Monday, March 22, 2010

Ancient Rome and America

Recently, I was able to take in the "Ancient Rome and America" Exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. For more, see

The exhibit featured many Roman artifacts, courtesy of the Italian Cultural Ministry, juxtaposed against American artifacts from various sources. I really liked how it used this juxtaposition to chronicle the great influence Ancient Rome has had on our own country's conceptions of itself from the time of our Founding Fathers till today. The ancient artifacts ranged from portrait busts to models to coins and seals. One of my favorites was a bronze tablet from S. Italy and a ring with an intaglio said to have belonged to the Emperor Augustus. The American artifacts ranged from portrait busts of our founding fathers to letters. I particularly liked the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, which was replete with ancient Roman imagery.

Here are a few nit pics. First, the cost. Like the "Chinese Warrior" exhibit in Washington, the entry fee for the Rome exhibit seemed a bit steep given the lack of "blockbuster" artifacts. In this regard, I was particularly disappointed that more than a few of the Roman portrait busts were actually reproductions from the 1930's,

Entry fees for exhibits touted as cultural exchange raise other issues as well. See As I also observed with respect to the "Chinese Warriors" exhibit,

Archaeologists are always talking about how loans can substitute for imports of cultural artifacts, with the underlying premise that commerce is bad and pure knowledge is good. But if such loans seem mostly designed to generate cash for countries like China, does this argument really hold?

In any event, further in that regard, I find it a bit humorous that the august University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology teamed up with the likes of chain restaurateurs Buca di Beppo and Maggiano's Little Italy to help make the exhibit possible. See

Perhaps, as the Romans themselves have understood for several millennium, a little commerce mixed in with culture isn't so bad after all.


John Muccigrosso said...


You set up and knock down your straw man quite efficiently.

Cultural Property Observer said...

How so? There is an element within the archaeological community that constantly rails against commercial interests, suggesting they do not merit a fair hearing. That holds even less water now that the AIA promotes Indiana Jones movies, etc. I don't think there is anything wrong with such promotions, tastefully done, by the way.


Peter Tompa