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VIRTUAL - The ancient economies of a small port on the Adriatic: the case of Salapia (Puglia, Italy) from the 1st-8th c. CE

April 11, 2021 @ 3:00 pm EDT Central Time

This is an online event.

AIA Society: Milwaukee

Lecturer: Darian Totten

In this lecture, I sketch an image of the sequential economic lives at Salapia in the Roman and Late Antique and early medieval centuries (1st-8th  c. CE) through an analysis of evidence of artisanal spaces, ceramic wares, recent geomorphological and paleo-environmental analyses (conducted in collaboration) and the potential of its salty coastline.

The town of Salapia, located along the Adriatic Coast of Apulia in south-eastern Italy, is recorded by the architectural historian Vitruvius as the re-founding of the Daunian town of Salapia Vetus sometime in the 1st c. BCE. The siting of this new settlement along a lagoon was fortuitous: protected by dunes from the battering Adriatic Sea, it was afforded a natural harbor that offered the inhabitants a link to wider Mediterranean networks. This lagoon, at present, is one of the top sea salt producers in the whole Mediterranean Basin, and its medieval and early modern history is marked by evidence of coordinated curation and extraction of this resource; sparser ancient evidence points perhaps to similar circumstances in the Roman and Late Antique periods. The port and its salty resources would have impelled Salapia to connect to the outside world in intriguing and significant ways. A review of the imported ceramic wares -finewares and amphorae -over these centuries makes apparent not just into what networks Salapia was integrated but also the intensity of those connections. It is possible that Salapia was a clearinghouse and node for transport of Mediterranean products to the interior of the province of Apulia. For instance, even as the Roman empire was largely defunct by the 7th c. CE, and the town plan had unraveled, African finewares -albeit in reduced numbers -still made it into the hands of the town’s inhabitants, perhaps a residue of connections that were more apparent and strong in earlier centuries.

Analyses of features from the urban plan also give us a more comprehensive picture of the local economy at Salapia. A tannery, in operation from the 1st -4th c. CE, provides evidence of small-scale craft production in the fabric of the city and allows us to piece together the varied connections with the countryside that would have made such an artisanal installation possible. A taberna dated to the 4th-5th c. CE offers a picture of community connection around food and drink, while providing evidence of consumption of products both locally produced and from across the sea. Our analyses of Late Antique pottery have also made clear that the inhabitants of Salapia invested in a local production of painted table wares, illuminating telling patterns of production and consumption, starting in the 4th c. and continuing into the 7th c. CE.

New evidence from our geological and archaeobotanical collaborations gives a sense too of the relationship to the lagoon -how the coastline changed over nearly 1000 years from the Roman to the Medieval period, and the kinds of landscapes that surrounded the town of Salapia. We know better that vine and olive were central crops, and only increased in importance as the centuries wore on into the 6th and 7th c. CE. The presence of wood and pollen from evergreen and beech trees also paints a picture of a landscape dominated by pasture rather than grain farming from the Roman period onward. The inhabitants also probably relied on small gardens for their food, if 4th-5th c. CE deposits with melon and cucumber seeds are taken as representative of broader patterns.

From this data, we can not only reconstruct important aspects of daily life at Salapia, but also how a small port on the Adriatic was part of a larger network of connection.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:  (see pp. 10-11 of the PDF)

Russell Lecture

Please go to the Milwaukee Society’s website and follow the instructions for joining the online lecture on Microsoft Teams.

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April 11, 2021
3:00 pm EDT
Event Category:


Emily Stanton


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