Swedish Research in 

San Lorenzo in Lucina 


- The Transformations  
of a Late Antique  
Roman Quarter 

First page 

Why San Lorenzo in Lucina? 






Made by: Olof Brandt  

Swedish Institute in Rome  
Web page:   
Via Omero 14  
I-00197 Rome, Italy  
E-mail: isvroma@vatlib.it 

First page Why San Lorenzo in Lucina?
Why San Lorenzo in Lucina? 
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 the Empire. 

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 EU. 

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 us!   

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.