Marble on display. A diachronic reconstruction of the production, distribution and consumption of marble in the Roman world

Start - End 
2018 - 2021 (completed)
Department of Archaeology
Research group(s) 
Research Focus 
Research Period 
Research Region 
Additional tags 
Material culture studies
Archaeometrical research
Landscape archaeology



Through studies of material culture and the distribution of material remains, archaeology has a large potential to substantially contribute to the debate on how past economies functioned and evolved over time. The importance of marble for Roman society – marble objects were traded in enormous quantities and over long distances in Roman times – combined with its durability, provenancing potential, and chronological resolution make it a very promising subject of research for archaeologists and historians interested in the economy of Antiquity.

Since the mid 1980s, when scientific marble provenancing in archaeology started, research has concentrated on developing techniques and methodologies for material characterisation and provenance determination. Advances in petrographic and archaeometric methodologies in combination with extensive quarry sampling have in recent years allowed marble artefacts to be provenanced with high reliability. Despite the recent increase in analytical data, very little work has been done on what these data can reveal about the marble trade in the Roman world in general. Typically, archaeologists have explored the Roman marble economy through case studies, based on relatively small datasets (individual monuments, collections, or sites).

This project aims to be the first to examine all available provenance data for Roman white marble in its entirety and aims to reveal more general trends in the rise and fall of market shares of marble resources across the Mediterranean, without ignoring regional specific marble trade trajectories. Thanks to the recent increase in marble provenance studies of white marble, the material can now be fully explored as a meaningful proxy indicator for studying long-distance trade, changes in urbanisation and elite urban investment in the Roman world, as well as for examining the performance of the wider Roman economy. Revealing general trends in the rise and fall of market shares of marble resources across the Mediterranean can only be achieved by using the available provenance data for white marble in its entirety. Apart increasing our knowledge on the Roman marble trade, the project can also prove to be a key element in the debate on wider historical processes, such as those dealing with general performance of the ancient Roman economy, the role of the elite in Roman society, and human-environment interaction in the Roman world, through the study of exploitation strategies.

The project consists of three methodological phases:

  1. development of the data infrastructure to store, organise and examine the large amount of marble data;
  2. collection of all published analytical data for white marble in the chosen geographical and temporal area;
  3. data examination and interpretation, including quantification, multivariate statistics and novel data visualisation techniques.

Keywords throughout the project are online capabilities, open access (to increase public accessibility), easy data usage for integrative and synthetic research, long-term preservation, and expandability (to incorporate also other material categories). For these reasons, the project exclusively uses open-source and cross-platform software (mainly PostgreSQL, PostGIS, Python and R). To increase the scientific utility of the dataset, all metadata linked to the data infrastructure development, data collection and data processing procedure are recorded. Data, metadata, source codes and scripts will be published on the project website (during the second part of the project) as part of the workflow documentation. This will enhance reproducibility and verifiability of the results obtained, and will promote the interoperability with other project, as well as the reuse and extension of the methodology and data by other researchers.