The Tiber Valley Project: The Tiber and Rome through Two Millennia

Article excerpt


An understanding of the development of settlement in the Tiber valley is central to any understanding of Rome, its place in the ancient world and the development of European civilization (Potter 1979; Morley 1996). The expansion of Rome towards the north took place during the 1st millennium BC in competition with Sabines, Faliscans and Etruscans. On the west bank of the Tiber, these peoples were focused on urban communities of varied size, such as Veii (190 ha) in the Etruscan region to the south and the smaller centres of Nepi and Falerii d in the Faliscan region to the north (FIGURE 1). On the east bank, the landscape included urban nucleations such as Cures and Crustumerium. The valley was at first divided into a series of discrete territories divided by political and ethnic affinity. Towards the end of the millennium, these urban communities became subject to Rome and were reshaped, manipulated and reworked, by a range of political strategies, to become a key part of the core of Rome's territorial base. Integration broke down the distinctions between Rome, neighbouring peoples and their individual city territories. At the same time that the region developed a cultural unity, social differentiation was spatially restructured. The lands and buildings of rich and powerful members of the elite became increasingly dominant through the elaboration of urban monuments like those at Ocriculum and in the palatial villas like that at Lucus Feroniae. With the decline of the Roman world from the 4th century AD, the valley again came to be divided into a series of separate territorial units dominated by the Roman-Byzantines, the Papacy, the Lombards and the Carolingians. The reformulation of these territories and their relationships with Rome and the Church formed a context for the emergence of the city states of Medieval Italy. During the course of just over 2000 years (1000 BC-AD 1300), the Tiber was transformed from a communication artery of local importance to a focal point in the life of Europe, only to return to its former status as an artery of merely regional significance. Yet this was not a complete reversion -- the focal role of Rome and the Tiber is still retained today in our collective political memory.


Archaeology provides the only means of exploring these processes in greater detail, tracing the development of different peoples and regions within the valley in relation to these broader historical trends over a long time span. The foundations for this work were laid by the South Etruria survey (Potter 1979) but this work now needs to be enhanced and expanded in the light of new data and ideas. To this end the British School at Rome (BSR) began an initiative in 1997 which has brought together British and Italian archaeologists and historians with research interests in this area under a common research umbrella where co-ordination and sharing of information are the key themes. A first colloquium was held in March 1997 when research priorities were debated and an agreement was made to go forward with a major collaborative research project to write a new materially based history of the Tiber valley throughout the period 1000 BC-AD 1300. A further colloquium was held in February 1998 at which these ideas were refined. The colloquium of February 1999 presented the first results, and these have recently (February 2000) been updated. A volume of essays arising from these meetings will synthesize existing data and provide a sound starting point for the next stage of detailed research (Patterson in press).

The project has three principal over-arching objectives:

* To produce a new materially based history of the Tiber valley as the hinterland of Rome from 1000 BC-AD 1300, investigating the impact of the growth, success and decline of Rome on its hinterland and the changing effects of the city and river on settlement, economy and cultural identity. …