Published April 12, 2016

Rome’s premature ruins

Archaeology lecture to highlight ‘construction disasters,’ incompetency
  • John Peter Oleson, PH.D, FRSC
The Romans left civilization some of the world’s architectural wonders.

But that’s not what appeals to John Oleson, professor of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada.

Oleson is instead interested in ancient Rome’s architectural and engineering blunders.

Oleson will speak about those mistakes in the next archeology lecture at Monmouth College, to be given at 7:30 p.m. April 19 in the Pattee Auditorium of the Center for Science and Business.

Titled “Sand without Lime: Building Disasters, Incompetent Architects and Construction Fraud in Ancient Rome,” the program is free and open to the public.

Roman architects and builders employed concrete and other materials with great creativity to produce some structures that have lasted more 2,000 years.

“Nevertheless, the structures we see today are a very small sample of those that were constructed – even of those constructed with concrete – and their survival is the result of a long process of natural and unnatural selection,” Oleson said.

While exploring how or why the other structures disappeared, Oleson will cite “a large, often hilarious, corpus of Roman literary and epigraphic sources and legal texts … that document construction disasters, incompetent architects, fraudulent contractors and cost overruns.”

“There is also ample testimony to misjudged urban planning, flawed codes or regulations, or inadequate enforcement of regulations, resulting in losses of life and property from fire and other natural disasters,” Oleson said. “My talk will discuss what types of mistakes were made, what types of fraud committed, and what can we learn from them.”

Oleson’s talk is part of a series sponsored by the Monmouth classics department, in cooperation with the Western Illinois Society of Archaeological Institute of America.
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