We are proud to present, Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum
Vita Romana is a bespoke graphic novella that illustrates an in-depth exploration into Roman daily life. Our story follows a young patrician pre-teen, Neratia Prima, and her family as they deal with daily life in a Roman colonia in the mid-second century AD. Neratia learns about the myth of the Niobids through a statue found at the baths.
Elements that are particular to Aeclanum’s urban topography and community, through material culture, were included to illustrate the identity of a small Roman town – one of many across the Roman Empire. Through collaboration and discussion with the site directors, specialists, epigraphists, ceramicists, topographic specialists and GIS technicians, the unique nature of our multi-disciplinary team meant that we could create a vibrant and detailed rendering of this archaeological site that is not well-known and scarcely published on.
Aeclanum is directed by the University of Edinburgh
’s Dr. Ben Russell
and Dr. Girolamo F. De Simone
, director of the Apolline Project
, with the support of the British School at Rome, the Comune di Mirabella Eclano, and the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le province di Salerno ed Avellino.
To download your copy of Vita Romana: at the baths of Aeclanum, click here!
Some background information
Vita Romana was created to highlight some of the questions that have generally been unanswered by materials for youth audiences. The archaeological site of Aeclanum is still under excavation, with many mysteries still to be discovered and phases of the use of the site yet to be understood. What we chose to present here was a snapshot of the second century AD, when the city was thriving having just received 'colonia' status and under imperial patronage. The more sumptuous architectural spaces are integrated into the landscape based on the ongoing archaeological research at the site, with consultation from the GPR specialists and the field directors interpretation.
The Archaeological Excavation and the Baths of Aeclanum
Aeclanum had multiple phases of habitation, and during the late antique period, many of the materials which were used to create say, the theatre, were taken for use in other parts of the town. The repurposing of these materials (called 'spolia') was done so thoroughly throughout the site that many of these massive structures are only visible through the foundations!
Of the archaeological finds at Aeclanum, the bath complex and thus bathing and society in a Roman city, because excavations were happening while the comic was being developed. Earlier excavations had discovered a statue of a Niobid and several other imperial, high-quality sculptural fragments. The narrative of this issue takes place predominately in the baths of Aeclanum to contextualise the use of mythological statues in bathing spaces and also their pedagogical use in terms of teaching morality lessons to ancient viewers, reminding them of the themes that their stories would evoke.
The City of Aeclanum
We wanted to illustrate through this project a hypothetical vision of what a smaller Roman city, not previously published in media for young audiences. Most of the materials for young people to do with daily life in ancient Roman cities currently in circulation are situated in Pompeii or Rome, as they have the most archaeological data or preservation, and more general materials that focus on 'daily life' illustrate various elements of a Roman city (the baths, a villa, children's activities, religion and domestic or political life) though seldom integrate them into a cohesive narrative.
For this reason, the challenge of trying to reconstruct a small story about individuals evidenced through inscriptions from the archaeological site and tell a story about them that involves some of the material culture discovered at the site was an engaging challenge we wanted to take on! Since many of the details were no longer visible, evidence for what 'could' have been part of the daily life for someone like Neratia or her family were taken from archaeological sites all over Campania from the first to second centuries AD.
Bringing Aeclanum to Life
From the painted fresco walls and mosaic floors of Neratia's family villa, recent archaeological discoveries from Pompeii (2018) were referenced. Scenes within the bath complex confront the viewer with nude or semi-nude statues painted with as much realism as possible to give the impression that they were nearly alive. Ongoing research into the vibrancy of painted statues in ancient Greece and Rome has shown that they were painted with bright colours and busy patterns! The coarse and comical graffiti and painted political ads on the walls of the city streets were all directly referenced from urban spaces in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The Roman world was colourful, highly decorated, comfortable with the human form.
Many of the main characters in Vita Romana are notable women. Young and old slaves of a variety of ethnicities, young elite women, priestesses from multiple Roman cults, merchants and children. Women in any time period are important participants within their societies, even societies which seem quite unlike our own. It is hard to imagine now going to a public bath every day and bathing in the nude with many women from your community across most classes of society.
Moving around a small city like Aeclanum, we wanted to show that the public urban spaces were just as much a part of the lived experience for women as men. While Neratia and her mother also had to navigate the streets though they participated less in the active political life than the patriarch of the household, her father, elite women still had to support and strengthen the political ambitions of their male family members for the good of the family more broadly.
Writing: Ambra Ghiringhelli is a PhD candidate in Classics (Ancient History) at the University of Edinburgh, and has recently completed a SGSAH-sponsored internship at Glasgow Women’s Library focusing on knowledge dissemination and outreach. Her interests beyond research include, among others, creative writing, social history, and public engagement. For all these reasons, she was thrilled to collaborate in the creation of the Vita Romana graphic novella, by writing the dialogue and narration in both the Italian and the English version.
Illustration and Development: Zofia Guertin is a PhD candidate in Classics (Ancient History) at the University of St. Andrews where she studies Egyptian cult spaces and material culture in the Greco-Roman world. She is passionate about public engagement with ancient history, writing a travel-archaeology blog and making art and illustrations. Synthesising these interests, Zofia has been the Public Archaeology coordinator at Aeclanum from 2017-2019, creating bespoke educational resources for the site. Zofia researched the material, developed the story and characters, illustrating and painting Vita Romana. For more information and contact details, please see the 'About Us
Book design: Josef Souček is one of the curators of the archaeological collection of the National Musem in Prague. His academic interests lie in Roman wall painting and architecture, as well as digital archaeology, but among his hobbies are graphic design and 3D modelling - both skills heavily employed in the public archaeology project in Aeclanum.