Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!


Temple of Mars Ultor (Courtesy Liz Glynn)

In April, artist Liz Glynn challenged the notion "Rome wasn't built in a day" at the New Museum in New York, presenting a live performance piece: the construction and destruction of a 450-square-foot model of the ancient city. "It can be done!" says Glynn. "It's really a question of scale."

Glynn researched the architectural and military history of Rome for six months, scouring everything from modern topographical dictionaries to ancient sources, including the historian Livy (59 B.C.-A.D. 17). On the day of the project, she enlisted 120 volunteers, among them archaeologists, architects, and classicists.

The cardboard and wood buildings mostly ranged from several inches to four feet high, and were erected over a 24-hour period, beginning with Romulus's hut on the Palatine in 753 B.C. Each subsequent minute represented the passing of 1.238 years; in the following hours, forums, temples, and monuments went up, got renovated, or were torn down in chronological order. "During the era of Augustus, a lot gets built," says Glynn. "We managed to get a little bit off track around then, which was about 9:00 in the morning. Everyone was on the ground building different things."

To signify the final sacking by the Visigoths in A.D. 410, Glynn and the volunteers stomped on the buildings, some participants brandishing cardboard weapons. Rome fell in only two minutes.

Eti Bonn-Muller is managing editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.