BMCR 2021.12.24

Quantitative Untersuchungen zum römischen Siedlungswesen im südlichen Latium

, Quantitative Untersuchungen zum römischen Siedlungswesen im südlichen Latium. Phoibos humanities series, vol. 7. Wien: Phoibos Verlag, 2020. Pp. 353. ISBN 9783851612288 €99,00.

Table of Contents

This book is based on Michael Teichmann’s PhD at Bonn. It presents the settlement sites from nine sample areas[1] within the coastal plain between the Tiber at the west, the Aurelian Walls towards Rome, the Alban Hills and Lepini Mountains at the north and the ancient boundary of Latium, the Garigliano river, at the south, covering the Mid-Republican and Late Imperial periods from the fourth century BC to the fourth century AD. The aim is to study the placement of settlements using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and statistical methods. The work is mostly based on legacy data from the older Forma Italiae volumes in collaboration with the local authorities in the area of Velletri (ancient Velitrae). The University of Groningen provided material from the Pontine area. This collection means that the underlying data is heterogeneous; however, Teichmann makes the most of the material at hand with wise classifications and wide chronological categorisations.

The volume is divided into eight chapters and features English and Italian abstracts that do not summarise the results, but describe the contents of different chapters. The introduction includes short statements about the research area, research history and sources, theoretical framework, and research questions and methods, followed by chapters on the history of the research area, and on the climate and natural environment. The fourth chapter discusses the GIS and statistical methods used. The fifth chapter outlines the geographical and archaeological material for the GIS analysis together with the bases for dating (mainly pottery types and architectural styles). The sixth chapter is the main chapter; it presents the details of the sample areas within the research zones and the results of the analyses, then comparing these results with the earlier research on villae, Roman rural residences, in the overlapping research areas of Tondi[2] and Viitanen.[3] The seventh chapter compares the results to the writings of the ancient authors on the placement of the villae and other settlements. This placement is atypical but refreshing because it means Teichmann avoids repeating content. The concluding eighth chapter includes a section on the new research methods and possible future directions.

The sites considered in the location analysis are large villae (larger than a hectare), villae, villae rusticae, material concentrations, material concentrations with building material, cisterns and tombs. This division is based on the characterisations of the sites in the publications, but it differs from more interpretative classifications used elsewhere, for example in the South Etruria Survey (similarly with large villae and villae, but with material concentrations interpreted as farms and huts apart from tombs and other structures).[4] The location analysis compares the geological background, elevation above sea level, slope, aspect and curvature of each site to the background values, and presents cost distances from Rome, towns, rivers, Roman roads and nearest sanctuaries and shrines. Density analysis and kernel density analysis has been carried out for the Republican and Imperial villae and other site types, and visibility analysis compares the intervisibilities of roads, towns, sanctuaries, and different types of settlements. Teichmann uses suitable statistical methods (Wilcoxon/Kruskal-Willis rank sum test, median test, Kolmogorov-Smirnov test and chi-squared test) for assessing the significance of these observations.

The study is theoretically openly processual, quantitative and inductive with only the visibility analysis gearing towards more postprocessual interpretations. One of the main results is that in many of the sample areas the villae were facing north or east, even though the ancient authors emphasized south as the beneficial direction. This result is also somewhat different from the other villa researchers’ results, which Teichmann explains through the practicalities of placing a site in an already occupied landscape and the geographical peculiarities of different regions. He also suggests pragmatically that the villae may have been positioned so that they were cool during the summer months and did not catch the hot southern winds. One issue that comes to mind is the quality of the digital elevation models available. Teichmann used the IGM raster data that contains rice padding and tiger striping, two easily recognisable signs of erroneous interpolation, present also in open access elevation data available for central Italy. I tried to find out whether he had addressed this issue, but could not find an answer. Neither could I discover whether the location attributes had been measured to a point or an area. This may affect the slope and aspect values in the results.

This volume is concisely written and well presented. However, the fact that it has been long coming can be seen in the bibliography that is slightly dated in places, especially in the technical chapters. For example, the GIS and statistical works referred to are mainly from the 1990s and 2000s. Even if these present ground-breaking works, a slightly more vigorous update for publication would have been beneficial. In addition, Stek and Pelgrom’s[5] recent work on settlement patterns around Latin colonies is not referenced, probably for the same reason. Their discussions on the less Rome-like urban structures of and rural settlement around Latin colonies would have been relevant for Teichmann’s work, considering the number of Latin colonies in southern Latium.

As a GIS study, the volume has a good number of colour plates. Some would have easier to read if areas were more zoomed in, making the distributions look less crowded (Abb. 38 is especially ‘busy’). Graphically, I would also have reconsidered the presentation of the road and the rivers and presented them with thinner lines. Nevertheless, the plates covering the smaller sample areas are clear.

This book promises extra open access data on the publisher’s web site. However, these data could not be found at the time of this review (although the publishing house kindly sent me a copy of the zip file). The data would be marvellous for reuse but sadly, the lack of geographic coordinates restricts its usefulness, given the number of sites. The omission cannot be explained by fear of illegal excavations, since most sites have been published.

All in all, this volume is a valuable addition to the study of the Latin settlement patterns, concentrating on southeastern Latium. It is clearly written and gives a general reader a quick summary of different research methods in its introductory chapters, at the same time as it provides more specialist interpretations of legacy data for the researchers of Latium vetus and adiectum.


[1] These are the Carta dell’Agro Romano (southern and southeastern parts), Tellenae, Apiolae, Aprilia, Velletri, Cori, Astura, Circeo and Terracina areas.

[2] E. Tondi. 2007. Archeologia predittiva e geographic information systems. Rome: Arachne.

[3] E.-M. Viitanen. 2010. Locus Bonus: The Relationship of the Roman Villa to Its Environment in the Vicinity of Rome. Helsinki: Helsinki University Print.

[4] E.g., A. Kahane, L. Murray Threipland, and J. Ward-Perkins. 1968, “The Ager Veientanus, North and East of Veii,” Papers of the British School at Rome 36, 154.

[5] T. D. Stek and J. Pelgrom 2014 (eds.). Roman Republican Colonization: New Perspectives from Archaeology and Ancient History, Papers of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome 62. Rome: Palombi.