Featured Graduate Student Research: Simeon Ehrlich

Simeon EhrlichSimeon Ehrlich is a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and, concurrently, J.E.A. Crake Doctoral Fellow in Classics at Mount Allison University. His dissertation research focuses on the organizational principles of urban plans in the cities of the Greeks, Romans and contemporary Mediterranean cultures c. 800 BCE-600 CE. With the support of a graduate student grant from The Europe Center, Simeon undertook a program of research at the libraries of the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from January-March 2017. This allowed him access to a wealth of archaeological site plans, excavation reports, and conference proceedings not readily available in North America.

In Rome and Athens, Simeon’s research focused on ascertaining the relationship of the forms of archaic (8th-6th centuries BCE) and classical (5th-4th centuries BCE) Greek settlements to those of settlements of the contemporary Italic Etruscan culture. The traditional view holds grid planning to be a Greek innovation, adopted by the Etruscans only once their southward expansion down the Italian peninsula brings them into contact with the cities founded by the Greeks expanding northwards up the peninsula. Whereas such models are often predicated on the notion of a strict dichotomy of grid planned sites and unplanned sites, Simeon’s research draws on ideas from recent studies of comparative urbanism and conceives, instead, of grid planning as the culmination of a series of organizing principles that order the urban space to various degrees.

Through analysis of the plans of more than one hundred sites during his time abroad, he was able to trace concurrent developments in the organization of Greek and Etruscan sites, in terms of the coordination, alignment, and orthogonality of the buildings, streets, and blocks that comprise their plans. On this basis, he was able to develop an argument positing that grid planning is indeed the culmination of a series of organizational principles affecting urban plans, that grid planning only emerges under certain topographic conditions, and that the Greeks found settlements on sites meeting these conditions at an earlier date than the Etruscans. Thus, he finds that the Etruscans did not copy the grid plan from the Greeks; rather, they had the potential to implement it all along, they simply lacked for an opportunity to do so. This research serves as the basis for a history of grid planning in Classical antiquity and is complemented by case studies showing the weakening of the conditions sustaining grid planning during the Roman empire and the removal of these conditions in late antiquity.