Roman Culture in Etrurian and Campanian Archaeology

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Roman culture is detectable archaeologically throughout Etruria and Campania in the cities and landscapes of the regions.  We still see Roman roads in use today! But what can these and other archaeological evidence tell us about the Romans expansion throughout Italy? Frankly, way too much to cover in one article, so let us look briefly at an area of really interesting archaeology, Etruria and Campania in what is now Modern Italy.

English: Map of ancient Campania
Map of Ancient Campania

With the development of modern survey techniques the introduction and distribution of Roman road systems, throughout the landscape of Etruria and Campania, illustrates the expansion of Roman culture within this landscape.  The road systems acted as a stamp of Roman authority and new order in the locality and their distribution maps out the movement and expansion of Roman influence and culture.[1] These Roman highways often left a clear cutting which can still be seen near to modern roads in many places throughout Italy.[2]  Basaltic paving blocks are also frequently uncovered by modern excavations, and accidently, and are indicative of a Roman road being situated nearby.[3]  The Via Amerina has been noted as the earliest of these archaeological features, dating to approximately 241BC and is detectably archaeologically cutting through the Faliscan territory and into southern Umbria.[4]  The Via Amerina was later joined by other roads cutting through the landscape such as the Via Flaminia and the Via Aurelia, constructed in 220BC and c.144BC respectively.[5]  Each of these serving new colonies and often bypassing old Etruscan towns providing a map of the pathways Roman culture followed into Etruria and Campania in the late centuries BC.

Several ground surveys, such as that done by Ward-Perkins in the early 1950s, have established many of these road networks as adaptations of existing roadways, serving the needs of a highly decentralised population.[6]  The colony of Nepi was quickly connected with Rome by means of the Via Amerina, establishing not just a colonial but a physical link to Roman influence.[7]  When assessed in terms of the location of these valuable archaeological features, [8]  we can also see which Etruscan towns were likely to have suffered Roman influence on a lesser scale, for instance, Veii which was left to the backwater after its initial destruction and restructure.[9] Or alternatively where the Roman culture was more prevalent where towns were joined to the road system, such as Volsini.

The area has been subject to various field surveys over the years which have a primary basis in exploring the changing pottery tradition, illustrating the rise of Roman wares in the region as the culture fanned out of Rome.[10]  And despite the difficulties in dating, the information gathered from ceramics can show changes in occupation, and maps of pottery distribution can give consistent patterns illustrating cultural variations.[11]  Ward-Perkins’ ground survey of around 2000 archaeological sites in Campania has allowed for analysis on the changing tradition from pre-Roman Etruscan wares and bucchero[12] to Roman black-glazed wares, indicative of the third to first centuries BC.[13]

The change of abundance of different pottery types throughout Etruria and Campania are indicative of the expansion and distribution of Roman influence and culture.  It has been used in recent years to illustrate occupational patterns even though the common black glazed ware has been subject to dating issues.[14]  This expansion and change of occupation is seen fanning out from Rome to a vast number of sites such as Roselle, in the territory of Volsinii, where an abundance of black-glazed pottery was uncovered dating to the Roman conquest and Late Etruscan Period.  Veii has also been subject to field walking and this archaeological technique has brought to light a considerable amount of black glazed ware and late almond rim ceramic indicative of the links with Roman culture and its expansion with the conquest of Italy.[15]

Street in Pompeii Svenska: En lugn gata i Pompeji
Street in Pompeii

Numismatic evidence provides an excellent point by which the introduction of Roman culture can be dated as coinage allows exact dates to be given and the earliest of these dates can be used to some degree to determine the earliest movement into the area.  Coin hoards found throughout Etruria and Campania such as at Cosa where 2004 Roman Denarii among other numismatic assemblages.[17]  The mint at Cosa also indicates that Roman coinage styles were adopted by the population of Cosa itself rather than just being imported.[18]

Survey work and archaeological exploration has uncovered that colonization was a significant part of the expansion of Roman power and influence in that it secured a rational exploitation of resources.[19]  The Latin colony of Cosa is a prime example of a site in Etruria which contains a complex body of material evidence illustrating the expansion and implementation of Roman culture away from Rome.[20]  Archaeological excavations have determined that Cosa was built almost entirely on a purely Roman foundation.[21]  Cosa has been assessed by archaeologists as being mutatis mutandis, made in the image of Rome.[22]

While there has been some debate that archaeologists and scholars may be pushing the image of Rome on these colonies, there is still a vast number of similarities that display the expansion of Roman culture.  The immigrants to colonies were Latin speakers and the towns they populated were fashioned to reflect their own expectations.  Not only was the layout often fashioned with links to that of Rome, but many of the buildings and architecture is seen to have reflected Rome’s.  The temple of Concordia at Cosa, identified by the inscription ‘Concordiae’, displays the expansion of this.[23]  Buildings such as the Comitium excavated at Cosa also display links and similarities to the Comitium at Rome, and it is almost identical to those at Paestum, Fregallae and Alba Fucens as well.[24]

Sites at Campania also show this link to Rome, and the relative dates of material and architectural features within these sites allow us to map over time the expansion of Roman culture throughout both Campania and Etruria.  The most significant and well known of these examples in Campania is Pompeii.  Unlike the example of Cosa, this site represents a number of towns that had Roman culture thrust upon an already established urban site.  Pompeii was colonised by the Romans c.80BC leading to major work upon the city’s public architecture.[25]  The archaeology of Pompeii includes a covered theatre and an amphitheatre dedicated by C.Quinctius Valgus and M.Porcius.[26]  The expansion of Roman culture is also detectable in the use of materials such as yellow turf from the Campi Phlegraei and baked terracotta at Pompeii and techniques such as opus reticulatun.[27]  Architectural features such as the vaulted ceilings of the first century BC among other examples are also indicative of the expanding contribution of Roman architecture.[28]

Wallace-Hadrill and Fulford following their excavations of Insula I,9 in Pompeii and the House of Menander have explicitly questioned the use of materials to date architectural features, and the limitations of stone and architectural typologies.[29] While debates rise on the usefulness of materials to establish dates of certain features and their inclusion over time into settlement and building structure, they remain a means to detect the incorporation of Roman culture and styles into sites.[30] The use of stratigraphy, can be used to make up for the limitations of typological analysis to display the movement of Roman culture into an area over time, such as the policy of stratigraphical policy and exploration developed by Maiuri at Pompeii surrounding the excavation of the House of the Surgeon.[31]

The addition of typically Roman features such as their complex array of water systems, established in the last centuries BC throughout Campania and Etruria, also provide a means by which the expansion of Roman culture is detectable through the ability to add to urban infrastructure.  There appears to have been no clearer example of the adoption of Roman lifestyle and values than bath-building and the adoption of Roman water systems.  Examples of this adoption are seen at Musarna near Tuscania with the building of Roman style baths around 100BC to cater for a growing Roman influence and population.[32]  The most prominent examples are seen though within the archaeology of the Vesuvian cities of Campania, such as at Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Both in the private sector and the public sector of urban life appears to have been affected by Roman inclusions as seen in the archaeology.

Like the architectural features explored briefly above, the water systems provided for the needs and demands of Roman citizens in occupied areas.  One prime example of these systems in the archaeology is at Pompeii in first century residences after the colonization by Rome, especially seen in the archaeology of the House of the Vestals.  Extensive excavations undertaken by the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii in the House of the Vestals has enabled the vast majority of these Roman water systems to be analysed and mapped, and in turn has allowed for analysis of temporal development and cultural implications.[33]  Excavations have uncovered the addition of pressurized water from the newly formed aqueduct along with numerous pipes, cisterns and cesspits attached to fountains, baths and pools throughout the property.[34]  The House of the Vestals is just one such example of how water features were central to structural changes and indicative of the expansion of Roman culture and values.

The scholarly assessments of the Romanization of Italy pay the majority of attention to urban centres and public spaces, but the expansion of Roman culture is also detectable through the analysis of funerary archaeology and inscriptions.[35]  This is seen at Volaterrae, where funerary inscriptions are almost exclusively Latinised as well as the names on these inscriptions by the end of the first century BC.[36]  These along with the appearance of Latin cults and religious centres, alongside Etruscan ones, is also indicative of the expanding Roman culture and religion in the periods of conquest.  The Temple of the Capitoline hill at Cosa is a prime example of the expansion of religious aspects, and its stratigraphy illustrates the increasing religious importance and development.[37]  Excavations at the centre of the structure have revealed layers of carbonized earth suggesting a ritual space and centre which continued in use and significance from the first years of colonization.[38]

English: Ancient roman road which leaded from ...
Ancient roman road which leaded from Savaria to the imperial Rome.

The rural areas of Etruria and Campania also contain archaeological materials and evidence that are characteristic of the expansion of Roman culture in a rural context.  Excavations and surveys of a number of small farm complexes in both northern and southern Etruria display this as the Romans expanded their influence into the area taking advantage of the fertile landscape.[40]  The farms in Southern Etruria appear more so to show Roman influence as they many were probably built to Roman standards.[41]  The South Etruria survey provides a view into rural areas such as Ager Faliscus, where eighty percent of farm sites from the period of Romanization appear to have been abandoned after the 241BC defeat.[42]  The material evidence from the remaining twenty percent of sites show a strong inclination towards Roman standards.

The abandonment and redistribution of rural sites as seen in the archaeology also shows the movement of Roman colonists and culture throughout the areas in question.  The area of Cosa again provides a prime example of this movement of Roman influence into Etruria.  An analysis of surveyed farm sites in the area dating to the time of Romanization shows that of the fifty-eight Etruscan farms in the fourth century BC only 16 farms survived after the mid third.[43]  This is also evident at Vulci and the territory of Saturnia where the majority of lands were redistributed between Roman colonists after the areas defeat.[44]  The South Etruria survey also revealed that Ager Faliscus’ rural areas suffered the same fate with 80% of surveyed sites appearing to be abandoned by Etruscan culture after the defeat of 241BC.[45] By surveying and mapping these sites and analysing material evidence, archaeologists can determine the spread of Roman colonisation and in turn their culture.  For instance, the areas noted before appear to have suffered a considerable change in ownership with the expansion of Roman influence and power, on the other hand, areas such as Veii and Bracciano have a far higher percentage of surviving Etruscan sites.

The Romanization of Etruria and Campania in the last few centuries has been thoroughly examined my scholars and archaeologists for many years and the expansion of Roman Culture is indeed detectable through many aspects of the archaeology and landscape of the areas.  Urban centres appear to provide the most bountiful assemblages of artefacts and architectural features which can be used to map out the distribution and development of Roman culture.  One of the most explicitly visual ways that Roman culture is detectable is with the mapping out of and analysis of Roman road routes and the path of influence with colonization and trade.

J.I 2012


[1] Potter, T.W., Towns and Territories in Southern Etruria in Rich, J., and Wallace-Hadrill, A., City and Country in the Ancient World (London), p.199 – Roman roads were essential to the expansion of the empire.  Through them archaeologists can track the movement of Roman influence.  Way stations, mile stones and other material evidence also provide archaeological indicators by which to track the expansion.

[2] Hemphill, P., An Archaeological Survey of Southern Etruria (1970), p.35

[3] Ibid., p.35

[4] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., The Etruscans (Oxford, 2000), p.267

[5] Ibid., p.297

[6] Blake, H., Potter, T.W., and Whitehouse, D.B., Papers in Italian Archaeology I: The Lancaster Seminar, Recent Research in Prehistoric, Classical and Medieval Archaeology Part I (1978), p.99 & 107

[7] Potter, op.cit., p.197

[8] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.267 – These roads also served to suit Roman needs such as military movements into Etruria and beyond, and are important to the archaeological record as conveying the expansion of Roman culture through such mediums as the movements of the army and the connection of new colonies to Rome itself.

[9] Ibid., p.268

[10] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T.,op.cit., p.269

[11] Hemhill, op.cit., p.36

[12][12] Bucchero is a grey to black fabric with a burnished finish and appears in small quantities through sites of the Etruscan period.

[13] Blake, H., Potter, T.W., and Whitehouse, D.B., op.cit., p.102

[14] Hemhill, op.cit., p.35

[15] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T.,op.cit., p.275 – Veii offers a typical example of the development of an Italic settlements probably the most famous of towns in Southern Etruria. See Owens, E.J., The City in the Greek and Roman World, pp.97-120

[17] Buttrey, T.V., Cosa: The Coins, in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol.34 (1980), p.5

[18] Ibid., p.17

[19] Torelli, M., Tota Italia – Essays in the Cultural Formation of Roman Italy (Oxford, 1999), p.3

[20] Cosa – is a Latin colony situated in modern Tuscany.  It was perhaps confiscated land from the Etruscans but archaeology points more towards it being a new colony.

[21] Brown in Fentress, E., Romanization and the City: Creation, Transformations and Failures (1998), p.11

[22] Ibid., p.11

[23] Brown in Fentress, E., op.cit., p.20

[24] Ibid., p.22 – The Comitium is recognised as a centre of judicial and political activities in a Roman Forum.  The placement of this type of building in colonies indicates a movement of the Roman culture to sites around Italy, namely in Etruria and Campania.

[25] Ling, R., Pompeii – History, Life and Afterlife (Gloucestershire, 2007), p.53

[26] Ibid., p.54

[27] Ling, op.cit., p.61

[28] Ibid., p.61

[29] Jones, R., and Robinson, D., The Making of an Elite House: The House of the Vestals at Pompeii in Journal of Roman Archaeology, Vol.17 (2004), p.107

[30] This can be asserted, even though a temporal record of incorporation can not fully be established by means of typologies.

[31] Ibid., p.107

[32] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.292

[33] Jones, R., and Robinson, D., Water, Wealth and Social Status at Pompeii: The House of the Vestals in the First Century in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.109 (2005), p.696

[34] Ibid., p.697

[35] Terrenato, N., Tam Firmum Municipium: The Romanization of Volaterrae and Its Cultural Implications, in The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.88 (1998), p.105

[36] Ibid., p.105 – Volaterrae was an important Etruscan centre which became a municipium after the Roman conquest.  This information comes from the results of a field survey providing major additions to a subject previously vague launched in 1987, calling for a radical rethinking of local history. Involving a large scattering of material evidence of funerary culture and settlement culture.  Often in contrast to more southerly surveys in Etruria which are known to be used to represent the region as a whole.  Saying this, the surveys surrounding Volaterrae still provide essential indication of the latinisation of Etruscan metropolises.

[37] Fentress, op.cit., p.23 – the Capitoline hill was the arx of Cosa and received a vast amount of attention by Frank.E.Brown

[38] Fentress, op.cit., p.23

[40] Terranato, op.cit., p.102 – South Etruria Survey plus numerous others between 1960 and the present day

[41] Ibid., p.104

[42] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.269

[43] Fentress, op.cit., p.12 – work of Frank Brown published in Fentress

[44] Ibid., p.12

[45] Barker, G. and Rasmussen, T., op.cit., p.270

3 thoughts on “Roman Culture in Etrurian and Campanian Archaeology

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