The best books on the archaeology of Roman Italy

Who am I?

I grew up in London and became interested in history from multiple visits to the British Museum and the Museum of London, but it was on an undergraduate trip to Pompeii that I realized that I was capable of explaining archaeological remains. That realization led me back to Pompeii and then Rome, but also to tracking down the archaeology of Roman roads. Writing has become important to me, perhaps, because I’m dyslexic and I’ve had some struggles to write in the past. Yet, as a dyslexic professor, working at Macquarie University (Sydney), I think I can offer students and readers explanations of history that reflect my ongoing passion for studying the past.  

I wrote...

The Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change

By Ray Laurence,

Book cover of The Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change

What is my book about?

I wanted to set out to readers how the Romans travelled and how important roads were to the development of their culture, as well as how roads underpinned the development of their empire. There is a technological aspect of viaducts and road surfaces, as well as the improvement of traction animals – notably mules. Thus, the book explains the development of a sustainable empire, not just through conquest, but also through the infrastructure of communications. Thus, I show how mobility underpinned Roman culture and its empire.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Steven J. R. Ellis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Roman Retail Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tabernae were ubiquitous in all Roman cities, lining the busiest streets and dominating their most crowded intersections in numbers far exceeding those of any other form of building. That they played a vital role in the operation of the city, and indeed in the very definition of urbanization in ancient Rome, is a point too often under-appreciated in Roman studies, and one which bears fruitful further exploration.

The Roman Retail Revolution offers a thorough investigation into the social and economic worlds of the Roman shop, focusing on food and drink outlets in particular. Combining critical analysis of both archaeological material…

Book cover of The Traffic Systems of Pompeii

Why did I love 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.

By Eric E. Poehler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Traffic Systems of Pompeii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Traffic Systems of Pompeii is the first sustained examination of the development of road infrastructure in Pompeii-from the archaic age to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE-and its implications for urbanism in the Roman empire. Eric E. Poehler, an authority on Pompeii's uniquely preserved urban structure, distills over five hundred instances of street-level "wear and tear" to reveal for the first time the rules of the ancient road. Through a
thorough, yet lively, investigation of every facet of the infrastructure, from the city's urban grid and the shape of the streets to the treatment of their surfaces…

Book cover of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

Why did I love 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.

By Jane DeRose Evans (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic offers a diversity of perspectives to explore how differing approaches and methodologies can contribute to a greater understanding of the formation of the Roman Republic. * Brings together the experiences and ideas of archaeologists from around the world, with multiple backgrounds and areas of interest * Offers a vibrant exploration of the ways in which archaeological methods can be used to explore different elements of the Roman Republican period * Demonstrates that the Republic was not formed in a vacuum, but was influenced by non-Latin-speaking cultures from throughout the Mediterranean region…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Andrea Carandini,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Atlas of Ancient Rome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Atlas of Ancient Rome provides a comprehensive archaeological survey of the city of Rome from prehistory to the early medieval period. Lavishly illustrated throughout with full-color maps, drawings, photos, and 3D reconstructions, this magnificent two-volume slipcased edition features the latest discoveries and scholarship, with new descriptions of more than 500 monuments, including the Sanctuary of Vesta, the domus Augusti, and the Mausoleum of Augustus. It is destined to become the standard reference for scholars, students, and anyone interested in the history of the city of Rome. The Atlas of Ancient Rome is monumental in scope. It examines the city's…

Book cover of Trade and Taboo: Disreputable Professions in the Roman Mediterranean

Why did I love 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.

By Sarah E. Bond,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Trade and Taboo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Trade and Taboo investigates the legal, literary, social, and institutionalcreation of disrepute in ancient Roman society. It tracks the shiftingapplication of stigmas of disrepute between the Republic and LateAntiquity by following groups of professionals-funeral workers, criers,tanners, mint workers, and even bakers-and asking how they coped withstigmatization.

The goal of this book is to reveal the construction and motivations forthese attitudes, and to show how they created inequalities, informedinstitutions, and changed over time. Additionally, the volume shows howpolitical and cultural shifts mutated these taboos, reshaping economicmarkets and altering the status of professionals at work within thesemarkets.

Sarah E. Bond investigates legal…

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