Rome: Matter & Myth

Rome has been considered to be the centre of the world since early on in history. This applies not only to its geographical location, in the middle of the Mediterranean world between the ‘barbarians’ in the north and south, but also in particular in the spiritual sense of the word: Rome as a political, religious and cultural centre of the region, the nation and the empire. The basic idea of Rome as the centre of the world continued to exist in later phases of history, but, time and again, has taken on new meanings: from the centre of the papal state in the Middle Ages to the capital of the first world religion in the early modern era; from the birthplace of Baroque to the laboratory of 19th century nationalism and 20th century fascism; and from a site of the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1957 to the present World Heritage Site.

The flexibility and dynamism of Rome as a centre is crucial to this, especially if its central role is disputed. For example, when the Italic peoples founded a new city as a model of Rome around 90 BC, Italia; when the centre of power shifts to Ravenna or Constantinople; when, instead of the Mediterranean See, the Atlantic Ocean becomes the main economic waterway; when the Popes and antipopes move the centre to Avignon; or in the regional resistance to Rome as the capital of the state from the unification to the present.

Our research at KNIR focuses on this dynamic and on the diversity of meanings of Rome as the centre of the world. This research is alternately mono-, multi- and interdisciplinary and covers the entire Roman history: from the expanding Roman Empire in antiquity to the contemporary Cinecittà. Moreover, the KNIR has a special international role, as well, insofar as we often combine theory, methodology and empiricism in our research projects. Starting out from our traditional focus areas and topics within Italian studies, we are now also looking beyond Italy, the Netherlands and Europe in order to realise the full potential of this research agenda. We view the whole world in relation to Rome (and Italy). This means that reflection on and decolonisation of the disciplines available to the KNIR are high on the agenda.

The KNIR offers a unique environment in which students and researchers from various backgrounds can work on these and other themes within an excellent interdisciplinary and international context. The institute’s research facilities, with the extensive library available 24/7 to our guests, the new laboratory for material culture and digital methods, the proximity to museums, archives and archaeological sites and the numerous contacts with Italian and international scientific institutions in Rome and elsewhere give the institute an important role as an intermediary between the Dutch, Italian and international academic communities. In addition, the Institute conducts research in a range of the core disciplines of antiquity/archaeology, history and art history.

The overarching theme includes research into material culture (archaeological finds, buildings and monuments, works of art and artefacts in museum collections, archives) as well as into the history of ideas (philosophy, iconography, literature, religion, film) and the many interactions among them. Rome has an unprecedented density of Matter & Myths, which often have to be investigated in a coherent and, therefore, interdisciplinary manner. The relationship between past and present and the interaction between Rome and the world are recurring themes.