Dr. Anita Casarotto & dr. Tesse Stek

By Tom Bos

Comparing colonial and non-colonial rural settlement organisation: the case studies of Aesernia and Larinum

The traditional view on ancient Roman colonialism, in which the structure and organization of these settlements is seen as the cornerstone for their imperial success, resonates with modern European colonialism. The Roman colony is seen as a model for imperial success and as an exceptional type of colonization, but was the Roman colony really that different when compared to non-Roman settlements? To answer this question Anita Casarottio and Tesse Stek compared a new Roman colony with an indigenous Roman town based on archaeological findings. Both these settlements were located in central southern Italy. How oppressive Roman colonization was to the territory is visible from archeological evidence, thus a comparison with another non-Roman settlement might tell us about how they differ from each other and if this can explain Roman imperial success. In this paper the Roman colony of Aesernia, founded by the Romans in 263 BC, is compared to Larinum, a late iron age town founded by Frentani (Samnites). Not only the settlements itself were studied, but also the surrounding landscapes of both towns. The research forms a measure for systematic comparison and the two data sets resulting this research are compared on two levels; density and pattern. This is also called Settlement density analysis. This tool illustrates the arrangement and distribution of the sites. 

The pattern around Aesernia is clustered and very similar to Larinum which is also significantly clustered. In both sites the settlement patterns are similar to Hellenistic settlements patterns. No particular differences were found between the cities. There is no clear distinction visible between the ‘Roman’ tight organization and the non-urban settlement organization of non-colonial sites. Thus, it is reasonable that the organization of Aesernia did not differ drastically from Larinum. This brings up the difficult question of why this is the case. Do the Roman models need to be reassessed? Others factors to measure in are the influence of the environment, which was very similar, as well as the socio-economic conditions. The different contexts of both areas are difficult to compare. When looking at another settlement, Venusia, that is close by and has the same hilly landscape of southern Italy the settlement pattern is similar.

Conclusion: the comparison, if we assume methods are similar and exclude the possibility the similarities are due to methodologies, we can presume the comparison is meaningful and the traditional view of Roman colonization can be attested. The impact of Roman colonization on the settlement organization is not clearly visible in the survey data. This means there are two possibilities; the data is the problem or the colonial settlement organization differs from the expected city-state model.