AAIA Classical Archaeology Seminar
Dr Gijs Tol | University of Melbourne
Living and working in the Pontine Marshes (Lazio, Central Italy): an overview of recent archaeological investigations by the Pontine Region Project
The Pontine Marshes (Pomptinae Paludes) is a former wetland in the Lazio region of Italy. It is generally considered to have been unsuited for large-scale habitation and agricultural exploitation until the area was reclaimed and colonized during the co-called bonifica integrale under the Italian fascist regime in the 1930’s. However, from the ancient written sources it is clear that the Pontine marshes played an important role in Rome’s earliest expansionist phase during the Mid-Republican period. In the late 4th century BCE, the Via Appia was constructed straight through the wetland, providing a direct connection between Rome and the harbour town of Terracina and along its course regularly spaced road stations were founded to service passing travellers. Also, there is mention of various ancient attempts to drain the marshes, with the earliest such efforts dating to 160BCE under consul Cornelius Cethegus.
To these large-scale (and often state run) initiatives we can now add information on the lived experiences of the actual people inhabiting this landscape, thanks to 15 years of archaeological work by the Pontine Region Project (PRP) in the heart of the former marshland. The results of a program of large-scale field surveys, geophysical prospections, geo-archaeological approaches and ceramic studies together point to a phase of intensive – but brief – agricultural exploitation during the mid-Republican period, followed by the development of larger estates during Late Republican times – possibly in response to worsening drainage conditions – that exploited a range of economic opportunities that the wetland provided such as fishing, dormouse breeding and ceramic production.
Gijs Tol is a senior lecturer in Roman archaeology at the University of Melbourne and specializes in the archaeology of the Roman countryside with a particular emphasis on rural settlement organization and the study of local and regional economic networks.
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Image: Fieldwalking in the Pontine Plain