The architectural landscape of present-day Rome is a physical history lesson in the use of spolia; ancient marble blocks lie embedded in medieval fortresses, pieces of aqueducts appear in walls, and decorative columns sit recontextualized in grand cathedrals. Spolia refers to the intentional reuse of materials or artifacts in the creation of new structures, and when examined critically it can reveal the history surrounding the many lives the materials have lived. During the transitional phase between late antique Rome and early Christian Rome, the use of spolia reached an all time high. The emergence of Christianity in Rome coupled with the political and economic decline of the empire created a demand for large amounts of cheap building material. With Gaulish invaders to the north, Romans found themselves in dire need of fortification. In addition to the convenience of spolia in mass building projects like the Aurelian Wall, the use of spolia emerged as a way to reconcile the past and present of Rome amidst its rapidly shifting social climate. Clergymen and emperors alike had to recontextualize the physical landscape of the city to fit a modern, Christian framework.
Schwartz, Jacqueline D.
"Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle: The Spolia of Late Antique and Early Christian Rome,"
Swarthmore Undergraduate History Journal: Vol. 2
, Article 5.