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Amanda Claridge, archaeologist acclaimed for her definitive Oxford guide to ancient Rome – obituary

·4-min read
Amanda Claridge
Amanda Claridge

Professor Amanda Claridge, who has died aged 73, was an archaeologist who wrote the definitive English guide to ancient Rome in the Oxford Archaeological Guides series, a work which, according to the classicist Robin Lane Fox, writing in The Daily Telegraph in 2006, had brought the ancient city to life for him.

Amanda Claridge had years of familiarity with the sites and the topography of Rome thanks to her work for the British School at Rome, of which she was assistant director from 1980 to 1994. Her book, Lane Fox observed “is clear, yet so detailed that it enables you to take a really self-improving holiday”.

It was full of fascinating out-of-the-way details. Of the Colosseum, she noted that gravediggers, actors and ex-gladiators were not admitted and that until a big clean-up in 1871, 240 species of plant flourished there, including Asian species carried (it is supposed) in the fur of animals imported for the games.

In the Forum, she guided readers to the Rostrum, where Julius Caesar’s dead body was displayed while Mark Antony worked on the crowd of “Romans and countrymen”. “Armed with Claridge,” Lane Fox observed, “you can then go down to the further end of the Forum and find the Regia, the royal house where Caesar would have done business as the pontifex maximus. It was by this very building that the inflamed plebs cremated his corpse after Mark Antony’s speech.”

The classicist Robin Lane Fox said of Amanda Claridge's guide that it 'is clear, yet so detailed that it enables you to take a really self-improving holiday'
The classicist Robin Lane Fox said of Amanda Claridge's guide that it 'is clear, yet so detailed that it enables you to take a really self-improving holiday'

Amanda Claridge herself had carried out fieldwork in the Forum, including excavating the roof and attic of the Arch of Septimius Severus.

Tantalisingly, her book also included a diagram of the “Marble Plan”, an immense map of the ancient city with north at the bottom, which had fallen off a wall and shattered into fragments. Only a tenth of these have resurfaced, teasing the reader with how much will probably never be known of the most fascinating of archaeological sites.

The second of three children, Amanda Jacqueline Claridge was born on September 1 1949 at Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital, Halton Camp, Wendover, where her father, John Claridge, was serving as a flight lieutenant. Her mother was Marie, née Innes.

She was educated in Blairgowrie and later at Holton Park Girls’ School, Wheatley, Oxfordshire, before taking a degree at the Institute of Archaeology in London.

She progressed to Rome as a scholar in Classical Studies at the British School, where she soon won a reputation as a leading expert in ancient sculpture and the marble trade.

Amanda Claridge won an early reputation at the British School in Rome as an expert in ancient sculpture and the marble trade
Amanda Claridge won an early reputation at the British School in Rome as an expert in ancient sculpture and the marble trade

In 1976, together with J B Ward-Perkins, she curated and produced the catalogue for the “Pompeii AD 79” exhibition at the Royal Academy in London which went on tour in the US.

She went on to teach classical art and archaeology at Princeton before returning to the British School in Rome as its assistant director.

During her 14 years in this role she became known to numerous British, Italian and international scholars and artists who visited or stayed at the school, while deepening her own knowledge of the ancient city. In 1986 she was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Her fieldwork included excavations at Vicus Augustanus, a workers’ settlement on an estate on the Laurentine shore near Rome belonging to the emperors – now part of Castelporziano estate of the president of Italy. From 1983 she worked there every summer for many years and was appointed a Commendatore of the Italian Order of Merit by the Italian government.

In 1988 she set about cataloguing the “Paper Museum” of 6,000 antiquarian prints and 8,000 drawings left by the 17th-century scholar Cassiano dal Pozzo, work that took her some 30 years to complete.

Amanda Claridge's catalogue for the Pompeii AD 79 exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1976
Amanda Claridge's catalogue for the Pompeii AD 79 exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1976

In 1994 Amanda Claridge returned to Britain as a research associate at the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford, with a lectureship at St John’s College. It was there that she worked on her guide to ancient Rome and published a series of papers, including one in which she argued that the frieze around Trajan’s Column had been added by his successor Hadrian after Trajan’s death.

In 2000 she moved to Royal Holloway College as Reader in Roman Archaeology. There, she developed new and highly popular undergraduate and postgraduate courses for the Classics department, including one on the topography of ancient Rome which involved a five-day study-trip to the city. She supervised numerous MA and PhD students and was appointed Professor of Roman Archaeology in 2009.

After her official retirement in 2014 she continued to work, and in 2018 she co-edited A Companion to the City of Rome with Claire Holleran. In 2018-19 she was a research fellow at the British School at Rome.

She was still working on publications at the time of her death.

Amanda Claridge was unmarried.

Amanda Claridge born September 1 1949, died May 4 2022

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