National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Rhodora Vennarucci

Affiliation: University of Arkansas

Rhodora G. Vennarucci is an Assistant Professor of Classical Studies and Art History at the University of Arkansas. She holds degrees in Roman Archaeology from the University at Buffalo (Ph.D. and M.A.) and in Classical Archaeology from the University of Michigan (B.A.). Her main research focus lies in the socio-economic history of the Roman world with published and forthcoming works that focus on both ends of the distributive system in Italy: rural production and the development and use of urban commercial landscapes. As field director and co-PI of the Marzuolo Archaeological Project, she collaborates in the investigation of a Roman rural minor center in Southcentral Tuscany (IT). This center has produced evidence of wine production, cross-craft interaction (especially blacksmithing and woodworking), and warehousing. She is also the scientific director and co-PI of the Virtual Roman Retail project, which leverages immersive VR technology to put sensory archaeology into practice and explore how shop environments may have shaped ancient consumer experience and behavior. The project’s VR application with interactive visualizations of the Felt Shop of Verecundus at Pompeii and the Taberne dei Pescivendoli at Ostia will soon be available for free download from the Meta Store. She has, in addition, contributed to the Virtual Pompeii project, which tests predictive analyses against experiential modeling to study the intersection of spatial configuration, decoration, and social phenomena in the Roman house. Dr. Vennarucci has taught twice at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome and is a recipient of the J. Williams Fulbright College of Arts and Science’s Master Teaching Award. 


The Marzuolo Archaeological Project is an international, multi-institutional project (Cornell University, Radboud University, University of Arkansas, and University of Melbourne) that investigates the Roman rural minor center at Podere Marzuolo in Southcentral Tuscany, Italy. Between 2017-2019 the project excavated the northern wing of a substantial opus reticulatum complex built in the Augustan period with evidence for wine production. The complex was repurposed for multi-craft production (metalworking, woodworking) and warehousing at some point in the first half of the first century CE before it was destroyed by a violent fire while still in use in the mid first century CE. The complex’s high-level of preservation has provided MAP with the rare opportunity to contextualize people, products, and processes in the reconstruction of a “living workshop.”

Scholarship on Roman crafts production has traditionally focused on categorizing production materials – finished products and large installations decontextualized from their use contexts – over understanding production processes in which the human element is crucial. This emphasis on typology encourages specialists to study individual classes of artifacts in isolation. Moreover, while studies on occupational identities often view materials such as tool sets found in graves or depicted on tomb reliefs as identity markers, these materials do not reflect the dynamic and fluid process of identity formation. In response to these problems, this lecture combines the concepts of multiple chaînes opératoires and cross-craft interaction with a phenomenological and visuospatial analysis of the complex to investigate the technological and social practices that may have formed craftspeople’s identities in the blacksmith workshop at Marzuolo.

How did Romans shop in shops? Scholarship on Roman consumption remains focused on quantifiable, economic methods and the objects
consumed, often in their end-use or discard contexts, as metrics for consumer behavior. This approach overlooks the important point of
purchase exchange within a shop environment when a buyer first decides to take ownership – or not – of a product. In pre-industrial societies,
such as ancient Rome, a consumer’s sensorial appraisal of a shop and its goods was a critical factor influencing their decision-making
processes. Reconstructing sensescapes in the past is challenging. Using the Felt Shop of Verecundus (IX.7.5-7) as a case study, this talk
introduces the aims of the Virtual Roman Retail project, whose sensory approach and use of virtual technologies help formulate a better
understanding of the multisensory experience of shopping in an ancient Roman shop.

This talk offers a preliminary functional analysis of the evidence for wine production at the rural Roman minor center of Podere Marzuolo in
southcentral Tuscany (IT). In 2018 the Marzuolo Archaeological Project discovered two cement-lined cylindrical tanks sunk into the
cocciopesto floor of one of the rooms in a large opus-reticulatum complex. Organic residue analysis indicates that the tanks may have been
used for storing and fermenting wine but a lack of comparanda for the tanks in Roman Italy and the absence of a press or fermentation jars
raise questions about how wine was produced in this facility.

Due to the difficulties in detecting it in the archaeological record, small-scale local wine production in rural contexts in in the Roman World
remains poorly understood. Thus the evidence from Marzuolo makes an important contribution to the history of viniculture, and offers an
alternative narrative to the large-scale, market-oriented villa-based wine production that has dominated the history of Italian winemaking.

Work in Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) has underscored that shopping is meaningful behavior. It is still new, however, to ask how shopping behavior was meaningful for people in the Roman world in part because consumption studies in archaeology have overlooked consumer agency and the social act of consumption. This talk applies a CCT and phenomenological approach to The Felt Shop of Verecundus (IX.7.5-7) from Pompeii, which sold fine footwear (e.g. socci, soft-soled felted slippers) and high-status textile products (e.g. toga praetexta) to explore how ancient consumers self-fashioned through public acts of consumption in the shop. An interactive 3D model of the shop in VR, reconstructed using the architectural remains and archival data from the shop’s excavation, facilitated this investigation, which contributes to the Virtual Roman Retail project.

Socci were a luxury item worn indoors and at dinner parties that only the more affluent in society could afford. Shopping for slippers then on the via dell’Abondanza, Pompeii’s most heavily trafficked thoroughfare, was a social act that involved the public performance of (aspirational?) power and status displayed for a larger and more diverse street audience than a private triclinium, where the slippers were ultimately meant to be worn, could offer. This lecture discusses how shopping behavior, traditionally viewed as a component of modern retailing, conveyed sociocultural meaning in Roman society and highlights the social and communicative functions of the Roman shop, alongside its commercial and distributive functions.

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.