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A Behavioral Analysis of Monetary Exchange and Craft Production in Rural Tuscany via Small Finds from the Roman Peasant Project

Issue: Vol 31 No. 2 (2018)

Journal: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology

Subject Areas: Ancient History Archaeology

DOI: 10.1558/jma.38081


Roman archaeology has long made use of an urban-rural dichotomy to conceptualize and frame questions about the material record, carrying over values of urbanism and rusticity explicit in ancient textual sources. The construction of rural culture deserves articulation not as a received idea, but through comparison of actual assemblages recovered from archaeological contexts in the countryside. Accordingly, this paper uses the small finds from the Roman Peasant Project (2009-2014), a project to study the lives of the ancient inhabitants of the comune of Cinigiano (GR), to investigate behavioral patterns at seven sites in south-central Tuscany. I utilize a computational approach which automates the process of interpreting finds as indices of different behaviors and I compare the socioeconomic landscape of this rural community in two broad periods, the late Republican / Julio-Claudian and Late Antique. I show not only that a formal, quantitative approach to the categorization of finds and comparison of site functionality can be used to measure overall variability in each period, but also that it is possible to assess the behavioral factors that lay behind the makeup of the Roman rural economy in this region. In the earlier period, peasants' lives were distinguished by lower levels of coin circulation and greater variability in site investment, although with a more homogenous lifestyle. In Late Antiquity, craft production and coin-based exchange were much more diffuse throughout society, perhaps indicating diminishing networks of long-term reciprocity and interdependency among different communities as local production and cash transactions became more common.

Author: Stephen A. Collins-Elliott

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