Antiquity in a World of Change: Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Birth of Sir Thomas Smith (1513-77)

A study day sponsored by the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Institute of Classical Studies (School of Advanced Study, University of London), and organised by Fellow Richard Simpson.  Date, Friday, 6 December 2013

Early booking is strongly advised, as space is limited. Registration will cost £10 per person and includes lunch and refreshments. To book, please email Executive Assistant Jola Zdunek ( or call 020 7479 7080. Please contact the Communications Officer Renée LaDue ( if you have any questions.
About the Study Day

Antiquity in a world of change will explore how engagements with the past stimulated innovation and change in sixteenth-century England.

The study day marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of Sir Thomas Smith (1513-77). A series of speakers bring together, for the first time, new studies investigating the exceptional range of Smith’s activities, helping us to understand how the analysis of antiquity in the sixteenth-century provoked not only a desire for the recovery of the past, but also a critical and creative questioning of the present.

Speakers balance investigations of Smith’s scholarly studies with his practical engagements. An early proponent of the recovery of Greek language at Cambridge, Smith’s readings in Greek philosophy and medicine informed a view of the natural world which provoked practical undertakings in medical chemistry and alchemy. His early reading in Roman law suggests the beginnings of an engagement with Roman building, realized in his house at Hill Hall, witness to a rich complexity of cultural ambition and technical innovation. One of the early English collectors of antique coins, Smith’s work on Roman, Greek, and early English money, directly informed his critical analysis of mid-sixteenth-century English economic and social distress. Wider questions of good governance – informed by his ambassadorial work in France and the Low Countries, as well as his study of ancient history – stimulated his examination of English monarchy, parliament, and magistracy. The De republica Anglorum remained influential after his death in 1577, but did his influence spread more widely? Speakers explore the ‘singularity’ of his architectural achievement in terms of developments in English building in the later sixteenth century, and the way that his intellectual and practical investigations can be tracked in the rich diversity which informed late-Elizabethan thinking from poetry to colonial schemes.

Tentative Programme

9.30 - 10.00am - Registration

Session 1: Early studies at Cambridge - antiquity and new studies
Carlotta Dionisotti, 'Thomas Smith and Greek'
Richard Simpson, 'Studying Roman law - reading about building'

Tea and coffee break

Session 2: Ideas in practice - money and economy, society, governance and politics
Andrew Burnett & Deborah Thorpe, ‘On the wages of a Roman footsoldier’
Anne McLaren, 'Sir Thomas Smith’s body politic'

Lunch break

Session 3: Ideas in practice - experiment and investigation (architecture, medicine, metallurgy, mind)
Paul Drury, 'Sir Thomas Smith as architect'
Guido Giglioni, 'Medicine, metallurgy and the mind: models of inner and outer transformation of nature in Thomas Smith’s experimental pursuits'

Tea and coffee break

Session 4: Smith’s influence and impact
Edward Town,'Architecture, building, and technology after Smith'
Andrew Hadfield, 'The impact of Sir Thomas Smith'

Session 5: Round table chaired by Maurice Howard, President of the Society of Antiquaries of London

17.00 - Study day concluded