Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 761–773 | Cite as

Intensive agriculture and land use at Roman Gordion, central Turkey

  • John M. Marston
  • Naomi F. Miller
Original Article


Few archaeobotanical studies of Roman agricultural practices and their environmental impact in Anatolia (modern Turkey) have been published. New data from Roman levels at Gordion, a multi-period urban centre in central Anatolia, indicate that free-threshing wheat, most likely Triticum aestivum (bread wheat), was the focus of agricultural practice, in contrast to earlier periods when a more diverse agricultural system included greater amounts of barley and pulses. Evidence for increased levels of irrigation and wood fuel use relative to dung, along with regional overgrazing, provide further evidence for significant change in land-use practices during the Roman period. The emphasis on T. aestivum cultivation coupled with extensive grazing had significant environmental implications, leading to severe overgrazing and soil erosion on a regional scale. Historical sources and limited data from other Roman period sites suggest that similar patterns of agriculture may have been practiced across central Anatolia during the Roman period. We propose that this may have been due to externally imposed demands for taxation or military tribute in the form of wheat, and conclude that these demands led to the adoption of an unsustainable agricultural system at Gordion.


Agricultural intensification Crop choice Dung fuel Roman Gordion Anatolia 



We thank excavation directors Mary M. Voigt and Andrew Goldman for providing detailed stratigraphic information and interpretation for, and access to, the samples reported here, and Gordion project directors G. Kenneth Sams and C. Brian Rose. Shannon Palus helped to sort the Roman period flotation samples. We also thank our funding agencies: Marston’s research at Gordion has been supported by the US National Science Foundation (BCS-0832125), the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, and the American Philosophical Society; Miller’s work on Roman Gordion has been funded by the Loeb Classical Library Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Excavation and survey at Gordion since 1988 has been supported funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (a US federal agency), the National Geographic Society, the IBM Foundation, the Kress Foundation, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and by gifts from generous private donors. All modern archaeological research at Gordion (1950-present) has been sponsored and supported by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; co-sponsors from 1991 to 2002 are the College of William and Mary and the Royal Ontario Museum. We thank Mary M. Voigt and Andrew Goldman for their comments on earlier versions of this text, as well as two anonymous reviewers whose focused and constructive critiques strengthened our arguments and improved our data presentation.

Supplementary material

334_2014_467_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (68 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 68 kb)
334_2014_467_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (57 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (XLSX 57 kb)


  1. Anderson S, Ertuğ-Yaras F (1998) Fuel, fodder and faeces: an ethnographic and botanical study of dung fuel use in Central Anatolia. Environ Archaeol 1:99–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atalay I (1997) Türkiye bölgesel coğrafyası [Regional geography of Turkey, in Turkish]. İnkılap Kitabevi, İstanbulGoogle Scholar
  3. Aytuğ B (1970) Arkeolojik araştırmaların ışığı altında iç Anadolu stebi [The central Anatolian steppe in the light of archaeological research, in Turkish]. İstanbul Üniversitesi Orman Fakültesi Dergisi Seri A 20:127–143Google Scholar
  4. Bagnall RS (1985) Agricultural productivity and taxation in later Roman Egypt. T Am Phil Assoc 115:289–308Google Scholar
  5. Bakker J, Paulissen E, Kaniewski D, Laet V, Verstraeten G, Waelkens M (2012) Man, vegetation and climate during the Holocene in the territory of Sagalassos, Western Taurus Mountains, SW Turkey. Veg Hist Archaeobot 21:249–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bending J, Colledge S (2007) The archaeobotanical assemblages. In: Postgate N, Thomas D (eds) Excavations at Kilise Tepe, 1994–1998, from Bronze Age to Byzantine in western Cilicia. McDonald Institute Monographs, Cambridge, pp 583–595, Appendix IGoogle Scholar
  7. Bennett J (2013) Agricultural strategies and the Roman military in central Anatolia during the early imperial period. OLBA 21:315–343Google Scholar
  8. Bennett J, Goldman AL (2009) A preliminary report on the Roman military presence at Gordion, Galatia. In: Morillo Á, Hanel N, Martín E (eds) LIMES: the 20th international congress of Roman frontier studies. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, pp 1,605–1,616Google Scholar
  9. Bottema S (1984) The composition of modern charred seed assemblages. In: Van Zeist W, Casparie WA (eds) Plants and ancient man: studies in palaeoethnobotany. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp 207–212Google Scholar
  10. Bottema S, Woldring H, Aytuğ B (1994) Late Quaternary vegetation history of northern Turkey. Palaeohistoria 35(36):13–72Google Scholar
  11. Charles M (1998) Fodder from dung: the recognition and interpretation of dung-derived plant material from archaeological sites. Environ Archaeol 1:111–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Colledge S (2001) Final report on the archaeobotanical analyses. In: Matthews RJ, Postgate JN (eds) Contextual analysis of the use of space at two Near Eastern Bronze Age sites: Tell Brak (north-eastern Syria) and Kilise Tepe (southern Turkey). York ADS Electronic Archive. Accessed 4 Jan 2011
  13. Davies RW (1971) The Roman military diet. Britannia 2:122–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dusar B, Verstraeten G, D’Haen K, Bakker J, Kaptijn E, Waelkens M (2012) Sensitivity of the Eastern Mediterranean geomorphic system towards environmental change during the Late Holocene: a chronological perspective. J Quat Sci 27:371–382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Erdkamp P (2005) The grain market in the Roman Empire: a social, political and economic study. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fahn A, Werker E, Bass P (1986) Wood anatomy and identification of trees and shrubs from Israel and adjacent regions. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, JerusalemGoogle Scholar
  17. Fuller BT, De Cupere B, Marinova E, Van Neer W, Waelkens M, Richards MP (2012) Isotopic reconstruction of human diet and animal husbandry practices during the Classical-Hellenistic, Imperial, and Byzantine periods at Sagalassos, Turkey. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:157–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Garnsey P (1988) Famine and food supply in the Graeco-Roman world: responses to risk and crisis. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Giorgi J (1995) Environmental research. In: Lightfoot CS, Ivison EA (eds) Amorium excavations 1994, the seventh preliminary report. Anatolian Stud 45:105–138 (124–127)Google Scholar
  20. Goldman AL (2000) The Roman-period settlement at Gordion, Turkey. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina, Chapel HillGoogle Scholar
  21. Goldman AL (2005) Reconstructing the Roman-period town at Gordion. In: Kealhofer L (ed) The archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians: recent work at Gordion. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, pp 56–67Google Scholar
  22. Goldman AL (2007) From Phrygian capital to rural fort: new evidence for the Roman military at Gordion, Turkey. Expedition 49:6–12Google Scholar
  23. Goldman AL (2010) A Pannonian auxiliary’s epitaph from Roman Gordion. Anatolian Stud 60:129–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gürsan-Salzmann A (2005) Ethnographic lessons for past agro-pastoral systems in the Sakarya-Porsuk valleys. In: Kealhofer L (ed) The archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians: recent work at Gordion. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, pp 172–190Google Scholar
  25. Halstead P, Jones G (1989) Agrarian ecology in the Greek islands: time stress, scale and risk. J Hellenic Stud 109:41–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jones G (1987) A statistical approach to the archaeological identification of crop processing. J Archaeol Sci 14:311–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kaiser AG (1999) Increasing the utilisation of grain when fed whole to ruminants. Aust J Agric Res 50:737–756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kealhofer L (2005) Settlement and land use: the Gordion regional survey. In: Kealhofer L (ed) The archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians: recent work at Gordion. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, pp 137–148Google Scholar
  29. Kehoe DP (2006) Law and rural economy in the Roman Empire. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  30. Klinge J, Fall P (2010) Archaeobotanical inference of Bronze Age land use and land cover in the eastern Mediterranean. J Archaeol Sci 37:2622–2629CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kohler EL (1995) The Gordion excavations (1950–1973) final reports, vol II: the lesser Phrygian tumuli. Part 1: the inhumations. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  32. Kron JG (2000) Roman ley-farming. J Roman Archaeol 13:277–287Google Scholar
  33. Kron JG (2012a) Agriculture, Roman Empire. In: Bagnall RS, Brodersen K, Champion CB, Erskine A, Huebner SR (eds) The encyclopedia of ancient history. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 217–222Google Scholar
  34. Kron JG (2012b) Food production. In: Scheidel W (ed) The Cambridge companion to the Roman economy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 156–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Marinova E (2008) Archaeobotany 2008. Accessed 21 Dec 2010
  36. Marinova E (2009) Archaeobotany 2009. Accessed 21 Dec 2010
  37. Marinova E (2010) Archaeobotany 2010. Accessed 21 Dec 2010
  38. Marinova E (2011) Archaeobotany 2011. Accessed 8 July 2013
  39. Marsh B (1999) Alluvial burial of Gordion, an Iron-Age city in Anatolia. J Field Archaeol 26:163–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Marsh B (2005) Physical geography, land use, and human impact at Gordion. In: Kealhofer L (ed) The archaeology of Midas and the Phrygians: recent work at Gordion. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, pp 161–171Google Scholar
  41. Marston JM (2009) Modeling wood acquisition strategies from archaeological charcoal remains. J Archaeol Sci 36:2192–2200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Marston JM (2010) Evaluating risk, sustainability, and decision making in agricultural and land-use strategies at ancient Gordion. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  43. Marston JM (2011) Archaeological markers of agricultural risk management. J Anthropol Archaeol 30:190–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marston JM (2012) Agricultural strategies and political economy in ancient Anatolia. Am J Archaeol 116:377–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Marston JM (2014) Ratios and simple statistics in paleoethnobotanical analysis: data exploration and hypothesis testing. In: Marston JM, D’Alpoim Guedes J, Warinner C (eds) Method and theory in paleoethnobotany. University Press of Colorado, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  46. McGovern PE, Glusker DL, Moreau RA, Nuñez A, Beck CW, Simpson E, Butrym ED, Exner LJ, Stou EC (1999) A funerary feast fit for King Midas. Nature 402:863–864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Meiggs R (1982) Trees and timber in the ancient Mediterranean world. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  48. METU (1965) Yassıhöyük: a village study. Middle East Technical University, AnkaraGoogle Scholar
  49. Miller NF (1984) The use of dung as fuel: an ethnographic model and an archaeological example. Paléorient 10:71–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Miller NF (1988) Ratios in paleoethnobotanical analysis. In: Hastorf CA, Popper VS (eds) Current paleoethnobotany: analytical methods and cultural interpretations of archaeological plant remains. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 72–96Google Scholar
  51. Miller NF (1996) Seed eaters of the ancient Near East: human or herbivore? Curr Anthropol 37:521–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Miller NF (1997) Farming and herding along the Euphrates: environmental constraint and cultural choice (fourth to second millennia B.C.). MASCA Res Papers Sci Archaeol 14:123–132Google Scholar
  53. Miller NF (1999) Seeds, charcoal and archaeological context: interpreting ancient environment and patterns of land use. TÜBA-AR 2:15–27Google Scholar
  54. Miller NF (2007a) Roman and Medieval charcoal from the 2004 excavation at Gordion, operations 52, 53, 54, and 55. (MASCA Ethnobotanical Lab Report 41) University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  55. Miller NF (2007b) Roman flotation samples from the 2004 and 2005 excavation at Gordion, operations 44, 52, 53, 54, and 55. (MASCA Ethnobotanical Lab Report 45) University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  56. Miller NF (2010) Botanical aspects of environment and economy at Gordion. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  57. Miller NF (2011) Managing predictable unpredictability: the question of agricultural sustainability at Gordion. In: Miller NF, Moore KM, Ryan K (eds) Sustainable lifeways: cultural persistence in an ever-changing environment. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, pp 310–324Google Scholar
  58. Miller NF, Enneking D (2014) Vicia ervilia (L.) Willd—ancient medicinal crop and farmer’s favorite for feeding livestock. In: Minnis PE (ed) Ancient crops: toward an archaeology of sustainability. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, pp 254–268Google Scholar
  59. Miller NF, Marston JM (2012) Archaeological fuel remains as indicators of ancient West Asian agropastoral and land-use systems. J Arid Environ 86:97–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Miller NF, Smart TL (1984) Intentional burning of dung as fuel: a mechanism for the incorporation of charred seeds into the archeological record. J Ethnobiol 4:15–28Google Scholar
  61. Miller NF, Zeder MA, Arter SR (2009) From food and fuel to farms and flocks: the integration of plant and animal remains in the study of the agropastoral economy at Gordion, Turkey. Curr Anthropol 50:915–924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mitchell S (1993) Anatolia: land, men, and gods in Asia Minor, vol 1: the Celts in Anatolia and the impact of Roman rule. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  63. Moens M-F, Wetterstrom W (1988) The agricultural economy of an Old Kingdom town in Egypt’s West Delta—insights from the plant remains. J Near East Stud 47:159–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Nesbitt M (1995) Recovery of archaeological plant remains at Kaman-Kalehöyük. In: Mikasa T (ed) Essays on ancient Anatolia and its surrounding civilizations. Bulletin of the Middle East Culture Centre in Japan, vol 8. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, pp 115–130Google Scholar
  65. Pearsall DM (2000) Paleoethnobotany: a handbook of procedures, 2nd edn. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  66. Rose CB, Darbyshire G (eds) (2011) The new chronology of Iron Age Gordion. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  67. Roth JP (1999) The logistics of the Roman army at war (264 BC–AD 235). Brill, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  68. Rowlandson J (1999) Agricultural tenancy and village society in Roman Egypt. In: Bowman AK, Rogan E (eds) Agriculture in Egypt: from Pharaonic to modern times. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 139–158Google Scholar
  69. Schweingruber FH (1990) Anatomy of European woods. Haupt, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  70. Smith A (2005) Agriculture, culture, and climate: examining change in the Bronze and Iron Age Near East. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Boston University, BostonGoogle Scholar
  71. Spurr MS (1986) Arable cultivation in Roman Italy c. 200 BC–AD 100. (Journal of Roman Studies, Monographs 3) Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, LondonGoogle Scholar
  72. Van der Veen M (2007) Formation processes of desiccated and carbonized plant remains—the identification of routine practice. J Archaeol Sci 34:968–990CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Voigt MM (2002) Gordion: the rise and fall of an Iron Age capital. In: Hopkins DC (ed) Across the Anatolian Plateau: readings in the archaeology of ancient Turkey. (The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 57) American Schools of Oriental Research, Boston, pp 187–196Google Scholar
  74. Voigt MM (2011) Gordion: the changing political and economic roles of a first millennium city. In: Steadman S, McMahon G (eds) The Oxford handbook of ancient Anatolia (10,000–323 BCE). Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 1069–1094Google Scholar
  75. Voigt MM (2013) Gordion as citadel and city. In: Redford S, Ergin N (eds) Cities and citadels in Turkey: from the Iron Age to the Seljuks. Peeters, Leuven, pp 161–228Google Scholar
  76. Voigt MM, Young TC (1999) From Phrygian capital to Achaemenid entrepot: Middle and Late Phrygian Gordion. Iran Antiq 34:191–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wallace M, Charles M (2013) What goes in does not always come out: the impact of the ruminant digestive system of sheep on plant material, and its importance for the interpretation of dung-derived archaeobotanical assemblages. Environ Archaeol 18:18–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Yakar J (2000) Ethnoarchaeology of Anatolia: rural socio-economy in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, Publications Section, Tel AvivGoogle Scholar
  79. Young RS (1981) The Gordion excavations final reports, vol 1: three great early tumuli. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  80. Zeder MA, Arter SR (1994) Changing patterns of animal utilization at ancient Gordion. Paléorient 22:105–118Google Scholar
  81. Zohary M (1973) Geobotanical foundations of the Middle East. Fischer, StuttgartGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ArchaeologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Near East SectionUniversity of Pennsylvania MuseumPhiladelphiaUSA

Personalised recommendations