Claire Weiss's Research on Ancient Roman Sidewalks Receive Honorable Mention

October 15, 2018

Dr. Claire Weiss, a recent graduate from the UVA School of Architecture's Interdisciplinary Program in Archaeology, received a special Honorable Mention from the Richard Guy Wilson Award for Excellence in the Study of Buildings, Landscapes and Places. The prize is given yearly to the best scholarly or creative work engaging a historic building, place, or landscape. This year, special commendations were also given along with the award, including for outstanding graduate theses and dissertations. Dr. Weiss's dissertation on “The Construction of Sidewalks as Indicator of Social and Economic Interaction in Ancient Roman Cities” was called out for praise for its examination of common infrastructure and the potential to connect her work to contemporary vernacular architectural studies.

Her research looked at four sites—Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D., and Ostia and Minturnae in the 2nd century A.D.—and examined legal debates and opinions compiled by emperor Justinian to study the interface of public and private space. Dr. Weiss was able to study the preserved site of Pompeii and Herculaneum and map out the sidewalks using photogrammetry, GIS, and 3D modeling. She constructed models of those two sites, stitching together thousands of photographs, and then compared them against existing maps of Ostia and Minturnae. IATH technical staff (notably Shayne Brandon) provided software and developmental support for the photogrammetry and 3D model work, and she was able to utilize the high-performance computer resources at ARCS for processing.

The project’s focus on the design and use of sidewalks, which are so common as to be practically invisible, reveal more of the day-to-day functioning of ancient Roman society than one might expect. Sidewalks in classical Roman cities were small stages to demonstrate social status: they were used to provide space for a wealthy citizen’s clients to gather and wait for an audience. Even curb height could be a status symbol. This research is the first close examination of ancient Roman sidewalks in multiple urban contexts, and Dr. Weiss notes that, while often overlooked, both the presence and absence of sidewalks and curbing contribute a great deal of information about the social and economic structures of cities.