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Landscapes of Early Roman Colonisation

Landscapes of Early Roman Colonisation
Researchers: Dr. Jeremia Pelgrom, Dr. Tesse Stek
Isernia, Molise
2011-present
This project, funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) explores the role of non-urban settlements in Roman colonial expansion in the formative phase of the Roman Empire (4th-1st centuries BC). It challenges the traditional, urban model of Roman colonies by proposing instead a distinctive, non-urban settlement organization, within which clustered sites such as villages played key-roles. Since the success of the Roman empire has in modern thought been strongly linked to urbanism, this new model has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the genesis and early development of Roman imperialism.

Detection and analysis of Roman colonial ‘pioneer’ villages have until now been minimal due to scholarly biases; yet, there are strong indications that such rural communities played a key-role in early Roman expansion and imperialism. Investigating the non-urban nature of colonial settlement organization is therefore a major challenge for current scholarship, and constitutes a key step for advancing the field.

This project proposes to investigate non-urban Roman colonial settlement organization and its alleged distinctiveness in comparison to native society through: 1) collecting and analyzing archaeological field survey datasets of early colonial territories in Central-Southern Italy and comparing them to contingent non-colonial areas, and 2) targeted fieldwork in selected key-sites within these areas. To this end, use will be made of the efficient and non-intrusive techniques of intensive field survey, remote sensing and geophysical prospection.

The project goes towards a new conception of early Roman colonization that is not based on the urban model, but on a distinct ‘multiple-core’ settlement organization. This model challenges the traditional view of Roman colonies as key-factors in the urbanization and ‘romanization’ of the conquered territories. Notably, it presupposes wholly different mechanisms of cultural change by fragmenting the traditional monolithic city-state model and de-centering urban centers as loci of cultural development. The proposed model not only breaks down the present dichotomy between ‘Roman-urban’ and ‘native-non-urban’ models, but by suggesting a different trajectory of Roman expansion it may ultimately stimulate us to rethink the common association of Roman imperial success with urbanism.
Publications: Cult Places and Cultural Change in Republican Italy
Regions: Southern Italy
Periods: Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Iron Age, Late Roman, Roman
Institutes: Leiden University