Roman Countryside

Annalisa Marzano

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online September 2014 | | DOI:
Roman Countryside

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It is challenging to talk of a “Roman countryside” as if it were one homogeneous feature characterizing the wide geographical span of the Roman world. There are key elements that can be taken as being representative of the Roman countryside, for instance villas, land centuriation, and the road network, but the ancient countryside was much more varied than this and there was considerable regional diversity. The villa “system,” for instance, did not equally spread in every corner of the empire, and pastoralism, extraction activities, and manufacturing were all features of the Roman countryside alongside agricultural practices. The prevalence of one activity and mode of settlement over another was determined by regional topography, the natural resources available, the degree of urbanization, the role a region had in the overall administrative organization of the empire (for instance, whether taxation was extracted in kind), and its geographic position. Many important debates have unfolded around the Roman countryside: size of rural population and proportion of rural versus urban dwellers; type of settlements and the extent of continuity or disruption between Roman and pre-Roman periods (e.g., fortified hilltop villages versus farms and villas); type of land tenure, management, and labor; type of agricultural production and to what extent the ancient city lived “parasitically” exploiting the countryside; the list could go on. When discussing the Roman countryside it is obvious to start from Italy, and more precisely central Italy, the heart of Rome’s civilization, but it is necessary to distinguish between the elements and phases which constituted the “real” Roman countryside and the “idea” of a Roman countryside at home, and the processes in action in the provinces once Rome started to expand outside the Italian peninsula. Phenomena for a long time connected, in a more or less linear fashion, to the stages of Rome’s military expansion in the Italian peninsula, such as the appearance of farms and villas in central Italy, seem in fact to have been overarching phenomena disentangled from Rome’s annexation, since farms appeared at about the same time also in regions not yet conquered by Rome. But when considering provincial annexation in the late Republican and early imperial periods, land divisions and the appearance of farms largely producing surplus wine and olive oil are phenomena clearly observable in the archaeological record in regions such as Gallia, Baetica, and Tarraconensis. The incorporation into Rome’s empire here gave start to significant changes in the appearance of the countryside. The following sections aim at capturing the complexity of the Roman countryside and its regional diversity, while stressing those features that one would immediately associate with the idea of the Roman countryside. The approach taken in this bibliographical essay is to explore the ancient countryside mainly through the lens of archaeology. (Please see other related Oxford Bibliographies articles: Roman Archaeology, Roman Economy, etc.)

Article.  16143 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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