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Kimberly Cassibry

Feb 4, 2022

Destinations in Mind

Portraying Places on the Roman Empire's Souvenirs

Oxford University Press 2021

In Destinations in Mind: Portraying Places on the Roman Empire's Souvenirs (Oxford UP, 2021), Kimberly Cassibry asks how objects depicting different sites helped Romans understand their vast empire. At a time when many cities were written about but only a few were represented in art, four distinct sets of artefacts circulated new information. Engraved silver cups list all the stops from Spanish Cádiz to Rome while resembling the milestones that helped travellers track their progress. Vivid glass cups represent famous charioteers and gladiators competing in circuses and amphitheatres and offered virtual experiences of spectacles that were new to many regions. Bronze bowls commemorate forts along Hadrian's Wall with colourful enamelling typical of Celtic craftsmanship. Glass bottles display labelled cityscapes of Baiae, a notorious resort, and Puteoli, a busy port, both in the Bay of Naples.

These artefacts and their journeys reveal an empire divided not into centre and periphery, but connected by roads that did not all lead to Rome. They bear witness to a shared visual culture that was divided not into high and low art but united by extraordinary craftsmanship. New aspects of globalization are apparent in the multi-lingual place names that the vessels bear, in the transformed places that they visualize, and in the enriched understanding of the empire's landmarks that they impart. With in-depth case studies, Cassibry argues that the best way to comprehend the Roman Empire is to look closely at objects depicting its fascinating places. 

More information along with images from the book can be accessed on the author's new database.

Tanja Tolar is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

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