Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.04.07 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.07

Jane DeRose Evans (ed.), A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic. Blackwell companions to the ancient world.   Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester:  Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.  Pp. xx, 722.  ISBN 9781405199667.  $195.00.  

Reviewed by Marion Bolder-Boos, Technische Universität Darmstadt (


This volume is a collection of 37 chapters, arranged in six sections. As the time focused on is the Roman Republic, it is geographically concentrated on Rome and the Italian Peninsula, but the Provinces established in Republican times are also dealt with, especially in section five.

The first section consists of ten chapters, dedicated to material culture and its impact on social configuration. It starts with an essay by Fikret K. Yegül on the development of Roman baths and bathing, followed by Mantha Zarmankoupi on theatres, amphitheatres, and circuses, Shelley Hales on housing, and Sylvia Diebner on funerary monuments. They all provide the reader with an excellent overview of their respective subjects, although in some cases the bibliography is not quite up-to-date. Hales, for instance, speaks of the Roman salutatio ritual but does not make any mention of Fabian Goldbeck’s recent comprehensive study on the subject.1 Being of a rather general nature and emphasising social aspects, the first four chapters do not always bring the archaeology of these building types into the picture. This becomes more central in the second part of the section. Especially Jane DeRose Evans’ essay aptly combines the material overview with the significance of coins in the archaeological record, while Susan Kirkpatrick Smith’s contribution draws attention to the importance of on-site bone analyses in archaeological campaigns. This first section thus gives the reader an idea of the variety of subjects the archaeological investigation of the Roman Republic is dealing with. However, while it would of course go beyond the scope of the book to include all categories that constitute the material culture of the Roman Republic, the absence of chapters on temple architecture – an aspect that would most certainly not be missing in a Companion to the archaeology of ancient Greece – and Roman Republican art leaves the section somewhat incomplete.

The second, comparatively short, section of the volume broaches the issue of landscape archaeology, which over the last few decades has become an important component in archaeological research, especially since archaeologists have begun investigating rural landscapes in various regions of the Apennine peninsula. The first chapter of this section, however, begins with the Urbs, and Albert J. Ammerman expertly outlines the transformation of regal and early Republican Rome, drawing attention not only to often discussed sites such as the Forum and the Capitoline Hill, but also to other parts of the early settlement such as the Velabrum. Helena Fracchia turns to archaeological investigations in the countryside by centring on the use of field surveys in identifying and analysing settlements and land use in Republican Italy, thus offering a critical discussion of the advantages and limitations of surveys in archaeological field work. I concur with her conclusion, that “the validity of the field survey narrative is increased exponentially when a site or sites have been excavated within the study area”.2 Land use is also the topic of Helen Goodchild’s contribution, focusing on the agricultural exploitation of land in the Roman Republic. The two concluding chapters of this section deal with the Roman army camp and with religious ritual respectively. The latter, written by Alison B. Griffith, gives a useful overview of the various forms of rituals which could take place both within architecturally defined sanctuaries as well as in open space and their physical remains. A small fly in the ointment of an otherwise strong paper, Griffith refers repeatedly to finds from and features of the sanctuary on Monte S. Angelo near Terracina, calling it the sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur. As this identification was, for good reasons, questioned by Filippo Coarelli more than twenty years ago – and his critique has been supported by other scholars since3 – it is somewhat unfortunate to find the old interpretation uncritically adopted in a book that is intended as an up-to-date introduction for a wider audience.

The next section is centred on “archaeology and ancient technology”, comprising six chapters. While the first two have a broader scope – one dealing with the orientation of towns and centuriation, while the other gives a detailed analysis of Roman know-how concerning stone and concrete masonry – the main focus in this chapter is on various types of infrastructural buildings, such as water supply systems, roads and bridges, but also villas as agricultural developments, and harbour facilities.

Ray Laurence’s contribution on roads and bridges gives a valuable insight into current debates on the significance of Roman road building during the Republic not only in terms of connecting Rome to other settlements for military purposes but also discussing the relationship between roads, transhumance, water resources, town foundation and more generally the movement of people. In one passage he additionally describes a sanctuary for travellers near the Ponte di Nona along the Via Praenestina, interpreting it as a “healing sanctuary” due to abundant finds of anatomical votives, especially feet, which leads him to conclude that “injuries to the feet may have been a specialty” here.4 He further explains that since many people were travelling this road by foot, presumably over considerable distances, they might suffer “a degree of wear and tear on feet and legs”,5 thus dedicating foot votives. While this could hypothetically be true, there is not enough comparative research done in respect to the frequency of foot votives from both roadside as well as non-roadside sanctuaries to support this notion. Also, Griffith’s contribution to the Companion in section two, discussed above, made clear that not all anatomicals were connected to healing and that feet might also be representative of travelling/pilgrimage.6

Section four is dedicated to the archaeology of identity consisting of five chapters. Tesse D. Stek begins the section giving a detailed account of the area of conflict between Italic identities and the question of Romanization, summarizing previous scholarship and most recent criticism on the Romanization model. By looking at the colonies, he convincingly shows that we can neither speak of a superior Roman material culture nor of a distribution of an urban model based on the city of Rome. Individual civic bodies seem more to have stressed their own identity and may, according to Stek, have even developed a stronger local identity through opposition to Rome.

The other four contributions of this section discuss regional and local case studies such as the identity of the Etruscan elites, the Greek, Lucanian and Roman occupation of Poseidonia/Paestum, the Samnites and finally the city of Rome and the Romans themselves. Especially the case of Poseidonia/Paestum, expertly presented by Maurizio Gualtieri, provides the reader with a good assessment of the various cultural influences that can archaeologically be found in a city that was occupied by different peoples over time. Ingrid Edlund-Berry’s discussion of early Rome concludes the section by looking at the Roman identity as it can be traced in the architecture and urban layout of the city.

Section five, titled the “Archaeology of Empire during the Republic”, focuses on the expansion of Roman power and influence during the last three centuries of the Republic. Like the previous chapter, it starts with an introductory treatment of material culture and identity, written by Miguel John Versluys, who stresses the fluidity of identity, criticising an archaeological tradition that has too often thought in terms of “ethnos” instead of “ethnogenity” and “culture” instead of “cultural formation” and rightly pointing out that people could have multiple identities depending on context and situation. The study of material culture therefore needs to take this into account and must not be seen only as signs of resistance or adherence to Roman objects or styles. The following two chapters, written by Penelope J.E. Davies and Jane DeRose Evans, respectively, pick up where the previous section left off, namely the city of Rome and its development during the Middle and Late Republic.

A look beyond the capital is offered by Stephen Dyson’s contribution on ancient Cosa, one of the most important sites for the archaeology of the Roman Republic. He gives a very concise account of the research that has been done in this Republican settlement over the last six decades. It is unfortunate, though, that he does not include the discussion around the so-called Capitolium of Cosa, whose identification has been seriously called into question in recent years, 7 but sticks to Brown’s old interpretation of the Arx as an imitation of Rome. An attentive reader will also notice that Dyson’s presentation of Cosa as a small Rome partly contradicts Stek’s contribution to this Companion, who, as noted above, refutes this image of colonies as imitations of the capital. Of the remaining five chapters which look into the Roman provinces established during the Republic, Sicily and Sardinia, North Africa, Hispania, Palestine and Greece, David L. Stone’s paper is particularly interesting, showing that the African provinces were not a static environment, as was previously often believed, but were in fact full of changes. The concluding chapter by Michael C. Hoff, dealing with Roman Greece and focussing on Corinth and especially Athens as case studies, fights against the widely held opinion that the Roman presence in the Greek east had only little effect on Greek culture.

In the concluding section “Republican Archaeology and the Twenty-First Century”, consisting of two contributions, Michael Anderson looks at the use of computer technology in the archaeology of Pompeii, outlining both the great potential of digital archaeology in various fields of investigation as well as its problems, especially in terms of cost and the way the computerized data can be shared and published. The final chapter by Margaret M. Miles deals with the Romans’ acquisition of valuables from conquered enemies during wars and in the Provinces afterwards.

It is in the nature of volumes such as this Companion that reviewers find flaws to point out and references to add, which is always easier than to actually write a flawless paper oneself, so despite my criticism on various chapters, the book is a felicitous contribution to the archaeological investigation of Rome, Italy and the Provinces in Republican times. Each chapter finishes with suggestions for “Further Reading”, always helpful especially for newcomers to the field who want to use the Companion as a starting point for further studies. Maps and photographs illustrate many of the contributions.


1.   F. Goldbeck, Salutationes. Die Morgenbegrüßung in Rom in der Republik und der frühen Kaiserzeit (Berlin, Akademie-Verlag, 2010).
2.   Fracchia, p. 196.
3.   F. Coarelli, Lazio (Rome, Laterza, 1982) 321; F. Coarelli, I santuari del Lazio e della Campania tra I Gracchi e le guerre civili, in: Les “bourgeoisies” municipals italiennes aux II et I siècles av. J.-C. Colloques internationaux du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Paris – Naples CNRS 1983) 232-236; F. Coarelli, I santuari del Lazio in età repubblicana (Rome, La Nuova Italia Scientifica, 1987) 113. 123; E. Bispham, “Coloniam deducere: How Roman was Roman colonization during the Middle Republic?”, in: G. Bradley and J.P. Wilson (eds.), Greek and Roman Colonization. Origins, Ideologies and Interactions (Swansea, Classical Press of Wales, 2006) 110-111; for a detailed study with further references see M. Boos, Heiligtümer römischer Bürgerkolonien. Archäologische Untersuchungen zur sakralen Ausstattung republikanischer coloniae civium Romanorum (Rahden;Westf., Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2011) 91-98.
4.   Laurence p. 305.
5.   Ibid.
6.   Griffith p. 238-239.
7.   E. Bispham, “Coloniam deducere: How Roman was Roman colonization during the Middle Republic?”, in: G. Bradley and J.P. Wilson (eds.), Greek and Roman Colonization. Origins, Ideologies and Interactions (Swansea, Classical Press of Wales, 2006) 97-103; M. Boos, Heiligtümer römischer Bürgerkolonien. Archäologische Untersuchungen zur sakralen Ausstattung republikanischer coloniae civium Romanorum (Rahden; Westf., Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2011) 199. See now also J. Crawley Quinn – A. Wilson, “Capitolia”, Journal of Roman Studies 103 (2013) 117-173.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010