Image by Fernando Vergara Pina, Creative Commons
Why did the Roman Empire collapse? How could such a powerful and well-organized empire as that of Rome disappear? Was it destroyed, according to André Piganiol’s well-known theory, or did it simply decline?
What we have is a civilization that seems to have acquired a certain degree of modernity, with urbanized towns, sometimes more so than ours, with monuments of astonishing beauty and remarkably sound construction, some still standing after 2000 years, with roads and cities that even today form the basis of our territorial organization.
How could such a civilization collapse so completely that the towns perished and technologies were forgotten? This question has fascinated the West since the Renaissance, with renewed vigour after the discovery of Pompeii and the many ‘dead’ towns of North African and the Near East. The significance of this question is that much more powerful as it echoes a current obsession: could such a disaster occur within our own civilization?
We are very familiar with the great classics dedicated to this question: the famous Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence published by Montesquieu in 1734 or the lesser known History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by the Englishman Edward Gibbon, which appeared in 1776 to 1788. A number of other historians have offered at least partial answers.
We must synthesize and reanalyse all these conclusions. Are they at least partially adequate? Do they match the evidence from archaeological research which, for the last quarter of a century, has developed to a degree that we had not imagined?
These are the points to consider before outlining my main research themes, which are pertinent to these issues and merit the honour that Christian Goudineau and John Scheid bestowed upon me by putting my name forward for this position.
What information is available to us? More or less all the written sources from antiquity disappeared during the Middle Ages. To write a complete history, we have only partial factual reports. Record keeping documents (which were numerous) are almost completely absent, likewise technical treaties and archival records. Despite its exceptional climate and a long demographic decline, Egypt has retained several records, such as the archives of Zenon of the 3rd century BC or those of Heroninos of the 3rd century AD, papers which have been the object of much debate concerning their interpretation. Let us not forget also the contribution of the papyrological documents which have provided illuminating evidence, particularly for the history of trade, such as the papyrus of Bingen 77, which lists the tonnage of ships in a Roman Egyptian port, or the verso of the Vienna G papyrus, which lists the goods transported from India by the ship Hermapollon; but nevertheless we recognize that these illustrations are rare. For the rest of the Mediterranean world, we have only literary commentaries, written by aristocrats, and masses of inscriptions, which also reflect the life of the upper classes, and we attempt to apply this information to all of society, through various filters.
One cannot write the history of antiquity and its demographic, economic and environmental elements with so little data. Do these gaps motivate and push historians in the direction of conceptualization? Paul Veyne, in his inaugural lecture stated that: ‘Roman history encourages, more actively than others, the clarification of unconscious thought and conceptualization: it is a poorly documented history […]. But this weakness provokes ingenuity, which newly enriches the subject. All historiography depends, on the one hand on issues presented and on the other on the documents available. […] The experience proves that the fossilization of the problem always survives much longer than the exhaustion of the documents: even when the documentation is poor, there are always questions that one has not though of.
On the other hand, Moses Finley declared ‘Ancient authors, like all historians since that time, loathe emptiness. They fill it as far as possible and as a last resort, they invent.’
Ferdinand Braudel – “the limits of the possible” / Wikimedia Commons
Broadly speaking, this disparate and poor documentation has given rise to contradictory economic models following four main approaches.
First, there is the inductive approach, which has long dominated the field up to the 20th century, with Eduard Meyer, Tenney Frank, and above all Mikhail Rostovtzeff in his two fundamental works on the economic and social history of the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire. The latter tackled all the documentation available at the time and used it to form a conceptual explanation of history founded on the one hand on the conflicts between urban elites and the rural masses, and on the other on a conception of economic history that repeats cycles of growth and decline. Human motivations were considered as constants, the hunger for power and the lure of profit producing the same effects in antiquity as in the modern era; he concludes that there is no difference between the nature of the most advanced ancient economies and that of modern economies – simply degrees of difference.
The second approach – Marxism – which was at its most influential after the Second World War, searched for the economic infrastructures behind historic events. Thus, the principal motivations behind conquests were sought through economic interests, in particular social milieus (traders, businessmen), with imperialism being considered as supported by market forces. The limits of this type of explanation are quickly apparent. The Roman equestrian order did not in fact form a class of capitalists, but an order, as Claude Nicolet demonstrated; and there was no real bourgeoisie in the 18th and 19th century sense.
The substantivist approach had a profound influence, right up to today. It is rooted in the theories of Karl Bücher who simplified the evolution of the world economy into three stages: that of the household, characterized by the predominance of agriculture and marginal commerce (Antiquity); the economy of production and exchange in the Middle Ages; and the emergence of the national market in the modern era. For Karl Polanyi, before the capitalist society of the 19th century, there was no true market, the economy having no autonomy, being embedded within social and political institutions, that is to say, in interpersonal relationships such as within gift exchange, dependence and clientelism.
These ideas were applied to Antiquity by Moses Finley in several articles and in a major work published in 1973, The Ancient Economy, which is not presented as an economic history, but as an attempt to define the nature of ancient economy. For Finley, one can only approach these questions through conceptual means. His analyses led to the conclusion that the satisfaction of material needs is determined by religious, political or social institutions. It is thus not possible to try to organize the facts according to an economic logic that would only be applicable to the contemporary world. According to him, there was no conscious will to develop growth in Antiquity. The Ancients tended towards a self-sustaining ideal dominated by agriculture. Trade, even if it did develop in certain periods, remained marginal and in the hands of those of lower birth. Towns were just parasites living off the surplus products from the countryside and squandered by the elites through lavish non-productive consumption. Finley saw the ancient economy as stagnant and incapable of real growth and thus as a fixed entity that did not evolve or grow, it could not in fact fall at the end of Antiquity: economic life would have moved in a sort of continuum with occasional disruptions on the surface but with no fundamental change.
Whether we follow his theories, fight them or nuance them, we must recognize that Finley educated ancient historians and archaeologists in this field of study, that is, through the questions he asked. He forced us to leave empiricism behind and to gather examples to work on problems, to create models to test the evidence and to develop methods to answer these questions. He overturned our view of antiquity, presenting it as an under-administered world, without global knowledge, such as statistics; but he was justifiably criticized on these points in several studies by Claude Nicolet, and more recently by Elio Lo Cascio.
A final, and more recent, approach, could be referred to as ‘quantitative’. It rests on the principle that biological human needs remain constant and it is thus justifiable to put together a study of scale using known and legitimate data.
Thus, the absence of ancient statistics does not prevent the study of the distribution of amphorae or general discussion on the nature and evolution of production and trade, as André Tchernia has done in his book Les Romains et le commerce.
Data sometimes allows for population estimates and evaluations of the cost of the army and its bureaucratic structure, financial flows generated by military or civilian expenditure, even the gross domestic product of the Empire. Several researchers have recently followed these routes, from Keith Hopkins to Willem Jongman. They created sophisticated structures, but these suffered from being very hypothetical as they were too general or insufficiently grounded because of the poor documentation. Nevertheless, these structures had the advantage of offering a framework which Fernand Braudel termed ‘the limits of the possible’.
The History of Technology
Prehistoric tools and technology / Buxton Museum
The limits of possibility also relate to the available technology. The notion of human history based on technology is a recent intellectual phenomenon that had to free itself from the dogma of the creation of the world according to the Bible. While these principles prevailed, how was it possible to imagine an evolution based on the creation of tools, first in stone, then wood or bone, and then metal? Through the Count of Caylus in the mid 18th century and, more particularly, through the archaeologists of northern Europe in the 19th century, the concept of human evolution through tool use was established, and this spread via the works of the pre-historians and the synthesis of André Leroi-Gourhan who wrote that ‘technology forms a fundamentally important field of expertise, unique in the way it demonstrates complete continuity over time and allows us to understand early human activities and to follow them from millennium to millennium, right up until today.’
Beyond prehistory and proto-history, the place of technology during Antiquity and the Middle Ages has been the focus of studies undertaken mainly between the two world wars. Let us look at the context: fascinated by the technological innovations of their era – electricity, cars – historians became aware of the importance of this field. Thus was born one of the leading projects of the Annales School, initiated by Lucien Febvre in 1935, to encourage cooperation between historians and technicians for writing the history of technology.
Members of this school made important contributions to the debate, such as reinstating Medieval technology, though they underestimated that of Antiquity, according to several arguments: the abundance of slave labour, the absence of a consumer market, the ‘noble’ concept of an idle life dedicated to politics, but equally the failure of the link between ancient science and technological thought. Thus, in 1957, Jean-Pierre Vernant highlighted the absence of thinking and practices based on experimentation: the lack of an experimental body, meant that technological thinking did not form its own conceptual system, preventing progress and blocking practical applications.
Vernant’s analysis, influenced by philosophical thought, was linked to Finley’s views on the stagnation of technology in Antiquity. Not surprisingly, they both ran up against the scarcity of written sources, which had been dissected and milked in every possible way. Xenophon, Aristotle, the Latin agronomists, some passages of Cicero, of Tacitus or Seneca had been sifted through, providing pearls of wisdom and imaginative thought, but they were insufficient for recreating a continuous discourse. Can we go on forever on the basis of such a finite body of work?
This question provokes another one. Is there any hope that written sources will significantly increase? Can we dream of papyri buried in the sands of Fayoum that address our questions?
Alas, the answer is no. For more than a century, the excavations in Egypt have essentially uncovered literary works and archival documents. The latter are important for the details that they provide, within the context of villages or at best a named metropolis. Even the numerous texts that, with Hélène Cuvigny, Adam Bulow-Jacobsen and Michel Reddé, we have recently found in the military posts of the Eastern Desert excavations, shed only a little light on trade to India that passed through the roads that we surveyed. Nothing that we learn can be applied across all of Egypt, even less across the Mediterranean. Short of a miracle, the documents will continue to be similar to those already found.
We are pessimistic about any possible increase in the written sources. Should we thus lose hope for ancient history? No, as long as we do not give the documents more consideration than they deserve. Let me present a couple of examples.
The first is that of the use of hydraulic energy, considered as the touchstone of the alleged blocking of technology in Antiquity. In an article in 1935 Marc Bloch announced that the Roman Empire had willingly renounced the use of machines. Why? Because of the abundance of slaves and the aristocratic mentality of the elites. On the other hand, for opposite reasons, this technological revolution was promoted during the Middle Ages. This explanation has long been unanimously accepted, but today we know that this is ill-conceived and that the technology of the water mill had been adapted throughout the Roman world as soon as it was available, for example in Gaul from the Augustan period.
Another example. In 1959, Roger Dion, professor at the Collège de France, published an admirable book called Histoire de la vigne et du vin en France des origines au XIXe siècle. Using all the sources available, Dion estimated that the expansion of the vineyards, which began in the area of Greek Marseille, rapidly developed in the 1st century AD but then stopped for almost two centuries because of the measures undertaken by Emperor Domitien; viticulture was then renewed in the 4th century. We know today that this is not true: viticulture was at its peak in the 2nd century and declined right at the moment when Roger Dion sees it returning.
In these two cases, where does the revised thinking come from? We now have documentation that is completely independent of Marc Bloch or Roger Dion’s analyses: documentation from archaeological excavations, and this continues to grow.
‘Monsieur l’administrateur, my dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. What if I were to announce to you that at this very moment of our principal archival deposits were being burnt?’
It is with these words that, on 14 December 1984, Christian Goudineau began his inaugural lecture. Through this statement, he wanted to make the auditorium aware of the destruction of our archives, not the written but the material ones, those buried in the soil, that is, the archaeological legacy. Reminding us about the works and redevelopments that are devastating France, he added ‘in the space of one generation we have destroyed more than all generations before us since the invasions at the end of Antiquity.’
We are no longer in this position. Thanks to the activities of a generation of researchers and public opinion, political authorities have realized that it is necessary to take measures to understand and thus to add value to our underground archives. This change became apparent in several ways. First of all, in 1981, the state reinforced its scientific and administrative structures, particularly in the Ministry of Culture. Importantly, an appropriate legislative and regulatory arsenal was progressively implemented.
The defining moment was the law of 27 January 2001, which recognized that the archaeological heritage must be preserved or protected through scientific study. France was in fact simply conforming to the European Convention for the protection of archaeological heritage, signed in Malta in 1992.
To put in place this policy of research prior to any work, a public body funded by state subsidies and developers – the Institute national des recherches archéologiques préventives (INRAP) – was created in 2002. At the same time, local authorities, municipalities and departments set up their own archaeological units. The CNRS and universities were not idle – the former developing new research methods and the latter creating educational courses for archaeologists, necessitated by the explosion of applicants.
So, in terms of human, financial and intellectual resources, everything changed. Though not without upheavals, conflicts and setbacks. But the main points were accepted. The work of cataloguing archaeological sites has progressed substantially; the impressive Carte archéologique de la Gaule project is almost complete. Investigations are becoming systematic in all territories and they cover not only traditionally accepted visible remains, such as walls and ceramics, but also invisible ones, such as pollen and trace elements that allow a reconstruction of the evolution of the environment and pollution.
To emphasize the point, around 2,500 archaeologists are working on INRAP excavations today. If one adds those from the Ministry of Culture and local authorities, archaeologists employed by private companies and associations, and those attached to the CNRS and universities, the total is over 4,500 researchers.
It is more difficult to estimate the number of archaeologists in the Mediterranean region, as there are huge disparities between the countries of the European Union, some of which are relatively well equipped to deal with emergency and preventive archaeology, while others are up against negative political and economic environments. A global estimate of about 15,000 researchers seems reasonable.
Even if they are not evenly spread, these figures suggest the possibility for the collection of a significant amount of data.
Such a revolution carries two dangers.
The first danger is thinking that it is enough to undertake an adequate excavation to completely understand archaeology. This is an illusion. Today’s excavations are better than they were, but not as good as those of tomorrow. Our successors will develop new questions provoked by the challenges of their time and they will invent methods to answer them. We must therefore, other than for essential emergency archaeology, do everything possible to preserve virgin territory for future archaeological investigations.
The other danger in accumulating data is that it encourages a sort of euphoria that distracts us from the activities that Fernand Braudel was praising 60 years ago: new methodologies must be applied to new material. We must begin by establishing, even inventing these new methods and tools.
For archaeology to be made up of independent sources and scientific facts, the actors must agree on protocols of identification and data formatting. In reality, that means using the same methods for stratigraphic excavation, environmental sampling, analyses, counts, monumental reconstructions, stratigraphy and objects according to universal rules, particularly for drawings, to create a universal language. Proto-historians influenced by Michel Py applied these methods to the site of Lattes near Montpellier, creating a real ‘field school’, which has been an inspiration to archaeologists for over 40 years. This school of archaeology welcomes students from all over Europe and develops an integrated recording system that allows for the collection and formatting of the documentation.
But it is not enough simply to make data collection more uniform. To use Christian Goudineau’s metaphor, the archives are no longer on fire, except accidentally and to a limited extent, but the question has moved on: how can we exploit these archives to make them available for writing an alternative history.
We should not accept traditional publications any more, which are too long, superfluous and difficult to understand, and which blur the important information through their supposedly exhaustive lists. These lists are now increasingly long because of the increased documentation and the cumulative practices of our discipline which dictate that we must show our scholarly worth by citing all possible parallels – a superhuman and uncreative task.
We need to radically change our working methods, to carry out a revolution similar to that promoted by the Academy of Berlin when it launched, in the 19th century, the corpus of Latin inscriptions using a common style of presentation. Archaeologists must make the effort to organize their information in standardized and easily accessible classification series.
Such advances are fundamental and have already been realized. Here are three examples:
The first concerns the inventory of shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. This work revealed not only that they were more numerous during Antiquity than after, but also that their periodization testified to phases of development and decline. André Tchernia’s estimate of 60 million 25-litre amphorae demonstrates the extraordinary level of exportation of Italian wine to independent Gaul in the 2nd to 1st centuries BC, a period that Matthieu Poux called ‘The Age of wine’ and during which Celtic aristocrats used wine and banquets to establish their political domination. The curve, which, since 1646, has taken into account shipwrecks before the 15th century, shows a peak in the 1st century then a clear fall in the 2nd century, which is probably not a sign of dramatic economic decline but rather signifies the improvement of navigation that saw a reduction in the number of shipwrecks.
Second example: in his study of the dead cities of northern Syria, Georges Tate retraced the demographic evolution of this region that stands out simply because of the state of its preservation. Through a detailed recording of 4,700 homes in 46 villages, he discovered a slow demographic increase in the 1st century, particularly marked between 110 and 250, followed by a sharp decline. There was a recovery between 270 and 480, then another decline that stopped suddenly at the beginning of the 7th century. So, although taken from a limited region, these are the figures that we were missing for tracing the population curve.
Third example: a count of animal bones demonstrates that the inhabitants of the Roman Empire had a richer diet than in the periods that preceded or succeeded it. This dietary improvement can also be seen through the increase in human stature estimated from the femurs of skeletons found in tombs. The figures follow an increase in size during the 1st century BC to the 1st century AD, then a levelling out in the 2nd century and a decrease from the 4th century. The two curves could be indicators for the average rise in the standard of life per capita, followed by decline at the end of Antiquity.
These are but three examples but they demonstrate how the new evidence allows us to refine our perception of periods of development and decline. We must multiply this classification for all economic activities, at the same time as quantifying, for example, the number and the capacity of the oil or wine presses, fermentation jars, the number of workshops for each type of artisanal activity, the number of seeds in the sediments, etc. These are the classifications that make the archaeological remains useful to historians.
The task ahead of us is wide-ranging and complex. To share knowledge spread between different countries requires a communal database co-managed by several research organizations in Europe and countries bordering the Mediterranean.
The task is huge and complex too because of the need for balanced documentation. In countries where there are few archaeological remains or objects, as in northern Europe, everything is systematically counted. But in countries such as Italy, Greece and North Africa, the abundance and quality of the discoveries creates an imbalance in favour of towns, sanctuaries, necropoles, and aristocratic residences, as opposed to the countryside, modest residences, and economic infrastructures.
Differences in economic development and higher quality recording in certain regions aggravates the imbalance. It is apparent across northern Europe and the Mediterranean, but especially evident in North Africa and the Near East, where there is more destruction but limited archaeological resources to explore and save, where possible, the most spectacular ruins, and mosques, for example, are favoured to the detriment of workshops or slave quarters.
Let us be optimistic for a moment and imagine that it is possible to overcome the obstacles arising from the abundance and complexity of the archaeological documentation, which is classified in ever more numerous, richer and more homogeneous series, and that we have developed the methods to cross refer them – if this were the case, what would be the principle consequences?
The first would be that we are going to change the universe! For a long time, archaeological research has been carried out on public and religious monuments, on palaces and wealthy residences and aristocratic tombs. What is more, the social and academic recruitment of archaeologists has influenced interest in particular types of documentation. Epigraphy, sculpture, painting, architecture and urbanism have been the main fields of study at the expense of the tools of production and the vehicles of commerce, perpetuating an antiquated mental attitude. Unlike literary texts that present an external and often aristocratic view of work and technology, and better than epigraphy which shows mainly what people wanted us to remember about them, archaeology puts us in contact with the work itself, agricultural exploitation, workshops, production sites and trade. In so doing, however, the archaeologist does not dispense with epigraphic sources when they are available – mainly inscriptions on objects that may inform us about their origins, their producer, their function or their means of commercialization. Thus, by combining approaches and classifications, we can in future work as the school of the Annales intended.
Second consequence. Just as archaeology can reveal basic phenomena such as development, stability and decline, equally it can provide minute details: focusing on regions is all the more precious when the analytical points of view cross.
Let us look at Metaponto, in southern Italy, which has been the subject of surveys, excavations and analyses for almost 50 years. Joe Carter’s team has studied the territory of this Greek colony in great detail. Until about 550 BC the land was mainly used as pasture. In the following half century, the territory was divided into equal plots, and groups of small farms took root. What can we conclude from this? Firstly, that there was an increase in population; next that poor citizens had gained enough power to impose this division and that, from 400 BC, the number of farms and tombs declined. But why?
Geomorphological studies and anthropological analyses carried out on bodies came to the same conclusions: swamps extended and malaria decimated the population. No texts mention this phenomenon. This is a clear example of the benefits of interrelating detailed analyses and calls for more groups of specialists to do analyses from pollen, to dendrochronological or 14C dating, to quantities of 13C in bones for tracing paleo-diets, to analyses of the evolution of pollution from lead to leather, to the identification of the contents of wine or perfume containers using organic chemistry. The list goes on, according to our appetite for knowledge, but it is also extending on account of lower costs thanks to the automation of procedures, which makes them affordable for humanities laboratories.
Let us conclude this point by highlighting the changing nature of archaeological records. We have moved from little to an overabundance of data, which are beginning to be classified in series. Links are being established between them and we can now shift our attention from general to very specialized domains. International collaborations are being organized. New questions are emerging.
It is within this framework that this evening I shall introduce a programme of work whose spirit, themes and direction I would now like to define.
For a long time, the study of archaeology has been supported abroad by political expansionist ambitions and, in France, by intellectuals who, for a century, say from 1850 to 1970, have developed local archaeology. Those who P.M. Duval called ‘local archaeologists’ have been the driving force behind archaeology, then, from the 1980s, they were progressively marginalized.
Today archaeology requires certain methods, special training, and the availability that only professionals enjoy. However, to exclude amateur researchers from archaeological work is a mistake in two respects, as we would deprive ourselves of people of good will, informants, and of manual and intellectual workers in a world where manpower is expensive. Above all, this would cut citizens off from research. And so, interrelating disciplines and joining forces with the public are essential if we do not want science to be divorced from the social body that finances it. Archaeologists in particular need links with citizens to touch politicians, who will only take heritage into account if we can mobilize a significant section of the population to defend it.
Just as we must give amateur archaeologists a forum, so too, must we recognize the professionalization of research and its benefits. I mentioned above the reorganization that was brought about by the arrival of an increased number of professionals. Here they will find a platform for presenting their recent discoveries.
Beyond networking between professionals and amateurs, excavators who produce new documentation need to communicate with the historians who use their results to tackle the wider questions. Archaeologists also need to forge links with analytical scientists, chemists, biologists, zoologists, and physicians whose expertise is fundamental for reconstructing economic and environmental activities, the health of ancient populations, and so on. To unite these disciplines, which remain separate in the academic tradition, will be an important priority.
Finally, I would like to create a network of researchers who, in Europe and the Mediterranean, are interested in the history of technology and the ancient economy, with an eye to presenting methods and results and creating documentary classifications for reconstructing the framework of a forgotten history.
Issues for Debate
Ruins of Pompeii, François Mazois / Wikimedia Commons
What research themes will I look at over the coming years, through the exploitation of the archaeological records already available or in progress, and through the setting up of databases? What questions would we like to ask of this new documentation?
We would like to ask questions of the past that are relevant to our future. The archaeologist is not passive in his choice of fields of study and observation. He recognizes what he knows, what intrigues him in accordance with his own culture. In the 18th century archaeology was preoccupied with art and its history; in the 19th century, marked by wars, it looked at forts and battle fields; in the 20th century, institutional and religious monuments; and more recently, objects of commerce.
At each stage of the evolution of contemporary civilization, we are given the means to answer new questions: at first we looked at the symbolism of monuments – see for example Bernard de Montfaucon’s great 1724 collection L’Antiquité expliquée – then we opened up archaeological sites, with the first publications taking a fresh look at urbanism and private life – such as the work of François Mazois on Pompeii. Epigraphy also played an important role from the last third of the 19th century, with the publication of huge collections such as the corpus of Greek and Latin inscriptions, which changed the way we look at this documentation and altered the nature of our investigations.
Today, the questions are really diverse. They look at population, illness, food, economy, technology, environment and climate. I personally concentrate on the study of production, an essential element that embraces the infrastructure of society and reconstructs the remains left by ordinary people who have neither the power nor the culture to provide written evidence. Such studies compensate for the permanent bias present in history that favours those in power and the marginal groups occupied with economic activities such as the dazzling trade in luxury goods. We must therefore strive to counterbalance the weight of the upper levels of society by studying the rural and urban masses in their productive role. Growth in Antiquity, as today, is the fruit of a clear evolution of the population, of its well-being and education, which we can glimpse through settlements, places and forms of work, food and sanitation.
In the coming years, I intend to present the state of research on the archaeology of technological innovations, energy, manpower and agriculture, especially specialized agriculture, the infrastructures of trade and the proto-industrial evolution of certain artisans.
Demography, Manpower, and Epidemics
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie / Wikimedia Commons
Anyone studying the world of production must first of all take account of the key player: manpower, in its two facets, quality and quantity.
In the second millennium, which concerns us, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie recalled that ‘the main fluctuations within the economy in the long term are caused by major demographic changes; that is, the final count derives from biology, and the rhythm of microbial movements. This is how they are modelled.’
How could it be otherwise in antiquity? Epidemics, war, famine and their joint impact on populations were the main vehicle of the economy and the evolution of technology. There is no development that is not demographic.
But how can archaeology contribute to the advancement of our knowledge in this debate? The phases of expansion and decline are in fact written into the soil by the multiplication or the abandonment of workshops, settlements and, in conjunction with this, cemeteries.
Until recent times, the excavation of tombs was principally carried out for the collection and study of the funerary furniture, sometimes of great value, which adorns our museums. Today, archaeologists are also interested in human bones, for measuring their size, tracing mortality curves and identifying pathologies. Looked at in this way, the excavation of cemeteries, and in particular ossuaries, provides an irreplaceable body of documentation.
Let us look at two examples of these possibilities. In 1989 we excavated tombs of the 4th century AD near Hyères in the Var department. One of them contained the skeleton of a female and her foetus. The pathologists Jacque Bérato, Olivier Dutour and György Pálfi, demonstrated that she had died of congenital primary syphilis. This discovery, now followed by others, changed our perception of the importance of this illness, previously considered to have come from America on the return of Christopher Columbus.
Another case, similarly fascinating, has opened up new perspectives. From 2005, a team of anthropologists set about clearing a mound of skeletons from the catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter in Rome: these bodies were buried rapidly during the recurrent epidemics that hit Rome during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. DNA analyses have allowed the identification of the pathogenic agents that caused these epidemics and clarified the nature of the ‘plague’ that struck the Roman Empire from the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
\Beyond these particular cases, the classification of cemeteries allows the progressive establishment, region by region, of the health of these populations, and the evolutionary curve of the ages of the deceased. These advances do not answer all our questions; we would also like to know the quality of the workforce and its forms of exploitation, traceable through the study of the bone pathologies and deficiencies.
Forced labour is essentially a characteristic of Antiquity. The spectacular achievements, from public monuments to the private residences of the elite, were only possible through the brutal exploitation that followed conquest – slavery and the domination of the poor. The initial growth of states in Antiquity is a consequence of war. The question is, was war necessary for growth in Antiquity, as Finley believed, or could growth have been independently created and maintained?
Two hypotheses present themselves. Either war was necessary for growth and, with the establishment of the Empire and the ending of the endemic state of war, the final winner, Rome, dominated the Mediterranean and reached the limits of any possible further expansion. With no basis for internal growth, because of the social structures, decline set in.
Alternatively, growth, caused by conquest, found the sufficient conditions for maintaining itself thanks to internal peace in the Mediterranean from the end of the 1st century AD, despite the unfavourable social structure. This growth, accompanied by demographic growth, was stopped towards the end of the 2nd century by a series of epidemics that would have had the same dire consequences on the economy and the fate of the empire as those of the black death of 1348 on the economy of Middle Age Europe. As Jean-Michel Carrié demonstrated, this caesura was overcome by demographic growth, which can be seen in several areas such as Spain, Africa and the East in the 3rd and 4th centuries, but the western Empire was nevertheless weakened in the long term.
Ancient hydraulic turbine / Wikimedia Commons
Another approach, relevant as ever, deserves our attention: the archaeology of energy. How did the ancients operate organic and non-organic sources of energy?
The first question concerns men and animals. Certainly the abundance of cheap labour, slaves and poor people made human energy omnipresent, but demographic fluctuations must have influenced the use of alternative energies.
Organic energy includes wood and charcoal, indispensible for metallurgy, glass and brick manufacture. The northern edge of the Mediterranean was well forested and without doubt their exploitation as a source of fuel aided the development of industries that used fire, such as iron production. Claude Domergue, excavating the iron reduction kilns on the Forges au Martys estate in the Black Mountains, clearly demonstrated the link between iron deposits and an abundance of wood, which did not change until the modern era.
Wind powered energy, propelling ships at low cost on progressively peaceful seas, was a decisive factor for growth in the Hellenistic period and the High Empire.
Finally, more extensive than previously thought, even universal in my opinion, was the use of hydraulic energy, which we now see as having had great historiographic importance. In this respect, the multiplication of archaeological discoveries has brought about a change of perspective. I will present, starting this year, the results of the watermill excavations I carried out in France and in Italy, and I will review other discoveries that have multiplied over the last few years due to emergency excavations.
Ancient water treatment device / Wikimedia Commons
The application of hydraulic energy to all types of mills leads us to examine the initial mechanisms of technological innovation.
Our predecessors carefully analysed the thoughts of Aristotle, Cicero and Seneca, showing that their writing, belittling technology and professionals, reflected the prejudices of the upper classes in ancient society. However, these philosophical views have been extended to society as a whole. It is doubtful that the philosophers’ writings would have corresponded to the technological and economic reality of the day, and that they would have had some practical influence over it.
For a new technology to be developed and adopted, several conditions must be in place. There must be a method of diffusion, such as individual or collective migration, some sort of apprenticeship or knowledge through written sources. There must also be clear benefits in the relationship between the investment, the work and the output. Technology cannot be adopted if it involves too much investment or a very specific type of technology, or if the benefits of the growth of production are cancelled out by additional taxes or rent. There must also be an increase in demand in proportion to the output, and thus a population increase, principally urban, an improvement in the organization of commerce, connectivity and transportation. The coming together of all these factors explains the slowness, or indeed the speed, of certain technological advances.
The spread of the screw used in agricultural and artisanal tools is a good example of advance and resistance.
It is of little value to know who invented such and such a tool or machine that led to improved productivity or transport facilities. It is the moment of that diffusion that matters and the extent of its impact on the economy. We have for a long time stated that the Romans only expanded and adapted inventions from the Hellenistic east. But the debate must be widened: not all inventions that were useful to economic development came from the east. What about wooden barrels invented in the Alps by the Celts or the Rhètes? Their general use, probably by the managers of the Roman army, changed the means of transporting solid and liquid goods for centuries.
We must also measure the effect of particular forms of progress on the archaeological perception of certain phenomena. Looking at the case of wooden barrels, their spread from the 1st century AD changed our perception of the history of viticulture. Until now, amphorae counts were used to define production zones, the destinations for commercial wine, and the growth and decline of particular vineyards. A barrel that could be reused, without any special local characteristics specific to the wood, provides little evidence: the wine-making regions active in certain historical periods can thus disappear from our field of vision. Another invention, blown glass, was widely used from the 1st century AD but has deprived archaeology of evidence for the perfume trade, which was in operation from the 8th century BC: glass, recyclable and re-worked prevents us from guessing its provenance as can be done for ceramic vessels. Alum offers another example: natural alum, gathered from volcanic fumaroles, in particular on the island of Lipari, was traded in amphorae for centuries. At the beginning of the 2nd century AD, alum amphorae stopped being produced: was this a sign of economic crisis that was indicated in any other way? No, it was probably the result of a technological innovation and the spread of ‘artificial’ alum, that is, alum obtained through the calcination of alumite that produces a powder that can be transported in sacks, which were reusable, perishable and thus invisible to the archaeologist.
Reconstruction of an ancient plow / Wikimedia Commons
Certain agricultural products signalled innovation in several ways: new cultivation techniques introduced in a given region, changes in management techniques and new tools.
The archaeology of wine, oil and grain produced for the market has been widely studied. We are currently trying to define the fluctuations of these products in the Mediterranean basin, as has recently been done for Gaul. These fluctuations demonstrate not only variations in demand in demographic terms, but also reflect political decisions, in particular in the Roman Empire. The latter demonstrates the specialization of certain provinces, such as Sicily and Egypt for grain; Spain and Africa for oil; and Gaul for wine, for the more efficient organization and rationalization of supplies to the army and large urban centres. Regions like the valley of Baetis or the Tunisian Sahel were not a priori suited to olive growing: it was instead the demands of political power that shaped their economy, which continued to structure the countryside and can be seen through the impressive remains of ancient olive farms.
Beyond historical interests, the study of wine and oil in Antiquity takes on, in the 21st century, a particular economic importance. In the world theatre, where new countries have so many capitalist assets for producing wine identical to ours, through their grape varieties and methods of wine making, European wines can only legitimize their greater value through their history. What would Champagne be without the image of luxury that the kings of France and the enthusiasm of the Tsars created? It was the same for the wine produced in Antiquity: the wine of Falerno in Italy claims its heritage from the great wine made fashionable by the Roman aristocracy. In this context, the clearing and presentation of the remains of wine production plants are likely to promote an image anchored in a tradition taken over by wine routes, museums and exhibitions. The high value of vineyards in the ancient world can also be found in these imaginaries. The same process survives for the production of olive oil in Italy, Greece and France, where claims to superior quality and age-old traditions set them apart from their Spanish and Tunisian competitors.
Ancient leather casing for a chariot / Wikimedia Commons
Long neglected, the archaeology of artisans and manufacturers, according to Jean-Paul Morel’s definition, has newly developed over the last 20 years, with models taken from well preserved installations like those at Delos or Pompeii, which are questioned for their relative importance.
Let us take for example the leather industry. In Germany and the Netherlands, where the humidity has preserved organic remains, archaeologists only find leather objects in Roman levels, as it is only in this period that the quality is good enough for them to survive. This suggests that, due to the enormous pressure of demand provoked by the armies stationed on the Rhine, leather goods were made according to efficient and standardized methods of vegetal tanning, that is, by treating the skins in vats of crushed oak bark or gallnuts. But ancient tanneries are very rare: through the Centre Jean Bérard, Martine Leguilloux and I undertook an excavation of a 1st century tannery at Pompeii which, with its 15 large vats, has not been matched until the 18th century. This case study has helped us to discover other installations of the same type in the Mediterranean and Gaul.
The different fields of the extraction industry and their transformations will also be reviewed, from the granite quarries in the eastern desert of Egypt to the production of perfumes in the towns of Campania, supported by the excavations carried out by the Centre Jean Bérard at Pompeii in collaboration with the Instituto Valenciano de Conservacion y Restauracion de Bienes Culturales (Spain), integrating all the new research on the remains connected to artisanal activities.
Ancient Eastern trade routes / Wikimedia Commons
Finally, there would be no growth of production without the organization of trade, whose role was to identify the needs in any given place and to ‘provide what was lacking’ according to André Tchernia’s formula. Through family, ethnic or other networks, merchants took information about demand and organized transportation, taking advantage, from the classical period, and on a greater scale in the imperial period, of the infrastructures put in place by the state and the systems of public transport that opened up the road to private trade.
The complex mechanisms of ancient trade have recently been studied through papyri, the archives of the Sulpicii found in a district of Pompeii and archaeological pointers such as amphorae or ingots. These syntheses have revolutionized our knowledge but there is still a great deal to do in order to understand these infrastructures: firstly the ports, better fitted and more numerous under the Roman Empire; then the roads and particularly the Roman roads with their great constructions – bridges and tunnels that allowed for easy transportation by road, so often praised and considerably better than those of the Medieval or modern eras. Means of transportation have also been the object of innovative studies. Georges Raepsaet took apart the beautiful construction built by Lefèbvre des Noëttes to demonstrate that ancient systems of harnessing were not faulty. Maritime archaeology, a field in which the CNRS’s Centre Camille Jullian excels, under the direction of Patrice Pomey, has traced the evolution and construction of ships that enabled increased tonnage and thus a rise in trade and exchange.
Monsieur l’Administrateur, my dear colleagues,
The Collège de France likes to take risks and to undertake original research. My own professional path has been atypical, moving from community archaeology to the Ministry of Culture and then to the CNRS. I began with fieldwork and never left it. My contribution will be the study of archaeological sites, a discipline that can provide new information about the history of technology and the economy of the ancient world.
I therefore intend to remain a researcher working on excavations, that is, establishing the documentation and making it available to the scientific community through publications, exhibitions and databases, but I would like also to become a go-between. In a field of research that, like all others, is becoming more and more specialized, we need researchers who are trying to understand the evolution of their field, an increasingly arduous task on account of the rise in the quantity of available documentation.
I intend to create a community of archaeologists at the Collège de France – French, European, and Mediterranean, who are interested in the history of technology and economic activities. I will invite field archaeologists to present their latest discoveries in relation to these fields of research so that together we can create a systematic classification for newly acquired evidence.
The aim is to answer the questions raised at the beginning. Why did the Roman Empire collapse? How could such a powerful and well-organized empire such as that of Rome disappear? There is no single answer to these questions, but we are beginning to form explanations combining historical events, such as the impact of huge epidemics, the barbarian invasions, and the lack of religious or political vision of the elites. There are also structural causes that come to mind. Having built its prosperity on the upper classes’ crushing domination over the humiliores and slaves; kept the poor on the threshold of subsistence, thus preventing the significant take-off of consumption; transformed the citizen into a subject and established systematic corruption as a form of government; kept the majority in ignorance by failing to set up public education; and neglected scientific research and technology, has Greco-Roman civilization, despite its astonishing successes, not shown us how decline can set in?
Archaeology, through its mass of scientific information, can help us to draw a few lessons in the better understanding of economic and technological systems as well as the conditions for the collapse of ancient civilization, giving our investigations more current relevance.
1 Piganiol A., L’Empire chrétien, Paris, PUF, 1972 (2nd edition), p. 466. In the conclusion, André Piganiol summarizes the reasons behind the collapse of the Western Roman Empire as due to climatic, demographic, financial, economic, and intellectual crises; he concludes that the Germanic invasions played a decisive role.
2 Studying the changing themes of the decline and fall of Rome in Antiquity today, Santo Mazzarino (La fin du monde antique. Avatar d’un thème historiographique, Paris, Gallimard, 1973) demonstrated that only since the Renaissance have we begun to unravel moral and religious explanations, in particular the Medieval idea of punishment inflicted by God, to present the problem in rational terms.
3 Ferdinand Lot (La fin du monde antique et le début du Moyen Âge, Paris, 1927, p. 275) talks of ‘maladie interne’. An approach combining different factors has recently been proposed by Paul Veyne : the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was due to a succession of accidents. This death ‘was not a “fall” at the end of a period of political, military, administrative, economic, demographic or morale decline […]. The fall of the western half [of the Roman Empire] was an unpredictable accident brought about by a series of fateful events and multiple causes; there is no great cause or single important lesson to be learnt; it was an accidental process, brought about by countless causes.’ (Veyne P., L’Empire gréco-romain, Paris, Fayard, 2005, p. 739–740).
4 Orrieux C., Les papyrus de Zénon, Paris, Macula, 1983.
5 Rathbone D., Economic Rationalism and Rural Society in Third-Century A.D. Egypt. The Heroninos Archive and the Appianus Estate, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
6 The contribution of papyrological documents in all aspects of the economic life of Egypt is considerable. For agriculture, see for example Rowlandson, J., Landowners and tenants in Roman Egypt. The Social Relations of Agriculture in the Oxyrhynchite Nome, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996; Bagnall, R. S., The Kellis agricultural account book (P. Kell. IV gr.), Oxford monograph 92, 1997; Ruffing K., Weinbau im Römischen Ägypten, St. Katharinen, Scripta Mercaturae Verlag (Pharos XII), 1999. For trade, look in particular at: Heilporn P., ‘Registre de navires marchands’, in: Melaerts H. (ed.), Papyri in honorem Johannis Bingen octogenarii (P. Bingen), Louvain, 2000, p. 339–359. De Romanis, F., ‘Commercio, metrologia, fiscalità. Su P. Vindob. G 40 822 verso’, MEFRA, 110, 1, 1998, p. 11–60; Rathbone D., ‘The “Muziris” papyrus (SB XVIII 13167): financing Roman trade with India’, in: Alexandrian Studies, II, in Honour of Mostafa Abbad, BSAA, 46, p. 39–50.
7 Veyne P., Histoire de Rome, Inaugural Lecture delivered on 5 March 1976, Paris, Collège de France, 1976, p. 10.
8 Finley M. I., ‘L’histoire ancienne et ses sources’, in: Sur l’histoire ancienne, Paris, 1987, p. 44. The section in italics was formatted as such by this author.
9 In 1954 Edouard Will underlined the impotence of ancient historians faced with the inconsistencies of the ancient sources that give isolated accounts, and often atypical rather than common records: Will E., ‘Trois quarts de siècle de recherches sur l’économie grecque antique’, Annales ESC, 9, 1954, p. 7–19.
10 Meyer E., Geschichte der Altertums, Stuttgart/Berlin 1884–1928 (French translation: Histoire de l’antiquité, Paris, Geuthner, 1912–1926).
11 Frank T. (ed.), An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1933–1940 (6 vols) [reed. Paterson N. J., Peageant, 1959].
12 The literature on Rostovtzeff is immense. For instance there are two excellent introductions by Jean Andreau to the works of Rostovtzeff M., Histoire économique et sociale de l’Empire Romain, Paris, R. Laffont, 1988, and Histoire économique et sociale du Monde Hellénistique, Paris, R. Laffont, 1989.
13 Nicolet C., ‘Les classes dirigeantes romaines sous la République: ordre sénatorial et ordre équestre’, Annales ESC, 32, 4, 1977, p. 726–755.
14 Bücher K., Die Enstehung der Volkswirtschaft, Leipzig, 1893, French translation: Études d’histoire et d’économie politique, Bruxelles/Paris, 1901.
15 Polanyi K., The Great Transformation, Boston, 1944.
16 Finley M. I., The Ancient Economy, London, 1973 (French translation: L’économie antique, Paris. Ed. de Minuit, 1975).
17 Finley M. I., ‘Le document’, in: Sur l’histoire ancienne. La matière, la forme, la méthode, Paris 1987, p. 68–96.
18 The debate on this point continues: see the opposite opinion of Walter Scheidel (‘In Search of Roman Economic Growth’, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 22, 2009, p. 46–70) and Andrew Wilson (‘Indicators for Roman e-Economic Growth: a Response to Walter Scheidel’, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 22, 2009, p. 71–82).
19 Nicolet C., Rendre à César, Paris, Fayard, 1988. Nicolet C., L’inventaire du monde: géographie et politique aux origines de l’Empire romain, Paris, Fayard, 1988. Nicolet C., Censeurs et publicains. Économie et fiscalité dans la Rome antique, Paris, Fayard, 2000.
20 Lo Cascio E., ‘Crescita es declino: l’economia romana in prospettiva storica’, in: Crescita e declino. Studi di storia dell’economia romana, Roma, L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2009, p. 5–16.
21 Tchernia A., Les Romains et le commerce, Naples, Centre Jean Bérard, 2011.
22 Temin P., ‘A Market Economy in the Early Roman Empire’, Journal of Roman Studies, 9, 2001, p. 169–181. Temin P., ‘Estimating GDP in the Early Roman Empire’, in: Lo Cascio E., (ed.) Innovazione tecnica e progresso economico nel mondo romano: atti degli incontri capresi di storia dell’economia antica (Capri 13-16 aprile 2003), Bari, 2006, p. 31–54.
23 Hopkins K., ‘Taxes and Trade in the Roman Empire (200 BC – AD 400)’, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 70, 1980, p. 101–125. Hopkins K., ‘Rome, Taxes, Rents and Trade’, Kodai, 6/7, 1995–1996, p. 41–75.
Hopkins K., ‘Rents, taxes, trade and the city of Rome’, in: Lo Cascio E., (ed.), Mercati permanenti e mercati periodici nel mondo romano. Atti degli incontri capresi di storia dell’economia antica (Capri 13–15 ottobre 1997), Bari, 2000, p. 253–267. This is not the place to present K. Hopkins’ economic model. But let us highlight a couple of essential points. 1. Taxes taken by the state and goods taken in rent from the provinces were mainly spent in Rome and regions where the army was stationed, creating monetary flows and economic growth, the producers being forced to produce a surplus to sell in order to pay their taxes, and in return the state guaranteed peace and stability. 2. The state and the great landowners (senators, equestrians, the Church) competed to monopolize the available surplus and, in turn, the great enrichment of the aristocracy undermined the resources of the State, contributing in the West to the disintegration of the Empire.
24 Jongman W., The Economy and Society of Pompeii, Amsterdam, 1991.
Jongman W., ‘The Early Roman Empire: Consumption’, in: Scheidel W., Morris I., Saller R.P. (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World, Cambridge, 2007, p. 592–618.
25 Braudel F., Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe–XVIIIe siècles, t. I: Les structures du quotidien, Paris, Armand Colin, 1979. Recent research has underlined the irreducible character of ancient economies: there was no unified economy in the Mediterranean, even under the Roman Empire, but instead loosely linked economies: the clearest examples being the vast maritime networks based around ports; those supplying Rome and the army; the countryside and administrative centres; those of the mountains; those directed by grand commerce; and also colonial economies with relationships with the outlying territories. The overlapping of these economies was often marginal. Each merits its own study for improving our understanding of production and trade, the diffusion of technology, often very rapid, and manufactured products, particularly during the Roman Empire where standardized goods reached large sectors of the population as has been demonstrated in Britain by Kevin Greene (‘Technological Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World: M. I. Finley re-considered’, Economic Historic Journal, LIII, 2000, p. 29–59) or for the shepherds on the plains of La Crau near Arles, due to work directed by Gaetan Congès (Badan O., Brun J.-P., Congès G., ‘Les bergeries romaines de la Crau d’Arles et les origines de la transhumance en Provence’, Gallia, 52, 1995, p. 263–310).
26 ‘The discovery of the past’ has been a human preoccupation for as long as we have written documents: Schnapp A., La conquête du passé. Aux origines de l’archéologie, Paris, Carré, 1993.
27 Leroi-Gourhan A., L’homme et la matière (2nd edition), Paris, Albin Michel, coll. ‘Science d’aujourd’hui’, 1971.
28 Marc Bloch illustrated this revelation: ‘Generations before us, and our own, were witness to, in transportation, this phenomenal transition of animal traction being taken over by purely inorganic forms of energy. This pretty much caused the revolution, in another realm of activity, the advent of the water mill’ (Bloch M., 1935, ‘Avènement et conquête du moulin à eau’, Annales d’histoire économique et sociale, 36, p. 538–563; re-ed, Mélanges historiques, Paris, EHESS, 1983, p. 804).
29 Febvre L., ‘Réflexions sur l’histoire des techniques’, Annales d’histoire économique et sociale, 7, 1935, p. 531–535.
30 Vernant J.-P., ‘Remarques sur les formes et les limites de la pensée techniques chez les Grecs’, Revue d’histoire des sciences et de leurs applications, 10, 1957, p. 205–225; re-ed. Travail et esclavage en Grèce ancienne, Paris, ed. Complexe, 1988, p. 35–57 and in Œuvres, Paris, Seuil, 2007, t. I, p. 511–529).
31 The huge gaps in written documentation mean that historians are silent on matters such as the economy or technology. Looking at the important economic role of large and medium sized towns in the Imperial period, Keith Hopkins significantly wrote: ‘the production and entrepot functions of [the] large second-order cities are usually ignored by economic historians, mostly I suspect because they are never mentioned in any surviving source.’ Hopkins 2000 (p. 29 note 23), p. 262, note 16.
32 Cuvigny H. (ed.), Brun J.-P., Bülow-Jacobsen A., Cardon D., Leguilloux M., Matelly M.-A., Reddé M., De Coptos à Myos Hormos, Recherches sur l’organisation et la protection de la piste caravanière de la Mer Rouge à l’époque romaine, Le Caire, IFAO, 2003 (2 vols). Cuvigny H. (ed), Brun J.-P., Bülow-Jacobsen A., Cardon D., Eristov H., Granger-Taylor H., Leguilloux M., Nowik W., Reddé M., Tengberg M., Didymoi. Une garnison romaine dans le désert Oriental d’Egypte, t. I: Les fouilles et le matériel. Le Caire, IFAO, 2011; t. II: Les textes, Le Caire, iFAO, 2012.
33 Bloch 1935 (p. 33 note 1). The posterity of Marc Bloch’s article has been studied by Lohrmann D., ‘L’histoire du moulin à eau avant et après Marc Bloch’, Marc Bloch aujourd’hui. Histoire comparée et sciences sociales, Paris, EHESS, 1990, p. 339–347.
34 Wilson A., ‘Machines, Power and the Ancient Economy’, The Journal of Roman Studies, 92, 2002, p. 1–31. Brun J.-P., ‘L’énergie hydraulique durant l’Empire romain: quel impact sur l’économie agricole?’ in: Lo Cascio E. (ed.), Innovazione tecnica e progresso economico. Atti del convegno internazionale di Capri, 2003, Bari, Edipuglia, 2006, p. 101–130. The watermills of Art-sur-Meurthe and Saint-Doulchard near Bourges date from the beginning of the 1st century AD: Brun J.-P., ‘Les moulins hydrauliques dans l’Antiquité’, in: Archéologie des moulins hydrauliques, à traction animale et à vent, des origines à l’époque mediévale (Lons-le-Saunier, 2–5 November 2011), forthcoming.
35 Between 2002, the date of the foundation of INRAP, and 2011: 16,878 analyses on 112,241 hectares and 2,237 excavations have been carried out (Source: INRAP press releases from the 10th anniversary of its creation).
36 La Carte archéologique de la Gaule, published by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres under the direction of Michel Provost, presented, department by department, the state of the available documentation on all known ancient archaeological sites.
37 In 2011, 2,320 archaeologists worked for INRAP (Source: INRAP press release from the 10th anniversary of its creation).
38 There are fewer jobs in archaeology in Italy. In 2011, 510 were working for the soprintendenze archeologiche of the ministero dei beni culturali or for local authorities, 400 in universities and about 2,000 for private companies, undertaking emergency excavations.
39 Franck Braemer made a report on 11 April 2011 outlining archaeology in the Mediterranean, giving the number of researchers by country: France: 3,650 (more likely 4,500 if we look at INRAP’s figures and estimates from other organizations); Spain: 2,885; Italy: 2,900; Croatia: 200; Albania: 48; Greece: 2,195; Turkey: 495; Syria: 140; Israel: 410; Egypt: 480; Tunisia: 75; Algeria: 256; Morocco: 55; (figures for Libya and Jordan are not known). See Braemer F., in collaboration with Angevin R., L’archéologie en Méditerranée: situation internationale, évolutions. Rapport de mission à l’attention des directions de l’École française de Rome et de l’Institut des sciences humaines et sociales du CNRS, Rome, 11 April 2011 (www.ecole-francaise.it).
40 This is why we must stop clearing sites like Pompeii or Herculaneum, and instead, preserve them for future research. From 1995, under the direction of Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the soprintendenza of Pompeii, a sensible policy was developed to study the previously cleared zones and to freeze all new investigations. Within the framework of this new policy, open to teams of all nationalities, the Centre Jean Bérard (CNRS/École française de Rome) was able to undertake a programme of research on artisans at Pompeii, supported by the Ministère des affaires étrangères (commission for excavations) and by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (projet Artifex).
41 Braudel F., Histoire de la civilization moderne, Inaugural Lecture delivered on 1 December 1950, Paris, Collège de France, 1951.
42 The need for a common language within the scientific world for illustration has already been presented by the Comte de Caylus (A. C. de Tubières), Recueil d’antiquités égyptiennes, grecques, étrusques et romaines (7 vol.), Paris, 1752–1767.
43 See the Lattara series published by l’Association pour la recherche archéologique en Languedoc oriental, Caveirac, and for a recent synthesis, Py M., Lattara: Lattes, Hérault: comptoir gaulois méditerranéen entre Étrusques, Grecs et Romains, Paris, Errance, 2009.
44 See in particular: Bowman A. K., Wilson A., Quantifying the Roman Economy: Methods and Problems, Oxford, Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy, 2009.
45 On this question, see: Tchernia A., Le vin de l’Italie romaine, Rome, École française de Rome, 1986, p. 85–87 and Tchernia A., Les Romains et le commerce, Naples, Centre Jean Bérard, 2011, p. 160–163.
On Celtic wine rituals: Poux (M.), L’âge du vin. Rites de boisson, festins et libations en Gaule indépendante, Montagnac, ed. Monique Mergoil, 2004.
46 An inventory of shipwrecks was recently carried out by J. Strauss in a programme of research for the Oxford Roman Economy Project: Wilson A., ‘Developments in Mediterranean Shipping and Maritime Trade from the Hellenistic Period to AD 1000’, in: Robinson D., Wilson A., Maritime Archaeology and Ancient Trade in the Mediterraean, Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology, 6, 2011, p. 33–59. According to A. Wilson, investments in the development of ports and the construction of lighthouses, evolution in the building of shipyards and advances in maritime knowledge saw the number of maritime accidents dramatically diminishing for vessels of the same or higher tonnage. This progress is reflected in a decline in shipwrecks in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
47 Jongman W., ‘Gibbon was Right. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Economy’, in: Crises and the Roman Empire, Leiden, Brill, 2007, p. 183–200. Robert W. Fogel (The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700–2100: Europe, America and the Third World, Cambridge, 2004) underlined the direct relationship between the socio-economic level of a population and the height of individuals. Geoffrey Kron (‘The Augustan Census. Figures and the Population of Italy’, Athenaeum, 93, 2005, p. 441–495) demonstrated that there is a difference in the average height of individuals in the Roman period to those of the 19th century. In 1854, Italians’ average height was 162.4 cm while a sample of 924 male Roman skeletons in Italy measured on average 168.3 cm. See also: Lo Cascio E., Malanima P., ‘Cycles and Stability. Italian Population before the Demographic Transition (225 B.C.–A.D. 1900)’, Rivista di Storia Economica, 21, 2005, p. 5–40.
48 Nevertheless, we must mention the corpus of papyri that present rich and direct evidence on certain economic activities but are limited in essence to Greco-Roman Egypt and do not cover the whole field: Minnen P. van, ‘Urban Craftsmen in Roman Egypt’, Münstersche Beiträge zur Antiken Handelsgeschichte, 6, 1987, p. 31–88.
49 Epigraphic sources, in particular on stone, give us an important but somewhat biased documentation. We are always at risk of confusing the epigraphic evidence with historical reality: local epigraphy can have very particular characteristics. It can demonstrate economic activities in a given location, but only in part and the absence of an inscription is never significant, either geographically (absence in the countryside or certain regions) or chronologically (in some periods inscriptions may disappear while activities continue). The epigraphic record is also biased by the almost total disappearance of text on wooden tablets and bronze plaques, which were the chosen material of the Romans for publishing their laws. The few examples preserved suggest how much more is missing. Epigraphy sometimes teaches us about the social status of those involved in economic activities, on their religion, their attitude to death, social interaction with the colleges, but rarely on their precise activities, except in the form of carefully interpreted epithets. On this question, see Nicolas Tran, Les membres des associations romaines. Le rang social des collegiati en Italie et en Gaules sous le Haut-Empire, Rome, École française de Rome, 367, 2006). All the same, a few inscriptions show us certain economic phenomena, such as the movement of transhumant tribes in central southern Italy or the provisioning of grain to Rome studied by Mireille Corbier Donner à voir, donner à lire. Mémoire et communication dans la Rome ancienne (Paris, CNRS, 2008).
50 A good example of an important economic activity is that of textiles and the treading and cleaning stage which for a long time has been the final process in textile production. The recent doctoral thesis of Miko Flohr underlined that there are no written sources, not even epigraphy, leaving us in doubt about the existence of the fulling industry, as suggested by evidence at Ostia, Florence, and recently at Rome (Casal Bertone) while there are many more sources on the work of the fuller (Flohr M., Work, Economy and Society. Fullones and Fullonicae in Roman Italy, Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Thus, the important industrial aspect of fulling remains unknown, distorting our view of the textile industry.
51 Epigraphy is invaluable for looking at the social status of certain categories of workers such as artisans and for following certain commercial mechanisms, which is possible through painted inscriptions and marks on amphorae. The literature on this subject is vast; for example the conference proceedings Epigrafia della produzione et della distribuzione (Rome, École française de Rome, 1994) and the records in L’écriture dans la société gallo-romaine (Gallia, 61, 2004).
52 Carter J. C., Discovering the Greek Countryside at Metaponto, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan, 2005.
53 This policy is demonstrated through the archaeological missions of Mediterranean countries and the creation of the archaeological institutes at Athens, Roma and Cairo.
54 Duval P.-M., Archéologie et histoire de la Gaule, Inaugural Lecture delivered on 4 December 1964, Paris, Collège de France, p. 13–14.
55 In 1973, Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie (‘L’histoire immobile’, Annales. Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations, 1974, 29, 3, p. 673–692) stated that ‘the impact of quantification revolutionized the way we write history’. As an example, he looked at the conceptual change that introduced the measurement of the effectiveness of the slave system in South America during the war of succession, demonstrating that it was economically more efficient than the abolitionists were claiming. In answer, this revision modified our view of the economic impact of ancient slavery.
56 Paul Veyne wrote ‘history exists only in relation to the questions that we ask of it’, summarizing his thought in the phrase: ‘without concepts, we see nothing’. The archaeologist is from this point of view in the same situation as the historian using written sources: without questions it is difficult to interpret the remains, to make good observations and to understand what has been uncovered and further, a preconceived opinion can lead to over-interpretation of certain remains, provoked by the need to provide a coherent argument and to adapt the discoveries to the state of our knowledge. This suggests the need to conserve deposits intact for future analysis. New questions will find analytical and interpretive tools which we do not yet even know about (Brun J.-P., Congès G., Jacob J.-P., ‘L’Archéologie de sauvetage: valeur heuristique et évolution de la doctrine’, Revue d’Études Ligures, LIX-LX, Hommage à Paul-Albert Février, 1993–1994 (published 1996), p. 103–131).
57 Montfaucon B. de, L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, Paris, 1719–1724 (15 vols).
58 Mazois F., Les ruines de Pompéi dessinées et mesurées par F. Mazois, Paris, F. Didot, 1824–1838.
59 Borréani M., Brun J.-P., ‘Une exploitation rurale antique à Costebelle (Hyères, Var): huilerie et cimetière’, Revue Archéologique de Narbonnaise, 23, 1990, p. 117–151.
60 Dutour O., Palfi G., Bérato J. and Brun J.-P. (eds.), L’origine de la syphilis en Europe, avant ou après 1493? Paris, Errance/Centre Archéologique du Var, 1994; and Brun J.-P., Palfi Gy., Dutour O., ‘L’antiquité des tréponématoses dans l’Ancien Monde: évidences historiques, archéologiques et paléopathologiques’, Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, 10, 1998, p. 375–409.
61 Castex D. and Cartron I. (eds.), Épidémies et crises de mortalité du passé, Bordeaux, MSHA, coll. ‘Études, Ausonius’, 15, 2009. See recently: Castex D., Blanchard P. et al., ‘Le secteur central de la catacombe des Saints Pierre-et-Marcellin (Rome) (Ier–IIIe siècles). Indices archéologiques d’une brutale crise de mortalité’, MEFRA, 123, 1, 2010, p. 274–280.
62 Carrié J.-M., and Rousselle A., L’Empire romain en mutation des Sévères à Constantin, 192–337, Paris, Seuil, coll. ‘Nouvelle histoire de l’Antiquité’, 10, 1999.
63 The study of animal bones teaches us many things, for example the work of archaeo-zoologists on the introduction of reproductive animals in conquered territories, and breeding techniques, leading to an increase in the size of bovines in particular. For Gaul, see the work of Patrice Méniel on the hypothesis of the important of large cattle (Brunaux J.-L. and Méniel P., ‘L’importation du bœuf à la période romaine: premières données, les fouilles de Gournay-sur-Aronde’, Revue archéologique de Picardie, 4, p. 15–20) and that of V. Forest and I. Rodet-Bélarbi who insist on the other hand on an improvement in breeding techniques from indigenous livestock. Forest V., Rodet-Belarbi I., ‘A propos de la corpulence des bovins en France durant les périodes historiques’, Gallia, 59, 2002, p. 273–306.
64 Braudel F., Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe–XVIIIe siècles, I, Paris, Armand Colin, 1967, p. 276 (p. 317 of the 2nd edition): ‘The omnipresence of wood was previously of huge importance. Europe, so well divided in terms of forests gained a certain amount of power through them. In the long term, Islam was undermined by a lack of forestry resources and their progressive exhaustion.’
65 Domergue C. (ed), Un centre sidérurgique romain de la Montagne Noire: Le Domaine des Forges (Les Martys, Aude), Paris, CNRS editions, 1993, (Revue Archéologique de la Narbonnaise, supplement 27), in particular p. 34–35 and 359–364. Decombeix P. M., Domergue C., Fabre J.-M., Gorgues A., Tollon F., Tournier B., ‘Réflexions sur l’organisation de la production du fer à l’époque romaine dans le bassin supérieur de la Dure, au voisinage des Martys (Aude)’, Gallia, 57, 2000, p. 23–36.
66 In his speech ‘In Honour of Rome’ read in AD 144, Aelius Aristide underlined this point.
67 Brun J.-P., ‘Les moulins hydrauliques en Italie romaine’, in: Brun J.-P., and Fiches J.-L. (eds.), Énergie hydraulique et machines élévatrices d’eau dans l’Antiquité, Actes du colloque international du Pont du Gard, 20–22 September 2006, Naples, Centre Jean Bérard, 2007, p. 201–214. The conference ‘Archéologie des moulins hydrauliques, à traction animale et à vent, des origines à l’époque medieval’ organized at Lons-le-Saunier 2–5 November 2011 presented many recent archaeological discoveries.
68 We must remember that the survival of ancient literature is selective: the works that remain are those written for a public aristocracy, which were passed from libraries to monasteries. According to Claude Nicolet, the fact that we have preserved Frontin, Vitruvius and Vegetius for example ‘is no doubt because these three treatises, entertaining but with different aspirations, were written (that is stylistically) for highly placed patrons, enabling luck to preserve them in the shipwreck of Antiquity.’ (‘Introduction. Les littératures techniques dans le monde romain’, in: Les littératures techniques dans l’antiquité romaine. Statut, public et destination, tradition. Genève/Vandœuvres, 21–25 août 1995, Droz, coll. ‘Entretiens sur l’Antiquité classique’, 42, 1996, p. 1–17). More technological writing, the real manuals, never entered the libraries.
69 Towns, particularly ports, places for the exchange of ideas and outlets for products, play a central role in this scheme, not only for agricultural and artisanal products but also as centres for the organization of production, as Philippe Leveau demonstrated for Caesarea Mauretania (Leveau P., Caesarea de Maurétanie, une ville romaine et ses campagnes, Rome, École française de Rome, l984) and above all, Mattingly for Leptiminus in Africa (Mattingly D. J., Stone D., Stirling L. and Ben Lazreg N., ‘Leptiminus (Tunisia). A “producer” city?’, in: Mattingly D. J. and Salmon J., Economies beyond Agriculture in the Classical World, London/New York, Routledge, 2001, p. 66–89).
70 Tchernia A., ‘Le tonneau, de la bière au vin’, in: Garcia D. and Meeks D., (eds.), Techniques et économie antiques et médiévales. Le temps de l’innovation, Paris, Errance, 1997. p. 121–129.
71 Recent research on perfumes in Antiquity was the subject of a conference: Frère D. and Hugot L. (eds), Les huiles parfumées en Méditerranée occidentale et en Gaule (VIIIe s. av. J.-C.–VIIIe s. ap. J.-C.), Naples/Rennes, Centre Jean Bérard/Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2012.
72 For alum amphorae, see: Borgard P, ‘Les amphores à alun (Ier siècle av. J.-C.–IVe siècle apr. J.-C.)’, in: Borgard P., Brun J.-P., and Picon M. (eds), L’alun de Méditerranée: actes du colloque international (Naples-Lipari, 4–8 juin 2003), Naples, Centre Jean Bérard (23), p. 157–169.
73 Brun J.-P. and Laubenheimer F. (eds), La viticulture en Gaule, Gallia, 58, 2001, p. 5–263; Brun J.-P., Poux M. and Tchernia A. (eds), Le vin. Nectar des dieux, génie des hommes, Lyon, Pôle archéologie du Rhône, 2004; Brun J.-P., Archéologie du vin et de l’huile en Gaule romaine, Paris, Errance, 2005; Poux M., Brun J.-P. and Hervé M.-L. (eds), La vigne et le vin dans les Trois Gaules, Gallia, 68, 2011, p. 1–289.
74 Morel J. P., ‘La manufacture, moyen d’enrichissement dans l’Italie romaine ?’, in: Leveau P. (ed.), L’origine des richesses dépensées dans la ville antique, actes du colloque organisé à Aix-en-Provence par l’U.E.R. d’histoire, 11 and 12 May 1984, Aix-en-Provence, 1985, p. 87–111 ; Morel J.-P., ‘Élites municipales et manufacture en Italie’, in: Les élites municipales de l’Italie péninsulaire des Gracques a Néron, actes de la table ronde de Clermont-Ferrand, 28–30 novembre 1991, Naples, Centre Jean Bérard, 1996, p. 181–198.
75 Van Driel-Murray C., ‘Tanning and Leather’, in: Oleson J. P., The Oxford Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 483–495.
76 Leguilloux M., ‘Techniques et équipements de la tannerie romaine: l’exemple de l’officina coriaria de Pompéi, in: Beyries A., Audoin-Rouzeau F., Le travail du cuir de la préhistoire à nos jours, actes des 22e rencontres internationales d’archéologie et d’histoire d’Antibes, Antibes, ADPCA, 2002, p. 268–282; Leguilloux M., Le cuir et la pelleterie à l’époque romaine, Paris, Errance, 2004; more recently: Brun J.-P., Botte E., Chapelin G., and Leguilloux M., ‘Pompéi, programme de recherches sur l’artisanat antique, Tannerie’, MEFRA, 123, 1, 2011, p. 301–304.
77 Brun J.-P., ‘The Production of Perfumes in Antiquity. The Cases of Delos and Paestum’, American Journal of Archaeology, 104, 2000, p. 277–308; Brun J.-P. and Monteix N., ‘Les parfumeries en Campanie antique’, in: Brun J.-P. (ed.), Artisanats antiques d’Italie et de Gaule. Mélanges offerts à Maria-Francesca Buonaiuto. Naples, Centre Jean Bérard, 2009, p. 115–133. See also the exhibition catalogue: Parfums de l’Antiquité. La rose et l’encens en Méditerranée, the catalogue from the Musée Royal de Mariemont’s exhibition, 2008.
78 On the archives of Sulpicii: Camodeca G., Tabulae Pompeianae Sulpiciorum. Edizione critica dell’archivio puteolano dei Sulpicii, Rome, Quasar (Vetera, 12), 1999.
79 Lefebvre C. des Noëttes, La force animale à travers les âges, Paris, 1924; 2nd edition: L’attelage et le cheval de selle à travers les âges. Contribution à l’histoire de l’esclavage, Paris, 1931. Contra: G. Raepsaet, Attelages et techniques de transport dans le monde gréco-romain, Bruxelles, 2002.
80 Pomey P. and Rieth E., L’archéologie navale, Paris, Errance, 2005. Boetto G., Pomey P. and Tchernia A. (eds), Batellerie gallo-romaine: pratiques régionales et influences maritimes méditerranéennes, Paris, Errance, 2011.