Beyond the visual

Posted on 05 January 2016

Talk: Christian Fron (University of Stuttgart), “Beyond the visual. The acoustic reconstruction and simulation of ancient senate sessions”


Date: Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: DAI, Wiegandhaus, Podbielskiallee 69-71, D-14195 Berlin (map)


After historical research has applied to the visual aspects of human perception for a long time now, as of recently the investigation of acoustic matters arouse an increased scientific interest too.1 So far still largely unresearched has been the concrete speech situation in premodern times before electro-acoustic amplification. In a large-scale study the department of ancient history in close collaboration with acousticians of the Frauenhofer-institute as well as other research disciplines attempts to adequately reconstruct and simulate ancient historic speech situations. During this research of course some further variables have to be taken into account, which nowadays barely have this central impact on the audibility of orations anymore: the spatial position of the orator, his own vocal power and speaking techniques, the behaviour of the audience (as potential disruptive factor/ additional source of noise during a speech) as well as the specific acoustic conditions of the room in which a speech is held - away from any technical means to modify this acoustic condition.

In my upcoming contribution to the Digital Classicist Berlin seminar series the opportunities and limits of reconstructions of ancient speech situations as well as the nowadays available computer-based devices to simulate the acoustic in ancient facilities of public speaking will be presented and eludicated by the example of republican and imperial senate sessions. Furthermore some first research results will also be presented. A case study of the roman senate as a topic of the wider field of historical vocal research is in many ways particularly suitable. First of all it is one of the most authoritative institutions in ancient roman society, in which a multitude of political as well as other public matters were discussed before a larger audience. Furthermore the contents and structure of a senate sessions can mostly be reconstructed out of the ancient source material. Finally some of the meeting places of the senate are not only known by name. Their archaeological remains can be identified, the buildings itself can be modelled via the acoustical program ODEON and can therefore be studied in regard to their acoustic characteristics. The (mainly in its late antique condition) preserved Curia Iulia will be of special importance for the simulation of ancient senate sessions; particularly since the ancient architect Vitruv wrote about this building type and its acoustic characteristics in his De architectura (Vitr. 5,2).


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  1. See Daniel Morat: Zur Geschichte des Hörens. Ein Forschungsbericht, in: Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 51(2011), 695-716.