Ex figlinis The complex dynamics of the Roman brick industry in the Tiber Valley during the 1st to 3rd centuries AD

2006 EX FIGLINIS: The Network Dynamics of the Tiber Valley Brick Industry in the Hinterland of Rome BAR International Series 1468. John Hedges Ltd.

…Although I have always been deeply interested in the works of the Roman poets and the Roman historians, I have never been able to summon up much enthusiasm for Roman architecture. In fact, the contemplation of a Roman brick seems to leave me cold – quite cold. So I would dearly like to know why it is that you find yourself so enthusiastic…

-Chief Inspector Morse in The Jewel That Was Ours, Colin Dexter, 1991


The Network Dynamics of the Tiber Valley Brick Industry in the Hinterland of Rome


The growth of the city of Rome was dependent on its ability to exploit successfully the human and natural resources of its hinterland. Although this hinterland eventually extended to incorporate the entire Mediterranean seaboard, the resources of the Tiber valley originally nourished the city and continued to do so despite the growth in imports from elsewhere in the Roman world. One of the most important industries to exploit the valley was the building industry, relying on (amongst other resources) extensive clay deposits to provide bricks. The study examines the way the Tiber valley (the immediate hinterland of Rome) functioned in terms of its economic and social geography, as evidenced by the organisation and dynamics of the brick industry. It concentrates on assemblages of stamped bricks from a number of sites in the Valley. Through an archaeometric approach to the fabrics of these bricks, coupled with a social networks analysis approach to the patterning of social and physical connections represented by the bricks and their associated stamps, the study arrives at an understanding of the social and economic relationships which characterised the city-hinterland relationship. Patterns of land exploitation are studied by locating the clay sources for bricks carrying the stamps of various figlinae and praedia. These different patterns suggest particular methods of land-tenure, which in turn allows the exploration of the sources of social power. The complex dynamics of how these sources of power change over time point to the conscious manipulation of social and physical networks in the industry. The importance of landed wealth for political and social power in Rome is a commonplace; the relationships which can be discerned in brick therefore mirror the political and social life of not only the élite, but also of their clients and tenants as well.


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