Abstract: Villas in Spain and Portugal at the end of the Roman Empire

Lecturer: Katherine Dunbabin

Among the most impressive of the many magnificent monuments from the Roman period that can be seen today in many parts of Spain and Portugal are the great villas built in the countryside by the elite, and mostly dating from the last century of Roman rule in the peninsula, the fourth and early fifth centuries AD. The wealthy landowners lavished their money on vast country residences, which are expansive and often adventurous in their architectural designs, with multiple peristyles and fancy dining-rooms, fountains and gardens; they are splendidly decorated with mosaics, paintings, and sculptures. The mosaics especially are often very well preserved, and their study, together with that of the layout and plan of the villas, can tell us much about the lifestyles of their occupants, from their love of hunting or their passion for the circus races to their devotion to scenes from classical mythology which were considered the hallmark of educated and cultured society. In the later part of this period the Roman Empire was shaken by barbarian attacks that eventually tore it apart, as well as by severe economic problems and civil wars, and the Hispanic peninsula itself was subjected to the invasion of Vandals, Goths, and other barbarian peoples in the fifth century; but the villa-owners, many of whom were by now Christian, appear often to have continued to enjoy their prosperous and secure-seeming life regardless of impending troubles.

 

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):

S. Keay, Roman Spain, London/Berkeley 1988, chs.8-9 (bit out of date, but a useful survey)

M. Kulikowski, Late Roman Spain and its Cities, Baltimore 2004, chs. 6-8

K. Dunbabin, Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World, Cambridge 1999, ch.9 (mosaics)

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Jessica Kaiser is currently finishing her Ph.D at the University of California, Berkeley and holds an M.A. from the University of Stockholm, Sweden.  Her areas of specialization are the social... Read More

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