The Farfa Survey - part 1

Dr John Moreland

The monastery of FarfaIncastellamento in the Sabina - Bocchignano

The Farfa Survey covered the area of the Sabine Hills from the monastery of Farfa westwards to the Tiber. The survey was multi-period, but had a particular focus on late Antiquity and the early middle ages. We hoped to combine material evidence for human occupation of this landscape with information from the monastery´s archive of early medieval texts to provide new insights (at a regional level) into the demise of the Ancient World and the birth of the Middle Ages.

Archaeologists and historians tend to conjure up contrasting images of the `end of Rome´. The former emphasise discontinuity, and argue that hill-top settlements replaced classical patterns of (dispersed) settlement in late Antiquity. The latter, by contrast, see continuity of dispersed settlement up to, and date the incastellamento process from, the 10th-century. In utilising both texts and material culture we sought to overcome this disabling history/archaeology opposition.

Preliminary analysis of the survey evidence suggested that Roman settlement in this part of the Sabina peaked in the 1st- and 2nd-century AD (see 8, below).The end of the 2nd- century, however, saw the beginning of a decline in the number of datable sites. Few, if any, sites could be dated to the period between 500 and 800, apparently confirming the `discontinuity´ argument that the `classical´ pattern of settlement had collapsed in late Antiquity.


Field survey - the remains of a Roman villain the Sabina

The Farfa Survey - distribution of 1st-century AD sites


This evidence, however, is not entirely unequivocal. The peak in classical settlement patterns (4, 8) should be seen in the context of the region´s proximity to the Rome (and our ability to date terra sigillata). There may have been some dislocation in the 2nd-century (plague?) and the `failure´ of site numbers to recover may be a symptom of `Rome the imperial power´ – drawing on the resource of its provinces rather than its hinterland