The Death of Spolia? Roman Re-Use Cultures

Scholarship on reuse in the Roman (and late antique) world is growing at great speed. I have recently reviewed this large volume on “La sculpture et sesames reemplois”, edited by Vassiliki Gaggadis-Robin and Nicholas de Larquier (forthcoming in Latomus, 79.4):

The volume compiles plenty of interesting new material, especially from the western Mediterranean, both in terms of recently excavated contexts of architectural and sculptural reuse and from the storerooms of local museums and collections. It is a rich hoard indeed…..

Yet there are also some obvious missed opportunities in the general presentation of this material. There are very few cross-references, and conversations between individual papers are generally not flagged or pointed out. Some chapters omit important new scholarship (such as Hendrik Dey on spolia in late antique fortifications, or Axel Gering’s extensive documentation of different practices of reuse in Ostia). Others are short and matter-of-factual without much discussion of the wider phenomenon of reuse and its aesthetic, social, religious and political implications. Overall, however, scholars interested in the rich life histories of Roman sculpture will find plenty of interest in this volume. 

This volume follows several other collections on Roman re-use cultures that have appeared in recent years, including “Reuse and Renovation in Roman Material Culture” (2018), edited by Diana Y. Ng and Molly Swetnam-Burland, (see my review of this for JRA), and, on a less art historical note, “Recycling and Reuse in the Roman Economy” (2020), edited by Chloë N. Duckworth and Andrew Wilson.

Work by many other scholars, such as Simon Barker, Jon Frey, Ine Jacobs, Anna Leone, Yuri Marano, Beth Munro, Panayotis Panayides, and Anna Sitz is also very relevant for revealing the many dimensions of Roman and late antique reuse culture. For more general approaches, there is the very useful Discard Studies website. Perhaps then we can finally lay the old ghost of “spolia” to rest?

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