The economic geography of Roman Italy: investigating economic integration through archaeological proxies

→ Dr. Tymon C. A. De Haas

background, aims and research questions

Within my previous post-doctoral research project, I used GIS-based spatial analysis and Network Analysis tools to investigate the geographic properties of demand and infrastructure in Roman Italy and their consequences for differential patterns of economic integration. This research showed that some regions, through demographic growth and increasingly dense infrastructural networks, had a larger potential for economic development and integration than others. However, it has so far not been established how this potential actually translates into archaeologically visible patterns of economic integration. My current project therefore aims to increase our understanding of the economic geography of Roman Italy and of patterns of economic integration in particular.

To explore the issue of economic integration, my main research question is:

  • Can we identify different degrees of economic integration, both within and between regions, on the basis of archaeological proxies?

Differentiating between the regional and supra-regional scale, this question can be further specified:

  • At the supra-regional scale, are there differences in the degree of integration between regions in different geographic zones? And if so, do these differences confirm the outcomes of my previous research?
  • At the regional scale, are there differences in the degree of integration between different geographic zones? And if so, how do these differences relate to social and geographic factors? (e.g., are areas close to infrastructural hubs or major central places better integrated? And to what extent are not just elites, but also lower levels of society integrated?)


To answer these questions, I use archaeological proxy data, including both settlement and ceramic data as collected in regional field surveys and urban excavations as proxies for economic developments and the extent to which sites and regions were integrated into local, regional and supra-regional economic systems. The project uses a multi-scalar geographic approach, applying different types of evidence and appropriate methods of analysis at the regional and supra-regional scale.

I adopt this approach in several stages, the first two of which relate to the regional scale; the third deals with the supra-regional scale:

  1. In the first stage I develop a regional case study that uses archaeological proxies to explore the changes in and links between demographic trends, infrastructural networks and central place landscapes. Setting of this case study is the Pontine region (Lazio, central Italy), an area in which I am also involved in fieldwork (see also: the Pontine Region Project). This case study preliminarily shows that there are correlations between these variables: over time population becomes less evenly distributed, with a relatively high population density in coastal areas and low densities in interior areas. This shift is also visible in infrastructural networks, which became increasingly dense and indicate an increasing potential for integration, both within the region and in supra-regional (maritime) networks.
  2. Using the high-quality ceramic database compiled within the Pontine Region Project, I will proceed in the second stage by linking these demographic and infrastructural patterns and the central place landscape to the distribution of local, regional and imported ceramic wares to establish whether these shifting patterns indeed went hand-in-hand with changing levels of economic integration. This phase includes quantitative analysis of ceramic assemblages, GIS-based spatial analysis and possibly Network Analysis tools.
  3. In the third stage, I address patterns of integration at the supra-regional scale by inventorying and comparing regional field survey datasets that a) have published information on ceramic artefacts and their finds context and b) cover different geographic areas within the Italian peninsula. The comparative analysis of these datasets will deal with the quantities, provenance and find context of imported ceramics, and potential changes over time. The analysis would initially draw on quantitative approaches, possibly supplemented by Network Analysis tools. Work carried out within the project ‘integrating survey data for Rome’s Suburbium’ will complement work in this stage.