Seeking the impact of the Roman conquest

One of the big changes in the pattern of major settlements across the Italian peninsula is apparent from the 4th to the 3rd centuries BC. The project has documented 84 fortified settlements of at least 2 ha in size, founded either in the 4th century BC or at a point between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC that were located in highly defensible locations on hilltops and which did not go on to become Roman towns. Only three such sites appear to have been founded during the course of the 3rd century BC, and the basis for the dating of two of them is questionable. What brought about this change?

It is tempting to see the consequences of the Roman conquest as being somehow directly or indirectly related. Based on information from ancient literary sources, most of the work undertaken by the Romans to secure military and political domination over the peninsula occurred during the years 343 to 266/265 BC. Based on this chronology, the construction of new fortified sites in each region generally seems to have stopped after it was subjugated by Rome. Yet the evidence that Rome was responsible for this change is merely circumstantial. Although the Romans directly appropriated some land from Italy’s peoples for various purposes, prior to the 1st century BC it is believed that most of the peninsula’s surviving communities were only bound to Rome by way of a treaty (foedus). Rome manifests itself as the dominant partner in these treaties because, through them, subject communities were legally obliged to provide troops to fight alongside Rome’s legions. Because very little is known about the remaining content of the treaties, we have no details on how or whether Rome might have limited the independence of subject communities in other ways. Although it is understandable why Rome would have wanted to stop newly subjugated communities constructing new fortified settlements, there is no direct ancient textual evidence that Rome did or could have. Moreover, the archaeological record in many of the peninsular regions does not reveal much sign of dramatic cultural change in the immediate wake of the conquest.

The result of all this is an intriguing puzzle. Based on the stark reduction in the number of new sites being founded in the peninsula’s regions, the conquest appears to have had an impact. Yet knowledge is lacking on the processes by which such change was brought about, to such an extent that responsibility for it cannot be pinned on the Romans with any certainty.

The old adage ‘the exception proves the rule’ is relevant in this case. One of the sites that might date to the 3rd century BC is La Romana di Castelromano, a very large Samnite fortress of c.56 ha, in the region of Molise, although Archaic pottery has been found there as well. Another is found in Etruria: Piazza di Siena near Petroio. The walls of Piazza di Siena enclosed an area of c.3.8 ha and have been dated to the 3rd century based on stratigraphic excavations undertaken there by the local archaeological superintendency in the 1990s. As can be seen from the photo, a limestone quarry has subsequently caused much destruction of the archaeological area, highlighting one of the many modern threats ancient sites are subject to.

The site of Piazza di Siena in norther Etruria

The site of Piazza di Siena in norther Etruria



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