|Ethical aspects of
choosing a study object
Each time we study the past, it
has something to do with ethics.
Ethics is the question of right and wrong, how to work, act and live as
an individual, a group or a society. The aim of the study of the past is
to know more about how people lived in other periods and places in order
to compare it with our life today. We choose a place, a period or a social
group with wich we can identify enought to make the past relevant, but
which is different enough to make the comparison interesting when we compare
the life of earlier generations to our own.
In this way, the study of the
past helps us to ask what is right and wrong in our modern society, in
our personal life and in our culture. We may look for the conditions
of women, homosexuals, immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities.
The study of the past is part of
the ethical struggle of man, his wish to understand what is right and wrong,
and his desire to do what is right today. The archaeologist chooses
a study object which he wishes to compare to our own society. The choice
presupposes an ethical judgement of our own time, our society and culture.
If our judgement is positive, this means that we identify ourselves with
our culture, our country, the European culture or our religious community.
In that case, our research may help us to understand our own cultural tradition,
to see how it was born and how it developed. This can help us to understand
how our own culture can change today without betraying its own identity
and fundamental values.
If our judgement of our contemporary
culture is negative, as often in the 20th century, perhaps we look for
an alternativ to a society which we find dominated by the market, by men,
capitalists, or inhuman ideologies.
A stimulating example is the book
Etruscan places (1932) written by D H Lawrence, the author of Lady
Chatterley's lover, after a visit to Etruria in 1927. For Lawrence,
the Etruscans were an alternative to the boring, military and cold Romans.
His book has little scientific value but helps us to understand why so
many were fascinated by the Etruscans. They became an alternative to the
boring Western culture. For Lawrence, the Etruscans enjoyed life and sexual
freedom and lived in peace. The Romans were cold and rigid soldiers which
could be found interesting only by the Fascist regime which ruled in Italy
in those days. The strong feelings of Lawrence about the Etruscans vs.
the Romans are an extreme but illuminating example of the search for an
alternativ to Western culture which was so strong in the 20th century and
which contributes to understand the enormous public interest in the Etruscans,
witnessed by the participation by the Swedish King Gustav VI Adolf in Etruscan
excavations in San Giovenale and Acquarossa in the Fifties and Sixties.
The archaeologists went out in the countryside where no one had been for
many centuries and excavated unknown worlds and cultures which had not
found a place in the European cultural tradition.
The choice of San Lorenzo in Lucina
Probably most archaeologists would
agree with what was stated above about the ethical aspects of the choice
of study object. However, the choice in itself is exactly a choice,
and not necessarily everyone would agree with the ideas behind our choice
of San Lorenzo in Lucina. Perhaps not even all the members of the project
share these ideas, but as these ideas were important for the choice of
the study object, they will be briefly explained below, hoping to stimulate
a more general reflection on the choice of study object.
Lawrence looked for an alternative
to the Romans. On the contrary, the Romans are quite important in this
project about San Lorenzo in Lucina. The archaeological excavations together
with several other studies aim at a better understand of what happened
in a quarter of the capital of the Roman Empire in the last centuries of
As Swedish scholars, we work with
these questions because we are convinced that the Mediterranean Greek and
Roman culture is not only local European culture, not only an ethnic character
of the inhabitants of this part of the globe. We have chosen this study
object because we are convinced that the Greek and Roman culture is the
root of the mental and social strucure which today is often called Western
culture, but which today is the air which is breathed in the entire world
and so is part of the culture in Sweden as in any other country in the
world. From a Swedish point of view, our relationship to the Greek
and Roman culture has become even more important since Sweden joined the
The so called Western or Classical
tradition is not an ethnic culture but rather a mental structure which
can embrace different peoples and cultures. Today, IT and the English
language have a diffusion which reminds of the Roman Empire, where different
peoples and cultures were united by Roman administration. Democracy and
human rights are ideas born in the Western tradition with roots in the
Greek, Roman and Christian heritage, but today we all believe that democracy
and human rights are not bound to any particular culture or religion. The
heritage of Greece and Rome makes it possible for us today to integrate
people from other cultures in democratic countries in the West, just
as it made it possible to create the USA out of groups of different culture
and religion. The classical heritage is a kind of internet, which
contains just about anything, but which makes it possible for different
things to exist together, to co-exist. The opposite of the classical
tradition must be integralism and isolationism, which can be seen in
some places in the world in a desperate and total conflict with the natural
tendency of modern global culture to tear down walls and embrace all peoples
and cultures in a network of communication of information and thought.
The church of San Lorenzo in Lucina
and the Roman quarter beneath it have been chosen in order to make more
visible the relationship between Sweden and this classical heritage. In
a more particular way, the monument makes it possible to discuss e. g.
what happened in Rome in the fourth century, when different religions lived
together, and compare that society to our modern pluralistic society.
This Late Antique culture was the foundation of the European culture which
later arrived also in Sweden with the Carolingian missionaries.
San Lorenzo in Lucina was chosen
as a study object in order to understand better the cultural tradition
we feel is our own. However, also the well known can be full of surprises
if you study it closely and carefully and without prejudices.
Do you disagree? Tell
The above reflections were presented
by Olof Brandt at the symposium "Svensk arkeologi i utlandet - etiska aspekter"
in Stockholm November 25, 2000, arranged by the Svenska arkeologiska samfundet.