NASHVILLE, Tenn. (January 3, 2018)—Rome: City and Empire brings to Nashville more than 200 of the British Museum’s most engaging and beautiful Roman objects to tell the dramatic story of how Rome grew from a cluster of small villages into a mighty empire. This marks the first time that art and artifacts from ancient Rome and its empire will be on display at the Frist Center, which is the sole North American venue on the tour.

The British Museum’s exceptionally broad collections—world renowned for its classical antiquities—have enabled the creation of a truly inspiring experience. Visitors will explore how the empire was won and held and learn about the rich diversity of its population. The exhibition is an accessible introduction to the Roman imperial period, yet also provides a depth of material for those with an existing interest in Roman history.

Portraits of emperors, military leaders, citizens, and mythological figures, as well as stunning examples of pottery, paintings, jewelry, coins, and other objects, span ten centuries of Roman history and invite fresh ways of looking at the past while offering points of connection between antiquity and today.

“The exhibition provides insights into the experiences of the Romans themselves, while cultivating an understanding of the dynamic relationships between the imperial government and the people it conquered,” says Frist Center chief curator Mark Scala. “The range of objects, from across present-day western Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, show the diversity and interconnectedness of the vast empire.”

Organized thematically, the exhibition begins with an overview of Rome’s geographical and political evolution. It continues with sections that contextualize topics such as military capability, imperial architecture, religious practices, and the diverse peoples of the empire. The exhibition concludes with a presentation of art that commemorates the dead such as burial chests, sarcophagi, and tombstones.

Along with a number of maps and photographs illustrating Rome’s monuments and architectural achievements, as well as sites in which artifacts were found, the exhibition contains a digital map sequence with a timeline that details the empire’s expansion. An interactive in-gallery publication titled “Fortune and Glory” will provide visitors with a role-playing narrative in the form of a laminated comic book with original illustrations by local artist and animator Michael Lapinski. Visitors will make choices that guide them from object to object. Designed to engage families and teens, the activity will enhance understanding of daily life in ancient Rome.

“The artifacts in this exhibition connect us to this bygone civilization,” says Scala. “We share with its people an appreciation for art as a means of documenting reality, representing ideals, memorializing the past, and creating beauty on both a grand and intimate scale.”

Object highlights, many of which have never been seen outside of the British Museum, include the following:

1. A monumental marble statue of a Roman magistrate that required 200 hours of conservation.
2. A bronze parade helmet considered to be one of the finest cavalry masks in existence.
3. A funerary relief from Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where monuments were razed by Islamic State militants in 2015.
4. One of the few depictions of women gladiators in existence. The plaque commemorates Amazon and Achillia gaining freedom after their successful careers.

Public Programs

Friday, February 23
Curator’s Perspective: The Reach of Rome—Then and Now presented by Dr. Sam Moorhead, Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins, The British Museum

6:30 p.m.
Frist Center Auditorium
Free; first come, first seated

The art, culture, and politics of the Roman Empire have made a lasting impact around the world. In this lecture, Dr. Sam Moorhead, a curator of Rome: City and Empire, examines Rome’s influence through the lens of the exhibition, highlighting key works and discussing their artistic value and historical significance. Whether you have a long-standing interest in antiquities or are encountering ancient Rome for the first time, join us to learn more about this fascinating and important civilization.

Thursday, March 1
Curator’s Tour: Rome: City and Empire presented by Mark Scala, Frist Center chief curator
Meet at exhibition entrance
Free to members; admission required for not-yet-members

Rome: City and Empire tells the story of how Rome grew on an unprecedented scale from a series of small villages into an empire. Each object illuminates not only the rich history of the Roman Empire, but also the stories of Rome’s diverse peoples. Join Frist Center chief curator Mark Scala as he highlights key works from the collection of more than 200 works from the British Museum.

Thursday, March 22
Lecture: Modern Challenges in Ancient Art presented by Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson, consulting scholar, Mediterranean Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and president, Souls Grown Deep Foundation
6:30 p.m.

Frist Center Auditorium
Free; first come; first seated

The exhibition Rome: City and Empire offers visitors insight into the objects used in worship, commemoration, and decoration in the Roman Empire. In this talk, Dr. Maxwell L. Anderson, author of Antiquities: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2016), will summarize multiple perspectives about the issues facing us today in protecting ancient heritage, including the care and supervision of excavations and museum collections, the international treaties and laws governing the circulation of objects from antiquity, and the state of the art trade and public and private collecting.
This lecture is supported in part by Vanderbilt University’s Department of History of Art and Department of Classical and Mediterranean Studies.

Exhibition Credit

The presentation of this exhibition is a collaboration between the British Museum and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

Sponsor Acknowledgment

Platinum Sponsor: HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA Healthcare/TriStar Health

Hospitality Sponsor: Union Station Hotel

This exhibition is supported in part by the 2018 Frist Gala Patrons and the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Connect with us! #FristRome


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About the Frist Center
Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art exhibition center dedicated to presenting and originating high-quality exhibitions with related educational programs and community outreach activities. Located at 919 Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., the Frist Center offers the finest visual art from local, regional, national, and international sources in exhibitions that inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways. The Frist Center’s Martin ArtQuest Gallery features interactive stations relating to Frist Center exhibitions. Information on accessibility can be found at Gallery admission is free for visitors 18 and younger and for members; $12 for adults; $9 for seniors and college students with ID; and $7 for active military. College students are admitted free Thursday and Friday evenings (with the exception of Frist Fridays), 5:00–9:00 p.m. Groups of 10 or more can receive discounts with advance reservations by calling 615.744.3247. The galleries, café, and gift shop are open seven days a week: Mondays through Wednesdays, and Saturdays, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; and Sundays, 1:00–5:30 p.m., with the café opening at noon. For additional information, call 615.244.3340 or visit

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