Decoloranda et coloranda urbs. The transformation of urban settlement patterns in central adriatic Italy from late antiquity to middle ages

Start - End 
2016 - 2019 (completed)
Department of Archaeology



In Italy, almost 1/3 of the Roman urban settlements were abandoned between the fourth and the eighth century but, more generally, it is the concept of city itself which changed, from Late Antiquity onwards. Thanks to research progress on urban archaeology, attention has in recent years focused on the material aspects of the settlement transformations and, even if the number of abandoned towns and the level of decay of urban centres are different from region to region, there is now more agreement about the most common patterns in which this phenomenon occurred.

The project intends to frame, through a comparative and integrative approach, the transformations in topography and urban planning which concern, between Late Antiquity and the Communal age (third-fourth to twelfth centuries), the towns with an uninterrupted continuity of life since Roman times. The research concentrates on the central Adriatic area, corresponding to the region referred to as Picenum at the end of the fourth century.

The chosen chronological range is motivated by the first evidence of urban decay- attested by archaeological and documentary sources - and the onset of the Medieval Communal age, which marks the stabilisation of the regional map of settlements, according to modern geography.

The region under investigation suits perfectly for such a kind of analysis, especially regarding the central centuries of the period, traditionally assimilated with the disruption moment of Classical cities. It covers the two different Italiae, recognized by the Diocletian reform, and thus represents both the area of the Byzantine Exarchate and the part ruled by the Lombards.

The Roman cities with continuity of life, situated in this geographical area, will be analysed as case studies, via a GIS-based approach, by using all the available archaeological and documentary sources, in the framework of the general distribution network connecting the whole Adriatic sector.

The intent of the research is to pin down the origin and formation processes of the Medieval town, reproducing the topography of the cities at various times of their deconstruction, as Roman urban centers, and following reconstruction, as Medieval towns.  The urban transformations of the transition period that is still attributable to Late Antiquity will be evaluated in connection with the contemporary fate of the regions’ abandoned Roman cities, that have been the objective of the research project conducted at the Archaeology Department of Ghent University from 2012 to 2015: Urbes Extinctae. Investigating abandoned Roman towns in central Adriatic Italy.