Sensing Water in Roman Greece

River Ladon Mosaic, Garden Peristyle, Villa of Herodes Atticus, Eva-Loukou, Greece

In the January 2021 volume of the American Journal of Archaeology, my article, “Sensing Water in Roman Greece: The Villa of Herodes Atticus at Eva-Loukou and the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis,” appeared (abstract below). In it, I make the case for considering Roman fountains through the lens of sensory archaeology. In that vein, I aim to repopulate ancient spaces with individuals, in order to understand the impact that flowing water had in what are now dry spaces–and to better our understanding of the placement of water-displays. Further, such sensorial experiences of encountering a fountain also has the ability to help us understand notions of Roman identity, especially considering what displaying water meant for the Romans across the empire.

The work behind the article is part of a larger monograph on the sensory experience of water in the ancient Roman world, in which I examine case studies from throughout the Roman world in a variety of contexts. Other elements of this research has appeared in other venues recently, such as “Fountains, Experience, and Meaning in Late Antique Corinth,” in Antiquité tardive (vol. 28). I am also exploring these topics this spring in a graduate seminar that I am offering at the University of Virginia (“Water, Architecture, and the Senses”), particularly to consider the multisensory nature of water. My aim with the course is to understand the impact of water on the built environment, along with thinking about the sensorial experiences that were created in those spaces–across the globe and over time–in order to think more holistically about examples from the Roman empire.

AJA abstract:
The water-displays in Roman Greece in the Villa of Herodes Atticus at Eva-Loukou and in the forecourt of the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis demonstrate diverse uses and contexts of flowing water. By focusing on the sensorial experience an ancient individual had with these structures, especially through the framework of the sensorial assemblage, we can highlight how sensory elements had the power to create immersive encounters. This permits further understanding of how an ancient Roman experienced a monument and created memories in the surrounding built enviornment and natural landscape. The two water-displays at Eva-Loukou and Eleusis in Greece, one in a domestic context and one in a religious context, can then be placed in relation to the empire-wide phenomenon of constructing fountains for their sensorial effects. Examinations of the two sites suggest the motivations that moved patrons to install innovative water-displays and help elucidate a common Roman sense of identity connected to the display of water.

If you are interested in reading the article and you do not have access to the article through JSTOR, please contact me!

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