With this post a new blog is launched. It accompanies my research project to create an analytical database and a GIS (Geographic Information System) of all the archaeological sites of ancient towns and so-called proto-urban centres on the Italian peninsula (south of the Po River) as existed at some point between 350 BC and AD 300. The sites included in the database are those that have been published somewhere, are at least 2 hectares in size, and not described as either ‘rural’ (e.g. village) or as a minor road-station. What I am trying to capture are ‘higher-order settlements’, meaning those that once administered a territory of some kind. Currently, the database contains 599 sites.
One of the major problems with studying such sites in Italy is that there are just so many of them, and new ones continue to be discovered! This is why they tend to be studied on a site-specific or regional basis. As a result, no overview exists for whole peninsula. The intention with the database is to fill this void. It will be a research tool available for all, as it will be made freely available online in 2015.
The database has been constructed to answer specific research questions. I want to find out what impact the Roman conquest of Italy and subsequent major events had on settlements existing at the time. How many survived and why? It also provides the chance to compare regional settlement patterns and their trajectories over time. Our perception of the period is dominated by the surviving historical narratives of Titus Livius and other Roman writers. The database has the potential to identify historical processes not mentioned in these works. For example I have been able to establish that by far the most successful period for peninsular settlements, at least in terms of the number of sites occupied and the investment in major infrastructure projects, such as building city walls, curiously coincided exactly with the Roman conquest: the second half of the 4th century BC. In its extent it was limited largely to central-western and southern Italy, including areas supposedly impacted by the conquest but also those for which there is no indication of Roman activity.
Over the coming weeks, as well as providing more information on the project, I will introduce some of the archaeological gems I have found during the course of the research conducted. There is a staggering variety of settlement sites in Italy. If you have had any encounters yourself, please feel free to share your experiences here.