Piscinae: Artificial Fishponds in Roman Italy

Piscinae: Artificial Fishponds in Roman Italy

Piscinae: Artificial Fishponds in Roman Italy

Piscinae: Artificial Fishponds in Roman Italy


An intriguing architectural element reflects the Roman social order

Pisciculture -- the process of raising fish -- held a lasting fascination for the people of ancient Rome. Whether bred for household consumption, cultivated for sale at market, or simply kept in confinement for reasons of aesthetic appreciation, fish remained an important commodity and prominent cultural symbol throughout the periods of the Roman Republic and early Empire. Roman pisciculture reached its greatest level of sophistication, though, between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D. with the development of a highly specialized architectural element: the piscina, or artificial fishpond.

Based on a thorough examination of the archaeological record and complemented by site plans, maps, and photographs, James Higginbotham's work represents the most comprehensive study of the fishponds of Roman Italy. Higginbotham covers the technical aspects of Roman fishponds their design, construction, and operation -- and places the piscinae within their social, political, and economic context. He argues that in a society fascinated by pisciculture, ownership of a fishpond was a powerful display of wealth and social status and, ultimately, a manifestation of the intense competition between aristocratic Roman families that would eventually lead to civil war.


This book had its beginnings with my work as part of the excavations at Paestum (Italy) carried out by the Universities of Michigan and Perugia (Italy) under the direction of Professors John Griffiths Pedley and Mario Torelli. During four seasons of excavations between 1982 and 1985, I supervised the stratigraphic excavation of a small Roman fishpond which was part of the extramural sanctuary in the località Santa Venera. Study of this pond fostered my interest in Roman piscinae that culminated in this book. I owe a great deal to my colleagues Professor Pedley, Professor Torelli, Gail Hoffman, Concetta Masseria, Meg Morden, David Myers, and Giampiero Pianu for their learned input and encouragement. Special thanks go to my operai Carmine Federico, Cosimo Federico, Luigi Pinto, and Arturo La Corte who supplied the technical expertise that unearthed the piscina at Santa Venera and who bear some responsibility for sending me in pursuit of fishponds.

The research presented in this book was completed with the valued assistance of a number of individuals and institutions. The bulk of the field work for this project was carried out between 1988 and 1989 during my tenure as an Oscar Broneer Fellow in Classical Art and Archaeology at the American Academy in Rome and as a Fulbright-Hayes Scholar in . . .

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