Monday, February 18, 2013


Sewell on Jolivet on Sewell, The Formation of Roman Urbanism. Response to 2013.01.11

Response by Jamie Sewell, Durham University (

Version at BMCR home site

I must take issue with some of Vincent Jolivet's misrepresentations and omissions in his recent review of my book. The basis for his opening claim, that the book does not address the subject of its title, is derived from his interpretation of the direct translation into French ("ce traite nullement de la "formation de l'urbanisme romain""). In its original English, the title does not imply the promise of an investigation into the early development of Rome itself. He then describes the subject of the book, Rome's mid-Republican colonies, employing Gellius' analogy ("ces effigies parvae simulacraque de la capitale"), to which I refer. Yet he does not draw the reader's attention to a lengthy discussion in the volume (72-86) dedicated to exposing the inappropriateness of this analogy. 1

Jolivet criticises my decision to exclude the priscae Latinae coloniae from the study because he believes that it "removes the perspective necessary for consideration of the mid-Republican colonies, not as a new concept (objet nouveau), but as a result of experiments conducted both in Rome and in the first Latin colonies". Since two of six chapters concentrate on how the mid-Republican colonies reflect physical and institutional characteristics of Rome, this part of his criticism is unfounded. As the book highlights and Jolivet omits, the Latin colonies after 338 BC did possess novel aspects: only then did Rome found them without any involvement of other city-states; only then did Rome found them ex novo, and outside Latium. One of the ideas behind the book is to assess how Rome expressed itself in town-planning and architecture with this new freedom. If the Romans had learnt lessons from their involvement in the founding of the early colonies (presuming their existence is historical),2 then archaeology does not yet allow us to glimpse it through comparison.3 But supposing they had, how might this knowledge have been retained and transmitted to the founders of Cales two generations after the last of the early colonies is alleged to have been founded? The processes by which town-planning and architectural concepts were transmitted and realised are central themes in the research presented in the book, and not reflected in Jolivet's review.

In the section on the agger and the pomerial road (62), Jolivet mistakenly reports that I believe them to be derived from the Massaliot colony of Olbia. My actual conclusions are that the agger "is Italic in origin", and that the pomerial street "developed independently on the Italian peninsula". The reconstructed plan of Cosa (fig. 60) represents its third-century BC phase, not its second-century BC phase as Jolivet suggests.

I do not devote 22 pages to discussing three Greek house-types at the beginning of chapter 4, which covers the relationship between Greek and Roman domestic architecture, as Jolivet claims. Instead, here I re-evaluate the causes of similarity in the house designs of some newly founded or extended Greek cities from the 5th century BC onwards (e.g. Olynthos, Priene), and the relevant architecture is introduced over six pages (which comprise mostly images). Employing Greek epigraphic evidence, I argue that the difficult social and economic circumstances of founding cities probably led to the standardisation of house designs, the benefits of which for poleis leaders were improved resource management and the satisfaction of the need to treat new settlers equally. Reference to the discussion is omitted by Jolivet, who mistakenly describes it as a mere presentation of the diversity of Greek house types ("ne fait que mettre en évidence la diversité des types d'architecture domestique grecque").

Jolivet also fails to mention that the second half of the chapter discusses whether clear similarities in the forms of Roman colonial houses (e.g. at Cosa and Fregellae) might also reflect the use of standardised designs—an adaptation of the Greek system. I argue that one specific Greek house type, the so-called prostas house, appears to have been adapted for the domestic architecture in Roman foundations, the so-called case a schiera. This proposal is based on the similarity between the two types, not only in the fauces flanked by two rooms (being the only similarity Jolivet reports), but also in their rectangularity, in the basic layout of a courtyard sandwiched between two ranges of rooms, in their overall proportions, in their exclusively urban contexts and in their articulation in rows. The atrium house design appears to have been standardised too, as established by a metrological study of K. Peterse and J. de Waele,4 and, together with the smaller row-houses, this might reflect the development of a Roman system for housing diverse property-classes. In discussing the origins of the atrium house, I certainly do not argue against its Etruscan ancestry (126-127), as Jolivet claims. Jolivet fails to reflect the distinct perspective of the discussion in this chapter: how the experience of the social and economic challenges involved in city-founding might have influenced house design and approaches to house construction.

[For a response to this response by Vincent Jolivet, please see BMCR 2013.04.39.]


1.   See further on this issue: J. Sewell, "Gellius, Philip II and a proposed end to the "model-replica" debate", in S. Stek and J. Pelgrom (eds.), Roman colonization under the republic: towards a new interpretative framework (in press).
2.   See most recently, Christopher Smith's review (BMCR 2012.08.32 of M. Chiabà, 2011, Roma e le priscae Latinae coloniae (Trieste).
3.   See M.K. Termeer, 2010. "Early colonies in Latium (ca 534-338 BC). A reconsideration of current images and the archaeological evidence," BABesch 85, 53-68.
4.   K. Peterse and J. de Waele 2005. "The standardized design of the House of the Scienziati (VI 14, 43) in Pompeii," in S. T. A. M. Mols and E. M. Moormann (edd.), Omni pede stare. Saggi architettonici e circumvesuviani in memoriam Jos de Waele (Naples) 197-219.

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