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Veii, the Historical Topography of the Ancient City: A Restudy of John Ward-Perkins’s Survey

Veii, the Historical Topography of the Ancient City: A Restudy of John Ward-Perkins’s Survey

Edited by Roberta Cascino, Helga Di Giuseppe, and Helen L. Patterson (Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome 19). Pp. xiii + 429, figs. 141, color pls. 2, tables 35. The British School at Rome, London 2012. £85. ISBN 978-0-974152-63-0 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The legacy of John Ward-Perkins, certainly among the greatest Roman archaeologists of the 20th century, is made explicit in this beautifully presented reevaluation of his work at ancient Veii. Ward-Perkins, then director of the British School at Rome, began his extensive field survey of the plateau of Veii in response to the threat of development and increasingly damaging advances in agricultural technology of the 1950s. While partially published by Ward-Perkins as Veii: The Historical Topography of the Ancient City (PBSR 29 [London 1961]) and as a part of the far larger enterprise of the South Etruria Survey (T.W. Potter, The Changing Landscape of South Etruria [New York 1979]), this is the first time the data collected at Veii have been published in full. The retention of Ward-Perkins’ original 1961 title is a statement of intent: this restudy has clearly been undertaken with great dedication and commitment to the original ideals of Ward-Perkins himself and is a credit to its many contributors. The book is organized in seven chapters, which move from the historical context and history of study at Veii (chs. 1, 2) through to the survey and reappraisal methodologies (ch. 3). This is followed by two chapters (chs. 4, 5) presenting the results of the study, which are then contextualized in the last chapters of the book (chs. 6, 7).

The work begins with a measured and careful assessment of the place of Veii in the historical record by Smith, who emphasizes the importance of Veii in understanding the development of the city that would eventually destroy it: Rome. Smith (1–8) addresses both the destruction itself in 396 B.C.E. and the earlier interactions between Veii and Rome described by classical authors. He goes on to summarize the most recent archaeological work at the site, so much of which is complemented by the reanalysis of this volume. In the second chapter, Witcher and Craven offer the first insight into the process of investigating Ward-Perkins’ archived material, assessing their attempts to reconstruct Ward-Perkins’ survey methodology from his documentation (929). They are frank in their admission that “the location of about a quarter of find-spots is known solely through the six-figure grid coordinates ... marked on the material itself” (10). The sheer amount of work that has been undertaken to digitize the dense original archive is understated as Witcher and Craven describe their creation of a digital model, which enabled them to map and visualize the survey data in context (11). The inclusion of examples of original record cards, and both recent and mid 20th-century aerial photographs, is a further highlight of this excellent chapter. It concludes with a reminder to the modern reader that the methods used by Ward-Perkins, while perhaps not seemingly as rigorous or transparent as those of a modern field survey, were nonetheless highly effective, as repeatedly proven by subsequent excavation. The structure of the volume and the individual contributions of many highly respected experts are presented by the editors who also outline the chronology used in the analytical chapters that follow (25–9).

The first of these is an innovative and highly detailed catalogue of artifacts by findspot (31–83). The specific findings of each of Ward-Perkins’ original 100 × 100 m survey areas are listed in chronological order within each entry, and a detailed map is provided, allowing the reader to locate each survey area within its wider context (32). The discussion of each survey area within the catalogue begins with a description of the findspot itself and its relationship to other surveyed areas and later excavations. The material from each chronological period represented is then discussed in a dense descriptive summary, which, when appropriate, ventures into interpretation, linking concentrations of material with known features and hinting at the presence of unexcavated areas of archaeological interest. Each entry concludes with a list of finds, which encourages the reader to turn to the archaeological reports that catalogue the different artifacts in detail.

These reports, which make up chapter 5, are also organized chronologically and feature primarily ceramics (85–298) as well as glass (298), architectural terracottas (306), and decorative stone (309). All these reports represent a wealth of information. Summaries are accompanied by high-quality illustrations and detailed catalogues with numerous comparable examples provided from Veii and elsewhere. The structure of the individual reports varies slightly, but all develop a clear sense of the richness of Ward-Perkins’ material, and each will be of great value, particularly for finds identification in the field. Of particular note are the highly detailed descriptive tables of pottery fabrics, which provide a comprehensive guide (e.g., pl. 5.16). Incorporated into the more technical aspects of these reports are vignettes of interpretation, developing the survey evidence in the service of a wide variety of ideas, ranging from the scale of ceramic production at Veii (139) to the role of decorative marble in private construction within the Roman city (317). The relationship between the survey material and the wider regional context is also cleverly drawn out by each specialist, resulting in a series of reports that deserve to be returned to repeatedly.

The volume concludes with two chapters. Chapter 6 contextualizes the individual reports in a single analytical narrative (327–78). Divided chronologically, the different contributors trace the development and fortunes of Veii as expressed both through the survey material and information gained from research in the area over the last 60 years. Woven together in a highly coherent fashion by skillful editing, each section is filled with information, providing a detailed portrait of Veii from the Late Bronze Age to the High Medieval period. The final chapter (379–88) links these conclusions about Veii to the wider thematic arguments of each period, demonstrating the relevance of the material to arguments as diverse as the role of “extended families” in the development of urban centers (379) and the severity of the third-century C.E. “crisis” (387). These convincing arguments form a fitting end to a volume that will be of continued use to scholars of Italian archaeology. It is truly a fine addition to the current literature of field survey as a prime example of how modern analysis can reinvigorate past data to produce high-quality interpretations with deep resonance. While I cannot speak from personal knowledge, I suspect that Ward-Perkins himself would have been deeply gratified by this excellent restudy.

Lucy Shipley
University of Southampton
Southampton SO15 1BJ
United Kingdom

Book Review of Veii, the Historical Topography of the Ancient City: A Restudy of John Ward-Perkinss Survey, edited by Roberta Cascino, Helga Di Giuseppe, and Helen L. Patterson

Reviewed by Lucy Shipley

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 2 (April 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1182.Shipley

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