The Supply of Stone to the City of Rome: A Case Study of the Transport of Anician Building Stone and Millstone from the Santa Trinità Quarry (Orvieto)

  • Myles McCallum


For archaeologists the study of the exotic is a difficult task, as “exotic” is a cultural construct difficult to discern in the archaeological record. Exotic items are those that in some way possess characteristics deemed unusual, rare, or unique, and thereby are often highly desirable. Complicating this, goods that might appear quite mundane to the excavator can reveal themselves to be exotic within a particular cultural context. For studies of the ancient Romans, a more thorough understanding of the exotic is revealed through examination of artifact distribution in the archaeological record combined with a close reading of various Roman and Greek texts to reveal Roman tastes and preferences. These distribution patterns can also be analyzed within their cultural context according to the precepts of formalist economic theory in an attempt to understand the degree to which Roman trade and exchange networks correspond to either a formalist or a substantivist model of economic behavior.

What follows is an attempt to put this method into practice. The focus of this study is two types of stone: the first used for the milling of grain and the second for construction. Both stones were considered to be of high quality and consequently desirable to Roman millers and builders, respectively. One of these stones was considered so desirable by Romans in the imperial capital that its distribution and use spread to sites quite distant from where it was extracted; the other was considered remarkable for its unusual properties and quality but nonetheless not sufficiently desirable to use outside the immediate source area. Consequently, a careful examination of the distribution of these two materials in the archaeological record of west central Italy suggests a number of possibilities for understanding the regional trade and exchange network of the Late Republican (second to first century BCE) and Imperial Periods (late first century BCE to fifth century CE).


Archaeological Record Building Stone Roman Period Quarry Site Tyrrhenian Coast 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St. Mary’s UniversityHalifaxCanada

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