluidity and plurality of what we might term 'Roman identity'. Eventually, I hope to consider the development of these spaces in the provinces and explore the complex interrelationship Rome had with her provincial urban centres. 


Originally from rural Essex, I moved to Nottingham for my undergraduate degree in Ancient History in 2014. After the completion of the BA, I started an MA at Nottingham in the Visual Culture of Classical Antiquity which I completed in September 2018. My family on my mother's side have their roots in Malta and so I have fostered a close affinity with the Mediterranean and take any opportunity to engage with its culture. Rome has forever been my favourite city and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to explore its riches further over the next three-four years, and hopefully, in the future too! 

Conferences, Workshops and Public Engagement: 

The Porticus Octaviae: Becoming Roman in the Augustan Circus Flaminius: 'Becoming' in Rome, University of Durham, September 2019.

ISAR Signum Vortumni Project: Horrea Agrippiana, Roman Forum, Rome, archaeological excavation, June - July 2019. 

BSR-M4C Workshop: 'Rome: changing physical and ideological landscapes of the eternal city', June 2019. 

Memory and Identity in the Cosmopolis - CRASIS 2019 Annual Meeting and Master Class, University of Groningen, March 2019. 

The Templum Divi Claudii: reconstructing an elusive complex in its topographical environs - University of Nottingham, March 2019. 

Rome’s ‘tour-guides’: towards the idea of collective viewing at Rome - 'Building Cohesion and Unity: combining approaches to the study of the past', University of Nottingham, 2nd December 2017. 

Other activities:

Lead conference organiser: Meaning, Memory, and Movement: Ancient and Medieval Spaces - conference, 22nd - 23rd November 2019 (M3Spaces: WordPressTwitter (@SpaceConference)).

Museum Facilitator: University of Nottingham Museum - travelling workshops and exhibitions (September 2019 onwards).

PhD Tutors in SchoolsThe Brilliant Club (September 2019 onwards).  

Teaching Assistant, Department of Classics and Archaeology, University of Nottingham (Interpreting Ancient Art and Archaeology).


Other Research Interests:

  • Italy and the Grand Tour
  • The visual culture and history of the Augustan Principate
  • Digital Humanities and reconstructive approaches to the ancient world
  • Roman wall-paintings (esp. 2nd style) and luxury private dwellings in Campania
  • Provincial identity in the Western Roman Empire 
  • The city of Rome through time
  • The etchings of G. B. Piranesi (1720-1778)
  • The appropriation of ancient architectural styles in the modern world


University email address:

Twitter: @benwhite9112

Academia: Ben White



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