The best known of the early attempts to catalogue all ancient towns in Italy is William Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854). More comprehensive still is the urban-focused second volume of Heinrich Nissen's Italische Landeskunde (1902). In addition to describing historical events and the archaeological remains relevant to each site, both of these great works drew on ancient written sources and contemporary scholarly opinions to discuss the possible location of ancient towns that were yet to be discovered. Since these works were published, a number of these towns have been securely located; the locations of those still missing continue to be debated. During the course of the project a list of 273 names was compiled of settlements referred to in ancient written sources, the locations of which remain either unknown or disputed. These are excluded from the project for two reasons: 1) a lack of archaeological evidence for their settlement histories and physical forms means that it is not possible to determine whether they would have fulfilled the criteria for inclusion in the study, explained below; 2), without certainty of location, no spatial analysis is possible. Roughly 80% of these unlocated sites are broadly situated in those areas of western-central and southern Italy where the higher concentrations of archaeologically known centres are found (see section 4.3).
New sites continue to be discovered and published, however, and the project includes 216 ancient sites that are usually referred to in published works by their modern toponyms, either because their ancient names are unknown or disputed. For the purposes of the project, the nomenclature of the Barrington Atlas (Talbert and Bagnall 2000) was the basis for the primary identifier for each site in the database. This was amended on a site-by-site basis only if the Barrington's nomenclature proved to be controversial on the basis of further research. Sites not included the Atlas were assigned identifiers most commonly used in the archaeological literature.
Archive: An archaeological database of higher-order settlements on the Italian peninsula (350 BCE to 300 CE)
As a result, the project has identified 273 ancient toponyms (Unidentified_Settlements_ROMURBITAL in archive) with no known locations and 216 sites with no known name. The fact that there are more ancient toponyms without locations than there are anonymous sites is just one of many indications that numerous major settlements are archaeologically invisible. For example, the literature documents many necropolises with no known associated settlement site. For this project, however, only five of these necropolis sites have been included in the database on the basis that their significant size indicates that they served substantial, but undocumented, urban centres.
Perhaps due to the densely populated character of ancient Italy, plus the high and ever-increasing number of sites found through rural survey, more recent studies of Italy's ancient settlement forms are mostly limited to specific cultural groups, regions or individual sites (e.g. Bourdin and D'Ercole 2014; Quilici and Quilici Gigli 2002; Spanu 2004). Those seminal works dealing with urbanism more generally (e.g. Sommella 1988; Gros and Torelli 2007) focus mainly on the historical development and character of Roman urbanism, illustrated through the presentation of select individual sites. Although Rome's contribution to the pattern of major settlements on the peninsula was not as significant as might be imagined, peninsular colonies founded by Rome still tend to dominate scholarly enquiry (e.g. Lackner 2008; Sewell 2010). This is due in part to the essential roles colonies played in Rome's consolidation of power across the peninsula, and the privileged status colonial towns maintained in the peninsula's urban network well into the imperial period (see the contributions in Dialoghi di Archeologia ser.3, 10.1 (1992)). The bias towards colonies also reflects their treatment in the ancient written sources which put particular emphasis on the foundation of colonies during the Roman Republican period.
Although the study described here has a mapping component, it has a different purpose to that of the Italy section in the Barrington Atlas and its regularly updated online version, Pleiades. Although an extremely useful resource for locating sites, the georeferenced information provided by Pleiades relates to only three of the 91 data categories used in the current project's database. The specific research questions of the project required much more detailed and specifically structured data, and hence the database is distinct from more generic encyclopaedia and atlas listings.
Italian and international scholarship on the settlement archaeology of the peninsula has been prolific over the last 30 years. Many new sites have been identified and bright new light has been shed on previously known sites. The project consulted more than 1,400 bibliographical references, of which more than half date to the 21st century, and more than 80% to 1990 or later. Thus the project responds to the opportunities and challenges presented by the availability of large amounts of new primary material now in need of synthesis, as well as exploiting the technological solutions for efficiently and effectively dealing with such large quantities of data.