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Research overview

Remco Bronkhorst is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews (supervisors: Prof. Christopher Smith and Rebecca Sweetman) and the University of Groningen (supervisor: Prof. Peter Attema). He is particularly interested in the protohistory of Central Italy and the use of older ('legacy') data in an innovative way.


PhD project title: The early roots of Latium’s economy: the symbiosis between urban and rural landscape

Supervisors: Prof. Christopher Smith, Rebecca Sweetman (University of St Andrews), Peter Attema (University of Groningen)


To understand the functioning of past and present economies, town and countryside need to be dealt with as interdependent entities. A forceful early example of such a symbiotic relationship is found at Rome, which by the time of Caesar had given rise to Europe’s first real suburbium, supported by a hinterland north and south of the Tiber. Archaeological research shows that the origins of this historically unprecedented phenomenon can be traced back to (at least) the eighth century BC, when settlements such as Rome, and many of its neighbouring settlements, show the first signs of a social and political unity, and started to develop urban characteristics. These developments could not have been achieved without a successful rural and urban economy. However, the exact nature of such early economies has escaped us until now. The major transformations taking place in this period (eighth to sixth centuries BC) have often been explained by ideological variables, generally made with reference to historical sources. This research, on the other hand, aims to study the architectural/physical investments in the urban area and, importantly, the countryside and use them as a proxy for the way the economy functioned and was transformed to optimise it.

The development of regional and subregional economies between the eighth and sixth centuries BC necessarily depended on a symbiotic relationship between centres of aggregated population – i.e. (proto-)urban centres – and their hinterlands. In many cases, such a study is notoriously difficult due to a lack of physical evidence, especially in Rome where most of the early remains have been destroyed by later activities and we know remarkably little of its immediate surroundings. However, just outside Rome, we find two well-studied settlements, which developed in a seemingly similar way as Rome. This study therefore focuses on the towns of Satricum and Crustumerium and their rural landscapes. Observations made here are tested against other Central Italian towns. Both towns have a well-studied rural and urban landscape for which high-quality data is available. Their dissimilar geographical and historic settings allow us to study varying modes of development. Crustumerium, 15 km north of Rome, fell under Rome’s influence at an early date. In contrast, Satricum, 60 km south of Rome, remained out of Rome’s grip for much longer.

The well-studied remains at Satricum makes it an ideal case study for urban investments (e.g. temples, public buildings, houses, roads); notable works at Crustumerium include a deepened road and a substantial defensive moat. Whereas few Archaic (roughly sixth century BC) graves are known at Satricum, both Orientalising (roughly seventh century BC) and Archaic graves are well-attested at Crustumerium. Graves can be used to trace economic processes and energy expenditure in the construction of tombs, body treatment (making a shroud), and the production of grave goods or personal items. Field survey data allow for the study of the interaction between city and countryside in a long-time perspective and over a large area.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth


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