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Ancient Rome and America Exhibition Looks at Ancient Rome through American Eyes at the National Constitution Center


gladiatorYou've heard the expression, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do," but what if we do as the Romans do when we're in Philadelphia, PA? The exhibition Ancient Rome & America at the National Constitution Center addresses the question, "What enduring lessons does Rome have for America today?" Created in partnership with Contemporanea Progetti of Florence, Italy and in collaboration with the Ministero per i Beni e Le Attività Culturali of Rome, Italy, this exhibition is the real deal. Drawing comparisons from our two cultures, this exhibition puts side by side artifacts from American culture with those of ancient Rome. 

The most popular, and most concrete, example of the similarities between ancient Rome's and Philadelphia's cultures is demonstrated through the placement of a helmet from the Philadelphia Eagles next to a gladiator helmet. The two objects, though made of completely different materials, have strikingly similar features and are clearly used for the same purpose. They also hold sentimental values for both the ancient Romans and Philadelphia Eagles fans. These two simple objects demonstrate the emphasis both cultures place on athletics, physical strength, and the popularity of public sports.

Philadelphia Eagles helmetThe exhibition continues in this fashion, drawing similarities between our two cultures through the objects we hold in high esteem. Other examples include the symbol of the Bald Eagle, ancient Roman architecture and Neoclassical architecture, art, coins, even political documents. The exhibition shows not only the influence Roman culture had on our society, but how intrigued with Roman history we are. Movie posters, including Ben-Hur and Gladiator, show the lasting influence Rome has in American entertainment. 

Ancient Rome & America also goes as far as to discuss the historical similarities American history shares with that of ancient Rome. This includes the political transition from monarchy to democracy, and slavery in both societies (American slavery before the Civil War and ancient Roman). 


The exhibition does a commendable job bringing to light the profound affects history has on contemporary society, particularly societies as strong as ancient Rome and America. The unique histories of both Rome, Italy and Philadelphia, PA are remarkably similar, but because ancient Rome occurred close to two thousand years ago we tend not to think about it. We also tend not to relate to it and this exhibition, by putting objects we know well next to comparable ones from ancient Rome, forces you to do that. 

The exhibition is also very easy to understand whether you read all of the text, listen to the audio guide, or just draw your own conclusions.

Admission to Ancient Rome & America from February 19 through August 1, 2010 is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors ages 65 and up, and $12 for children ages 4-12. Active military personnel and children ages 3 and under are free. Group rates are also available. Admission to the Center’s main exhibition, The Story of We the People, including the award-winning theater production “Freedom Rising,” is included. iPod audio tours cost an additional $5. For ticket information, call 215.409.6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.


PHOTOS: (Right) Gladiator helmet. Courtesy of the Museo della Civilità Romana, Rome

(Left) Football helmet worn by Harold Carmichael. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia, PA

(Lower right) Portrait of Emperor Augustus 27 BCE - 14 CE. Courtesy of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence