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Roman Turdetania: Romanization, Identity and Socio-Cultural Interaction in the South of the Iberian Peninsula Between the 4th and 1st centuries BCE

Roman Turdetania: Romanization, Identity and Socio-Cultural Interaction in the South of the Iberian Peninsula Between the 4th and 1st centuries BCE

Edited by Gonzalo Cruz Andreotti (Cultural Interactions in the Mediterranean 3). Pp. xxiii + 256. Brill, Leiden 2018. $148. ISBN 978-90-04-37340-2 (cloth).

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Strabo famously praised the southern Spanish region of Turdetania as the most civilized of Iberia, a place where abundant resources, trade networks, and a well-developed urban tradition allowed quick integration into Rome’s growing empire (3.2.1–15). This perception has long permeated scholarship, but it is one that has been gradually reassessed in a growing corpus of Spanish work. This new edited volume presents these fresh perspectives on the romanization of Turdetania. Edited by Cruz Andreotti (University of Málaga) with contributions by nine other historians and archaeologists, the book offers nuanced views of the sociocultural transformation of the region following Roman conquest. It is the third book in Brill’s new series, Cultural Interactions in the Mediterranean, which provides “a platform for cross-regional, multidisciplinary and longue durée approaches to the cultural history of the Mediterranean.” The volume takes this mandate to heart, interweaving textual, numismatic, and archaeological evidence from the period between the fourth and first centuries BCE.

Roman Turdetania is organized in 10 chapters, bookended by the editor’s preface and epilogue. The first three chapters address the oversized role that Strabo has played in ancient and modern conceptions of Turdetania. Cruz Andreotti (ch. 1) shows how Strabo drew from earlier texts to link Turdetania with the legendary Tartessian culture and establish the region’s deep ties with epic heroes. Moret (ch. 2) contextualizes Strabo’s work among other ancient authors, successfully arguing that there was no consensus about the location of Turdetania. This argument counters the prevailing interpretation of Strabo’s Turdetania as equivalent to the Guadalquivir River valley. Castro-Páez (ch. 3) discusses how Strabo, in describing cities, was less interested in historical accuracy than in using urbanization to signify civilization. Pivoting from literary to archaeological sources, García Fernández’ chapter (ch. 4) turns to the use of material culture in the construction of identity, paying specific attention to the historiography of archaeological scholarship in southern Spain and contemporary archaeological theory.

Next, chapters 5–8 address the lingering impacts of Phoenician and Punic presence in southern Iberia in the construction of identity before and during the Roman republic. Rarely is the Phoenician and Punic past treated as more than a footnote in books about romanization in Iberia, so these are especially valuable contributions. Ferrer Albelda (ch. 5) suggests the Phoenicians’ main legacy was the establishment of a “civic consciousness” across the region, where local people maintained identities through ritual, burials, minting coinage, and other practices tied to their city of origin (rather than any common Phoenician identity). Machuca Prieto (ch. 8) argues that civic identities were redeployed by local elites as a way to maintain prestige within the new Roman order. In two novel contributions, Pliego Vázquez (ch. 6) and Álvarez Martí-Aguilar (ch. 7) reassess evidence for the Carthaginians in Iberia during the fourth and third centuries BCE, when Punic presence is traditionally thought to have waned. Pliego Vázquez successfully argues that imported Carthaginian coins dating to this period show continued commercial activity and control of resources before Hamilcar Barca’s invasion of Iberia in 227 BCE, while Álvarez Martí-Aguilar presents a new interpretation of Pompeius Trogus that supports this view.

The final contributions address changes to the territory following Roman conquest and how these might inform our broad understanding of romanization. Mora Serrano (ch. 9) revives the themes of continuity and adaptability of civic identities through a discussion of local coinage. Many cities maintained iconography, place names, and even Punic script while incorporating Roman styles and themes. Though many contributions address the diversity of local or indigenous identities in southern Iberia, García Vargas’ discussion (ch. 10) of Italian immigrants to the region adds important nuance. He traces the involvement of Italians in commercial activities and emphasizes that during the early phases of romanization Italians came from diverse locales and social circumstances (and many were not Roman citizens), so their identities would have been more tied to their trade and daily practices than to being Roman.

The book’s eclectic and diverse range of contributions can be traced to its origins in three research projects carried out at the universities of Málaga and Seville: “Ethnic Identities in Southern Spain: Rise and Evolution in Antiquity (Seventh–Second Centuries BCE)”; “Ethnic and Political-Civic Identity in Roman Spain: The Case of the Turdetania-Baetica”; and “Ancient Geography and Historiography: Space, Representation, and Transmission of Knowledge.” A preliminary volume was published in Spanish: Wulff Alonso and Álvarez Martí-Aguilar, Identidades, culturas y territorios en la Andalucía prerromana (Seville and Málaga 2009). Many of the contributions presented here stemmed from a conference on the theme of identities in southern Spain held in Málaga in 2014.

The present volume thus has the ambitious and laudable goal of synthesizing years of work accomplished by these varied projects. And—significantly—doing so in English rather than the authors’ native Spanish (or French, in the case of Moret) presents an opportunity for scholars outside Spain to become better versed in a period and place that has been underrepresented in Anglophone scholarship. While we can turn to synthetic volumes for both earlier and later periods, this is the first book-length work focusing on the crucial period from the fourth through the first centuries BCE. Another key contribution of the book is that it devotes full attention to the varied ways the Phoenicians and Carthaginians impacted both the indigenous inhabitants of southern Spain and the process of Roman conquest. Too often romanization is still viewed as a binary process of Roman interaction with a monolithic indigenous population. Finally, the book should serve a model for how interdisciplinary studies integrating textual and archaeological traditions can be conceived.

Given the book’s potential scholarly impact in these areas, there are several places with room for improvement. An additional chapter detailing the historiography of research in the region—both internally and as it relates to the wider trajectory of romanization research—beyond the brief preface would have helped situate the archaeologist or historian not versed in Spanish scholarship. Unfortunately, many chapters, though certainly not all, suffer from a stilted and prosaic translation style that detracts from the overall readability of the book. Frequent misplaced commas, inconsistencies in capitalization, and a lack of standardization of terminology across contributions also distract from the overall presentation. At a price of $148 and in an otherwise handsome volume, it is disappointing to see this inattention to detail. One cannot blame the authors for these shortcomings, and, taken as a whole, the book makes a welcome and essential contribution to our understanding of Roman Iberia.

Linda R. Gosner
Department of Classical Studies and Society of Fellows
University of Michigan

Book Review of Roman Turdetania: Romanization, Identity and Socio-Cultural Interaction in the South of the Iberian Peninsula Between the 4th and 1st centuries BCE, edited by Gonzalo Cruz Andreotti
Reviewed by Linda R. Gosner
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 1 (January 2020)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1241.Gosner

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