BMCR 2024.05.27

The rise of early Rome: transportation networks and domination in central Italy, 1050-500 BC

, The rise of early Rome: transportation networks and domination in central Italy, 1050-500 BC. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2023. Pp. 350. ISBN 9781316516805.



There has been a notable surge in archaeological network research over recent decades. The increased accessibility of extensive research databases, along with advancements in computer science, has catalyzed a renewed interest in investigating archaeological networks. Francesca Fulminante contributes to this burgeoning field in her new book that examines urbanism in central Italy during the first half of the first millennium BC through a network approach.

Building on the work of her previous book, which argued that urbanization in middle Tyrrhenian Italy was catalyzed by local reciprocal actions,[1] Fulminante continues to look for factors that contributed to Rome’s predominance in central Italy. In the introduction, she asks the main research question of the book: “Why Rome and not Veii?” (p. 2). According to Fulminante, the answer is to be found in the transportation infrastructure. Thus, the book, which consists of seven chapters and a short conclusion, aims to elucidate the rise of Rome by examining and comparing fluvial and terrestrial routes in southern Etruria and Latium Vetus from the Final Bronze Age (1175–925 BC) to the Archaic Period (580–500 BC).

Chapter 1 begins by defining urbanization, referencing Arjan Zuiderhoek’s recent work that identifies common characteristics in ancient and modern cities.[2] These shared traits include size, density, rural relationships, and various aspects of political, social, economic, and religious organizations. Fulminante delves into a comprehensive review of recent scholarship on urbanization processes during the Early Iron Age in central Italy covering diverse facets, such as settlement dynamics, social hierarchy, craft specialization, staple economy, religious influence, and ethnic identity. Fulminante posits an “endogenous” perspective, emphasizing autochthonous impulses and local development in middle Tyrrhenian Italy from 1000 to 500 BC. This view serves as a foundational theme for the book.

Chapter 2 provides an informative introduction to network applications in archaeology. Fulminante meticulously reviews the research history of network science within the discipline, drawing attention to the dual role of the network approach as both metaphor and tool. Fulminante emphasizes the latter, as actor-network theory provides the theoretical background of the book. She sees the network approach as instrumental for re-evaluating urbanization processes in the Mediterranean during the first millennium BC: “Cities and urban societies did not develop in the Mediterranean as a cascade process but were involved in a long-distance network of trade and contacts across the whole Mediterranean basin that created fruitful development of reciprocal catalysing interactions” (p. 34).[3]

In alignment with the preceding chapter, Chapter 3 delineates the sources of data and methodology employed in the study. The methodological tools comprise network science and geographical information systems (GIS), specifically applied to transportation networks within Latium Vetus and southern Etruria. The study draws on an extensive dataset encompassing settlements from the end of the Bronze Age to the end of the Archaic period. This knowledge of settlements emanates from numerous national and international excavations and survey initiatives conducted in the region over recent years. Meanwhile, the terrestrial and fluvial routes connecting the settlements are the outcome of schematic reconstructions and are translated into graphs suitable for statistical analysis. In the context of a network analogy, the settlements are the nodes, while the terrestrial and fluvial routes function as the edges between them, as they are the product of interactions.[4]

Network analysis in archaeology encompasses various types of networks, such as spatial, social, and material culture networks. The emphasis of this book, however, lies in the realm of the spatial, with a specific focus on spatial relationships between archaeological sites. In chapters 4–7, constituting the core chapters of the study, Fulminante applies a range of network analysis techniques, including various analysis indices, multiscale approaches, and modeling, to terrestrial and fluvial network systems in Latium Vetus and southern Etruria from the Final Bronze Age to the Archaic period, aiming to compare the two regions.

In Chapter 4, Fulminante applies centrality indices, such as degree, closeness, and betweenness centrality, to the transportation networks in the two regions. Using settlement size as a proxy for the central areas in the regions, Fulminante concludes that both Etruria and Latium Vetus enjoyed easy access to information and goods. However, Latium Vetus had better control over the flow of information and was better connected to the other settlements than Etruria was. The analysis of the centrality measures yields intriguing findings, notably that the Bronze Age features heightened relevance for fluvial routes compared with subsequent periods, when terrestrial routes assume greater prominence, implying that land transport played a pivotal role in shaping the development of Latin and Etruscan proto-urban centers and cities.

In Chapter 5 efficiency indices are applied to the transportation routes in southern Etruria and Latium Vetus to assess the efficiency and functionality of the infrastructural systems. In this short chapter, Fulminante argues that Latium Vetus is more compact and well-connected than Etruria, making it more flexible and efficient. Seemingly, this also explains why “Latium vetus in the end prevailed over a larger but less efficient Etruria” (p. 93).

Chapter 6 presents a multiscale examination of transportation routes in Etruria and Latium through the use of a least-cost path analysis. The chapter presents preliminary yet noteworthy analyses, delineating “the least cost-paths between all neighbouring sites not in linear distance but in cost of travel” (p. 98). This approach, which incorporates considerations of terrain difficulty, underscores the nuanced nature of settlement interaction, challenging the initial thought that a site’s closest neighbor in linear distance necessarily equates to its first connection. This discussion resembles the significant observations of the environmental variables introduced by Cyprian Broodbank in the context of maritime networks among the Cycladic Islands during the Early Bronze Age.[5]

In Chapter 7 modeling is applied to hypothetical terrestrial infrastructure networks based on later roads to explore their creation and maintenance. Fulminante constructs three theoretical models, corresponding to different hypotheses about the dominant mechanism underlying the creation of new connections, in order to replicate the characteristic features of route networks. The modeling results suggest that a collaborative and balanced decision-making process shaped the route network in Etruria, whereas slightly unbalanced dynamics of power characterized the route network of Latium Vetus, with Rome emerging as a dominant center.

Four ample appendices with data, mathematical explanations and calculations accompany the analyses evaluated in the final chapters.

In addressing the central inquiry articulated in the introduction—why Rome and not Veii?—Fulminante provides a conclusive response at the end of the book. The author posits that Rome’s advantageous position within Latium Vetus, coupled with specific dynamics and relationships with other regional polities, is a pivotal factor in its success. This fortuitous placement, according to Fulminante, explains why Rome ultimately prevailed over Veii. Given that this is the main research question of the book, the absence of an elaboration on the traditional notion, primarily rooted in ancient literary sources, of Rome and Veii as arch rivals appears puzzling. Moreover, the methodology makes the conclusions vulnerable to reductionism. The overreliance on quantitative data and deterministic models runs the risk of oversimplifying the complex phenomenon of Rome’s ascendancy in ancient Italy. Although the geographical context undoubtedly played a pivotal role, reducing the narrative to this singular factor neglects the nuanced interplay of other contributing elements, such as military prowess, political and administrative organization, other kinds of infrastructure, and economic dynamics.

Within the framework of network analysis, transportation routes offer a fruitful terrain for investigation, offering data that can be effectively translated into graphs suitable for quantitative and statistical examination. The network analyses reveal two key findings. First, during the Bronze Age, fluvial routes played a pivotal role in intercommunal interaction and settlement location, in contrast with terrestrial routes in the subsequent Early Iron Age and later periods, which were more important in shaping proto-urban centers and later Archaic cities. Second, Latium Vetus is shown as a compact and highly connected region with a robust hierarchical structure, providing a strategic advantage over the larger yet more heterarchical Etruria. Nevertheless, the reliability of the derived network analysis results is contingent upon the quality of the integrated data. Notably, the available evidence concerning transportation infrastructure in Etruria and Latium Vetus during this period is limited. In recognition of the scarcity of archaeological data, the study attempts to compensate for this limitation by including some sites identified solely on a few sherds or literary sources. Additionally, the uneven extent of archaeological investigation in the two regions introduces a comparative complication.

Concerning production quality, the book demonstrates a commendable standard. The hardcover is aesthetically pleasing, and the inclusion of graphs and tables enhances the overall utility of the content. The GIS and network data are accessible online, facilitating the reproduction of the analyses. However, a more careful selection of essential graphs could have been advantageous, particularly given that a substantial portion of the book is dedicated to appendices. Additionally, grayscale graphs pose a challenge, as distinguishing between different shades proves to be difficult.

These critical observations notwithstanding, it is imperative to underscore the significance of Fulminante’s scholarly endeavor. The book combines the insights of the author’s previous work with innovative methodologies to investigate the early development of Etruria and Latium Vetus, thereby contributing to the scholarly discourse on central Italy. Over the last decade, a growing body of literature, predominantly grounded in archaeological evidence, has introduced novel perspectives on connectivity and cultural exchange, which has enriched the understanding of Early Rome and pre-Roman Italy.[6]



[1] Fulminante, F. 2014. The Urbanization of Rome and Latium Vetus: From the Bronze Age to the Archaic Era, Cambridge.

[2] Zuiderhoek, A. 2016. The Ancient City, Cambridge.

[3] This perspective finds inspiration in Malkin, I. 2011. A Small Greek World: Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean, Oxford.

[4] For a comprehensive and up-to-date introduction to network science within the discipline of archaeology, see Brughmans, T. and M. A. Peeples. 2023. Network Science in Archaeology, Cambridge.

[5] Broodbank, C. 2000. An Island Archaeology of the Early Cyclades, Cambridge.

[6] See for example Bradley, G. J. 2020. Early Rome to 290: The Beginnings of the City and the Rise of the Republic, Edinburgh; Cifani, G. 2020. The Origins of the Roman Economy: From the Iron Age to the Early Republic in a Mediterranean Perspective, Cambridge; Potts, C. R. 2022. Architecture in Ancient Central Italy: Connections in Etruscan and Early Roman Building, Cambridge.