Forma Urbis: Costruire Tabernae

In a letter to Atticus dated 18 april 44 BC, Cicero writes his friend that two of his shops in Puteoli had collapsed, and that he is planning to rebuild the property in a way that allows him to make even more money out of it. It is one of the very few references to a phenomenon that is likely to have been widespread in the cities of Roman Italy: investment in, and ownership of commercial facilities by the elite.

Commercial space was a defining element of the landscape of Roman cities, and the quintessential commercial facility in the Roman world was the taberna – a large room with a wide opening onto the street to maximize opportunities for interaction between inside and outside. Never an independent building itself, the taberna features only marginally in studies of Roman architecture and urbanism, and few scholars have studied the taberna as a socioeconomic phenomenon.

There are, however, good reasons to take a closer look at the taberna. Rather than a constant, unchanging element of Roman urban space, the taberna had a history of its own, and this history is extremely important for our understanding of the history of cities in Roman Italy. This is especially true if we focus on the construction of tabernae: building tabernae was a form of economic investment that, as in Cicero’s case, served to earn proprietors a profit, and the decision to build (or not to build) tabernae was based on at least some understanding of the local market situation.

Continue reading on buildingtabernae.org

Building Tabernae (2013-2017)

IX 7, 5-7: Façade - Limestone façade of a medium-sized Pompeian house with a main entrance surrounded by two shops (Photo: Miko Flohr [2011])

Building Tabernae is an NWO Veni Project based at the University of Leiden (2013-2017). The project focuses on urban commercial space in Roman Italy and deals with the impact of economic growth on urban communities in the late Republic and the Imperial period (200 BCE – 300 CE). It will investigate how favourable economic circumstances under the Roman Empire fostered the emergence of new and more ambitious forms of investment in commercial space, and it aims to understand how this transformed the physical and social fabric of the cities of the Italian peninsula. 

The project will use archaeological and textual evidence and belongs to the field of ancient history as much as it belongs to that of classical archaeology. Thematically, it operates on the interface of social and economic history and explores to which degree economic developments fostered social change. It specifically attempts to connect two highly vibrant debates: the debate about Roman urbanism and that about Roman economic life.

Both debates have seen significant development over the last decades. Discourse on Roman urbanism has moved away from the traditional emphasis on (monumental) architecture and urban planning towards studying urban landscapes in a more integrated manner (seminal is Laurence 1994). Discourse on Roman economic life has developed beyond the consumer city debate that dominated the field in the 1990s (e.g. Mattingly 1997; Erdkamp 2001), now focusing more and more on the social and spatial contexts of economic processes (Mouritsen 2001; Robinson 2005; Flohr 2007).

Yet, while these debates play a central role in Roman scholarship and thematically increasingly overlap, they interact only to a limited degree. Consequently, the relation between economic developments and developments in urbanism is not well-understood. This significantly impedes our understanding of Roman history. This project will contribute to filling this gap.

Read more...

The World of the Fullo

M. Flohr (2013). The World of the Fullo. Work, economy and society in Roman Italy. Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy. Oxford University Press. Oxford. Hardcover, 424 Pages / 159 illus. 9.2 x 6.1 inches. ISBN: 9780199659357. £ 90,00 (here).

While research for a second book is already under way, my first monograph, the world of the fullo. Work, economy and Society in Roman Italy, came out May 31st (2013) at OUP. It is the final publication of the research I did while I was working on my dissertation at Radboud University Nijmegen. Most of the original thesis was written between early 2008 and late 2009, but the text was substantially revised in 2011, while I was in Oxford, and finalized in March 2012, when it was sent to OUP for publication. More details, and ordering info, are available on the OUP website. In the following paragraphs, I will briefly describe what the book is trying to do, and how the narrative of the book develops from chapter to chapter.

Read more...