Research Project

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This NWO funded (free competition humanities) project examines the role of Roman non-urban settlements in the formative phase of the Roman Empire. Both ancient and modern viewers have portrayed Roman colonies as key factors in the spread of the urban model and, typically, these new foundations are sharply contrasted with the non-urban settlement organisation that prevailed in the conquered native areas. The evidential basis for this view is, however, notoriously limited for the Mid-Republican period, the key phase of Roman expansion in Italy. The project therefore aims to systematically compare early colonial settlement organization with the situation in contemporary non-colonial control areas. In particular, it further explores non-urban settlements, which as recent epigraphic and archaeological work suggests, may have played a considerable role in early Roman expansion.
Using intensive field survey, remote sensing and geophysical analysis, the aim is to provide a comparable dataset and to test a new conception of early Roman colonization that is not based on the urban model, but on a distinct “multiplecore” settlement organization and institutional configuration. Such a model could shed a different light on the traditional notion of Roman colonies as key factors in the urbanization and “romanization” of the conquered territories. In particular, it would presuppose different mechanisms of cultural change by fragmenting the traditional monolithic city-state model and decentering urban centers as the only loci of societal and cultural development.


The project empirically investigates the archaeology of two colonial territories, and compares them systematically with patterns of settlement in two equivalent landscapes that were not colonized (see map below).
Our research concentrates on two levels of enquiry. The first level consists of collecting and complementing existing archaeological field survey datasets for the colonial territories of Aesernia (founded 263 BC, no. 1 on the map below) located in central Italy in the modern Apennine region of Molise, and of Venusia (founded 291 BC, no. 3 on the map below), in the south Italian undulating landscape of modern Basilicata. The settlement data of these colonial territories is weighed against that of adjacent indigenous territories with similar geomorphological characteristics (areas 2 and 4 on the map below), which have been sampled in the same fashion, using the same methodology and site classification criteria. Where necessary existing datasets are calibrated with new fieldwork. The resulting uniform site classification enables a direct comparison between colonial and non-colonial settlement
systems, and allows testing the conventional theory that presumes substantial differences between these two systems.
Also, we aim to examine which types of landscapes are most affected by colonization. The distinct landscape characteristics of the research areas (1 and 2 in the mountains on the one hand and 3 and 4 in the Lucanian-Daunian plain), combined with a detailed landscape reconstruction should allow this comparison.
The second level consists of intra-site fieldwork in selected sites, geared to better understand the development and structure of nucleated rural sites.
An essential requirement for our settlement analysis is a better
understanding of the black gloss ceramic typochronology in both research areas, and as part of the project specialists work on establishing and refining local frameworks on the basis of both existing and new datasets.

The LERC research area with the territories of the colonies of Aesernia (1) and Venusia (3) and the non-colonized control areas (2 and 4).

The LERC research area with the territories of the colonies of Aesernia (1) and Venusia (3) and the non-colonized control areas (2 and 4).

© 2017 Landscapes of Early Roman Colonization project, Faculty of Archaeology – Leiden University
The text on this page has been published in Tijdschrift voor Mediterrane Archeologie 50 2013 “Landscapes of Early Roman Colonization: Non-urban settlement organization and Roman expansion in the Roman Republic (4th-1st centuries BC) Research project (NWO)”, Tesse Stek & Jeremia Pelgrom

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