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Sara Bozza

Sara Bozza
Sapienza University of Rome
Roma İmparatorluğu’nda Mimari ve Teknolojik Aktarım: Eski Anadolu İllerinde İtalyan Yapı Teknikleri

Dr. Bozza, antik mimari alanında uzmanlaşmış bir klasik arkeologdur. İtalya’da doğup büyümüş, Sapienza Üniversitesi’nde eğitim görmüş ve 2016 yılında Milano Katolik Üniversitesi’nde Frigya Hierapolis’inin İon mimarisi üzerine yazdığı tezle doktora unvanını almıştır. Milano Üniversitesi, Roma Sapienza Üniversitesi ve Ulusal Araştırma Konseyi’nde (İtalya) farklı araştırma ve doktora sonrası araştırma pozisyonlarında bulunmuş ve Türkiye’de çeşitli arkeolojik projelerin arazi çalışmalarına katılmıştır. Bunlar; Frigya Hierapolisi (Salento Üniversitesi, İtalya), Teos (Ankara Üniversitesi), Tripolis ad Maeandrum (Pamukkale Üniversitesi)dir.
Başlıca araştırma alanları arasında, özellikle Helenistik ve İmparatorluk dönemi Küçük Asya’ya odaklanarak, Yunan ve Roma dünyasının şehirciliği ve kamu mimarisi; antik mimari dekorasyon; antik taş ocakları, şantiyeler ve inşaat teknolojileri yer almaktadır.

ArchAnatolia—Architecture and Technological Transfer in the Roman Empire. Italic Building Techniques in the Provinces of Ancient Anatolia

Sara Bozza

During the 2022–2023 academic year, I was fortunate to be a Senior Fellow at ANAMED, with my project “Architecture and Technological Transfer in the Roman Empire. Italic Building Techniques in the Provinces of Ancient Anatolia,” for which I have chosen the acronym ArchAnatolia. During the months preceding the ANAMED fellowship, I started working on this topic at Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, with the support of the BE-FOR-ERC fellowship program, and then I had the chance to enrich and enhance my research in Istanbul at Koç University.

            The ArchAnatolia project focuses on the use of Italic building techniques in the provinces of ancient Anatolia between the late Hellenistic and the Imperial period, from the first century BCE to the third century CE. Starting from the third century BCE, new construction methods were developed in central Italy, consisting of tripartite walls with a load-bearing core made of concrete and two external facings made of small stones[1] (Fig. 1). Roman concrete, in Latin opus caementicium, is a composite material, made of mortar and caementa, the Latin name for rubble. The mortar was produced by mixing water, lime, and a volcanic ash called pozzolana; it hardens thanks to chemical reactions—lime turns into calcium carbonate, and a very strong bond is guaranteed by the pozzolana, which is an extremely reactive aluminosilicate. This kind of mortar is extremely hard, durable, and “hydraulic.” Thanks to this property, Roman concrete could also harden underwater. The natural resources of the area around Rome played a crucial role in the development of this building technology, which extensively exploited the widely available volcanic ashes and tuff.[2]


Fig. 1. Construction process of a Roman concrete wall (from Fikret Yegül and Diane Favro, Roman Architecture and Urbanism. From the Origins to Late Antiquity [Cambridge—New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019]).
            Concrete walls are traditionally classified according to the facing typology (Fig. 2). Opus testaceum, with fired-brick facing, became the most common building technique in Imperial Rome. A quick process of standardization was promoted by a small group of senatorial families. They were rich landowners who exploited their properties, extracting high-quality clay to produce huge quantities of bricks, in the upper Tiber Valley. This industrial-like production gradually became a monopoly of the Imperial house, and the high standardization guaranteed a continuous supply of material for the massive building sites in the center of Rome.[3] According to many scholars, Roman concrete combined with fired brick represents the most important achievement of the architecture of Rome, because it generated an actual “architectural revolution,” making possible innovative and structurally complicated forms of exceptional dimensions, such as the imposing barrel vaults, cross vaults, and domes of Roman monuments.[4]


Fig. 2. The most common types of wall facing in Rome and central Italy: opus incertum, made of irregular stones (A); opus reticulatum, with pyramid-shaped stones arranged in a reticulate pattern (B); opus testaceum, made of fired bricks cut into triangles (C); opus mixtum, a combination of opus reticulatum and testaceum (D) (from John Peter Oleson, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World [New York: Oxford University Press, 2008]).
            Regarding Asia Minor, scholars have emphasized that, in comparison with other regions of the Roman Empire, the diffusion of the Italic techniques was rather limited, especially the use of brick. Two main factors are generally recognized: 1) the persistence of the Hellenistic architectural tradition of ashlar masonry, based on the abundance of building stone and timber; and 2) the supposed absence or scarcity of high-quality volcanic materials comparable to Italian pozzolana. The specific research topic of the Italic techniques in Anatolia was introduced by a pioneering study by J. B. Ward Perkins in 1958, who first examined the microasiatic buildings constructed with opus caementicium and bricks. The legacy of Ward Perkins strongly influenced subsequent studies: in the 1980s, Marc Waelkens and other scholars tried to trace the use of technologies originally developed in Rome—regarding the opus caementicium, the most ancient evidence is recorded in Ephesus, the provincial capital of Asia, where brick is used mainly in the upper part of ashlar masonry walls of bath buildings and in the well-known examples of Celsus’ Library in Ephesus and the Red Hall of Pergamon[5] (Fig. 3). The studies of the 1980s and 90s still represent a reference, but they appear influenced by a dualistic notion of the Mediterranean, with an old-fashioned concept of Romanization, interpreted as a one-directional transfer of culture from above and a passive reception from below, identical in all the provinces during the whole Imperial period. This simplification led to an idea of a linear evolution of construction, with the Roman techniques considered as the height of the technological progress. This dualistic vision was rightly criticized by Fikret Yegül and Marcello Spanu,[6] who tried to read regional differences in terms of the available natural resources and socio-political and economic differences. Key factors are, for example, the establishment of colonies, the presence of Italic craftsmen and soldiers, and the role of local officials in the creation of infrastructure. In brief, research is trying to abandon simplistic and generalizing perspectives.


Fig. 3. The Red Hall of Pergamon, with walls made of bricks for their full thickness (general view and detail of an internal wall, photo: Sara Bozza).

In this framework, the ArchAnatolia project is oriented to the reconstruction of historical dynamics of technological transfer, adopting an up-to-date theoretical perspective. The most current notion of the Roman Empire has moved away from the old concept of Romanization, with its colonialist idea of ​​a civilizing mission attributed to Roman imperialism and is now more concerned with the idea of a globalized Mediterranean and with the concepts of mobility, interaction, exchange, assimilation, and adaptation.[7] The simplistic question of “is it Roman or local? Is it Roman or Greek?” could work in the 1980s, when we had limited knowledge about the local roots of construction traditions and the variety of technological landscapes. Today, instead, the identification of “Western” and “local” building techniques needs a critical re-examination. Our theoretical model of the Mediterranean isn’t dualistic anymore, so our questions and the possible answers shouldn’t be dualistic, but nuanced and diversified, since we know that the dynamics activated by Roman rule in the provinces were complex, bilateral exchanges.

The research project is pursuing two macro-objectives: 1) to identify the relationship between the building site and its context, namely the environment with its natural resources, the administration, the economy, and the socio-political structure; and 2) to identify the actors of technological transfer, investigating the role of architects, craftsmen, building patrons, Roman officials, colonists, and soldiers and to determine the mobility of these figures and their socio-economic interests.

Through a multi-level analysis based on a geodatabase, ArchAnatolia is addressing the question of the reception-interpretation-negotiation of Roman models and technologies in imperial Asia Minor. The ANAMED fellowship has been essential for the progress of the project: I used the bibliographic resources of ANAMED, NIT, and DAI for my systematic research on methodological problems and on case studies. Regarding the methodology, I developed the concept and the structure of the geodatabase and reflected on the criteria of the research that are essential for applying a non-simplistic, nuanced perspective to the case studies. An up-to-date technical vocabulary was developed for the cataloguing and interpretation of the evidence, to overcome the ambiguity of the terminology used so far in different scientific languages. The original meaning of Latin and Greek terminology attested in ancient sources and used in modern studies was also analyzed. Regarding case studies, the adopted strategy was to focus on a micro-region to test the research approach: I focused my attention on the region of Bithynia and northern Asia, where there are relevant monumental contexts which show the use of Italic technologies (Nicaea, Nicomedia, Alexandria Troas, Cyzicus, etc.). I went on field trips to these contexts to directly see the monuments and record (photograph and catalogue) the building techniques.

My time at ANAMED was crucial to develop the ArchAnatolia project not only because it enabled me to access libraries and archaeological sites in Türkiye, but also for the chance to meet an interdisciplinary group of colleagues from different countries and academic environments. I enjoyed the valuable feedback of other fellows during the in-house presentation of my work, and I took advantage from a scientific and personal point of view of the continuous exchange of ideas in this stimulating academic context. The stay in Istanbul was also a great occasion to enlarge my scientific network and to establish new contacts at Koç University, Boğaziçi University, and the DAI, where I had the pleasure to give lectures on my research activity. In conclusion, it’s been a productive year at ANAMED, and I am currently working to publish more detailed results in scientific journals as soon as possible.

In the meantime, please check out this preliminary article:


Bozza, Sara. “The Adoption of Roman Building Techniques in Asia Minor, 30 Years Later.” In Zwischen Bruch und Kontinuität. Architektur in Kleinasien am Übergang vom Hellenismus zur römischen Kaiserzeit = Continuity and Change. Architecture in Asia Minor during the Transitional Period from Hellenism to the Roman Empire, Internationale Tagung an der Universität Graz, 26.–29. April 2017 (Byzas, 25), edited by Ute Lohner-Urban and Ursula Quatember, 57–72. Istanbul: Ege Yayınları, 2020.


[1] Jean-Pierre Adam, Roman Building. Materials and Techniques (Oxon: Routledge, 2007).

[2] John Peter Oleson, ed., Building for Eternity. The History and Technology of Roman Concrete Engineering in the Sea (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014).

[3] Evelyne Bukowiecki and Ulrike Wulf-Rheidt, “L’industria laterizia e l’organizzazione dei grandi cantieri urbani,” in Roma Universalis. L’impero e la dinastia venuta dall’Africa, eds. Clementina Panella, Rossella Rea, and Alessandro D’Alessio (Milan: Electa, 2018), 221–27; Rita Volpe, “L’introduzione del laterizio nell’Italia centrale a Roma,” in Alle origini del laterizio romano. Nascita e diffusione del mattone cotto nel Mediterraneo tra IV e I secolo a.C., eds. Jacopo Bonetto, Evelyne Bukowiecki, and Rita Volpe (Rome: Edizioni Quasar, 2019), 435–39.

[4] Lynne Lancaster, Concrete Vaulted Construction in Imperial Rome. Innovations in Context (Cambridge—New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Lynne Lancaster, Innovative Vaulting in the Architecture of the Roman Empire: 1st to 4th Centuries CE (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[5] John Bryan Ward-Perkins, “Notes on the Structure and Building Methods of Early Byzantine Architecture,” in The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors, Second Report, ed. David Talbot Rice (Edinburgh: University Press, 1958), 52–104: Marc Waelkens, “The Adoption of Roman Building Techniques in the Architecture of Asia Minor,” in Roman Architecture in the Greek World, eds. Sarah Macready and F. H. Thompson (London: Society of Antiquaries of London, 1987), 94–105.

[6] Fikret Yegül, “Roman Architecture in the Greek World,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 4 (1991): 345–55; Marcello Spanu, “Roman Influence in Cilicia Through Architecture,” Olba 8 (2003): 1–38.

[7] Miguel John Versluys, “Understanding Objects in Motion: an Archaeological Dialogue on Romanization,” Archaeological Dialogues 21 (2014): 1–20.