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A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

July 2015 (119.3)

Book Review

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

Edited by Jane DeRose Evans (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World). Pp. xxiv + 722, figs. 100, tables 4, maps 2. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J. 2013. $195. ISBN 978-1-4051-9966-7 (cloth).

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This volume contains many well-written, thought-provoking, and up-to-date contributions and is thus an important reference work. A substantial number of current research interests in the archaeology of the Roman republic are represented in 37 chapters, grouped into six sections. Given the rather unspecific title of the first section (“Material Culture and Its Impact on Social Configuration”), unsurprisingly, it contains 10 chapters on a wide variety of themes, from architecture to demography. The subsequent three sections concern, respectively, landscape, ancient technology, and identity; they are followed by “The Archaeology of Empire During the Republic”; and lastly “Republican Archaeology and the Twenty-First Century.” At least for this reviewer, not all these groupings seemed intuitive, so that, for example, the four contributions on the city of Rome are found in multiple sections, and the two army-related chapters are not together. Likewise, it would have been useful if the introduction had included a statement on how the book is intended to complement Blackwell’s existing The Companion to the Roman Republic (N. Rosenstein and R. Morstein-Marx, eds. [Hoboken, N.J. 2006]).

Architecture is the first theme, with three chapters describing specific forms and functions. Yegül elucidates the development of baths and bathing. Zarmakoupi focuses on theaters, amphitheaters, and circuses. Hales describes domestic architecture, drawing on a slightly out-of-date bibliography. Jackson and Kosso provide a technical description of building materials and concrete masonry. Otherwise, notable by their absence in relation to architecture are specific contributions on fortifications, sacral architecture, and forums. As distinct themes, colonization and urbanism do not have their own chapters, but related processes are discussed in chapters on specific sites, some of which were colonies. The archaeology of the city of Rome is well represented with four chapters, although distributed in three sections: one on its natural topography and three good overviews on its built environment from pre- to later republic. Romano’s chapter on the orientation of towns and centuriation provides a useful description of the available modern methods for studying towns through the example of Corinth, but he appears on shakier ground when discussing Italy, reflected in a scant and out-of-date bibliography. Whereas Dyson adheres surprisingly closely to Frank Brown’s now outdated vision of Cosa as a little Rome, Gualtieri delves deeply into the complex interplay of different cultural influences at Cosa’s sister colony, Paestum. Ostensibly on computer technologies and their future at the site of Pompeii, Anderson’s chapter also includes a description of the city’s urban development.

Infrastructure receives the attention it deserves, with Laurence on roads and bridges, Tuck on ports, and a very informative overview of aqueducts by Hodges. The volume also presents much evidence derived from the countryside. Fracchia’s useful piece on survey and settlement patterns in Italy introduces the history of field survey on the peninsula and the current methodological problems it faces and provides three case studies to highlight the geographical diversity of settlement patterns in the pre- to post-conquest period. Becker provides a thought-provoking chapter on villas with a very up-to-date bibliography. The chapter on agricultural practices and diversity, by Goodchild, reflects a subject that is sure to grow in importance, one hopes with the provision of ever-increasing chronological and geographical precision. Griffith reconstructs religious ritual in rural and urban contexts, and Diebner’s chapter on tombs and funerary monuments is one of several that reflect Italy’s cultural diversity during the republic and its relationship with the broader Hellenistic koine.

Ceramic materials are considered in two chapters. Roth summarizes issues related to black gloss, on which the opinions of Di Giuseppe (Black-Gloss Ware in Italy: Production Management and Local Histories [Oxford 2012]) now also need to be considered. Laubenheimer’s piece on amphoras and shipwrecks addresses the economy of the republic, an otherwise underrepresented topic in the volume. The only chapter specifically on ancient art, by Miles, describes the consequences of its theft, both ancient and modern. Republican coins and the problems they present for archaeologists are the subjects of a chapter by the editor. Kirkpatrick Smith introduces osteology with case studies from Greece and Cyprus. The demography of the republic is the subject of a chapter by Lo Cascio in which, perhaps inevitably, the long-running debate on the alternative readings of the Augustan census figures quickly comes to the fore. On the army, Goldman considers weapons, and Dobson, military camps.

The term “the Roman republic” is usually understood as a polity and a time period and thus does not possess the synonymy of a geographical area similar to the term “the Roman empire.” Yet during the period of the republic, Rome achieved dominion over Italy and extensive areas of the Mediterranean, discussed in nine chapters. There are difficulties in conceptualizing the nature and impact of Rome’s pre-Augustan territorial expansion, perhaps reflected in the somewhat anachronistic-sounding section title, “The Archaeology of Empire During the Republic.” Still, discussions on this theme are one of the book’s greatest strengths because the complexity of the issue is confronted and highlighted from multiple cultural and methodological standpoints. It is notable that in most cases, the contributors fall back on ancient textual sources to describe Rome’s interaction with geographical areas and cultural groups (Sicily, Sardinia, Africa, Greece, Iberia, Palestine). In fact, a recurring theme for several of the discussed areas is the scant traces of Rome in the archaeological record prior to the Augustan period (esp. Sicily, Sardinia, and Africa). The editor states that this is also true for Gaul, Illyria, and Asia Minor (9–10) and uses this as a justification for why chapters specific to these areas were not included—a little odd, considering that the same is true for other areas that were included. For Italy, chapters on the continuing cultural development of the peoples who endured the Roman conquest of Italy (Etruscans, Samnites, Greeks, Lucanians) are thematized in terms of identity. Stek, in his well-crafted analysis, dissects the structure of the debate on Italic identity and the romanization of Italy. Versluys focuses on the development, complexity, and number of diverse identities in the later Roman republic and is one of those contributors to contextualize evidence in relation to a broader Hellenistic koine. So in terms of the “geographical” Roman republic the book creates, its cultural diversity is explored, the impact of Rome is put to the test, and its Roman-ness is questioned.

Although this is admirable, a slight tension affects the whole volume as a result of the book’s geographical scope vis-à-vis the traditional meanings of the term “the Roman republic.” So, for example, Zarmakoupi’s chapter opens by stating that during the period of the republic, there were only two kinds of public entertainment, ludi publici and munera (33). Yet the veracity of this statement depends on where, as well as when, is meant. The geographical limits relevant to the themes of multiple chapters are not clearly defined or explained, which surely reflects that the republic is not a concept usually associated with clear physical borders.

As a collection, the volume’s essays demonstrate the rich variety of archaeological approaches to this period and indicate their future directions. It rightfully deserves to remain a standard work for some time to come.

Jamie Sewell
Department of Archaeology
Durham University

Book Review of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic, edited by Jane DeRose Evans

Reviewed by Jamie Sewell

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 3 (July 2015)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1193.Sewell

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