Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Andrew Wilson, Miko Flohr (ed.), Urban Craftsmen and Traders in the Roman World. Oxford studies on the Roman economy. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xvi, 408. ISBN 9780198748489. $135.00.

Reviewed by Sarah E. Bond, University of Iowa (sarah-bond@uiowa.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

In recent decades, scholarship focused on the Roman world has seen much greater emphasis on issues of daily life, production, and commerce. The book under review is an important part of this trend, illuminating as it does not only the day-to-day world of Romans, but also the methods used to reconstruct that world today. It is the result of a workshop organized by the Oxford Roman Economy Project and held at Wolfson College, Oxford, United Kingdom in July of 2011. Like the workshop, the volume is a melding of diverse scholars, academic disciplines, approaches, and methodologies that address urban crafts and trade in the Roman world.

An introduction by the editors, Miko Flohr and Andrew Wilson, maps the history of modern attitudes towards Roman artisans and commerce – a landscape defined by men such as Moses Finley, who understood the snobbish attitude toward tradespeople transmitted in Cicero's De officiis to be shared by most Romans. Flohr and Wilson underscore the need to dispel such myths, emphasizing the "direct social and physical environment in which people lived and worked" (3). Following the introduction, the book is divided into four parts with sixteen chapters: three chapters examine the modern intellectual history of scholarship on Roman trade and crafts; four address economic aspects and strategies; five treat social contexts and networking; the final four chapters study the topography of commercial landscapes through spatial perspectives.

Chapter One is written by the volume's editors, who provide a learned history of nineteenth- and twentieth century German and Anglo-Saxon scholarship on the Roman economy. As historians such as Jonathan Scott Perry have similarly shown with the study of voluntary associations called collegia, the political milieu of modern scholarly networks (e.g. in the fascist era) must be considered in order to understand influences on their theories of the past and manipulation of the sources.1 Flohr and Wilson show what an effect language barriers have had on the field, but also indicate the impact that new and varied evidence has had on it. Chapter Two, written by Carla Salvaterra and Alessandro Cristofori, addresses Italian scholarship on Roman craftsmen, traders, and professional organizations in the twentieth century. They explore how the centrality of labor as a concept in modern Italian society shaped the historical view of labor in Roman antiquity. The authors illustrate how Italian scholarship has influenced European and American studies of traders and craftspeople in the last century, and contributed significantly to the scholarly dialogue. Chapter Three is by Jean-Pierre Brun, who outlines the long French tradition of studying artisanal activities. A substantial definition is provided by Brun, who asks what encompasses "artisanal activities" (80), and answers, "any type of productive activity that is carried out in a non-domestic context and paid for by a customer or a patron in money or kind" (81). Though one might quibble about the often- ambiguous boundaries between domestic and non-domestic contexts, Brun demonstrates that the archaeology of artisanal activities and the understanding of this new archaeological data are the keys to reconstructing the infrastructure of the Roman world. Together, these opening chapters provide a bedrock for understanding the state of the field. They will be of great use not only to established scholars, but also to students preparing for their comprehensive exams.

Part Two focuses on economic strategies used by craftsmen and traders in order to turn a profit. Candice Rice looks at Roman maritime trade, particularly the mechanisms for transport and the trading communities that engaged them. She illustrates that within port cities there were vibrant social networks that pulsed alongside the physical infrastructure and indicates that Roman maritime trade operated within a market economy dependent on a number of advanced commercial processes. As many contributors in the volume do, Rice brings the human element to the fore using epigraphy and provides maps (created by Flohr) to help visualize these agents. Kai Ruffing studies specialization among Greco-Roman artisans and investigates the driving forces, differentiating between horizontal specialization (the range of goods and services available in a society) versus vertical specialization (separate skills and roles for creation of a single product, such as shipbuilding). Ruffing makes a compelling argument that the market is one of the principle forces driving professional specialization. A comprehensive and heavily illustrated chapter from Carol van Driel-Murray next looks at the role of leather and shoes in the economy of Roman footwear across the Mediterranean. Surviving examples of these shoes, predominantly from military camps on the frontiers, reveal variations based on region and climate. However, van Driel- Murray succussfully shows the existence of international styles for footwear that prevailed across the empire. Such broad trends in footwear approach our modern idea of global fashion. In the subsequent chapter, Nicolas Monteix dissects the operating sequence within Pompeian bakeries. The author presents a spatial layout of an ancient bakery, but also uses it as a heuristic device with which to understand labor beyond just the technical elements.

Part Three focuses on people. Christel Freu examines the benefits of apprenticeship in the Roman World and shows its necessity as a qualification within a craft's hierarchy of artisans. The social model of apprenticeship deserves more study going forward, but is essential to unpacking the social orders within associations and individual workshops. Chapter Nine focuses next on the role of women in production and trade within Roman Italy as represented predominantly through funerary epigraphy. Here Lena Larsson Lovén is careful to point out the pitfalls and stereotypes presented by the epigraphic medium, which can lead us to a false conclusion that women were more limited to the home than they were. It is a good reminder of the limitations of our evidence, as is Wim Broekaaert's chapter on the agency of freed businesspeople, a chapter which reconstructs freedman commercial networks based on admittedly "dispersed inscriptional evidence" (248). Next, Nicolas Tran's nuanced examination of the professional organizations known from Roman Arles during the second and third centuries CE refers to the earlier exploration of primitivist and modernist theories about the Roman economy, while also revealing the rich array of associations across the city. A helpful appendix includes cited inscriptions. In Chapter Twelve, Ilias Arnaoutoglou underscores the import of context in understanding professional associations by looking at those functioning within the Phrygian city of Hierapolis. Crucial elements to an association—its members, the naming of the association, their social composition, and its social position—are scrutinized. Arnaoutoglou's section on "memory management" is perhaps the most innovative, looking as it does at Hierapolis's associations as the receivers of fines for tomb desecration and the recipients of legacies. Roman law doesn't play a large part in the volume, but here we see the value of considering legal and epigraphic evidence together as a means of accessing the centrality of the association as a social unit in many Roman communities.

Part Four of the volume looks at space. Penelope Goodman examines the clustering of artisans in the Roman city, attempting to provide a more comprehensive overview of the phenomenon than has been attempted in previous work on the subject. Although she perhaps overstates the omission of such a subject in the current scholarship, her lengthy chapter provides a vital foundation for future analysis of the subject. It also successfully argues that the modern research on clustering disputes the idea that the distribution of Roman workshops was dictated by the moral ideas of the elite (327). The next chapter, by Kerstin Droß-Krüpe, similarly looks at evidence for clustering, using toponyms in Egyptian documentary papyri in order to investigate if there were specific quarters for dyeing and fulling within Egyptian settlements during the Roman imperial period. She concludes that while Rome may show some evidence for clustering based on cited toponyms (e.g. forum, vicus, portus), in Roman Egypt, such citations did not mean that all of one kind of artisan could be found there, nor were certain trade districts static over time. Two more case studies of local industry and artisans —those of Aquincum in modern day Hungary and Sagalassos in modern Turkey—conclude the volume. The extensive history and methodology applied to the case of Aquincum by Orsolya Láng is an in-depth look at glue manufacturing, butchering, and other industries in a Roman provincial town, but the contribution could better interwoven into the overall themes and arguments of the rest of the contributors. Similarly, Jeroen Poblome's chapter exploring the potters of Sagalassos could be better brought into the fold of the volume as a whole. His casual mention of the "ancient middle classes" (399) deserves a much broader description of the current debate over using that terminology. That being said, Poblome does demonstrate the integral role of artisans within everyday urban life in the Roman empire through this study.

This volume is itself a rich emporium with many expert shopkeepers manning individual tabernae organized into easily navigated rows. Each chapter contributes in its own unique way to our overall understanding of the Roman economy, although Sections One, Two, and Three are more cohesive than Section Four. In addition to the pivotal historiography provided by the volume, the copious number of images (particularly of shoes and industrial areas), maps, and archaeological plans allow for a more material and spatial understanding of Roman artisans and tradesmen. The broad methodological and interdisciplinary approaches highlighted in this volume make it a welcome addition to the growing number of works on the Roman economy.

Table of Contents

Miko Flohr and Andrew Wilson, "Introduction"
Part I: Approaches
1. Miko Flohr and Andrew Wilson, "Roman Craftsmen and Traders: Towards an Intellectual History"
2. Carla Salvaterra and Alessandro Cristofori, "Twentieth Century Italian Research on Craftsmen, Traders, and their Professional Organizations in the Roman World"
3. Jean-Pierre Brun, "The Archaeology of Ancient Urban Workshops: A French Approach?"
Part II: Strategies
4. Candace Rice, "Mercantile Specialization and Trading Communities: Economic Strategies in Roman Maritime Trade"
5. Kai Ruffing, "Driving Forces for Specialization: Market, Location Factors, Productivity Improvements"
6. Carol van Driel-Murray, "Fashionable Footwear: Craftsmen and Consumers in the North-West Provinces of the Roman Empire"
7. Nicolas Monteix, "Contextualizing the Operational Sequence: Pompeian Bakeries as a Case Study"
Part III: People
8. Christel Freu, "Disciplina, patrocinium, nomen: The Benefits of Apprenticeship in the Roman World"
9. Lena Larsson Lovén, "Women, Trade, and Production in the Urban Centres of Roman Italy"
10. Wim Broekaert, "Freedmen and Agency in Roman Business"
11. Nicolas Tran, "The Social Organization of Commerce and Crafts in Ancient Arles: Heterogeneity, Hierarchy, and Patronage"
12. Ilias Arnaoutoglou, "Hierapolis and its Professional Associations: A Comparative Analysis"
Part IV: Space
13. Penelope Goodman, "Working Together: Clusters of Artisans in the Roman City"
14. Kerstin Droß-Krüpe, "Spatial Concentration and Dispersal of Roman Textile Crafts"
15. Orsolya Lang, "Industry and Commerce in the City of Aquincum"
16. Jeroen Poblome, "The Potters of Ancient Sagalassos Revisited"


1.   Jonathan Scott Perry, The Roman Collegia: The Modern Evolution of an Ancient Concept (Leiden: Brill, 2006).

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