New books on pre-Roman Italy you should read

Over the last few years, the field has been hugely enriched by lots of innovative new books on pre-Roman Italy and its populations. Many of them have really committed to interdisciplinary methods, combining historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence – with great results. Even better, these books are perfect to set for undergraduate reading (if you are putting together a reading list soon). Here are three of my recent favourites.

Nicola Terrenato (2019) The Early Roman Expansion into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas (CUP)

What I loved about this recent publication was the way it broke down the basic assumptions of so much work on pre-Roman Italy. Why was Rome really so much more successful than its neighbours in expanding its territory – does the idea that they were simply superior military strategists hold water? How did their expansion actually begin and gain momentum? Terrenato convincingly puts Rome alongside the other cities with expansionist agendas in the fourth and third centuries BC, including Carthage, Tarquinia and Taras, making Rome seem much less of an exception than you would think. Throughout, he examines the agendas of the other cities who interacted with Rome – what were they getting out of the deal?

From the abstract: “This book presents a radical new interpretation of Roman expansion in Italy during the fourth and third centuries BCE. Nicola Terrenato argues that the process was accomplished by means of a grand bargain that was negotiated between the landed elites of central and southern Italy, while military conquest played a much smaller role than is usually envisaged. Deploying archaeological, epigraphic, and historical evidence, he paints a picture of the family interactions that tied together both Roman and non-Roman aristocrats and that resulted in their pooling power and resources for the creation of a new political entity.”

Elena Isayev (2017) Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy (CUP)

Ideas of space, including mobility, have become increasingly important in ancient history in the last few years. Isayev’s book is a great example of how we can use both historical and archaeological evidence to talk about ancient social history. It’s also extremely timely in discussing not just ‘migration’ in the abstract, but seeking out the stories and experiences of individual migrants and refugees.

From the abstract: “Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy challenges prevailing conceptions of a natural tie to the land and a demographically settled world. It argues that much human mobility in the last millennium BC was ongoing and cyclical. In particular, outside the military context ‘the foreigner in our midst’ was not regarded as a problem. Boundaries of status rather than of geopolitics were those difficult to cross. The book discusses the stories of individuals and migrant groups, traders, refugees, expulsions, the founding and demolition of sites, and the political processes that could both encourage and discourage the transfer of people from one place to another. In so doing it highlights moments of change in the concepts of mobility and the definitions of those on the move. By providing the long view from history, it exposes how fleeting are the conventions that take shape here and now.”

Rafael Scopacasa (2015) Ancient Samnium: settlement, culture and identity between history and archaeology (OUP)

My new favourite book on the Oscan-speaking peoples of Italy, and the one I’ll be recommending to everyone I know from now on. Scopacasa reads the evidence, as far as possible, from the Samnite rather than the Roman point of view, and the results are fascinating. In particular, his analysis of the ‘Samnite’ identity shows that, although this was largely an invention of the Roman imagination, there were clear historical moments when groups played up to the stereotypes that had been created for them.

From the abstract: “This volume presents new ways of looking at ancient Italian communities that did not leave written accounts about themselves but played a key role in the development of early Rome, first as staunch opponents and later as key allies. It combines texts and archaeology to form a new understanding of the ancient inhabitants of Samnium during the last six centuries BC, how they constructed their identity, how they developed unique forms of social and political organization, and how they became entangled with Rome’s expanding power and the impact that this had on their daily lives.”

And one bonus edited book:

Jean MacIntosh Turfa (ed.) (2017) The Etruscan World (Routledge)

If you need an introductory text on the Etruscans for any courses you’re planning soon, or you’re just interested in the Etruscans, this book is now the place to start. It’s a pretty weighty 1200 pages long, pulling together a range of up-to-date expertise on every imaginable topic in Etruscan culture, from the earliest inhabitants of Etruria to the post-Classical reception of Etruscan culture. Many introductions to the Etruscans focus primary either on art or language, but there’s plenty of both here.

On a completely separate note, I will be starting maternity leave soon, and so the blog will probably be dormant for some time – but I’ll be back in 2020 with the next stage of the Connectivity and Competition research project. Have a great summer!

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