Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.11.33

C.J. Simpson, The Excavations at Ruoti: vol. II, The Small Finds. Phoenix Supplementary vol. XXXIV.   Toronto:  University of Toronto Press, 1997.  Pp. 101; 61 illus.  ISBN 0-8020-0631-0.  

Reviewed by Ingrid E.M. Edlund-Berry, The University of Texas at Austin (
Word count: 462 words

The late Roman site of San Giovanni di Ruoti near Potenza in Basilicata in southern Italy is already well known from Alastair Small's and Robert Buck's superb first volume of the excavation report (reviewed by Jean Turfa, BMCR 97.11.14). The second volume by C.J. Simpson presents the small finds, including coins (by R. Reece) and lamps (by J.J. Rossiter). The small finds are attributed to eleven types (hairpins, rings, needles, loom weights, etc.) and arranged by use (adornment, weighing, tools, etc.). Each item is introduced in a succinct catalogue entry and illustrated by a line drawing or black-and-white photograph. The find context is tied to the rooms of the buildings uncovered (discussed in volume I), and the date correlated with the history of the site and applicable comparanda.

The careful yet cautious interpretation of each object provides a valuable insight into the many questions raised about late Roman sites not only in Italy but also elsewhere. Ear rings, for example, are said to be rare at other sites; yet Ruoti has produced ten examples; while loom weights and spindle whorls suggest weaving, perforated tile fragments may also be associated with textile manufacturing; the relatively high number of mortars (thirteen) may indicate an industrial rather than a domestic use. An isolated gold leaf, encased in a silver cylinder, may represent a magic spell written in a code of magical characters or letters (no. 369).

The discussion of coins by R. Reece illustrates the value of coins present as well as coins missing. The list of coins begins with two examples from the Republic and the time of Augustus, followed by imperial coins through the centuries. There are, however, no coins preserved from the fifth century A.D., the time when the site was at its peak in period Three (Preface, xiv). Reece ascribes this phenomenon to a situation, known also from other parts of the Roman Empire, where bronze coinage, especially in the inland, was simply not in use in spite of an otherwise healthy economy.

The section on lamps includes ninety-seven catalogued examples, arranged in nine groups, ranging from the first through the third century A.D. (groups 1-4) to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. (groups 5-9). Slightly less than half of the lamps (42%) consisted of imported goods, the earlier groups (groups 1 and 2) from Campania, and the later groups primarily from north Africa (groups 5 and 6), or as imitations of the north African ware (groups 7 and 8).

The two volumes published so far on the excavations from San Giovanni di Ruoti are exemplary in their clarity and precision. All the relevant information is provided, and readers have the opportunity to apply the excavators' interpretations also to other sites and to historical and social issues of the late Empire.

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