Floodplain occupation and landscape modification in early Rome

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The site of Rome in central Italy provided many opportunities for the development of a city: access to natural resources, defensible terrain, a ford in the Tiber River, among others. In addition to these advantages, the environment and landscape also presented numerous challenges to early inhabitants. This ecological dichotomy is especially observable in the Forum Boarium, a region situated in the Tiber's floodplain at the base of the Capitoline and Palatine Hills. By the Archaic period (7th–6th centuries BCE), this vital gateway for trade and communication was operating as a river port, equipped with a harbor temple. Periodic flooding of the Tiber River, however, consistently jeopardized these commercial and cult pursuits in the Forum Boarium. As a result, this region became the focus of early endeavors at landscape modification, which helped to protect and facilitate the growth of urban infrastructure in the floodplain.

In order to explore geoarchaeological conditions in the floodplain, a multi-disciplinary research project was undertaken in the Forum Boarium between 2013 and 2015. This paper presents preliminary results from this recent investigation, including evidence on the natural topography of the river valley, floods and sedimentation, as well as building techniques in a flood-prone region in Archaic and Early Republican Rome. It is argued that, in response to varied and prolonged environmental stress, landscape modification and continuous management became important prerequisites to Rome's urbanization process; in this way, ecological pressures directly influenced the development of the city's built landscape. This research not only represents a significant step towards a paleoenvironmental reconstruction of early Rome, but also demonstrates the advantages of coring survey in urban areas where access to deeply buried archaeological and geological stratigraphy is restricted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-174
JournalQuaternary International
Early online date28 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


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