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Regional variation in diet and crop choices: a comparison of Roman Italy and the Near East

Feito, J. N. (2021) Regional variation in diet and crop choices: a comparison of Roman Italy and the Near East. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00108243


This thesis examines plant production and consumption in Roman period Italy and the Near East by means of archaeobotanical meta-analysis. The aim of this study is to shed light on the effects that the Roman Empire had on foodways in these two regions, which have received less attention in terms of large-scale archaeobotanical studies. Such an endeavour necessarily entails the reconstruction of dietary patterns, cultivation practices, and aspects of the agricultural economy more broadly. In comparing two very distinct regions, the disparate ways that socio-cultural, environmental, and political-economic setting impacted crop choices and dietary patterns may be better understood. In order to achieve this, published archaeobotanical data have been collated along with primary evidence examined by the author, from the sites of Jerash in modern-day Jordan, and Hippos-Sussita in Israel. The dataset is comprised of both presence/absence and fully quantified data, resulting in a two-tiered approach to data analysis, which utilises both frequencies and abundance. The distribution of remains are analysed by site type, chronological period, as well as region, and the results are integrated with ancient literary sources. The results include evidence of agricultural expansion and intensification in the Roman period in both regions, though the diversity characterising agricultural regimes, which would have incorporated an array of intensive and extensive techniques, is emphasised. The distribution of cash crops such as olive and grape suggests that while viticulture was universally important throughout the study period, olive oil production shows regional fluctuations and may have been affected by comparative advantage. Other findings include a rise in dietary diversity in the Roman Imperial period in both regions, particularly with regards to fruit remains, speaking to the increased prevalence of horticulture throughout the Roman world. Plant consumption, in general, appears to have been at once regionally distinctive as well as subject to interregional trends. It is also possible to detect regional variations in fuel economies, with alternative fuel sources being comparatively more important in the East than in Italy. The evidence also suggests shifts in fuel use over the course of the study period, with agricultural by-products rising in prominence in the Near East. The results from the Late Roman period show considerable variation between the two regions, and have implications concerning the impact of socio-economic and climatic instability on the resilience of agricultural systems.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Marzano, A., Mueldner, G. and Lodwick, L.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Classics
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Classics
ID Code:108243

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