Abstract: The Imperial Estate at San Felice, Italy: Evidence for Cultural Interaction


The Bradano/Basentello River Valleys of southern Italy (Basilicata and Puglia) have been a focus of archaeological research initiated by archaeologists from the University of Alberta, the University of Perugia, and the University of Edinburgh.  Initially, this involved regional field survey followed by systematic, intensive field survey of individual sites within the regional survey area.  Among the sites identified were those that were likely imperial estates owned by the Roman emperor.  Since 2004, I have been involved in archaeological research, including geophysical prospection, field survey, and excavation, at one of these sites, a Roman villa at San Felice, which was occupied from the end of the first century BC to the early third century AD.  At the same time, a team of osteologists under the direction of Dr. Tracy Prowse at McMaster University has been excavating a Roman imperial period cemetery at the neighboring site of Vagnari in which slave and free workers on the imperial estate were interred and studying the skeletal remains.  Dr. Alastair Small of the University of Edinburgh has also led a team that has excavated a small agricultural and industrial hamlet, the productive part of the imperial estate.  Throughout, the focus has been on understanding the cultural impact that this site may have had on its immediate environs, to what extent the site’s residents were involved in regional social, political, and economic networks, and the degree to which an imperial estate may have participated in extra-regional networks, such as the network that supplied the city of Rome with grain and other comestibles.  Results to date suggest that the site’s residents were part of a network of regional urban and rural sites, that there appears to have been little change in traditional methods of agriculture or plant species exploited, and that traditional, pre-Roman patterns of pastoralism also continued.  Although the site at San Felice was an imperial estate, even thought there is evidence for the presence of Jews and at least one person of Asian descent on the estate, it was likely not much different from other early imperial private estates and large farmsteads in Roman Puglia and Basilicata.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):


Myles McCallum and J. vanderLeest (2009) “Excavations at San Felice, July 2008,” Papers of the British School at Rome, 77: 326-327

Myles McCallum and J. vanderLeest (2008) “Excavations at San Felice, July 2006,” Papers of the British School at Rome, 76: 332-333

Small, Alastair et al (2007) “Excavation in the Roman Cemetery at Vagnari, in the Territory of Gravina in Puglia, 2002” Papers of the British School at Rome, 75: 123-229

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