Vagnari Vicus Excavation
Exploring Production, Consumption and Living Conditions on the Roman Imperial Estate at Vagnari (Puglia) is an interdisciplinary and collaborative programme of archaeological research under the direction of Maureen Carroll (University of Sheffield). The project focuses on industrial, artisanal and agricultural production and the exploitation of human and natural resources in the central village (vicus) of a vast rural estate belonging to the Roman emperors. The primary aim is to gain insight into the socio-economic complexities and conditions of living and working on this imperial estate from the first to the fourth centuries A.D. The research is funded by the British Academy, the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, and the University of Sheffield.
After the discovery of stone-built structures and evidence for manufacturing and agricultural production in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. in the northern part of the vicus in 2012, Sheffield’s team of students and specialists will focus in 2013 on further exploring these buildings and a potential kiln as well as analysing the regional and imported commodities at the site. Given the current increased interest at international level in the Roman economy, and in view of the poor understanding of the commercial intricacies of territories owned by the Roman emperor, these aspects of life at Vagnari are of particular relevance.
For a more detailed overview of work in 2012 and 2013, see http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/research/vagnari.
Investigations in 2012 concentrated in an area north of the ravine on a long rectangular structure measuring almost 30 metres long and 6 metres wide. This “north building” consisted of a narrow range of rooms on one side with an internal width of only 1.10 m, and an adjacent ‘corridor’ 3 m wide on the other side; whether this had any internal divisions is unclear at the moment. The south face of the building had walls at a 90 degree angle keyed into it, suggesting that the building was part of a larger structure. Two drains with stone walls and capping slabs ran under the building, removing waste and/or water from another unknown structure to the southeast on the crest of the slope. The precise nature and use of this basic and simply finished building is as yet unknown, but it is possible that it had multiple functions and served as dwellings for slave and/or free labour, as well as storage of goods, or even activities associated with manufacturing, as the metal finds might suggest.
Relatively large quantities of metal, especially lead, were retrieved in and around the north building, the fragmented objects and materials clearly having been collected for smelting and re-use. Glass slag indicates further artisanal activity here. Retrieval of materials for scientific analysis will enable an informed assessment of the sourcing of raw materials and the socio-economic implications of such manufacturing. Even though the inhabitants of the vicus were of a relatively low-status, a broad range of regionally produced and foreign imported products was present. Understanding the consumption of imported commodities is an important aspect of the project, the ceramics thus far assembled already pointing to trade contacts with North Africa, Albania and other regions of Italy.
Charred material in a Roman hearth in front of the north wall of the building points to the cultivation of fairly drought-resistant durum wheat (Triticum cf. durum) as a cereal crop on the estate. To reduce future oat infestation, wild plant species and winter wild oat (Avena sterilis L.) had been weeded out prior to harvesting the durum wheat and then burnt as waste or utilised as fuel in the hearth, with some of the wheat also ending up with the discarded waste. This data is significant because it is the first clear evidence for crop cultivation at Vagnari. It is an aim of future fieldwork seasons to seek evidence for the full range of crop types and the production and distribution of agricultural surplus on the estate.
The pottery and coins found on site suggest that the north building was in use from the late 1st to mid-4th century A.D., although both artefact groups hint at earlier activity (3rd – 1st century B.C.) on the site.