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Level 5

5AACAR18 Romans and barbarians: cities in the Roman Mediterranean

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Dr John Pearce
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list  for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x essay of 2,500 words (60%); 2 x commentary of 750 words, (40%, with each commentary worth 20%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The Roman empire provides a case study in the archaeology of oppression and opportunity and is a critical formative period in the history of the Mediterranean basin. This module investigates the empire’s impact on the societies, cultures and economies of the Mediterranean world, especially its western half (Italy, North Africa, Gaul, Iberia). The main period of focus dates from c. 250 BC to AD 300. The module considers how Rome exploited the areas it conquered by direct and indirect means and how far Roman culture was adopted, resisted or adapted. It explores how diverse ‘barbarians’ from different regions became Roman, including both indigenous societies and the populations of the Greek and Punic foundations scattered among them. It is organised around the key building block of the Mediterranean Roman world, the city state; the first part of the module studies its urban centres and the second part their hinterlands and the connections between them.

This course combines close study of individual pieces of archaeological evidence with examination of political, social, cultural and economic changes. It requires students to consider the respective contributions of archaeological and visual evidence, inscriptions, artefacts and environmental evidence, as well as texts. Here the module draws on the extensive relevant evidence available in the British Museum. It builds on students’ understanding of Roman material and visual culture and of the relevant historical context established by the first year core modules in the art and archaeology and history of the Roman world.

Provisional teaching plan

1A Introduction

1B The Roman empire in the ancient Mediterranean

A Introduction to course aims, organisation, resources, assessment

B An assessment of the evidence for the Mediterranean societies (social structures, economic base, cultural and environmental context) which became part of the Roman empire in the later first millennium BC, and of the process of conquest.

2 The foundations of ‘civilisation’: creating Roman towns

An assessment of the evidence for urbanisation. This includes study both of the direct impact of colonization, the forced settlement of Roman veterans on expropriated land, and of the indirect impact of Roman rule on longer-term urban development in the Mediterranean. The form of the city, its plan and buildings are considered as evidence for cultural identity.

3 Monuments, power and culture in Roman towns

An assessment of the evidence for the public spaces of Roman towns. It considers how far these public spaces, such as forums, temples, baths and spectacle monuments reflected Roman values and practices and how far indigenous characteristics were retained. It uses the evidence of inscriptions in particular to determine who benefited from conquest and prospered under Roman rule.

4 Consuming Rome: status, luxury and identity

An assessment of the evidence for housing in Roman towns. Differences of size and form in housing is considered to interpret urban social hierarchies. How the house was used, through its form and decoration and associated material culture, to make statements about the occupant’s social status and cultural affinities, as well as to structure gender relations, will also be studied..

5 ‘A mirror of the living’? Streets of tombs

An assessment of the evidence from the cemeteries of Roman towns. Variation in burial treatment is examined, studying monuments and rituals, to shed light on social hierarchies and cultural affinities. How tombs were commissioned to represent the social and cultural aspirations of both elites and marginal groups will be a particular focus.

6 The city as parasite or producer?

An assessment of the evidence for economic activity in Roman towns. The degree to which towns were ‘parasitic’ on wealth produced in the countryside or generated income through the production of goods and the provision of services is discussed. Particular emphasis is given to considering how economic insights can be derived from archaeological data.

7 Urban territories and an infrastructure of control

An assessment of evidence for the exploitation of the countryside and its population. It explores the impact of colonisation in Mediterranean landscapes, including genocide and displacement, as well as the marking of landscapes through land division and road networks to expropriate and control. Using evidence of field survey it considers the impact of Roman intervention on longer term demographic processes in a countryside that was often intensively settled before Roman conquest.

8 Fruits of victory: farming (and fishing) the empire

An assessment of the evidence for farming in the Mediterranean provinces. It explores the economic and dietary importance of the Mediterranean triad, olive, wine and wheat and how animals from land and sea were exploited. It considers the evidence for farming within the broader economy, including the evidence for market economies, specialisations and the exploitation of provincial agriculture to provision Rome and the army.

9 Country life: potentates and peasants

An assessment of the evidence for housing and funerary evidence in the Roman countryside. As for towns, the variability in domestic space and burial practice will be examined to interpret social hierarchies and inequalities in the countryside. Again too the form and decoration of home and tomb allow consideration of how far Roman culture was adopted in the countryside.

10 Things fall apart? Cities in the 3rd century AD

An assessment of the evidence for the impact on provincial life of barbarian invasion and political instability in the 3rd century AD. Through an assessment of public and private building in particular, the character of urban life will be compared with that of previous centuries to explore how far their elites continued to invest in the fabric of the city and how their priorities for building reveal changes in urban ideologies and economic availability.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Abulafia, D. 2003. The Mediterranean in history,London : Thames & Hudson [papers by Abulafia, Rackman, Rickman]

  • Abulafia, D. 2011. The Great Sea. A human history of the Mediterranean,London : Allen Lane

  • Alcock, S. and Osborne, A. eds 2007. Classical Archaeology, Oxford: Blackwell

  • *Blagg, T. and Millett, M. (eds) 1990. (repr. 2002). The Early Roman Empire in the West, Oxford: Oxbow (see esp. article by Millett)

  • Boatwright, M. et al. 2004. The Romans. From Village to Empire, Oxford: OUP

  • Cornell, T. and Matthews, J. 1982. Atlas of the Roman world (Oxford, 1982)

  • Hingley, R. ed. 2001. Images of Rome. Perceptions of ancient Rome in Europe and the United States in the modern age, JRA Supp. Series 44, Portsmouth, R.I.: JRA

  • Hingley, R. 2005. Globalizing Roman Culture: Unity, diversity and empire, London: Routledge

  • Horden, P. and Purcell, N. 1999. The Corrupting Sea, Oxford: Blackwell

  • Huskinson, J. (ed), 2000. Experiencing Rome, London: Open University

  • Keay, S. and Terrenato, N. (eds) 2001. Italy and the West. Comparative Issues in Romanization, Oxford: Oxbow

  • *Laurence, R. et al. 2011. The City in the Roman West, c. 250 BC to AD 250, Cambridge: CUP

  • MacMullen, R. 2001. Romanization in the Time of Augustus, Newhaven / London: Yale UP

  • Mattingly, D. J. (ed.). 1997. Dialogues in Roman Imperialism: Power, Discourse and Discrepant Experience in the Roman Empire, JRA Supplementary Series, 27, Portsmouth, R.I.: JRA

  • Mattingly, D. J. 2011. Imperialism, Power and Identity Experiencing the Roman Empire. Princeton University Press.

  • Shaw, B.D. 2001. ‘Challenging Braudel: A new vision of the Mediterranean’, JRA 14 419-53.

  • Scheidel, W., Morris, I. and Saller, R. eds 2007. The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World, Cambridge: CUP (parts VI and VII)

  • Terrenato, N. 1998. ‘The Romanisation of Italy; global acculturation or cultural bricolage’, in C. Forcey et al.7th Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Oxford: Oxbow, 20-27

  • Wacher, J. S. ed, 1987. The Roman World (2 vols), London: Routledge

  • *Webster, J. 2001. ‘Creolizing the Roman provinces’, American Journal of Archaeology105, 209-25

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