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Beneath the surface of Roman Republican cities

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Project Abstract

The middle Roman Republic (the 4th - 3rd centuries BC) was the formative period in the development of Roman urbanism, with the development of the City of Rome itself and crucially also the implantation of new urban foundations across the conquered areas of Italy. Since Roman cities subsequently became central to the character of Rome's imperial system, understanding the earliest development of towns in Italy at this period is central to any comprehension of Roman imperialism itself. However, the earliest phases of these cities, many of which have continued in occupation until today, lie deeply buried beneath later structures.

This innovative project will deploy Ground-Penetrating Radar (henceforth GPR) survey alongside the study of ceramic assemblages across the full extent of two cities founded in this period - Interamna Lirenas founded as a colony in 312 BC and Falerii Novi founded by Rome in 241 BC (following Rome's razing of Falerii Veteres) to characterise their early development. Both sites were abandoned in the post-Roman period and now lie beneath agricultural land, hence they are available for total survey. The work will build directly upon our previous survey at both sites (which has included full magnetometry and topographical surveys of both) to provide unique new data about the deeply buried deposits thereby allowing the integrated information to be used to map these towns and address key questions about the nature of Roman urban development in this key period.

The two sites have been selected for further study in this project partly because of previous work which serves as a control on, and as a complement to the planned GPR survey, but also because past study of these contrasting sites has clarified the specific questions that need to be answered in order to understand the primary phases of their urban development:

  • the scale, the nature and extent of their primary planned grids (and its relationship to the town walls at Falerii Novi)
  • the nature and extent of settlement surrounding the grid-planned areas
  • the organization of domestic space,
  • the character, role and nature of the public monuments
  • the role of local, Italic, and Greek influences on these elements of their planning

In collaboration with Prof Frank Vermeulen and Dr Lieven Verdonck of the Ghent University, our project will first collect close interval GPR data across the available areas of both sites, processing the results to provide 'time slice' plans of the structures at successive depths below the surface. GPR has recently been developed as a reliable method for collecting data on buried sites at high resolution and the computer software for the processing of these data (eg. GPR-Slice) is now excellent, enabling plans at different depths below the surface to be generated reliably. The deployment of this technology on a city-wide scale will place our project at the cutting edge of such research worldwide, thereby contributing the development of archaeological survey methodology.

Second we will use existing excavated pottery from past work at Falerii Novi and collect new samples from systematic shovel testing pits across the site at Interamna Lirenas in order to provide tighter chronological information about the rate of development of the two cities. In the latter we will sieve a sample from each topsoil test pit. The pottery from these samples will provide a sound understanding of the spatial and chronological development of the town. Such work is now possible here (uniquely in Italy) because of the detailed study of coarse pottery that has already been undertaken in the context of our current work at the site.

Third, we will integrate these results with those from our previous surveys to develop models for the spatial structure and chronological development of the two cites. Further, these models will be discussed in the broader context of Mediterranean urban development.
Finally, the results will be used to help support education and tourist development.

 

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