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The Roman Poor: in the city and the country
Contemporary perspectives on the ancient Mediterranean tend to be top down and because of this, many segments of Roman society are effectively invisible in modern scholarship. The problem is due at least in part to the challenges of attributing past activity and material culture to the members of Roman society who had the least. The lack of traditional sources has resulted in a treatment of the non-elite in simplistic terms or as an essentially homogeneous entity. This research uses human remains analysis and a multiscalar context to address the invisibility problem of the poor in three settings: the very urban context of the burials at Casal Bertone just outside Rome, the burials outside the city of Aesernia high in the Apennines which arguably straddles the urban and rural divide, and the rural context of the Vagnari vicus cemetery. This interdisciplinary approach juxtaposes bioarchaeological assessments, digital mapping and the work of economists with ancient texts, epigraphic evidence and more traditional archaeological reports to learn more about the poorest members of Roman society. The results of the comparison show a clear diversity in the lifestyles and life experiences of the non-elite, help explore ritual activity even among the simplest graves in the Roman archaeological record, and raise important questions about how Roman cemeteries can be interpreted.