Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.03.08

R. Ross Holloway, The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium. London/New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. xx + 203; ill. $40.00. ISBN 0-415-08065-7.

Reviewed by Jacques Poucet, Université de Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium).

Here is a most welcome book, all the more so since archaeological discoveries on the primitive Rome and the Latium have increased in the last decades. To mention only a few recent and fundamental finds, let us think of the archaic sanctuary of Sant'Omobono, the 600 tombs excavated at Gabii (Osteria dell'Osa) between 1971 and 1986, the inscription of Satricum and, in Lavinium, the Thirteen Altars, the Heroon of Aeneas and the outstanding terracottas. But the access to information is not always easy, scattered as it is in exhibition catalogues, specific studies, excavation reports, which are often hard for the non-specialist to find and to use. Reviewing and integrating new material into what had been known for a long time had become imperative.

R. Ross Holloway has endeavored to accomplish this difficult synthesis on a number of particularly important issues, each of which forms a chapter in his book: the tombs of the Forum and Esquiline (pp. 20-36), the chronology problem (pp. 37-50), the Sant'Omobono sanctuary (pp. 68-80), the Lapis Niger and the archaic forum, with an appendix on the archaic votive deposits of Rome (pp. 81-90), the walls, with a few notes on the walls of Veii (pp. 91-102), the finds of Osteria dell'Osa in Gabii (pp. 103-113), those of Castel di Decima, of Acqua Acetosa (Laurentia), of Ficana and of Crustumerium (pp. 114-127), of Lavinium (pp. 128-141), of Satricum and those of Preneste, actually limited to a few observations on the "Princely Tombs" and the fibula (pp. 156-164).

These chapters were originally delivered as lectures at the University of Sao Paolo (Brazil). They are not therefore directed to highly specialised archaeologists in the first place, but to a large audience (students, professors, learned men) looking for updated and serious information on the problem of the origins and the first centuries of Rome. The language is clear, the style is compact, with highly valuable, copious and careful illustrations (in black and white). A basic bibliography at the head of the volume in addition to the one dispersed in the notes enables the reader keen on the subject to pursue the enquiry.1 A general index permits a quick orientation.

This is not the place for starting a thorough discussion or for systematically screening all the issues dealt with. The subject matter is complex and, because of the very nature of the discipline, "open", i.e. problematic. In a nutshell, I would say that R. Ross Holloway offers us here the most recent, the most systematic and the best informed presentation available of the current state of archaeological discoveries from the end of the XIXth century to nowadays, including of course the finds of A. Carandini on the slopes of the Palatine. He is well qualified to present it. Professor of archaeology at Brown University, a seasoned expert in the archaeological problems of Italy for about 35 years, he has directed several excavations and published two esteemed books on the subject.2 Furthermore, being well known to the Italian excavation teams and departments, he has discussed the material of the present book with their most representative members.

However it would be wrong to consider this work as a mere status quaestionis. The author's point of view is also worth pinpointing. Preoccupied by the methodological aspects (in this respect, his statement on chronology is remarkable in my opinion), Holloway goes further than lining up general conclusions; he adopts a stance, judges, criticizes and praises. And at this level, his conception of the relations between archaeology and tradition has struck me as peculiarly interesting, and even as fundamental. It appears to him difficult, if not useless, to claim -- as is still too often done -- that archaeology supports the annalistic record of the first centuries of Rome. In this regard, the brief but substantial analysis he presents (pp. 5-11) on three archaeological issues (the Castores' temple in the Roman Forum, Jupiter's on the Capitol and the sanctuaries of the Forum Boarium merits a careful reading). He is very clear: "Archaeology deserves better than to remain a crutch for the tales of the annalists and their followers" (p. 11). This is a point of view which I entirely share and which I have developed on several occasions in my own works.3 So as to remain in the field of the metaphor he used, I would add that this crutch is only a mirage; though it is said that archaeological discoveries "confirm" the literary tradition, they actually do not. R. Ross Holloway is not lured into this trap. On the contrary, he shows on this point a sharp critical mind not always to be found among those who write on the origins and the first centuries of Rome. Enough of archaeology as a means of confirming and authenticating the literary tradition! It has more to do. In his concluding chapter (pp. 165-173), the author attempts "to turn archaeology into history" (p. 11). The reader will find out that this "archaeological history" of the primordia has scarcely any links with the records of Livy and of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The "traditionalists", i.e. the ones who systematically and excessively interpret archaeological discoveries in full confidence of the global historicity of ancient records, might be somewhat upset, but in the field of history too, a face to face confrontation with the truth is much more advisable.

I end up herewith stressing the fact that in the last few years, four important monographs, each of them with its its own specific qualities, have been dedicated to the origins and the first centuries of Rome, in French by Alexandre Grandazzi in 1991,4 in Italian in 1993, respectively by Massimo Pallottino5 and by Attilio Mastrocinque.6 The book of R. Ross Holloway, published in 1994, is the last component of this quartet. As said at the beginning, it is most welcome and not only for the English speaking audience.


  • [1] Imprecisions sometimes occur in this bibliography; they may be spelling mistakes (e.g. "premières" for "premiers", p. 174, n. 10, l. 3); or changes in the original titles (e.g., p. 175, n. 27, it reads: La topografia romana e l'istoriografia della Roma arcaica while the exact title of the article by E. Castagnoli is Topografia romana e tradizione storiografico su Roma arcaica; p. 185, n. 12, it reads: Riflessioni sulle terracotte decorative di prima fase, while the exact title of the article by M. Cristofani is Riflessioni sulla decorazione architettonica di prima fase in Etruria e a Roma; p. 185, n. 14, l. 6, it reads: Il gruppo di Eracle e Atene, while the exact title of the article by F. Sbordone is Il culto di Eracle e il tempio arcaico di S. Omobono). But these minor flaws are without significance.
  • [2] R. Ross Holloway, Italy and the Aegean 3000-700 B.C., Louvain, 1981; and The Archaeology of Ancient Sicily, London 1991.
  • [3] See e.g. J. Poucet, Les origines de Rome. Tradition et histoire, Brussels, 1985, pp. 116-160; and, more recently, Les grands travaux d'urbanisme dans la Rome "étrusque". Libres propos sur la notion de confirmation du récit annalistique par l'archéologie, in La Rome des premiers siècles. Legende et histoire. Actes de la Table Ronde en l'honneur de Massimo Pallottino (Paris, 3-4 mai 1990), Florence, 1992, pp. 215-234.
  • [4] A. Grandazzi, La fondation de Rome. Réflexion sur l'histoire, Paris, 1991, 338 pp. (Histoire). On the excessive and unjustified importance granted in my opinion to the recent archaeological discoveries of A. Carandini at the bottom of the Palatine, see: J. Poucet, La fondation de Rome: croyants et agnostiques, in Latomus, 53, 1994, pp. 95-104: they cannot be considered as a "archaeological proof" that Rome was founded on the Palatine in the middle of the VIIIth century.
  • [5] M. Pallottino, Origini e storia primitiva di Roma, Milan, 1993, 422 pp. (Orizonti della storia).
  • [6] A. Mastrocinque, Romolo. La fondazione di Roma tra storia e leggenda, Este, 1993, 206 pp. (Università di Trento. Dipartimento di Scienze filologiche e storiche. Pubblicazioni di Storia antica, 4).