By studying the Ancient Rome this project investigated processes by which urban spaces were actively appropriated in ancient cultures. The scope lies on examining the characteristic cityscaping of the lower strata. As the source material is often elitist in nature, great caution must be exercised in preparing a view “from below”. Access to these marginalized strata can nevertheless be obtained through a dedicated study of Roman satire.


Modern urban sociology has shown that widely differing “cities” exist in one and the same territory; the urban space is a “class-specific synthesis” (Martina Löw), and not a unity per se. Obviously, this view also holds in principle for the pre-modern era, i.e. for ancient cities; but this is much harder to verify in detail because analytical instruments like social statistics or interviews with those affected are not available. In particular, there is a lack of authentic, firsthand textual sources on the realities of the city beneath the city of the elites that could help supplement, arrange and modify archaeological and other findings, because in keeping with the structure of ancient literature these sources usually assume a perspective “from above”.

However, there also exist ancient literary constructs that exhibit a contrary perspective, and this in the strongest sense, especially in satirical writings which are not limited to the Roman satura. In testing both the validity of such a perspective and the potential of the available sources, the city of Rome was selected as a reference magnitude.


The cityscaping in Roman poetry, e.g. in the satires of Lucilius, but especially of Horace, Martial and Juvenal, bathes the representative and monumental city of Rome in the light of everyday perception, decidedly adopting the view of sub-elite strata. This prestigious Rome seems at best remote, bereft of self-awareness; this variant also appears in the complimentary non-satirical conception of Titus Calpurnius. At worst, however, it seems even menacing in Juvenal’s writings, e.g. public construction measures threaten the individual’s existence. Thus arises a “group-specific synthesis”, which produces the “class-specific synthesis” – the Rome of the common people – and which, in a form that calls for more extensive research, is more closely correlated with official, Imperial Rome. This is also true for the poets of Latin Love Elegy, namely Gallus, Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid. Even epic authors like Vergil and Ovid (in the Metamorphoses) take this alternative perspective, meaning alternative to official representations of the city, by creating a chronological gap between the epic setting and the contemporary environment of the readers. It is precisely because Rome is the undisputed capital of the Imperium Romanum that the authors are able to set about destroying the aura this status confers. Paradoxically, however, they also need exactly this criticized and newly perspectivized post-republican urban space of the imperial period as a foil and also as a literary space. It is the implicit knowledge of how Rome is charged with meaning that first allows authors to formulate a literary counterproposal.