BMCR 2022.02.41

Cosa and the colonial landscape of republican Italy (third and second centuries BCE)

, Cosa and the colonial landscape of republican Italy (third and second centuries BCE). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2019. Pp. xiii, 296. ISBN 9780472131549. $70.00.

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

Rome founded two Latin colonies in 273 BCE: the former Greek city Poseidonia became Roman Paestum; the other colony was Cosa on the Tyrrhenian coast about 140 km north of Rome in an area which formerly had belonged to the Etruscan city-state Vulci. Except for short periods in the Middle Ages, Cosa has been unoccupied since Late Antiquity, and from 1948 excavations have been carried out by American teams of archaeologists with varying degrees of intensity. More than 15 volumes dedicated to Cosa’s cityscape and different groups of finds such as glass, pottery and amphoras have been published since the first volume by Frank E. Brown in 1951.[1] Most recently, and after the release of the present volume, Jacquelyn Collins-Clinton has published the sculptures and furnishings from the city.[2] These impressive works have greatly influenced modern scholarship on Roman Republican colonization and urbanism. Cosa appears in almost all handbooks and companions as the prototype of Roman Republican colonies, and Brown entitled his synthesis of the city Cosa. The Making of a Roman Town (1980).

Cosa and the Colonial Landscape of Republican Italy (Third and Second centuries BCE) has its origins in a conference held in 2014 to celebrate the resumption of excavations at Cosa at the so-called Forum Baths under the auspices of Florida State University and Bryn Mawr College, in collaboration with Universität Tübingen. The book comprises thirteen chapters, of which five focus on Cosa, six on other towns in Italy, while two have a more general approach. In the first chapter, the editor, Andrea U. De Giorgi, offers a fine overview of the scholarship not only on Cosa, but also other colonies of the middle Republic together with an introduction to the various contributions to the volume. The chapter contains a gold mine of references, but the format of the book with endnotes after each chapter and a common bibliography is not exactly reader friendly. Footnotes would have improved the volume’s readability considerably, and some of the figures, all in black and white, are of rather poor quality. According to the table of contents, digital materials can be found online, but this is actually a restricted access online resource.

The contributors are a mixture of well-established senior scholars and younger researchers, and several of them naturally discuss Cosa. In his short paper with the wonderful title Cosa: How Perfect! How Come? the long-standing director of the American excavations, Russell T. Scott, downplays the uniqueness of the town and makes the case that the public Republican buildings were financed by the local élite of Etruscan descent. The late Mario Torelli argues that the names of two so-called sexviri attested on a recently found rostrum from one of the shipwrecks from the battle of the Aegates Islands in 242 BCE strongly suggest that these two individuals were from Cosa. If this interesting identification is correct – the prosopographical and onomastic arguments are only circumstantial – we get a new understanding of Cosa’s early history. In this case the town would not only have been a Latin colony, but there should also have existed a foedus navale between Cosa and Rome according to which the Latin colony had to provide ships to the Roman fleet. A team of German archaeologists and geophysicists presents the results of their recent geophysical surveys at Cosa, which very interestingly indicate a large open space in the northern part of the town. One further paper discusses material from Cosa. Sophie Crawford-Brown analyses architectural terracottas from Minturnae and Cosa using a network approach. She argues that the terracottas resist rigid regional classification and “express a more complex message of local tradition alongside innovation, individuality together with participation” (p. 199).

The articles on Cosa present new interesting research and results of recent fieldwork, but the most important parts of the book are the articles on other Roman republican colonies in Italy where archaeological fieldwork has been undertaken in the last decades: Norba, Forum Novum, Interamna Lirenas, and Rusellae. These excavations and surveys have mostly been published in preliminary reports in Italian, but this collection of articles gives a very important overview of Roman colonization and urban development in central Italy in the Middle Republic, which seems to be a scholarly hotspot after decades of negligence. Stefania Quilici Gigli summarizes many years of excavations at Norba, which, according to the written tradition, was founded as a colony in 492 BCE and seems to have been largely abandoned after the Sullan conquest in 81 BCE.[3] The recent fieldwork has improved the understanding of the town in the Monti Lepini, where the urban grid does not follow orthogonal axes. Nevertheless, some of the public and religious areas of Norba saw a monumentalization just as it was the case in Cosa and Alba Fucens in the second century BCE.

Rusellae is another town in Central Italy where important excavations have been carried out in recent decades. The Etruscan town was conquered by Rome in 290 BCE, but no written source indicates which political status the town had before the Social War. Paolo Liverani carefully analyses the archaeological evidence and argues that the presence of a Republican basilica suggests a civic Roman administration. According to Liverani, the best explanation would be that Rusellae was a Roman colony which – like the neighbouring Heba – was founded after 167 BCE, in a period for which Livy’s work is only preserved in excerpts, the so-called periochae.

Forum Novum is a rather overlooked small municipium in the Sabine Hills near Rome, and Gary D. Farney gives a very good introduction to the town and its history. Farney, who also has been involved in the excavation of a Roman villa at Vacone by the Upper Sabina Tiberina Project,[4] shows that the density of Roman elite villas in the territory of Forum Novum is one of the highest in Italy. These villas with their absentee landowners were to a greater degree independent of the town than villas owned by locals, who formed the core of the ordo of the town. These circumstances may explain why Forum Novum never became a colony and a thriving centre or with Farney’s own words: “it was a little too close to Rome and other settlements” (p. 174).

The last recent archaeological project represented in the volume is the intensive field survey in the territory and geophysical survey of the urban area of Interamna Lirenas about 100 kilometres south of Rome conducted since 2010 by scholars from the University of Cambridge. The fieldwork also includes the excavation of the roofed theatre in Interamna Lirenas, which was founded as a Latin colony in 312 BCE. Alessandro Launaro presents a summary of the results and discusses relations between the town and its hinterland. This contribution includes a wider timespan than the other contributions as it also analyses the development during the Early Empire and Late Antiquity.

The last case-study of a Latin colony concerns Ariminum, modern Rimini, founded in 268 BCE. Ann Glennie gives a short, precise overview of the scholarship and the evidence of pre-Roman Rimini before analysing the material remains from the Latin colony which still shows many pre-Roman traces. It is, however, perhaps to overinterpret the evidence to describe Ariminum as a “unique, hybridized middle Republican Latin colony” (p. 97). The other case-studies in the volume likewise stress that these colonies integrated local traditions in different ways.

The last three contributions to this volume on Mid-republican colonial landscapes in Italy include material originating from more than one town. The point of departure for Seth Bernard’s article is a short, fragmented inscription discovered in 1950 in modern Brindisi that raises more questions than it provides answers. It is a description of the career of an anonymous individual Brundisine magistrate, who fought in the Second Punic War. Bernard offers a close reading of this remarkable elogium and its local context in the Early Empire, when it was erected because the local council apparently wanted to create a narrative about the town’s glorious past.

Allison Smith discusses the Mid-Republican bath complexes at the sites of Roman colonies such as Fregellae and, Norba and six other towns, of which several were Etruscan or Greek settlements. The survey of the architecture and plans of these complexes (see the very useful table 1, pp. 229-232) shows that also non-Roman towns in the Italian peninsula were eager to adopt the bathing culture in the third and second centuries BCE, but “that local traditions were maintained in the construction of bath complexes” (p. 221)

The last chapter functions as a kind of conclusion and epilogue. Tesse D. Stek discusses three important topics touched on by the majority of the contributions: First, the relationship between Roman colonization and urbanism; second, the resources of the colonies which Rome could use, and third, the relationships between the colonists and the locals.

The overall impression of the volume is positive. It not only presents new research on Cosa, but also contains very useful overviews in English of recent fieldwork projects in Italy, even if a few contributions seem not to have been updated since 2015. The articles are entirely in line with the renewed interest in the Mid-Republican period during which the colonies played such an important role in Rome’s expansion. The consolidated bibliography covers almost 40 pages and is an indispensable tool for the study of Mid-Republican Italy. The volume is certainly a worthy monument to the former American excavations at Cosa as well as their new beginnings.

Table of Contents

The Colonial Landscape of the Middle Republic: The State of the Question (Andrea U. De Giorgi), 1-20
Cosa: How Perfect! How Come? (Russel T. Scott), 21-29
The foedera navalia of Paestum and Cosa and the Radical Switch in Roman Colonial Policy between 273 and 268 BCE (Mario Torelli), 30-43
The Brundisium elogium (AE 1954.216) and the History of Republican Colonization (Seth Bernard), 44-66
Cosa Revealed: Augustus, a New Development, and the Shape of an “Odd Colony” (Luisa Balandat, Christian Hübner, Stefan Giese, Richard Posamentir, and Maximilian Rönnberg), 67-87
Ariminum: The Making of a Latin Colony in Northern Italy (Ann Glennie), 88-101
Between Colonial Echoes and Urban Transformations: The Case of Norba (Stefania Quilici Gigli), 102-118
Interamna Lirenas, a History of “Success”? Long-Term Trajectories across Town and Countryside (fourth century BCE to fifth Century CE) (Alessando Launaro), 119-138
Rusellae between Crisis and Revival. The Evidence for Colonial Status (Paolo Liverani), 139-158
Forum Novum and the Limits of Roman Colonization in Italy (Gary D. Farney), 159-181
Regionalism or Romanitas? Network Approaches to Architectural Terracottas at Minturnae and Cosa (Sophie Crawford-Brown), 182-203
Colonial Waters: An Examination of Bathing Culture in Mid-Republican Colonies (Allison Smith), 204-232
Rome: The Flexible Archetype? (Tesse D. Stek), 223-243

Contributors, 245-246
Bibliography, 247-285
Index, 287-296


[1] F. E. Brown 1951. Cosa I: History and Topography. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 20. Rome: American Academy in Rome.

[2] J. Collins-Clinton 2020. Cosa: The Sculpture and Furnishings in Stone and Marble. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome Suppl. 15. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

[3] Surprisingly, the bibliography does not include S. Quilici Gigli (ed.), Norba: scavi e richerche. Atalante Tematico di Topografia Antica, Supplement 20. Rome 2018: L’Erma di Bretschneider.

[4] See the contributions in C. Sfameni and M. Volpi (eds.), Oltre la villa. Ricerche nei siti archaeologici del territorio di Cottanello, Configni, Vacone e Montasola. Rome 2019: Arbor Sapientiae editore.