5. Concluding Remarks

The preceding discussion has considered the key methodological problems encountered and the solutions implemented to facilitate the project's wider research aims. Although some of these are specific to the particular dataset at hand, many are generic and therefore likely to be of broader resonance. Explicit discussion of such methodological issues is perhaps not as common as it should be. Such exercises are valuable not only because others can avoid 'reinventing the wheel', but also because these methodological decisions fundamentally shape the resulting data. Too few projects make clear the assumptions and judgements that underlie their digital resources. By way of conclusion, a brief overview of some of the project's results provides insight into the potential of the database.

The later 4th century BCE is well known as a particularly vigorous period for higher-order settlements in central-western and southern Italy. Published explanations of the causes of this activity currently focus on individual regions. The database allows these regional trajectories to be identified and compared so that the full scale of the dramatic rise in settlement numbers in the late 4th century BCE can now be presented, quantitatively and geographically (Sewell forthcoming). Because this sharp increase in settlement activity is apparent in multiple contiguous regions simultaneously, it seems likely that supra-regional processes were at work. The increase in the number of higher-order settlements seems to be related to another well-known phenomenon of the same period: a sudden and dramatic rise in the number of rural sites (Terrenato 2001a, 2–3; 2001b, 63; Attema et al. 2010, 147–70). GIS analysis has revealed that the areas that demonstrate investment in major settlements correspond with those where increased rural infill is most strongly attested, suggesting a link between these processes, possibly related to the consequences of innovations in land exploitation. This period also corresponds with that of the Roman conquest and, for several regions, heightened settlement activity in major centres is regarded by some to be a response to the Roman threat. Yet not all of the areas where major settlement growth is attested were directly affected by the Roman conquest at this time. This indicates that the apparently favourable conditions for the creation and augmentation of settlements during this period were not directly or even indirectly caused by Roman activity. Instead, it raises the intriguing possibility that the particular success of Roman territorial expansion during this period might have been at least partly due to the Romans having been able to exploit these propitious conditions for settlement growth (Terrenato 2001a, 3).

In the post-conquest period the overall number of major settlements decreased, partly because, in stark contrast to the previous period, virtually no new non-Roman fortified hilltop centres were founded. Subsequently, the sharpest decreases in settlement numbers correspond to moments immediately after the dates of historically attested major wars with foreign invaders. Yet this does not seem to have impacted the continued, but regionally diverse, expansion of rural settlement. Over time, very large centres generally reduced in size, especially apparent with the Greek colonies of the south. Although there were multiple exceptions, relatively small urban centres (10-20ha) appear to have become particularly numerous.

The events of the 1st century BCE had a particularly dramatic impact on the physical development of major settlements. Many existing centres became notably urbanised after Roman citizenship was conferred on peninsular communities, with regularised town planning and embellishment with public buildings, described below. Hundreds of municipia emerged. The civil wars and the consequential settling of veteran soldiers in new peninsular colonies seems to have been a catalyst for urbanisation, as were the conditions resulting from the new political regime under the early emperors. Specific types of monumental architecture became widespread. As the database has recorded the presence and general construction dates of theatres, amphitheatres, basilicas, temples, bath complexes and monumental fora, this process can now be quantified and visualised with GIS. Although the partial standardisation of public architecture lends the impression that Roman towns underwent a degree of homogenisation, there is actually a great deal of diversity in the physical manifestations of urban forms. Many towns had pre-Roman origins, and the regional diversity of earlier developmental periods clearly left its mark on later Roman urbanism. As well as the more familiar centres with rectilinear street systems and fortifications, polycentric and even non-urban municipia are also attested. The database has provided an opportunity to undertake the first archaeological analysis of all the archaeologically known municipia of peninsular Italy with the aim of capturing the full spectrum of this settlement form.

Veteran colonies of the period were, with perhaps one exception, founded at existing settlements. The corresponding archaeological sites are all very recognisably urban, and further analysis aims to reveal the degree to which this resulted from the agency of the original colonists and their descendants. These results and others are discussed in much greater depth in forthcoming publications (Sewell forthcoming, in prep a, b, c).