chapter  4
38 Pages

The Rise of the City-State

During the eighth century BC the communities of Old Latium underwent a gradual transformation. For most of Latial phase III (c. 770-730/20 BC) there was no radical break in the pattern of everyday life (or death). There was continued growth in the size of the population, and a consolidation of the nucleated settlements that had developed at the major sites at the end of the preceding phase. A rise in both the quality and quantity of material found in the cemeteries of Latium points to an increase in the general level of wealth and prosperity. There must have been a rise in productivity, caused at least in part by improved agricultural techniques. For this period we have the first traces of polyculture - the cultivation, that is, of vines and olives - and there is evidence of increasing specialisation of labour. Wheel-made pottery makes its first appearance at the start of phase III, and while examples are relatively rare at first, by the end of the eighth century it had become standard and largely displaced home-made impasto. By that stage pottery was an independent specialised craft. 1

The last decades of the eighth century witnessed radical changes in the social structure, which became more pronounced in the orientalising period (Latial phase IV). The appearance at this time of exceptional wealth in some of the tombs points to the beginnings of permanent social stratification and the emergence of a dominant aristocracy. The changes are documented, as before, by the evidence of cemeteries, the most important being those at asteria dell'Osa, La Rustica, Laurentina, the Esquiline necropolis at Rome, and above all that at Castel di Decima, a site which was first discovered in 1953, but was not systematically explored until the 1970s when hundreds of tombs of the orientalising period (c. 730-580 BC) were excavated. The material from Decima is not yet published, but interim reports and the publication of some of the most important tombs have given a glimpse of the fabulous wealth of its ruling elite.2