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The Urbanisation of Rome and Latium Vetus: From the Bronze Age to the Archaic Era

July 2016 (120.3)

Book Review

The Urbanisation of Rome and Latium Vetus: From the Bronze Age to the Archaic Era

By Francesca Fulminante. Pp. xx + 411, figs. 133, tables 25. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2014. $99. ISBN 978-1-107-03035-0 (cloth).

Reviewed by

The physical evidence available for understanding the earliest phases of the city of Rome has grown rapidly in recent years. At the same time, a number of regional archaeological projects in Latium have added to our understanding of how the areas around Rome developed. Fulminante’s new book aims to bring together this wide array of data within a theoretical model that can explain the beginnings of urban society in Rome and Latium. More specifically, the author seeks to integrate her own analyses of settlement dynamics with evidence for other kinds of developing social complexity in order to understand the rise of urbanization in Latium and to consider why settlement patterns changed dramatically there in the time of transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age. The book consists of seven chapters framed by a short introduction and conclusion, with ample notes, bibliography, and an appendix including particularly the details of statistical analyses.

After the brief introduction, Fulminante turns in chapter 1 to a discussion of scholarship on urbanization and state formation in central Italy. The goal is not so much to review all previous scholarship as to point to models that Fulminante finds helpful, such as Renato Peroni’s social evolutionary approach and John Bintliff’s socioecological model. Fulminante then proposes to use a multidimensional, multitheoretical framework—an approach developed by sinologist Gideon Shelach that involves the use of different types of evidence (e.g., burial, settlement) and multiple theoretical models together—because it allows for the inclusion of both Peroni’s and Bintliff’s models.

In the second chapter, “The Latin Landscape, Data and Methodology,” Fulminante lays out the parameters for her study, assesses the quality of the evidence available, and identifies models useful for examining settlement patterns (rank-size rule, spatial efficiency model, central place theory, Voronoi diagrams). In the following chapter, “The City Level,” Fulminante investigates the growth of the initial settlement at Rome. Although she discusses many of the important places in early Rome, ultimately her goal is to identify the physical size of the community in successive phases. Chapter 4 moves to the territorial level of analysis. The book’s original contribution here is to use the approaches of settlement archaeology—cost surface analysis, Voronoi diagrams, carrying capacity—to identify the extent of earliest Rome’s territory given the size and population calculated for the city in the previous chapter. The written evidence suggests that Rome originally controlled land about 5 to 6 miles from the city itself; Fulminante’s statistics give similar results, and her analysis of the archaeological data indicates that this area belonged to Rome at an early date.

Chapter 5 is also focused on the territorial level: here the author analyzes settlement patterns in a sample area outside Rome in order to study the development of Rome’s hinterland over time. In the subsequent chapter, she carries out similar analyses focused on the regional level, Latium Vetus as a whole. Not surprisingly, she finds growing hierarchy and settlement integration over time, but her statistics also indicate a move toward higher settlement complexity by the ninth century B.C.E., before Greek contact occurs in the following century. In addition, she sees a transition from a territorial system based on chiefdoms in the Bronze Age to a market distribution system in the Iron Age. Crucial here is Bintliff’s argument that settlements are spaced to make use of an ideal catchment area until population growth or a shortage of resources makes this situation unsustainable. For Fulminante, Bintliff’s model explains well the transition in Latium from villages to a hierarchical system of protourban centers. These chapters (5 and 6) are somewhat repetitive in content and also jargon-filled; some of the discussion here will be accessible to only the most dedicated specialist.

Finally, in the last numbered chapter of the book, Fulminante turns to Shelach’s multidimensional, multitheoretical approach, and, working with the idea that different social aspects change along diverse trajectories, she synthesizes previous scholarship on a range of social issues in early central Italy. She makes use of Shelach’s idea of “multi-linear conjunctions,” in which different models provide complementary perspectives and critical nodes occur when there is a convergence of changes in different types of evidence. Fulminante sees the transition from the Final Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age as one of the moments when the most marked changes arise, with a move from preurban to protourban society, and she explains these developments in the context of Bintliff’s socioecological model. These trends toward greater complexity subsequently reach a critical point, she says, in the middle of the eighth century B.C.E., when an elite took control and founded the city-state. Fulminante then argues that the traditional diffusionist model of urbanization and state formation should be rejected, as urbanization in central Italy was the result of a long local process. She suggests, however, that these developments should be seen within the larger Mediterranean context, where extensive “connectivity” and “reciprocal catalysing interactions” contributed to “advance and progress” at the local level (245). While this idea of connectivity is appealing, it feels like a hasty and almost contradictory afterthought to the arguments in the preceding chapters. The short concluding chapter reiterates key themes.

There is much that is valuable in this book. The use of modeling, GIS, and statistics to address questions that have long been asked of other types of data about early Rome is thought-provoking, and Fulminante deserves recognition for the tremendous amount of technical work done to support her narrative. In addition, the book is a veritable mine of information on the topics it covers: scholars will undoubtedly find it a useful point of reference. Frustration arises, however, from the fact that nowhere in the book are urbanization and state formation clearly defined and, indeed, these two different, if related, concepts are frequently conflated without discussion. Perhaps exercises of definition are pedantic, but the meanings attributed to these concepts figure greatly in the ability to identify them on the ground. In addition, it felt at times to this reader as though data were being marshaled to reinforce a predetermined narrative rather than to construct a new one. For instance, it seems odd to pinpoint the middle of the eighth century B.C.E. as the moment of urbanization given that “settlements remain more or less the same size” (248) then, unless the reader considers a premise unstated by Fulminante: the middle of the eighth century B.C.E. is, of course, Rome’s traditional foundation date. Still, it is much easier to criticize a book that takes on a wide and complicated range of topics than it is to write such a book, and these remarks should not be taken as an unfavorable assessment of the value of the work overall. On the contrary, Fulminante’s book is a significant contribution on an important and timely topic.

Elizabeth Colantoni
Department of Religion and Classics
University of Rochester

Book Review of The Urbanisation of Rome and Latium Vetus: From the Bronze Age to the Archaic Era, by Francesca Fulminante

Reviewed by Elizabeth Colantoni

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1203.Colantoni

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