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Response to Review no. 598

My thanks to Bryan Ward-Perkins (BWP) for his full comments on my volume. Given his strong Italian background and expertise, his views are appreciated. My thanks also to the Reviews Editor for this opportunity to respond to some of the points and queries raised in the review.

First I might note that I am glad that the volume is recognized as ‘history-friendly’—as well as archaeology-friendly—as it was a target to offer a text in part framed, though not conditioned, by the documentary data. I hope that I indicated within the volume that for some aspects of the late-antique and early-medieval past, notably in religious contexts, an awareness of the literary output and records is essential for understanding some of the evident archaeology. I have taken within the various chapters a largely chronological ordering of discussion—sometimes, as BWP notes for Chapter 4 on Defence and Power, with the whole chapter sorted in sequence, but in others, as in Chapter 3 on Urbanism, via themed sections. It would have been far too unwieldy to attempt to write the rural and urban chapters in a straight chronological format as BWP seems to recommend (Urbanism does, however, end with a summary section dealing with ‘Late Roman towns’, ‘Ostrogothic towns’, etc.)—although the complaint is part-tied to the view that I should have written in a ‘slimmer’ manner, whereby fewer words might have enabled a more straightforward sequential discussion. I would note also that the Rural Settlements chapter similarly has a logical and time-ordered format: whilst BWP notes four sections ‘in a rather confusing thematic arrangement’, these do in fact follow on from sections running from Field survey to Roman rural settlement to Late Roman Villas, then to Germanic Settlement (divided here from Gothic to Byzantine to Lombard).

I will of course be keen to see if these concerns on the arrangement and clarity of my text and arguments are raised by other reviewers. Similarly I am keen to hear if others think I have offered too much in here. I would naturally like to argue that my text is written in a clear style, seeking to synthesize what can be complex archaeological data and interpretations of these. By offering a wide array of examples I offer choice to readers—a slimmer volume will have meant much pruning of these other examples, diluting, to my mind, the value of this larger synthesis which tries to paint a wider Italian picture. Indeed, one other reviewer elsewhere noted a set of additional excavations that I might have included! In the meantime, I hope BWP does let his undergraduates peruse more than my Chapter 4 to decide for themselves if there is more of interest in here!

My pitch is no doubt to be perceived as more positive in terms of the key question of change/loss with the ‘end of Rome’ than BWP would argue: certainly I do prefer to seek more in the way of ‘transformation’ and ‘adaptation’, because especially in many an urban context, there is a clear renewal that emerges in the eighth century and that renewal must be based on people and structures that have persisted in that centre. I do also comment on ‘decay’, ‘dislocation’, and ‘crisis’, but my choice of ‘Urban Evolutions’ for the title of Chapter 3 reflects how the volume as a whole spans wider changes over a 500 year period which features change, reconfiguration, Christianization, decay and assaults, shrinkage, Church prominence, then an upward shift and renewals—a variety of evolutions and transformations, rather than straight ‘Decline’. Many archaeologists are cautious in seeing dramatic change and indeed archaeology too rarely shows dramatic cut-offs (although there are instances noted of destruction deposits that curtail life in towns like Brescia and Verona from c. AD 550–600. In contrast, as I note in Chapter 6, events such as the ‘Justinianic plague’, which will have been so deadly, debilitating, and shocking to all populations, are almost invisible archaeologically).

A photo of a fragmented statue of Constantine in the Capitoline museum in Rome

A fragmented past: the dismembered Constantine at Rome’s Capitoline Museum

As a final comment, I was a bit surprised to hear that the book only offered largely ‘familiar’ or ‘dry’ images. One might quibble over what is ‘familiar’ in that I would hope that, to many readers, the images would indeed be new, especially as I cover a wide range of topics and am not limited to just towns or just defence. An allowance of 101 illustrations is generous in my opinion—as a rapid comparison (here grabbing three books from off my shelf as I type), Stephen Dyson’s short Duckworth book (128pp) on what could be a very visual theme—The Roman Countryside (2003)—simply has four maps; Richard Alston’s The City in Roman and Byzantine Egypt (2002) with 478pp has just one photo and fifty line illustrations; and The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol 2 (1995, with 1082pp) has thirty-six pls. and twenty maps. I would admit that some of my book’s images have not been reproduced to as high a quality as I would have liked. But at least a generous range has been offered to illustrate the book’s main themes.