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Papers on Italian Urbanism in the First Millennium B.C.

July 2016 (120.3)

Book Review

Papers on Italian Urbanism in the First Millennium B.C.

Edited by Elizabeth C. Robinson (JRA Suppl. 97). Pp. 242, figs. 113. Journal of Roman Archaeology, Portsmouth, R.I. 2014. $99. ISBN 978-0-9913730-1-7 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The study of Italian urbanism has witnessed a dynamic period of renewed interest in recent years, fueled by a wealth of new information from excavation, geophysical research, scientific analysis, and regional survey that has called many long-standing theories into question. At the same time, new methodologies, a changing regional focus, and a general reassessment of the central questions of ancient urbanism itself have led to richly varied scholarship. This edited volume explores and illustrates the current state of research on Italian urbanism in the first millennium B.C.E. through a collection of contributions of diverse scope, scale, and perspective, united by a common emphasis on new data, new approaches, and new interpretive frameworks. Reflecting the nature of current scholarship, the chapters stress regional perspectives, generally (though not entirely) eschewing emphasis on the city of Rome, and focusing specifically on the Iron Age processes of “proto-urbanism” and early state formation that are increasingly proving to be of central importance to understanding elements of urbanism during the later Roman republic and empire.

The volume contains 10 chapters, with a brief introduction by Robinson that serves to contextualize the individual contributions and provide an overview of the state of studies in Italian urbanism in the first millennium B.C.E. In the final chapter, Attema presents a valuable reflective response that highlights the common threads between the chapters and weaves a vision of the future direction of the field.

Chapters 2 and 3 begin the volume with a traditional focus on archaic and early republican Rome but each with a unique twist. The fact that the urbanism of Latium and Etruria in the earlier Iron Age has now come to be interpreted as a sign of the formation of the city-state causes Cifani to seek a new reason behind widespread construction of public buildings during the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. at Rome. Through a series of circumstantial but plausible connections, he suggests that the growth of public construction and the contemporary decline in aristocratic grave opulence relate to a general shift in the control of wealth from elite families to a centralized government and in particular to the Tarquin dynasty. Hopkins deploys a wealth of evidence including material from recent excavations and legacy data in order to explore the changing urban landscape of archaic Rome. He highlights the deep socioeconomic and even political significance of land reclamation in the Forum Romanum, suggesting that it resulted in a more heavily zoned city than is generally acknowledged, and he notes the international flavor of changes in the Velabrum and Forum Boarium and the surrounding hills, including the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline.

The following two chapters shift the focus northward to Etruria. Perkins presents a new reading of the evidence of settlement patterns in the territory north of Vulci that includes recent archaeological discoveries. He suggests that the second of two phases of urbanism during the late seventh and early sixth centuries B.C.E., which has often been explained as colonization, should instead be seen as the expression of localized and general processes of growth. Govi also examines these two phases of Etruscan expansion, focusing on evidence at Bologna and especially Marzabotto, where new discoveries revealing an earlier planned city dated to the mid sixth century B.C.E. suggest that the advent of “Greek” orthogonal city planning must be seen as part of a broader, multicultural, and pan-Mediterranean phenomenon that includes the influences of Etruscan foundation rituals.

Chapters 6 and 7 return to Rome and Latium Vetus. Lulof employs recently published petrographic analysis and surviving evidence from archaic temples to explore the possible political significance of two major phases of terracotta roofing decoration. The first, dating from 530–510 B.C.E., she connects tentatively though persuasively to Tarquinius Superbus himself through a reading of the meaning behind their shared decorative programs. Notably, these decorations also contrast starkly with a new style of temple adornment evident from 510–480 B.C.E. that likely relates to the foundation of the republic. In a profoundly archaeological study, van ’t Lindenhout examines an impressive range of excavation data including houses, roads, and temples in a quest to reconstruct the urban landscapes of Latium Vetus in the Archaic period. The end result is a number of interesting observations that emphasize the deep value of prioritizing the archaeological evidence above all else, from the tendency for early houses to appear as wings around central spaces to the suggestion that the degree of distinction between public streets and private houses might be used as an index for the extent of urbanization.

Two studies resulting from specific recent fieldwork follow. Mogetta brings together the results of extensive magnetometry survey and valuable details from recent excavations at Gabii to reconsider the phenomenon of urban planning in Latium Vetus, including not only the urban layout of Gabii but also those of (possibly) contemporary Ardea and Praeneste. In so doing, he suggests that Italy had long been a participant in a broader Mediterranean-wide process of urban planning and questions whether later Roman colonization would really have required imported Greek orthogonal ideas or specialists. Attema, di Gennaro, Seubers, Belelli Marchesini, and Ullrich present a valuable overview of the current state of knowledge of Crustumerium as a result of the combination of extensive field survey, geophysical investigation, targeted excavation, and legacy data. The chapter highlights the research methods that have produced these data and allows the intersections between them to be revealed as each is discussed in turn, presenting a useful specific case study for comparison with the rest of the volume.

Chapters 10 and 11 turn their attention southward. Robinson tackles the question of urbanism in non-Greek areas of Samnium, Lucania, and Apulia, areas that are often marginalized because they do not fit neatly into the pattern of Italian urbanization in the fourth and third centuries B.C.E. This quest leads her to challenge and deconstruct the study of urbanization itself, suggesting that the application of Graeco-Roman–centric ideals has served to obscure the complex patterns of society actually present in the archaeological record. Pope examines the very core of Graeco-Roman urbanism, but from the perspective of indigenous peoples who gradually adopted it. Using evidence from indigenous sites near Greek Sicilian foundations, he traces a relatively conservative and selective process that generally focused on particular elements of the Greek urban “package” in preference over the regularized urban layout as a whole, only approaching complete transformation in cases of direct Greek intervention and extensive rebuilding.

Overall, this volume achieves precisely what it sets out to do. It presents a diverse and interesting collection of papers that provides a valuable cross-section of current scholarship on Italian urbanism, particularly the earlier part of the first millennium B.C.E., presenting a variety of new approaches, a useful survey of new archaeological data, and a theoretical self-awareness that questions the very value of the term “urbanization.” There can be no doubt that the volume stands as a challenge and invitation for future work in the field, and it can be hoped that it will inspire similar efforts in the same vein.

Michael A. Anderson
Department of Classics
San Francisco State University

Book Review of Papers on Italian Urbanism in the First Millennium B.C., edited by Elizabeth C. Robinson

Reviewed by Michael A. Anderson

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 3 (July 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1203.Anderson

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