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Review of Bowman and Wilson's Settlement, Urbanization, and Population

Review of Bowman and Wilson's Settlement, Urbanization, and Population

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Published by billcaraher
This is a book review of:

Bowman, Alan, and Andrew Wilson, eds. Settlement, Urbanization, and Population (Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy). Pp. xx + 362, figs. 79, tables 54. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011. $135. ISBN 978-0-19-960235-8 (cloth).
This is a book review of:

Bowman, Alan, and Andrew Wilson, eds. Settlement, Urbanization, and Population (Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy). Pp. xx + 362, figs. 79, tables 54. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011. $135. ISBN 978-0-19-960235-8 (cloth).

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Published by: billcaraher on Aug 15, 2012
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Bowman, Alan, and Andrew Wilson, eds.
Settlement, Urbanization, and Population
(OxfordStudies on the Roman Economy). Pp. xx + 362, figs. 79, tables 54. Oxford University Press,Oxford 2011. $135. ISBN 978-0-19-960235-8 (cloth).Historians and archaeologists of the Greece and Rome have long recognized the relationshipbetween population and the ancient economy. Karl Julius Beloch's 19
-century efforts toestimate population of the Roman world have continued to stimulate debate (
    
  
[Leipzig 1886]). Over the course of this debate, scholars havetended to accept either "low" or "high" population estimates for Augustan Italy
6-7 million and12-14 million respectively
which they have then extrapolated to the entire Roman Empire.These positions have specific, complex consequences for how historians and archaeologistsunderstand the Roman economy, urbanization, and ultimately social and political organization.Alan Bowman and Andrew Wilson's
Settlement, Urbanization, and Population
contributes tothese conversations by bringing to bear recent archaeological research across the Mediterraneanbasin. It is the second volume produced by a research program called
The Economy of the Roman Empire: Integration, Growth, and Decline
funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Councilin the U.K. The first volume, titled
Quantifying the Roman Economy: Methods and Problems
(Alan K. Bowman, Andrew Wilson eds. [Oxford 2009]), considered the potential of quantitativemethods for shedding light on the Roman trade, demography, and settlement. This secondvolume continues in this vein by applying quantitative methods to archaeological data in order tocritique long standing arguments on population and settlement organization.The book is divided into two sections with the first section being more explicitly methodologicaland the second being more oriented toward specific regions and projects. The first fourcontributions examine the role of various forms of regional survey in providing evidence fordemographic change in the Roman world. Regional survey with its emphasis on documentingsites of all kinds in both urban and rural areas and it use of the intensive pedestrian method toproduce robust datasets on a large scale has long held the potential for expanding settlementpatterns beyond the limited perspectives offered by excavation. This new and growing data set,however, requires particularly critical reading. The contributions by S. Price, R. Witcher, D.Mattingly, and P. Attema and T. de Haas emphasized the methodological challenges of using thisdata to estimate regional and Mediterranean wide population figures from survey data. S. Price'smethodological consideration of Greek population demonstrated the value of groundingestimates in evidence from well-preserved excavated Classical and Hellenistic sites like Halieisand Olynthus and, then, applied these to results from intensive survey on Crete. This work on theGreek world formed a point of comparison for considering the more lacunous evidence forRoman settlement and demography. R. Witcher's contribution considers the tricky issue of siterecovery rates which depend upon a range of variables from artifact identification, long-termtaphonomic processes, ancient habitation practices, and modern land use. Variability in siterecovery rates across the Mediterranean basin
has muddied archaeologists’ ability to document
ancient settlement patterns consistently and introduces significant uncertainty to the very data
used to produce population estimates. D. Mattingly
’s contribution
offers a striking testimony tothis issue when he notes that exceedingly high surface visibility and site preservation present inarid zone surveys in North Africa regularly produce higher site densities than surveys in moretemperate regions of the Mediterranean like Greece and Italy. While this might suggestdifferences in settlement practice, it seems more likely to hint at the limitations of site recoveryin many more temperate areas of the Mediterranean basin. Attema and de Haas draw sought tomitigate against this issue by drawing upon a range of data collected through a variety of surveyand excavation projects to reconstruct settlement on the Pontine plain south of Rome. Theyidentified a number of different settlement types in the region ranging from isolated farms to
villae maratimae
, and villages. They then considered the potential population of each of these sites and used this to model the population of the region. Like many authors in the volumethey present a range of population estimates contingent on variables ranging from the averagesize of household and site recovery rates. At times, the authors' willingness to enumerate thenumber of significant variables that remain disputed among survey archaeologists, such as thoserelated to site recovery rates and household size, obscured the potential of these methodologicalexercises to produce widely accepted conclusions.The second group of six contributions takes these methodological discussions and applies themto the understanding the complex relationship between population and urbanization across theMediterranean. These chapters seek to use quantitative methods to advance the long-standingdebates concerning the size and significance of urban populations. The size of the population atboth major cities like Rome and the numerous smaller cities of the Mediterranean and the role of these cities in the Roman economy remain topics of intense debate and significant uncertainty.As a result, the overarching tone of this section is that of caution.Two articles offer some general perspectives on population and urbanism. The first chapter inthis section by N. Morley's introduces a vocabulary from sociologist P. Abrams who sawurbanization as an ongoing process of concentration, crystallization, integration anddifferentiation. While this model does not necessary illuminate specific causes for change, itprovides a technical vocabulary to understand urbanism in a comparative context.Unfortunately, the other authors in this section did not carry this vocabulary through their work.In a similarly general vein, A. Wilson's article offers an overview of the population of the RomanEmpire. His figures tend to conform to the low count of the population of the Roman Empire, buthe cautions that lower population figures imply higher levels of urbanization and a more efficienteconomy.The other contributions focus on individual regions. Articles by A. Marzano and J. W. Hansonuse "rank-size analysis", central place theory, and Zipf's law to consider the relationship betweenthe physical size of the city - which served as an analog for population - and economicintegration of a particular region. When applied to population distribution, Zipf's Law postulatesa knowable relationship between population size and settlement patterns by arguing that in astandard series, the population of a city is inversely proportional to its rank. Since the density of 
ancient populations in urban sites is difficult to determine, Marzano proposed that site size inBritain and the Iberian Peninsula provide a useful indicator of population with the assumptionthat population density was more or less consistent across settlements in a region. The imperfectfit between the number of settlements of a particular size and the distribution predicted by Zipf'sLaw reveals either problems with the data set or, more helpfully for historical analysis,understandable patterns in the organization of local settlement. In the case of the Iberianpeninsula, for example, the convexity of the distribution of cities in relation to the linearrelationship proposed by Zipf's Law suggests a regional settlement systems with far lesseconomic integration. Hanson's contribution on Asia Minor offered a more nuanced and complexperspective on urbanization. He considered the topographic context of cities in this denselyurbanized Roman province as well as the location of roads and other transportation routes whileoffering a useful corrective on the sometimes exaggerated size of cities in Roman Asia Minor. Asimilar level of regional scrutiny appeared in A. Bowman's systematic consideration of the rangeof papyrological and archaeological evidence available for Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt whichhe argued could provide useful insights for demography across the Mediterranean as a wholedespite the unique economy and geography of the Nile. S. Keay and G. Earl's integratedepigraphic and landscape data to produce a detailed study of a sub-region in Roman Baetica.
Keay and Earl’s project as well as Hanson’s work in Asia Minor rev
eals the growingsignificance of Geographic Information Systems technologies placing more traditional forms of archaeological data
such as inscriptions of known provenience
into more complextopographic, geographical, and spatial contexts.While few of the essays in this volume present definitive conclusions to complex issuessurrounding population, the economy, and urbanism in the Roman period, they do provide adistinct perspective on the study of ancient demography and economy. In general, thecontributors shared a general reluctance to engage too fully with comparative data from pre-modern contexts
such as Medieval or Ottoman census data
and this marks a departure fromrecent scholarship in the Eastern Mediterranean which has often seen this kind of data as offeringimportant clues to long term or systemic pre-modern demographic trends. Moreover, it isstriking that the contributors to this volume generally avoided engaging recent debatessurrounding siteless or artifact level survey among practitioners of intentional pedestrian surveyin Greece. These debates have focused on the ontological instability of sites as historical andarchaeological realities in the landscape and would add an additional level of complication tomany of these articles in the first half of the volume. The complexity of siteless survey evidence,particularly from so-
called “second wave” surveys in Greece and the Cyprus was generally
overlooked in these studies, despite the unprecedented quality of this data.The appeal to quantitative data and methods makes this volume a natural complement to therecent resurgence of quantitative research on the ancient economy typified by works like W.
Sheidel, I. Morris, and R. Sallers’
Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World 
 (Cambridge 2007). As the editors themselves admit in the introduction, there will always be

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