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18 - Early Rome and Italy

from Part V - Early Italy and the Roman Republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Jean-Paul Morel
Affiliation:
University of Provence
Walter Scheidel
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
Ian Morris
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
Richard P. Saller
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
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Summary

This chapter deals with Italy in the period from the beginning of the Greek colonization through 133 bc. It is difficult to approach such a broad topic – all of Italy over six centuries – without risking omissions and simplifications. I will therefore give more weight to new data and recent approaches.

Historians have mined literary sources exhaustively. The importance of this evidence is incomparable, but so are its drawbacks: the need to distinguish between technical and purely literary texts, the absence of quantitative data, and ancient authors’ generally limited interest in economic aspects of life. Inscriptions are very rare during our period, and have little to do with the economy. Historians agree that new findings may be expected above all from archaeology. Its daily discoveries, the supposedly neutral nature of its findings, and its “auxiliary” disciplines (e.g., the study of amphoras, ceramic analysis, the study of storage facilities, agrarian archaeology and the analysis of the countryside, and underwater archaeology, as well as the application of the natural sciences to antiquity in palaeoanthropology, palaeobotany, archaeozoology, metallurgical analysis, sedimentology, etc.) have provided many of the data presented in this chapter. For half a century, and especially more recently, archaeologists have explored new approaches in response to new demands: precise quantification (despite immense difficulties), wider and more diversified use of pottery (for example for the study of society and modes of production), and interest in “primitive” economies. But we remain very poorly informed in domains in which archaeology has not yielded comparable gains. In short, given the challenge of appreciating the nature of the ancient economy, all types of evidence, from a single sherd to Cato’s treatise on agriculture, must be studied with the same degree of interest, the same respect, and the same reservations.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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