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Sustainability and Resource Management in the Roman World



[BSc], S, HI

Admission Requirements

A 100-level course in Sustainability or Human Interaction is preferred.


The course will examine the way resources (water, materials, energy) were acquired, utilized and wasted in the context of the Roman world (ca. 400 BC – CE 600). The technological advances of Roman culture and their legacy in the modern world will be critically investigated in light of current research in Roman archaeology and sustainable resource usage. This course promotes a systematic approach to settlements, resources, and the natural landscape itself. This dialogue between past and current resource practices will look forward to concerns of cultural heritage management and the future availability or lack of Roman cultural heritage.

Course Objectives

Through this class, students will develop an understanding of long-term trends in resource and supply strategies. The inter-connectivity of landscape, population, and natural resources will be critically examined to identify cultural resource strategies and their impact on the environment. The dynamic interaction between past structures, current archaeological practices and community-based cultural heritage will be explored in detail.

Mode of Instruction

The class will be primarily taught through presentations delivered by the instructors on various topics of Roman resource acquisition and the urban environment. In response to assigned readings, students will compose two questions in order to critically engage with topics discussed by the lecturer (M. Driessen). Students will work in groups of two to deliver presentations on assigned topics of sustainability and resource use in the Roman world (H. Stöger/M. Locicero). These same groups will work together to produce a final research assignment consisting of approx. 5000 words. Presentations given by the instructors and students as well as assigned readings will be the source of ongoing critical classroom discussion. One of the final classes will involve a trip to the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden to experience the Petra exhibit as an example of modern heritage management and an urban site with diverse approaches to resource management. A single class held at Leiden University’s Department of Archaeology will present the students with primary archaeological material to gain a multi-sensory understanding of archaeological material.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

  • oral in class presentations on diverse topics of sustainability and resource management in the Roman world in groups of two students (40%)

  • final research essay jointly written by two students (5000 words) (40%)

  • active participation in class discussions based on lecturer and student presentations, assigned readings, weekly preparation of two critical questions for discussion (20%)

In-class participation: 20%
Weekly web-postings (max. 300 words): 20%
Presentation in class for Thursdays’ lectures (powerpoint or prezi): 20%
Final research essay (jointly written (two students), 5000 words): 40%


The book Pan’s Travail by J.D. Hughes is recommended by the instructors for purchase by the students as it is an excellent introduction to environmental issues and questions of sustainability in antiquity as addressed in the course. The average online price is about 20 euros for the paperback edition.

The required articles will be made available in pdf format and accessible by means of a dropbox available after the first class.

Contact Information

Contact information for course instructor(s) or convener if you are happy for students to contact you about the content of the course.

Weekly Overview

Monday’s lectures (M. Driessen)
1) Introductory lecture on Roman Archaeology
2) Extraction from natural resources
3) Production and consumption
4) Transport and Logistics
5) Material culture in close contact
6) Cultural heritage management
7) Conclusion and future directions

Thursdays’ lectures (H. Stöger and M. Locicero)
1) Introduction
Overall introduction to the ancient city and issues of water and waste management, and a general introduction to archaeological data (acquisition and interpretation); assigning presentation topics.

2) Buildings and Activities
Reconstruction of the urban landscape through the built environment and the activities which can be assigned to the buildings; discussion of use and re-use of building materials.

3) Roman Water
Introduce hydraulic structures (baths, aqueducts, cisterns, water wheels) and their integration into the urban landscape; addressing how these structures functioned and were used.

4) Water and Sustainability
Discussion on the nature of water as both beneficial and destructive; definition of sustainability and its application in understanding water usage in modern and ancient urban contexts illustrated through case studies.

5) Waste/Garbage
Investigation of archaeological structures of waste and garbage (sewers/cesspits/garbage dumps). Discussion of the changing definition of waste and hygiene, while addressing the issue of resource recycling in antiquity.

6) Movement Economy
This lecture takes the aspect of sustainability to a different field of urban inquiry and looks into the movement economy of the ancient city. By looking into the vitality of urban street networks, the city’s capacity for integration and movement will be examined in both a quantitative and a qualitative way.

7) Petra exhibition/conclusion
Visit to the Petra exhibition at Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden. Demonstrates complex ancient urban society and the issues of cultural heritage management.

Preparation for first session

From lecture 2 onwards students are expected to have read the chapters assigned for the specific classes. A reading list will be provided through the dropbox which will be available after the first class.