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The Transition from Republic to Empire: The Impact of ‘Romanization’ on Cities and Countryside in Italy and the Provinces (2nd/1st century BC - 2nd/3rd century AD)

Research project P6/22 (Research action P6)

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‘Romanization’ is an intellectual concept referring to a patchwork of dialectical relationships between the central Roman authority, in its different manifestations, and the myriad of regional communities which, together, made up the structure of the Empire. As the process itself, the intellectual concept has gone through many stages. The proposed project wishes to combine state-of-the-art archaeological and interdisciplinary methods and practices from four different regions within the Empire (N Gaul, C Italy, Boeotia in C Greece and Pisidia in SW Turkey), with a diachronic perspective (2nd c. BC – 3rd c. AD), which spans the period from the first intense contacts between Rome and the selected geographical study districts until the time when a supposedly ‘common’ culture (allowing many local varieties) thought to have unified the Empire, started to desintegrate. The ultimate aim is to contribute to the different levels of interpretation of the concept of Romanization and to the current debate whether or not the term is apt to describe the multiple and much varied expressions of the above mentioned relationships.

The concept of ‘Romanization’ developed for the different study regions within the proposed chronological framework will be approached (WP1-The meaning and mechanisms of Romanization) and, more in particular, current perceptions will be studied in-depth with special emphasis on urban development, urban economy, and the relationship city/countryside. Cities are excellent vehicles for studying acculturation/unification processes, as they became instruments/symbols of Roman power. As space and society interact, a city’s lay-out is a good basis for studying how political discourse was represented to its citizens. In each study region the Roman site network will be evaluated against local topography, road systems, potential of raw materials, and the impact of Roman concepts of organizing space (WP2- The emergence of new ‘cities’ and the topographical implantation of sites). Interdisciplinary methodologies will be developed in order to measure the size of urban centres and their populations, as well as evolution patterns during the period under study (WP3-Changing size and occupation density). The role and motives behind the construction, presence, upkeep or neglect of urban defences will be dealt with (WP4-Defence). The development of urban amenities, more in particular street systems and water management, and monuments for entertainment (WP5-Infrastructure: monuments for entertaining, streets, water supply, gutter and drainage systems), as well as their direct or indirect relation towards Roman governance and potential Roman concepts of urbanism versus traditional approaches and topographical considerations will be analysed. The participants intend to further develop interdisciplinary tools in order to determine the main functions of urban quarters, interior variations and potential shifts of functions resulting from wider urban developments (WP6-Functional zoning). The issue of social stratigraphy and mobility (WP7) will try to establish potential shifts in the composition of contemporaneous society and develop methodologies for identifying such changes and measuring their effects.

Urban economy will be addressed through a variety of (bio)archaeological and archaeometrical studies. Changing building technology and new materials certainly were one of the most visible aspects of change throughout the period under consideration. In the four regions, it will be assessed whether this distribution was accepted as a technological advancement or whether it was status-oriented (WP8-Building materials/technologies). Potential changes in animal and vegetal food production and consumption will be related to the cultural and economic effects of being incorporated into the Roman Empire (WP9-Subsistence). Similarly, developing technologies of artefact production (ceramics, glass, metal) along with the actual products will be analysed in order to establish whether Romanization as a process had meaningful implications on these issues, and if so, why such came about (WP11-Artefact production). The obtained information will allow charting local, regional and supra-regional movements of goods and products, and tying the attested regional assemblages of such goods to the wider understanding of urban settlements and their territories in order to approach exchange patterns and mechanisms (WP10) and the potential impact of the Roman central authority on them.

The relation city/countryside also needs to be investigated since, from Augustus onwards, the Roman world was completely reorganized. This involved defining new provincial, municipal or estate boundaries, the synoikismos of small towns with their larger neighbours, so that eventually these interventions must have affected the countryside as well. The nature of intra-territorial connections (WP12) within the four study areas will be studied in order to assess the impact of Roman rule (changes in road and site configuration, impact on land and sea connections) and their relationship with settlement patterns. The development of rural settlements (WP13) will investigate whether and how incorporation into the Roman Empire affected the way of exploiting the countryside (e.g. role of villa exploitation). Moreover, the ways in which rural sites differed amongst themselves, and what these distinctions meant in terms of new ways of organizing the countryside will be addressed (WP14-Diversity of rural settlement). Another potential difference distinguishing the pre-Roman period from the subsequent centuries is the nature of land ownership and exploitation (WP15-Rural exploitation) and also the extent to which urban goods and services flowing to the countryside and vice-versa may have changed (WP16- Mutual dependency between city and hinterland). In all study areas, except for N Gaul, an attempt will be made to assess the impact of Roman rule in terms of its effect on the landscape (e.g. erosion) and to quantify the impact of changing settlement patterns and land use on landscape dynamics through the establishment of a sediment budget for the main river catchments (WP17-Physical landscape).

In conclusion, the holistic approach proposed in the various work packages mentioned above should allow to identify the real nature of ‘Romanization’ in four completely different regions of the Roman empire and also to see whether or not this common denominator can still be applied for the dialectic relation between Rome and each of its outlying provinces.

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