The best books on the archaeology of Roman Italy

The Books I Picked & Why

The Roman Retail Revolution: The Socio-Economic World of the Taberna

By Steven J. R. Ellis

The Roman Retail Revolution: The Socio-Economic World of the Taberna

Why this book?

I adore this book because it explains the development of streets lined with shops that we see in Pompeii and identifies this phenomenon as a key development in the Roman empire. Steve shows that shops develop as part of the façade to what were houses of the elite in the second century BCE, but then proliferate in the towns of Italy. Ultimately, he shows how shops also spread to the towns of the provinces. The implications for a fundamental change in urban life were immense. The book is full of archaeological data and painstaking study, which is concisely presented to the reader in an accessible manner.


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The Traffic Systems of Pompeii

By Eric E. Poehler

The Traffic Systems of Pompeii

Why this book?

Pompeii is such a wonderful archaeological site and one that allows archaeologists to develop new ways to investigate how that ancient city functioned. This book, through meticulous study of paving, carts, and curbstones even, prods the surviving pieces from antiquity to create a full understanding of how traffic was enabled and hindered by the inhabitants of Pompeii. Plenty of streets blocked to traffic here and lots of detailed archaeological evidence to get to grips with, but coming through the book to the reader is the passion of the author and his need to discover and reveal new facts about Pompeii to his readers.


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A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

By Jane DeRose Evans

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

Why this book?

This book has everything in it across 37 chapters: technology, landscapes, material culture, identity, and empire. It is one of the few volumes in this series of Companions and Handbooks from various publishers that takes an explicitly archaeological focus. It includes developments in the city of Rome over time, but broadens out to include Italy and Rome’s empire. The book benefits from drawing on the research of 37 leading experts, who present in concise sections key findings based on archaeological research – often from archaeological projects that they have led in the field.


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The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City - Two-Volume Slipcased Set

By Andrea Carandini

The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City - Two-Volume Slipcased Set

Why this book?

In two volumes, this is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I own. Much more than an atlas of maps, it includes illustrations of archaeological evidence from across the city and is full of reconstruction drawings. It is a book to simply lose yourself in and spend time browsing through the pages that set out the city of Rome. The overlaying of the ancient buildings from Rome onto the modern street grid, also allows for the reader to see how those ancient buildings, such as the Theatre of Pompey, continue to shape the streetscape of the city of Rome.


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Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean

By Sarah E. Bond

Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean

Why this book?

Not primarily a book about archaeology, but I’ve included this book because it explores the tricky matter of how we can gain access to the ordinary people of ancient Rome. Some of whom, such as the mint-workers, made the things that archaeologists discover in the 21st century in Italy. The author takes up the challenge of recovering these overlooked professions from funeral workers, through bakers and tanners, to criers who all featured in the ancient cities of Italy. There is a paradox running through the book that although these people were the ancient world’s “essential workers’, they were also stigmatised or taboo.  This paradox explains much about Roman society and its contradictions.


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