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Archaeology

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Print Publication Date: Jun 2010 Subject: Classical Studies, Greek and Roman Archaeology,
Ancient Roman History
Online Publication Date: Sep
2012
DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199211524.013.0006
Archaeology
Henry Hurst
The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies
Edited by Alessandro Barchiesi and Walter Scheidel
Oxford Handbooks Online
Abstract and Keywords
The idea of classifying archaeology as a tool alongside prosopography, metre, and
numismatics, while culture change, urbanism, and fall and transitions are classified under
history, is provocative to any archaeologist. Romanisation a topic that has been prominent
in the English-speaking literature of the last two decades seems to involve an implicit rather
than an explicit synthesis of archaeology and history. An archaeology of urbanism in the
Roman Empire will highlight the hugely varied nature of what we might class as Roman cities
and bring us up against problems of functional definition, and it will document the dynamism of
life in these places in all its varied forms and illuminate accompanying phenomena in vivid
detail. It will also give us images of living and dead city inhabitants and their lifestyles; it will tell
us about both poor and rich in an unstructured way. An archaeology of urbanism will
produce a great deal of information that reflects at one remove social structures and social
organisation, while yielding little statistical information which can be converted
straightforwardly into sociological data.
Keywords: Roman Empire, archaeology, history, urbanism, Romanisation, dynamism, social structures, social
organisation
ENTERING at once into the debating spirit of this volume, the idea of classifying archaeology as a
tool alongside prosopography, metre, and numismatics, while culture change, urbanism,
and fall and transitions are classified under history, is provocative to any archaeologist. The
concept of history under which the classification is made will no doubt be explained elsewhere
in this volume and I do not want to argue with that. But for this piece where we are talking
about archaeology within a historic period, working definitions of both history and
archaeology are needed. History I take to be the predominantly though not exclusively
document-based study of human endeavour in those periods for which contemporary written
information is available; and I would follow Braudel (1975) in seeing the historical process as
Archaeology
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resulting from the interaction of three major sets of influences, which he defined as: the role of
the environment; collective destinies and general trends; and events, politics, and people.
Archaeology is a different study of mankind and it has evolved modes of thought appropriate
to its data-set, which could be described as the material remains of human activity of any sort
from the appearance of the first tool-making hominid millions of years ago to the present
(Renfrew and Bahn 2000). The Roman period, as part of the short stretch of time in which
human thoughts have been recorded in writing, is little more than a lick of the eyelid in that
time-span. Not only that, but the consensus appears to be that in the most educated
populations of the High Roman empire around 90 per cent of the population was illiterate
(Harris 1989), so that even in this historic period the activities of most human beings can only
be reached through study of their material remains.
There is a fundamental methodological reality that when archaeology operates on evidence
occurring within a historical period, if it is to yield anything of value, it has to do so on its own
terms in the first instance. Even if an initial stimulus for research may come from some other
field of study, as one of the many branches of history, sociology, or anthropology,
archaeology cannot therefore be a tool of that field of study, in the sense of being a device to
throw direct light on concepts formulated in that other study. It can only directly serve
concepts formulated as a result of knowledge of the nature of its own proper field of study. An
additional, but lesser, point is that to call it a tool even in this context would be to
misrepresent it as a static device, whereas it is a form of enquiry where methods and thought
about the results of applying methods are in continuous interaction with each other and thus in
continuous development.
Saying that is absolutely not to imply that no synthesis is possible between historical and
archaeological data in an historic period, merely that this is more intellectually challenging
than seems implicit in so many publications which still appear in Roman Studies. So hard,
indeed, does the concept die that some form of unproblematized synthesis can be taken for
granted that first it seems necessary to take up space in looking negatively, as it were, at
some topics before turning the argument round to some of the positive contributions of
archaeology. There are plenty of straw men on the synthesis front, like virtually any imposition
of vnementielle history onto archaeological data ranging from emperors names used as
chronological adjectivesAugustan urbanism, Trajanic pottery, Neronian occupation, and so
onto the clustered way many chronological studies are done of sites, military and urban
especially, according to the haphazard survivals of literary references or the prestige of
names mentioned in texts: were there really so many Agricolan forts or so much urban
development under Hadrian and Septimius Severus? It is, in fact, easy enoughif one looks at
the Braudelian categorizationto say that politics, events, and people are that part of history
least easily itted to a synthesis with archaeological data, although a recent concern in
archaeological theory with agency complicates this point (to which we will return). But let us
instead look at two more complex and recently studied areas of synthesis relating to the other
two Braudelian historical categoriesdemography and Romanization.
Demography, a field in which one of the editors has made a distinguished contribution (and
takes a cautious view of a glass ceiling lying over the field as a whole: Scheidel 2001), might
be considered a classic area where archaeology could serve as a tool, for, by careful
Archaeology
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studies of buildings and sites, could we not arrive at population sizes for those categories, and
by study of the landscape could we not project those populations and their fluctuations
through regions? From the study of human skeletal remains in cemetery sites could we not
arrive at a close understanding of the composition of populations? The clear answer to all
three questions, from a host of well-meaning and diligent studies, is no (see Bintliff and
Sbonias 1999, especially the articles by Chapman and Wilkinson on general points and by
Cambi and Lo Cascio on Roman Italy). For buildings and sites, let us take the example of the
best-known Roman site, Pompeii. Probably the most widely accepted estimate of the population
of the urban area is that of 8,00010,000 suggested in 1975 by Eschebach from his analysis of
the plan of the city and followed by Jongman (1988: 10812) within a discussion where the
population of both the urban area and its territory is estimated at 37,500, based on the
estimated carrying capacity of the land (Jongman 1988: 135). Eschebach's estimate is
necessarily impressionistic, not because a third of the walled area of Pompeii remains unex-
cavated, but because it is virtually impossible to make more than guesses about the two-thirds
which have been excavated: what was in the upper storeys of buildings, how many materially
invisible or nearly-invisible inhabitants, as domestic slaves and shopkeepers sleeping on the
premises were there? How much of the time did wealthier persons and their immediate
entourages stay in their townhouses and so on? Duncan-Jones (1982: 2767) adduced
modern parallels for orders of magnitude of urban density within a discussion which has a
prevalently negative thrust about the use of archaeological evidence; Storey (1997) has used
this approach in criticizing the conventional document-based estimate of the population of
Rome as around a million (cf. Lo Cascio 2000) as being far too high; I tried a slightly different
tactic on an estimate of the population of Roman Carthage, of using the analogy of sixteenth-
century Tunis, as an adjacent capital city on a similar scale and at a comparable technological
level, albeit within a different urban culture, to argue that that city might have had a population
around the 100, 000 mark (Hurst 1993), while economic historians such as Hopkins (1983: 89)
and Harris (1993: 12) were suggesting that it might have been as much as five times that size.
For views of fluctuating regional populations based on landscape studies, one only has to look
at the (implicitly) different levels of optimism about the contribution of archaeological survey to
this between Potter's Changing Landscape of S. Etruria (1979) and the Tiber Valley Survey
volume relating to the same area (Patterson 2004). Leaving aside issues over the identification
of sites, on top of any difficulty of converting sites into people is the realization of how much
this type of landscape study is dominated by varying patterns of pottery production and
marketing (brought out especially clearly in the Ager Tarraconensis study: Carret, Keay, and
Millett, 1995). The brutal truth is that survey archaeologists mostly find pots, not people. The
most direct contribution to demography of survey archaeology has probably been to
document the appearance and disappearance of human beings from marginal landscapes,
however much the appropriately-named proxy-data have been marshalled in support of
arguments in other situations (Chapman 1999). A good sense of the vagueness we are left with
on a larger scale can be obtained by reading Millett's pages (1990: 1816) estimating the
population of Roman Britain, taking into account an overview of regional survey work, and
resulting in possibilities between 180, 000 and 290, 000 for the urban population, 50,000
200,000 for the military population and 1.8 1.2 to 4.6 2.9 million for the rural population.
The necessarily imprecise calculations leave little confidence in the overall mid-range figure
of 3.7 million, and even Millett's conclusion that the total is unlikely to have been as low as the
Archaeology
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figure estimated (of around 2 million) for the eleventh century from Domesday Book or as high
as the 56 million of some optimistic Roman estimates seems not beyond question. At this
point Hopkins's eulogy of the large-scale model is not a consolation: if we investigate the
population size of a single town in Roman Britain, or of a single province, we can be wildly
wrong. But if we are careful in our construction of a model on a large scale, with luck and good
judgement, some of our errors, and some local or temporary fluctuations, should be self
cancelling (Hopkins 2002: 193).
Cemetery archaeology, like landscape archaeology, has in the last generation blossomed to
create a world of its own, where, to the many pathological, dietary, and socio-religious
indicators revealed by the condition of bones and their disposal in graves is tentatively being
added the results of DNA analysis (cf. Pearce, Millett, and Struck 2000). Cemeteries tell us
about individuals and about individual instances of physical conditions, and they tell us in a
skewed way about the age of those buried (being accurate on the young and, though
improving, still imprecise about mature adults); potentially, familial relations and endemic
conditions of disease or nutrition can also be revealed. What is not revealed as a rule is the
makeup of whole populations, not so much for the reason that few cemeteries can be
uncovered in their entirety, though that is overwhelmingly the case, as because of the ancient
social constraints determining who ended with a formal burial in the ground (Morris 1992) or,
as Hodder (1980) illustrated long ago, whether populations were necessarily buried locally.
In these illustrations, then, it should be clear that while archaeology can produce demographic
information of all sorts, it cannot do it to what we might call a historical demographer's order. If
you want to compare, say, the documented early modern population of the Naples region with
that of ancient Campania, archaeology today gives you no better an estimate for the latter
than Beloch made 120 years ago (Beloch 1890: 457), nor does it show any sign of being able
to. If, on the other hand, you want to know when the Molise uplands or the wadi valley sides of
Tripolitania were inhabited and how, archaeology has answers, just as it can have on the
incidence of cribra orbitalia or the likelihood of familial relationships in cemetery groups.
Romanizationa topic which has been prominent in the English-speaking literature of the last
two decadesseems to involve an implicit rather than an explicit synthesis of archaeology
and history. It is the label for a concept formulated in an age of archaeological and historical
thinking very different from our ownin Francis Haverfield's lectures to Oxford University
undergraduates of the 1890s and 1900s, though as Hingley (2000, 2005) has shown,
Haverfeld drew from the earlier work of Mommsen. A lecture on this theme was published in the
Proceedings of the British Academy for 1905 under the title The Romanization of Roman
Britain, and this subsequently went through three further editions (in 1912, 1915, and 1923) as
a small, but highly influential, book. In the time since, the label Romanization has remained
while what it signifies has altered substantially. What Haverfield meant was the degree of
Roman material culture which might be manifested in a site or area, measured by
straightforward markers such as the use of Roman forms in art and architecture, the use of
Roman-style technology as wheel-turned pottery, built roads, and masonry buildings, and the
use of Roman coins and inscriptions in Latin. His main interest was to chart the varying
degrees to which this material culture was deployed in Britain. He evidently thought that those
who lived in masonry buildings of right-angled plan, bathed, and used shiny red pottery had
Archaeology
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thrown their lot in with the imperial authorities more than those who did not, and his general
view, in common with the prevailing attitude of his time, was that this would be to their
advantage. Without entering into the elaborations of this view made by leading Romano-British
archaeologists who followed him, it seems fair to identify Peter Salway's Oxford History of
Roman Britain (1981) as the last major work on Roman Britain offering a straightforward
narrative of the march of a more advanced civilization over a lesser one, with the unstated
assumption that this was, as it were, the natural order of things. A turning-point was marked by
Reece's My Roman Britain (1988), Hingley's Rural Settlement in Roman Britain (1989), and
Martin Millett's The Romanization of Britain (1990). The archaeology of Britain had to divorce
itself from history and, substantially, from Rome (Reece), Romanization in material-culture
terms could be and was actively resisted (Hingley), while for Millett there were options about
becoming Roman; local elites tended to do it in order to retain their social superiority within
the colonial society, others accepted it to a lesser or greater degree; with time, anti-Roman
tendencies arising from the nature of pre-Roman British society showed through, as for
example in the chequered history of urbanism. The changing climate of thought led to what
can be categorized as the discrepant experience approach most explicitly stated by
Mattingly (1997, 2006) but also implicit (though used to a different end) through Woolf's
Becoming Roman (1998): Roman material items could be deployed for different purposes,
including subversive ones, according to context; everywhere there were different usages;
that and the purpose of those uses is what we need to look at.
On the face of it this might seem to be a debate about interpreting material culture, and thus to
fall within the framework outlined above of archaeology serving concepts formulated as a
result of knowledge of the nature of its own proper field of study. But, especially in Hingley's
Roman Officers and English Gentlemen (2000) and his Globalizing Roman Culture (2005), or
if one looks through the pages of the published proceedings of the Theoretical Roman
Archaeology conference (TRAC) since 1990, it is clear that this is really a debate about
imperialist and post-imperial narratives and, for the books which are Britain-centredso
excepting, for example, Woolf's Becoming Roman (1998) about Gaul and Terrenato's writings
about Romanization in Italy (e.g. his Introduction to Keay and Terrenato 2001)this is not
about Roman imperialism so much as nineteenth-and twentieth-century British imperialism and
its reception: Haverfield first made the analogy, though as Hingley says (2000: 536, 1213), it
was somewhat peripheral to his main line of thought. This has been less true for the post-
imperialists. In his 1997 edited volume on Romanization, Mattingly introduces the topic by
referring explicitly to Said's well-known volume Culture and Imperialism (1993) on the British
Empire in the East. This debate in Roman Britain evokes an earlier discussion of Roman Africa,
where, in response to Broughton's The Romanization of Africa Proconsularis (1929), the
Algerian scholar Marcel Benabou published La Rsistance la romanisation de lAfrique
romaine in 1974, a decade or more after the termination of the Algerian War of Independence;
however, while that could be seen as a debate between colonizer and colonized, the British
discussion has been between colonizers and their sons or grandsons. Although the British
debate especially has widened our ways of looking at Roman material culture and in a sense
put its study into a new perspective (the African argument was more on historical matters), it
must be seen that archaeology here is being used as a tool in an agenda that essentially lies
outside it and that, as far as this is the caseas is perhaps already evidentthe debate
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seems unlikely to lead anywhere much further than it has reached at present. The central
question in Roman material culture might be thought to be not so much about different usages
in different places and times, as how it achieved the uniformity it had.
Having, then, given these two quite complex examples of archaeology being deployed, first as
a tool in a field of study where its contribution is qualified, then as ammunition in a debate
which cannot be resolved in purely archaeological terms, it is appropriate to ask what are the
particular qualities of an archaeological contribution to our image of the Roman world. The
obvious answer is that this is the only way to encounter that physical world in all its
complexity, from the remarkable art it produced to its impact on the global environment, and
the choice is almost infinite about which aspects we choose to focus on. Focusing specifically
on the archaeology/history relationship, the most important way in which the study of the
human material past gives a divergent view from any written record or account is in the
degree of change: archaeology's basic unit of study is measurable change in some form,
whether chronologically or simply as variety, and what it shows is that there was a huge
amount more of both than is ever documented. When we look at categories for which there is
both a documented and material culture manifestation, as, for example, urbanism, the
documentary aspect, through the very semantics of language, as well as for legal or other
reasons, de-emphasizes change. Thus, for example we have entities of very different
character, as between, say Cosa, a Hellenized Italian town founded in 272 BCE for a few
thousand souls engaged predominantly in managing a parcel of agricultural terrain and having
an erratic existence thereafter (Fentress 2003); Carthage, refounded in 29 BCE to be the
cultural and commercial metropolis of Africa, brandishing its Phoenician identity beneath a
stylish imperial Roman veneer, ten or more times the size of Cosa at its moment of foundation,
and growing headlong from that (Hurst 1993); and York, a civilian settlement outside the walls
of a long-standing legionary fortress in the far north of the empire, which probably received a
promotion in status at the beginning of the third century CE when the fortress was used as a
base for the Severan campaigns into Scotland (Ottaway 1999). All of these were coloniae,
they all had a constitution in which common elements were present, members of their leading
social class were probably called decuriones in all three cities, and their inhabitants all
probably thought of themselves as Romans; there were physical similarities too, in that all
three cities had a forum, temples, and rich houses and at some stage were surrounded by a
wall. There could be a narrative dwelling on the continuity of urban ideas and ideals which all
three cities shared, or another dwelling on their hugely divergent characters, contexts, and
histories. We can appreciate those city identities and histories and be prompted to think about
why they should have developed as they did only through their archaeology: rich as the
documentation for Carthage is, it gives us little more than glimpses of a few peaks in a
mountain range, while that for Cosa and York gives no sense of what these places amounted
to. Even in Rome itself, for all the weight of ancient eyewitness comments and a crushing
weight of scholarship about it, archaeology sets our understanding of the city in a completely
new dimension, essentially by showing that a great deal more happened than we would guess
from the written record but alsoof coursein bringing us into contact with a physical reality
we can hardly grasp from the written word.
An archaeology of Roman urbanism will, then, highlight the hugely varied nature of what we
Archaeology
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might class as Roman cities and bring us up against problems of functional definition, and it will
document the dynamism of life in these places in all its varied forms and illuminate
accompanying phenomena in vivid detail; it will give us images of living and dead city
inhabitants and their lifestyles; it will tell us about both poor and richin an unstructured way.
It will produce a great deal of information which reflects at one remove social structures and
organization, while yielding little statistical information which can be converted
straightforwardly into sociological data. Its challenge to any institutional account of Roman
urbanism can be summed up in one worddynamism. It reveals these social organisms in their
true state of dynamic tension, never remaining the same and all different from each other.
Perhaps a more celebrated illustration of this character of archaeological data and its impact
upon a field of study has been in the study of ancient economic mechanisms. As has often
been remarked, neither Moses Finley's famous The Ancient Economy (1973) nor the influential
writings of Keith Hopkins which followed and modified Finley's view (among which it will suffice
to cite Taxes and Trade in the Roman Empire: Hopkins 1980; see also Hopkins 2002), made
much use of archaeological data despite there being a welter of seemingly relevant
information. One consequence of the Finley study was indeed to stimulate a certain way of
processing archaeological data, particularly pottery, so as to highlight large-scale production,
markets, and long-distance trade and thereby provide material for arguing with his primitivist
view of the relative insignificance of trade and its restriction to luxuries. One might mention
particularly an Italian school of social historians/archaeologists, originally deriving from a
Marxist tradition, which devoted great energy to studying pottery production and distribution
(Giardina and Schiavone 1981), and, on a more purely archaeological and less social-
historical level, Greene's The Archaeology of the Roman Economy (1986), both aiming to
refute Finley. Greene has more recently (2007) expressed regrets that, instead of taking a
great deal of archaeological information on board, and thereby refining their arguments,
Roman economic historians mostly turned their attention away from mechanisms and towards
the study of economic institutions where archaeological data had little role to play. This is not
quite how it has appeared to me. First, although the historical debate was described as an
academic battleground by Hopkins in his introduction to the volume of Trade in the Ancient
Economy presented to Finley (Garnsey, Hopkins, and Whittaker 1983), it was one where by
that time most of the big ideas had been deployed and many participants had entrenched
themselves in well-established positions. A host of detailed historical and especially
archaeological studies seemed to show variety and contradictions of the big picture and thus
undermine such broad-brush terms as the ancient economy or the Roman economy. Within
the Roman world, it appeared that there was a myriad of economic mechanisms only pulled
together to a limited extent by the trading of a smallish surplus, say 10% of the actual gross
product The main stimuli to that trade were taxes and rents (Hopkins 2002: 2245). For all
the superficial uniformity of a single currency from Scotland to the Sahara, it was clear from
the archaeological study of lost coins that low-value coins were used in different ways in
different parts of the Roman Empire and that in some, as Britain and northern Gaul in the first
two centuries ce, they may not have been greatly used at all (Reece 1973). Even the favourite
archaeological marker of trade movementspotterysuffered a study crisis in which it was
realized that counting pot types and provenanced fabrics might not be quite as revealing
about economic mechanisms as was initially hoped, and that perhaps as large or in some
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cases a larger factor influencing which pots ended up where was cultural choice (cf. Woolf
1998: ch. 7)a phenomenon which places less of a premium on precise numbers.
The effect of all this, aided in no small way by Hopkins's forceful intervention of 1995 (reprinted
as Hopkins 2002), was to divorce the debate about overall economic models from the
accumulation and discussion of the detailed data. Hopkins argued that in a situation where the
detailed evidence is always found wanting to a greater or lesser extent while it is cumulatively
impressive, the most appropriate construct is a model accounting for as many as possible of
the disparate phenomena within a logical whole. If so, the only way to replace the model is to
construct another with a superior logic; saying that this or that piece of detailed evidence does
not agree with it was of no consequence in itself. It is a deliciously Platonic view of things, and
thus might archaeology (but not only it) appear to be tamed. A limitation of this view amounting
to a logical flaw in the model rhetoric would seem to lie in the low level of integration. If only 10
per cent of the gross product was available as a force for integration, then the model is largely
not talking about the 90 per cent not caught up in this process. An alternative framework might
seem to be offered by the distinction made between world economies and world empires in
Wallerstein's World Systems analysis: economic integration was only optional for world
empires (cf. Woolf 1990, discussing Wallerstein 1974 and 1980). At all events, debate about
the ancient economy shifted decisively from the positions of the 1980s (cf. Scheidel and von
Reden 2002 for an overview of many aspects over the following years). Archaeology's role in
this was to show that a great deal more was going on and it was more complex than when the
big arguments were formulated, but also that reading the detail was not straightforward. It did
not, then, determine the debate so much as require it to be conducted in a different form.
So far this account of archaeology has stayed close to a history-dominated framework, both in
showing where it cannot fully respond to the demands of such a framework in the terms in
which they have been set outas in the demography and Romanization examplesand in
showing where it has been able to alter the agenda, as in the urbanism and economic-history
examples. What about frameworks or modes of thought generated from prehistoric
archaeology and applied to Roman-period remains? As has been said, most of Roman
archaeology is strictly prehistory in the sense of being about people who could not write and
for the most part were not written about except at a rather schematic and distant level.
Although the more historically-minded Roman archaeologists have tended to proceed in a fair
degree of ignorance of the concerns of prehistoric archaeology, and there has been much
criticism of Roman archaeologists for being untheoretical, in reality Roman archaeology has
never had difficulty in following the lead of prehistory, even if it has often done so without the
rhetoric and sometimes with a time-lag. Thus the quantification of pottery and other artefacts
and the self-consciousness about sampling sites and landscapes developed in the 1970s and
1980s can be traced to the intellectual framework of processualism and systems analysis
which held sway in 1970s prehistory (cf. Renfrew and Bahn 2000). Post-processual prehistory
is a more diffuse set of intellectual influences, but some themes which have come to the fore
contextual archaeology, a focus on agency, phenomenologyhave obvious homes in Roman
archaeology. The problem indeed is not to be lazy about them because of recourse to the
written word.
As regards the use of prehistoric archaeological theory in Roman archaeology, there has been
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and still is a revealing divide between the English-speaking scene, where archaeology is often
taught in universities in isolation from history or other humanities studies, and the rest of
western Europe, where Roman archaeology is more closely linked with history or the wider
study of the Classics. Younger British academics have felt the need for an annual Theoretical
Roman Archaeology conference, which has met with success each year since 1990. Although
it has become a fairly broad church as regards theoretical approaches to Roman material, it
was substantially born of the desire to treat Roman archaeology more like prehistory: there is
indeed an amusing introduction by Hodder in contextual mode in the proceedings of the first
conference (Scott 1993), where he urges Roman archaeologists not to try late in the day to
apply the sweeping theoretical approaches which prehistory had just liberated itself from. One
could imagine a theoretical Roman archaeology conference in Germany, France, or Italy, but a
great deal more of the theory would be generated from historical studies. For the reason stated
above, British Roman archaeology has tended to remain more ahistorical in its terms of
reference and approaches; this has been to its advantage in making it adventurous and often
to the fore methodologically, but it has the disadvantage of tending to cause some of its
interesting findings to be isolated from historically-linked discussion and consequently from
what continues to be the mainstream of academic thought about the Roman period. An
important unifier of these divergent intellectual traditions in Roman archaeology over the last
twenty years has, however, been the Journal of Roman Archaeology, which, though having a
strong Anglo-American editorial style, has proved to be a truly international journal as regards
scholarly contributions; it has lessened the divide between anglophone and non-anglophone
Roman archaeology.
A question for the conclusion of this discussion is to what extent does or will archaeology give
us a different view of the whole Roman phenomenon? Hingley's book Globalizing Roman
Culture (2005) points towards an answer, though I would not give it quite in the same terms as
him. He goes to lengths there, as in his earlier work, to show how we have, as it were, an elitist
view of Roman culture, focusing in an unbalanced way on the rich and powerful and on their
engagement with the most visible forms of Roman cultureas towns, villas, and large
monumentsand that we have developed a circular form of argumentation in labelling
anything uniform and widespread in the Roman world like certain types of pottery Roman,
even though there may be no independent justification for that. Further, we are motivated as
westerners to continue to see the imposition of order by Roman civilization as far-reaching and
beneficial in the way we like to believe that our recent western history is of central importance
and, on balance, beneficial within the world of today. Yet when we look at the archaeology of
the less powerful in the Roman world we find that towns and villas are in a distinct minority as
types of site, and that the classic forms of Roman material culture, as art, coins, and those
types of pottery thought to be Roman, are in a minority in the totality of what was called the
Roman world. Our view is therefore unbalanced and, if we did more of this type of
archaeology, and steered historical and archaeological study towards some of the more
unpleasing aspects of the imposition of Roman rule, we couldin effectend up with a less
Romanocentric view of the Roman world.
While making good points about material culture in Roman times, this view seems to me to be
too caught up in what might be called the postcolonial angst of the Romanization discussion.
Archaeology
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Hingley (2005: 11718) seems too ready to be dismissive of a view he cites of Woolf, who is in
effect developing Hopkins's exposition in Conquerors and Slaves (1978), of Rome as an
organism that metabolizes other matter and is itself transformed by what it feeds on (Woolf
1997: 347, cited by Hingley 2005: 47). This, it seems to me, is the most satisfying explanation
of the discrepant experience approach discussed above, since, unlike the other explanations
which tend to dwell simply on difference and un- or anti-Romanness, this one explains how
Roman material culture could function in a given context according to the rules of that context,
yet at the same time that experience would feed back into a higher sense of Romanness. For
example, Woolf shows in Becoming Roman (1998) that the use of terra sigillata pottery made
in Gaul with a repertoire of classical imagery may have been characteristic of un-Roman
peoples towards the outer edges of the empire. What motivation these peoples used the
pottery with is neither here nor there; the one effect of using it about which it is possible to be
confident is that familiarity with this visual imagery created a shared cultural element between
these people and the inhabitants of the city of Rome. The large question is how far this
percolated through the populations of the Roman world, and here one is tempted to see an
analogy with Hopkins's model of the Roman economy, in which only a small proportion of
Gross Product moved around as rents and taxes to establish a Roman economy. One might
say that only a correspondingly small proportion of the gross cultural product had to move
around to establish a Roman culture. Even if we can be clear in understanding that both in
the socio-economic and the socio-cultural spheres these Roman elements were absolute
minorities of the whole, they were enough to establish the distinctive Romanness of the world
to which they belonged. The development of more archaeology focused regionally will enable
us to understand better both the metabolizing process in its many manifestations and its place
within the world to which it belongs.
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