Multifocality and State Fragility in Iron Age Central Italy
Dr. Nicola Terrenato, Esther B. Van Deman Collegiate Professor of Roman Studies, University of Michigan
Western central Italian states have had a peculiar role in our intellectual history, starting with the most famous of them, the “eternal” city of Rome. With evident teleology, the narrative about the emergence of the earliest agglomerations in the early first millennium BCE has taken the form of an ascending curve. While there is no denying that this regional phenomenon has produced cities with 3000 years of uninterrupted occupation, recent archaeological and historical research have revealed how precarious the process was in its early stages. At various points in their trajectories, many of these centers were abandoned, moved or shrunk. Even more importantly, they all came together in a slow and hesitant way. It is now clear that they were the result of many distinct elite-led groups settling separately within the same defensible location. Such multifocality remained a long-term trait of these agglomerations, shaping their settlement patterns, their institutions and their sociopolitical life. Arguably, participating elites saw the city as a truce space to mitigate their conflicts and as a vehicle to further their long-range ambitions, but they never fully identified with it. This made all these polities inherently weak and impermanent, even when they lasted for centuries.
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