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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

The Roman impact on the urban settlement pattern of peninsular Italy (350BC to AD200)

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Even the most recent discussions on early Roman urbanism in Italy focus almost entirely, when not exclusively on Roman colonial towns, and their role in the processes of conquest and cultural change in Italy. Yet by the late Republican period, towns founded as colonies represented less than 10 per cent of the total number of peninsular urban centres; the majority of the others had developed from pre-Roman settlements. Traditionally, these non-colonial towns have been studied individually or in separate regional contexts. Funded by a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship, Dr Jamie Sewell is charting the development of all higher order settlements (with a minimum of 2ha surface area) on the Italian peninsula between 350 BC and AD 200. The project is building a comprehensive database and a GIS for data analysis. The project is supervised by Dr Rob Witcher and provides an urban perspective to complement recent research on regional rural settlement systems during the same time period.

Included in the study are also all the settlements which did not subsequently develop into Roman towns, with the aim of elucidating why some centres survived under Roman rule, and others not. This ‘non-Romanocentric’ approach thus provides the first comprehensive overview of the higher-order settlement pattern of the Italian peninsula of the mid-fourth century BC, and insight into how it changed under Roman rule.

Some of the research questions addressed by the project are:
• Is more rapid or intense urbanisation traceable during particular periods and in particular regions?
• How widespread were orthogonal street plans?
• To what extent were settlements re-organised (re-planned and reconstructed) under Roman rule?
• Is change noticeable in centres situated in proximity to colonial towns after the latter were founded?
• Is there spatial and/or chronological patterning in whether or not settlements either prosper or decline?
• Is it possible to define other processes that caused urban renewal or decline that have no connection with Rome?
• How do successful / unsuccessful settlements relate geospatially to major communications routes and to colonies founded by Rome?
• Is a Roman policy towards annexed and allied urban centres perceptible? If so, do they change over time and were there regional variations in how they were applied?
• What was the full spectrum of physical forms assumed by the municipia founded in the first century BC?
• What was the full spectrum of physical forms assumed by fora, praefecturae and conciliabula?
• What was the relationship between urban development and veteran colonisation during the late Republic and early Empire?


From the Department of Archaeology

From other departments

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China