African red slip ware in the western Mediterranean : an economic and demographic reappraisal
This thesis argues that archaeologists have ignored fundamental aspects of ceramic assemblage formation. The factors that are traditionally invoked to explain quantitative variation in ceramics are such things as distance from source, breakage rates and trade flows. These considerations are all perfectly valid. However, this thesis argues that it is essential that we also consider the effects of changing eating habits. Using the example of African Red Slip Ware (ARS), a particularly common late Roman fineware in the Mediterranean, it is shown that changes in dining practices can have had dramatic effects on the amount of pottery that would have been used at any given period in time. A model is developed for the circulation of ARS which takes these culinary changes into account. It is argued that the changes were related to the role of the ancient meal as a means of negotiating ethnic identities. Specifically, it is suggested that many of the observed changes can be related to the rise of early Christianity. This model is then used to challenge long-accepted views of the Roman economy and late Roman rural demography, both topics in which ARS plays an important role. It is argued that the traditional view of the Roman economy, as having undergone successive boombust cycles, is misguided. In large part this model is based on a misunderstanding of the formation processes of ARS assemblages, and so a new model is forwarded which allows for the effects of changing eating habits. Finally, ARS is commonly used as a guide to the density and spread of late Roman rural occupation. Traditional views cite massive depopulation in Late Antiquity. It is argued that, by re¬ examining the ARS sherds, it can be shown that this view is also misguided. This is demonstrated through an analysis of the British School at Rome's South Etruria survey ARS collection, and a critical reappraisal of the historical evidence.