Roman economic space revisited. Interdisciplinary pathways for understanding commercial and productive cityscapes

Start - End 
2016 - 2020 (completed)
Research group(s) 



This thesis studies Roman commercial and productive cityscapes and integrates three perspectives. The topics each address Roman economic architecture and space and its spatial organisation in towns from a different outlook. Hereby, this thesis seeks to contribute to three pertinent topics in the study of Roman economic space.

The first topic covers the use of non-invasive survey techniques, among which artefact survey, aerial photography, and geophysical survey, for the identification of economic buildings and spaces in Roman towns. Through the analysis of 26 case studies, spread over the Roman world, I demonstrate how a selection of non-destructive archaeological methods can be incorporated into current studies of Roman economic space. Further, I assess how such techniques can contribute to debates on urban zoning and the existence of artisanal and industrial quarters in Roman towns. Overall, by considering diverse towns and widening the methodological approach, this first topic seeks to draw away the focus from excavation data and, more notably, from the overstudied sites of Pompeii, Ostia, and Herculaneum for the study of Roman economic infrastructure.

The second topic concerns one type of economic building in close-up, the macellum. Through the consideration of five features, I aim to provide a critical re-evaluation of this Roman market building. First, I integrate the macella that have been identified by non- invasive survey techniques into the research, and, in this way, demonstrate the potential of these techniques for the detection of this specific type of market building. Second, by
examining several characteristics of the building, I question how identifiable these markets are in the archaeological record. Third, I present a new distribution map of the building depicting 145 examples spread over the Roman world. Fourth, by looking more closely at the spatial organisation of these building complexes in Roman towns, I wish to highlight the understudied topic of the market’s accessibility for the delivery and transport of food products. Fifth, I address and reconsider some of the functions that have been ascribed to the market building in scholarly research. Besides stressing the political and social role of the macellum in Roman towns, I advocate recognition for more variety in the functions.

The third topic is closely related to the previous one, and more specifically to the study of the market’s position in cityscapes, as it deals with the use of space syntax methodology, a set of theories and analytical techniques aimed at calculating spatial relationships in cities. Space syntax measures which areas are the most accessible within a town and, subsequently, analyses how these areas were related to movement patterns. By examining the location of the macellum in eleven towns, I measure the accessibility values of the macellum and reconstruct how the building was related to movement patterns in the town. Moreover, by incorporating other buildings into the analysis, I wish to compare the accessibility of the macellum to that of other building types in the street network. In doing so, I not only explore the potential of space syntax for the study of the spatial organisation of the macellum, but I also evaluate the contribution of space syntax for the overall study of Roman towns.



Phd Student(s)