Fora, stationes, and sanctuaries: the role of minor centers in the economy of Roman Central Italy

This five year research project (2011-2016), co-financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Groningen Institute of Archaeology (GIA, University of Groningen), aims to investigate the role of minor central places in the economy of Roman Central Italy. Current models of the Roman economy focus almost exclusively on regional and interregional exchange and have a strong bias towards urban centers. However, ethnographic and historical comparative studies suggest that rural economies in complex pre-industrial societies were not necessarily based on relations between rural sites and urban centers only: many goods and services were produced and exchanged within rural areas, and rural central places (such as fora, stationes and rural sanctuaries) provided the locus where much of this exchange took place.[1]


The Pontine region with the three case study areas

The core of the project is formed by field research on three such rural central places: the sites of Astura, Forum Appii and Ad Medias, all situated in the Pontine region (Lazio, Italy). These sites and their respective hinterlands will be investigated through field surveying, geophysical prospection and targeted excavations, focusing on the material evidence (predominantly pottery) for economic interaction and exchange. The artifacts collected during the fieldwork are used to map distribution patterns of both imported and locally produced pottery and changes therein over time.Emphasis will be placed on the study of locally and regionally produced (coarse) wares, using mineralogical and chemical analysis of pottery samples and comparing these with existing data from known production sites in Central Italy and from production sites mapped in the course of the project itself. The outcomes of these studies will be used for an analysis of the mechanisms of production and distribution of both imported and locally produced pottery and by extension to assess the role of minor centers in rural exchange networks. The material evidence will also be incorporated in a regional study that evaluates various economic-geographical models, such as Central Place Theory and Network Theory.

[1] Smith, C., 1974, Economics of marketing systems: models from economic geography, Annual Review of Anthropology 3, pp. 167-201.