Erika Jeck (University of Chicago), Reinterpreting Survey Data, Reimagining Roman Greece

Survey data have often been used to confirm a decline in the countryside of Roman Greece described by ancient authors. But we need not be seduced by the plummeting number of alleged sites, nor by the sudden loss of finewares in certain areas, to read the rural landscape of this period as one of barren fields mottled with villa estates. Instead, using survey data from the provinces of Achaia and Epirus, I present an approach that avoids the methodological pitfalls of identifying discrete ‘sites’ by interpreting artifact scatter collectively as a sign of social, political, or agricultural investment. Attending to the artifacts themselves, this approach remains geographically rooted, simply at a much broader scale based on zones of investment rather than individual sites. In this way, the survey data rather suggest that investment in agriculture was largely maintained under the Romans, while investment in social display became concentrated in suburban zones of major metropoleis. This new pattern of spatial investment developed in response to the growth of cities and hinterlands far larger than pre-Roman poleis and chorai. In the end, rather than widespread economic decline throughout the countryside, these changes point toward a new landscape of grand metropoleis with a suburbium-style outspread of gardens, small farms, and villas, where social investments intensified at suburban nodes of connectivity—keeping urban and rural spheres deeply intertwined throughout the Roman era.