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.
Originally published at Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.02.51
This is a highly relevant book that breaks important new ground in an area of Roman studies that has suffered from neglect both traditionally and in recent years: retail, though socially and economically a defining aspect of urban life in the Roman world, has not been high on the agenda of Roman scholars – neither of those studying urbanism, nor of those focusing on the Roman economy. While various scholars have focused on certain aspects of retail or certain datasets related to it (e.g.macella or bars), Holleran is the first to discuss the topic in a broad and thematic way. Thus, while the primary focus of the book is on the city of Rome, it provides a conceptual framework that will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on future debates on retail and consumer economies in the Roman world.
'Building tabernae' explores the economic history of investment in commercial space in Roman Italy, seeking to come to a better understanding of the history of urban consumer economies in the late republic and the imperial period. While it is clear that there was a sharp increase in the maximum scale of building projects involving shops, a phenomenon especially visible in Ostia and Rome, the dynamics of this development have not been understood.
One of the things that the collapse of the House of the Gladiators at Pompeii, again, made painfully clear is that excavated material remains have a life cycle too. At the very moment of their discovery, walls, floors and plaster are taken out of the stable environment that has protected them for so long, and they immediately resume doing what they had been doing before they were buried: suffering from wind, sun, rain, noise, pollution and vibrations. It is not said, of course, that their previous environment was completely hospitable and nice, but, generally speaking, architectural remains decay considerably more slowly underground than they do exposed to the banal reality of everyday.
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