BMCR 2017.08.34

Early States, Territories and Settlements in Protohistoric Central Italy

, , , Early States, Territories and Settlements in Protohistoric Central Italy. Proceedings of a specialist conference at the Groningen Institute of Archaeology of the University of Groningen, 2013. Corollaria Crustumina, 2. Groningen: University of Groningen / Groningen Institute of Archaeology; Barkhuis, 2016. x, 152. ISBN 9789491431999. €42.00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The work under review is the second publication of the Corollaria Crustumina series which aims to publish research on the settlement of Crustumerium and Italian protohistory more generally. The papers which make up its chapters were originally presented at a workshop in Groningen between 31 January and 1 February 2013. As stated by the editors in their preface, the workshop was primarily organised by Jorn Seubers and its main aim ‘was to support the theoretical and methodological progress of Seubers’ doctoral thesis and to feed expert knowledge into it’ (VII). The essays, as they exist, go beyond this and make for an interesting collection.

John Bintliff’s chapter functions as a theoretical foundation for the following papers. He provides an introduction to the study of early states in different parts of the European Iron Age. The regions discussed are Greece, Iberia, Central Europe, and Latium-South Etruria. Bintliff’s chapter is an interesting ‘launching point’ for the rest of the volume. He briefly looks at phenomena such as the polis in Greece, the Morgenroth model in Iberia, and Terrenato’s ‘mafia’ model for Central Italy. He favors, in general, ‘Annaliste Structural History’ as an organizing principle, and argues that processes outside of human control are important in social development. His conclusion is that with rapid urbanization comes both class formation and the formation of early states, with every civilization driven on different paths by human actors and otherwise uncontrollable events.

Alessandro Guidi’s contribution looks at a wide range of data concerning the development of Italian societies during the Iron Age. His introduction, in many ways, sets a pleasant theoretical tone. Importantly, Guidi points out that ‘in Italian archaeology, little attention has been given to theoretical matters’ (p. 9). This situation has been changing in recent years, but there is still a considerable disparity compared to other sub-disciplines in archaeology. Perhaps the most important aspect of this paper is that it rehabilitates, to some extent, the place of ideological power in the formation of early states in Italy.

The third chapter, by Fabiola Fraioli, examines the evidence for occupation in the southern territory of Crustumerium between the seventh and fifth centuries BC. The following chapter, by Andrea di Napoli, discusses the results of a number of exploratory trenches dug in the southern territory of Crustumerium in 2012. Unlike other areas of Crustumerium’s hinterland, the Tenuta Inviolatella Salaria flourished in the mid-Republican Period. The possible identification of an extra-urban cult place and Imperial Period villa are notable. An important contribution of both of these chapters is to show how modern activities can drastically impact the preservation of archaeological deposits.

Jorn Seubers provides the fifth chapter, with the aim of re-evaluating the territory of Crustumerium through a ‘GIS- based cost surface analysis’ (p. 51). He goes on to critique the traditional approach to modelling territorial size, rightly criticizing many of the earlier approaches. He then moves on to a survey of existing models of territorial sizes and arrangements for Latium and illustrates the many differences between them. Seubers then proceeds to outline and discuss the results of his approach to calculating the ‘catchment’ area of the settlement. This attempts to illustrate how much of the land around Crustumerium was exploited; the theory behind this kind of analysis is based in the ‘optimal foraging theory’ (p. 57). He details the results under three sets of conditions: viewing streams as barriers, assuming some level of infrastructure and seeing streams as obstacles, and finally looking at Crustumerium and the surrounding settlements. The result of these analyses is a more nuanced view of the land that Crustumerium likely exploited compared to earlier models, especially those which assign all land available to one settlement or another and do not allow for ‘dead space’ in between (i.e. Thiessen Polygons). Seubers’ conclusions are promising and the present reviewer would like to see them applied more widely in the analysis of Central Italy during the Iron Age.

Luca Alessandri traces settlement patterns in Latium Vetus from the Middle Bronze Age through to the Early Iron Age. He highlights a number of important trends, such as the evidence for increasing social complexity and the move towards more defensible settlement sites over time. Hierarchical settlement systems are hypothesized for the area around the River Astura, Casale Nuovo, and the Tiber estuary. In a subsection entitled ‘social and economic changes during the Early Iron Age: the early states,’ Alessandri discusses evidence from a number of settlements which points towards the emergence of ‘states’. Though I am very sympathetic to the constraints of a word limit, given how important and widely discussed the topic of the emergence of states has become, it would have been helpful to include a more robust theoretical foundation. The survey concludes that by the Roma-Colli Albani IIB phase, much of Latium was divided between either hierarchical settlement systems or federative settlement systems, within which the major settlements were of similar rank. The author uses the earlier survey in his conclusion to argue that the emergence of the Early Iron Age settlement pattern of Latium Vetus can be tied back to the early stages of the Bronze Age.

Angelo Amoroso attempts to define the territories of the proto-urban settlements of South Etruria and Latium Vetus. This is accomplished through the use of ‘calibrated Thiessen polygons.’ His base calculation uses the size of the primary settlement to estimate its territory. Having applied the polygons to the territory, they are then adapted to the major rivers. Using this method, it is unsurprising that Bisenzio’s calculated territory (970 sq km) is a little over half that of Veii’s (1,780 sq km) when their settlement sizes are in a similar ratio, at 90 ha to 185 ha, respectively. The application of Thiessen polygons is always an interesting exercise, but given the complexities of territorial control their usefulness is suspect in the mind of this reviewer. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion of this chapter, however, is that the calculated territory belonging to Rome (447 sq km), relatively small compared to its core settlement size (180 ha), forced the Romans to expand their holdings through force, linking this theory to the literary record in which Rome was notoriously bellicose.

Fulminante, Lozano, and Prignano apply social network analysis to Latium Vetus in the form of ‘centrality indexes’ in order to test the validity of this type of work in predicting the emergence of urbanizing centres. The present chapter is a refinement of earlier work done by Fulminante.1 The data used in the analysis consists of a network reconstructed on the basis of either fluvial or terrestrial connections (i.e. rivers or roads). The authors go on to describe their ‘unified index’ which combines ‘degree centrality’ and ‘betweeness centrality’ (measures of the connectedness of individual nodes (settlements) within the network). The results are striking, with 14 calculations accurately predicting the emergence of central settlements with accuracy in excess of 50%. Interestingly, their analysis found that fluvial connections were considerably more important in the Bronze Age than the Iron Age, a conclusion which they cite as having been reached by other scholars through different means. This reviewer cannot help but agree that the paper ‘confirms the validity’ of this type of approach in the analysis of urbanization processes (p. 108).

Ulla Rajala presents a new methodology for calculating ancient populations which takes into account her theories on ‘taskspace’ and ‘ceramiscene’ in combination with statistical methods and GIS tools. In this chapter, she applies this to the sites of Il Pizzo (Middle – Final Bronze Age) and Nepi (Early Iron Age). For Nepi, Rajala suggests a population of around 1,500 persons by the Archaic Period. In her conclusions, she proposes that growing populations, such as that of Nepi which had grown by her estimate from around 255 persons in the Early Iron Age, would have helped influence the settlement patterns of Latium Vetus and encourage the development of intraregional trading.

Jarva and Tuppi survey the evidence for a number of different types of infrastructure in the proto-urban centres of Central Italy: settlements themselves, fortifications, sacred buildings and space, goods production, urban planning, roads, and water works. Much of this is well laid out using a combination of both archaeological data and literary sources. The latter are more present in this chapter than any other throughout the volume. The different topical surveys provide a treasure-trove of bibliography for interested readers. The most important takeaway from this chapter is the authors’ conclusion that ‘Early infrastructures attest to the ability to employ remarkable labour forces’ as well as developed organizational and management capabilities (135).

The final chapter, by Elizabeth van’t Lindenhout, traces the gradual change from huts to houses in Latium Vetus. She analyses the change both from an architectural perspective as well as from one of social change, questioning what exactly we should read out of the transition. Her observation that it is not emblematic of drastic social changes, but rather one part of ongoing changes, is welcome.

This collection of papers is a nice addition to the corpus on urbanization and state formation in Central Italy. Each chapter provides a different way of examining these important, readily discussed, and often controversial topics. Although every author took a different avenue of exploration, a coherent picture emerges. Central Italy between the later phases of the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age was a region of dramatic change in a number of ways – in populations, settlement patterns, and even preferred networks of trade. The bibliographies for each contribution are thorough and close to comprehensive, meaning that they can provide even the most casual reader with enough material to build a robust understanding of the topic.

On a more superficial note, the volume is well presented. The layout and print quality of the text itself makes it easy to read and is aesthetically pleasing. The work is well edited, although there are a number of instances where the grammar could have been touched up, but these do not in any way detract from the quality of the papers contained in this volume. Both for the results of the papers it contains and for the authors’ suggested paths forward, this book is an important step toward a better understanding of both Crustumerium and its hinterland as well as Latium and Central Italy more broadly.

Table of Contents

1. John Bintliff – Early States in the Mediterranean Iron Age (ca. 1000-400 BC) 1-8
2. Alessandro Guidi – Religion, Art, Law, Ethnicity and State Formation in Protohistoric Italy 9-15
3. Fabiola Fraioli – The Southern Ager of the Ancient City of Crustumerium 17-31
4. Andrea Di Napoli – Exploratory Trenches in the Southern Territory of Ancient Crustumerium (Tenuta Inviolatella Salaria) 33-49
5. Jorn Seubers – Many Rivers to Cross – Revisiting the Territory of Ancient Crustumerium With a Cost Surface Based Site Catchment Analysis 51-65
6. Luca Alessandri – Hierarchical and Federative Polities in Protohistoric Latium Vetus. An Analysis of Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Settlement Organization 67-82
7. Angelo Amoroso – Settlement Patterns in South Etruria and Latium Vetus 83-100
8. Francesca Fulminante, Sergi Lozano & Luce Prignano – Social Network Analysis and Early Latin Cities (Central Italy) 101-110
9. Ulla Rajala – The Town and Territory of Nepi: The Population of the Earliest Nepi 111-123
10. Eero Jarva & Juha Tuppi – Emerging Infrastructures at Proto-urban Centres in Central Tyrrhenian Italy 125- 141
11. Elisabeth van ’t Lindenhout – Taking Courage: From Huts to Houses. Reflections on Changes in Early Archaic Architecture in Latium Vetus (Central Italy) 143-152


1. F. Fulminante, ‘Social Network Analysis and the Emergence of Central Places: A Case Study from Central Italy (Latium Vetus),’ BABESCH 87 (2012), 27-53.