The material debris of ancient empires has long shaped ideas of national memory and identity in modern Europe. In particular, the Roman Empire exerted its fascination, providing a reference point for the political, juridical, and cultural elaboration of modern forms of imperialism. In Italy, this discourse intersected with the unification process: the positioning of the country within a history that originates from the Roman Empire, and which led to modern colonialism, went hand in hand with the spatial definition of the legal and racial borders of the national community, as well as with the assertion of its prime role in the Mediterranean Sea. This discourse blatantly pervaded the rhetoric about colonial undertakings in Libya and in the Horn of Africa, especially during the fascist dictatorship (1922-1943). Far from being relegated to Fascist imperial era, the reference to the long-term and allegedly civilizing presence of Italy in Africa since the Roman Empire continued in post-war decades, often obscuring any critical discourse about crimes and violence characterizing the Italian colonial endeavours.

Building on these premises, the symposium aims to establish a dialogue between different disciplinary approaches dealing with the significance of ancient archaeological debris in imperial cultures since the early modern era. Specific attention will be paid to the projection of imperial fantasies as they materialize in public spaces and buildings, in archaeological objects and ruins, in colonial collections, yet also in different literary and visual representations. The symposium thus explores how the imperial discourse was moulded within and through these sites and debris, in which the boundaries separating the past and the present are constantly redefined. Specific attention will be paid to the ways in which contemporary research and art practices are dealing with the material and spatial ruins of the imperial experience, by critically tackling the extent to which they pervade our present-day societies and cultures.

Confirmed speakers
Samuel Agbamu (University of Reading)
Nicolò Bettegazzi (University of Groningen)
Simone Brioni (Stony Brooks University)
Beatrice Falcucci (Università dell’Aquila – KNIR, Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome)
Bethany Hucks (Universität Heidelberg)
Gianmarco Mancosu (University of London – University of Cambridge)
Jan Nelis (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Martina Piperno (University of Durham)
Simona Troilo (Università dell’Aquila)
Please email any enquiries to For registration please contact Dr Gianmarco Mancosu at