Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow

Affiliation: Brandeis University

Professor Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow is the Kevy and Hortense Kaiserman Endowed Chair in the Humanities and Head of the Division of the Humanities at Brandeis University.  She has done archaeological fieldwork at Herculaneum, Pompeii, Tel Heshbon in Jordan, and Carthage in Tunisia, and survey work and archaeological study in Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, and Turkey.  Her scholarship focuses on ancient daily life, especially in the Roman world at Pompeii, urban infrastructure, plumbing and hydraulics, baths and bathing practices, and toilets and sanitation.  She holds an M.A. in Latin and Greek language and literature from the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a Ph.D. from the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology also from Michigan.  Her publications include: The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2015), Roman Toilets: Their Archaeology and Cultural History (co-edited with Gemma Jansen and Eric Moormann, Leiden, 2011), and Water Use and Hydraulics in the Roman City (Archaeological Institute of America, 2001).  Her forthcoming books are: Making Sense of Pompeii and Herculaneum: Daily Life and the Sensorium of the Ancient Roman City (Cambridge Univ. Press), Sixty-Seven Toilets in the Ancient City of Rome: Sanitary, Urbanistic, and Social Agency (co-edited with Gemma Jansen and Richard Neudecker for the Dutch press, BABESCH, part of Brill), and volume 1 in the new six-volume Bloomsbury series, The Bloomsbury Cultural History of Technology, Pre-History through Antiquity (2.5 MBP-600AD) (contributor and co-editor with Rabun M. Taylor).  Professor Koloski-Ostrow was presented with the AIA’s 2016 award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.


This talk explores the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch of ancient Roman cities (focus on Pompeii and Herculaneum, but reference to Ostia and Rome as well) using textual and archaeological evidence, in order to discover how we can identify the sensorium of the Roman city and how it can sharpen our understanding of life on Roman streets, in public spaces, and in private dwellings. We review the chief institutions and structures of the city to find the evidence: in the streets (dung, vomit, pee, shit, detritus, garbage, filthy water, fresh produce and baked goods); from inside tenement buildings (mould, damp basements, fires, charcoal, stagnant well water, overflowing cesspits); from shops (burning ovens, smoke, meat and vegetables); from live animals; from crowded public venues (including games in the amphitheaters, theaters, fora, and markets); from urban disasters (fires and floods); from inside public baths and toilets; from religious worship in and outside temples; and from the rituals associated with death and burial. Such an investigation into the sources and dissemination of the ancient sensorium revivifies the complexity of the ancient city and even contributes to a better understanding of urban zoning.

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