Postgraduate Research Archaeology Symposium

Stéphanie Mailleur (2016)

Keywords: Roman ports, iconography, landscape, urbanism, architecture


Our knowledge of the architecture of Mediterranean ports under the Roman Empire relies mainly upon archaeology. However, the reality of most of buildings are still very unclear. Port iconography, quite abundant during the Imperial period and decorating various supports of art (coins, ceramics, mosaics, paintings etc.), can make an important contribution to the study of the architectural appearance of the main ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Indeed pictorial evidence are precious documents for our understanding of Roman ports as they can show us what no longer exists like the elevations of ports’ buildings. The iconography is actually the only evidence of the tridimensionality of port’s buildings because there usually remains only the foundation level of ports’ structures. Nevertheless, the main issue of this work is related to the interpretation of the images. Indeed, it seems that artists make representations according to artistic conventions rather than recording reality. In order to go beyond the limitations of the pictorial evidence, we are developing a method of interpretation focusing on the language of imagery in ports’ representation and the syntax of the different symbols characterising the port’s landscape. Through this work, we are also analysing if the visual language corresponds to a standardisation and if a model exists (Portus? Alexandria?). Another important aspect of this work is to analyse as well the broadcast message and understand the connections between artistic forms and the ideological message (political and social meanings of Roman ports’ representations?).