Meet Kate Cooper. Ancient Greece and Rome Expert.

Posted: June 7, 2012 - 11:18 , by Robert Mason
ROM Research, ROMkids, World Culture | Comments (9) | Comment

Woman holding a pottery artifact with shelves in the background.

We caught up with Kate Cooper examining Corinthianising pottery in the ROM store rooms.

For Ancient Rome and Greece Family Weekend we will have the opportunity to actually touch some objects and talk to some of the ROM’s experts on Ancient Greece and Rome. One of these is Kate Cooper, the new Rebanks fellow in the Greek & Roman section. Kate studied Classics for her BA at Oxford, then took a Master’s degree in Classical History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, finally completing her PhD in Classical Archaeology at Kings College, London. She has volunteered at the British Museum and before coming to the ROM was a Research Associate at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, since 2008.

What do you do?
I’m a ‘Classical archaeologist’, which means I work on the archaeology of the Classical Mediterranean world, in my case archaic Greece. I’m not a field archaeologist, although I have excavation experience. Instead of actually digging up the past, I study what other people have dug up.

My research is on the huge amounts of pottery produced by the city of Corinth in the archaic period (roughly 750-500 BC), and discovered at ancient sites all over the Mediterranean. I use this evidence to build a picture of how trade and contacts worked in the ancient Mediterranean. But at the same time I’ve worked in museums for the last 7 years, and so I’m constantly thinking about how to make all the types of ancient objects meaningful and interesting to visitors.

A woman sits in a hot climate surrounded by ancient ruins.

Did I mention that the best thing about my research IS that it is in hot countries? Here I’m studying the site of the ancient Temple of Perachora, near Corinth.

How did you get into this subject?
I started out studying ‘Classics’, using the ancient literary texts to understand the ancient world. It struck me that this literature was unreliable as evidence – these were still just stories and the ancient author could have got it wrong, or be biased. It seemed to me that actual ancient objects were the only ‘facts’ we had, so I moved into the field of Classical archaeology.

Now of course I understand that it’s a bit more complicated than that. The way an ancient object looks today is the result of the decisions made by many people that all affect its appearance, from the excavator, and conservator or restorer, to the museum curator who decides what to put how to display it and what information to use.

What do you find most exciting about your subject?
The fact that we now have so much material from thousands of excavations conducted over about 200 years, and we still haven’t finished studying it. New approaches to this material are constantly expanding our understanding of the ancient world. But the really exciting (and slightly scary) thing is that a new archaeological discovery can turn all our theories upside down.

What is the biggest challenge in your work?
Making sense of the past and bringing my specialised area of research alive for people without the background knowledge. This is something I’m used to doing for academic colleagues, students, museum visitors and tour groups, but now I have to do it in a book!


Comment by Linda

Do you have an ancient "weapons" expert on staff at ROM? There was a recent report of an ancient bronze lance that had been discovered in Michigan, U.S.A. Some research is hoped to be done on the artifact, and a request has gone out to see if anyone knows of an expert to help out on this. Many thanks if you can help with a contact name!

Comment by Ryan

Hello,Mrs Kate Cooper
I am doing a socials project on Ancient Greece. I am learning about the Ancient Olympics and we were wondering if you could give your opinion on these two questions. In your opinion how did the Olympics affect Ancient Greek civilization? In your opinion why do you think it was only the male gender competing in the Ancient Olympics?

Comment by Lead Concierge

Those are both big questions, but I'll try for a short answer! The Olympics were originally games held as part of a religious festival in honour of Zeus at his sanctuary in Olympia. This sanctuary was a special type called a Panhellenic sanctuary, which meant that "all the Greeks", so the games and sanctuary was open to all Greeks and was famous in the ancient Greek world. Greece was not one unified country like modern Greece for most of the ancient period. Instead it was a collection of independent cities with their own different ways of doing things, who sometimes worked together, but more often worked against each other. They were constantly fighting each other to gain more land or power than their neighbouring city. The Olympic games were one place where they could all come together and compete peacefully, through athletics, rather than fighting. Because this was a sanctuary where all the different cities gathered, it was also a very good place to show off to the rest of Greece, whether that was showing off a success in the Olympic games, or a particularly expensive gift you have made to the gods. These games were only open to men, so women couldn't compete. Indeed, generally women didn't take part in 'manly' activities like athletics (Spartan women are an exception). Women did have some important religious festivals of their own, but the only women who took part in 'manly' tasks like athletics or fighting were the Amazons of legend. You should have a look at these websites, and see where they take you: &

Comment by Matthew

I'm doing a school project on the fall of Ancient Rome. I was wondering if you could give your opinion on the fall of (west) Rome and just explain it a little bit. Also, it would help a lot if you could explain it from a few different perspectives maybe(like from the viewpoint of a citizen, a politician)? If you could reply, it would help me a lot.
Thanks for reading this!

Comment by Lead Concierge

Thanks for this question.  As you can see from this blog, the fall of the Roman empire is a long way outside my particular area of research, and I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert in this area of history. 

This period and the events surrounding the fall of the western Roman empire are complicated, and are being re-thought by experts right now, who see it as being caused by a number of different events.  Here are some links to web resources that give you an idea of some of the different factors.  Hope this helps with writing your school project.


Comment by Nicole

Hi, I was struck by a sudden curiosity about ancient greek arrows today. I was wondering if, when released, the arrow would spin. I looked into what makes arrows spin, and it seems to have to do with how the fletching was set, if it was in a helical pattern the arrow would naturally spin, but of course I couldn't find any information on how the bronze age greeks fletched their arrows. I googled experts on ancient greek weaponry and found you. Do you know if a bronze age greek arrow would spin when released?

Thanks much,

Comment by jennifer

Good morning,

I am a freelance writer and researching the use of fire in or as ancient weaponry. I am finding contradictory information on the use of flaming arrows in battles and sieges. Where can I find accurate information on this topic? Thanks!