This paper approaches the problem of data scarcity in antiquity by extensifying the quantification of ancient production through architectural energetics. Developing cost models for ancient architectural monuments is by now a well-established and familiar method; however, for disciplinary reasons Romanists still tend to employ such models to answer questions about the building trades or architecture, and less frequently to address historical issues. Seth Bernard suggests that the nature of this methodology as originally elaborated in anthropology makes it perhaps better at testing historical, rather than strictly architectural, problems. I discuss how ancient historians might best employ the approach, and I argue in particular for the methodology’s potential to extend study beyond the chronological limits of the core period of Imperial history, resulting in a comprehensive and ecumenical ancient economic history, which better incorporates a highly variable evidentiary corpus. I conclude with a demonstration of the approach’s utility through two case studies, the first from my 2018 monograph on Middle Republican Rome, and the second from an ongoing project using energetics to tackle longstanding questions about the nature of Middle Republican Roman colonization, focusing on the type-site of Cosa.
Seth Bernard is associate professor of Roman history at the University of Toronto. He holds a BA in classics from Amherst College and a PhD in ancient history from the University of Pennsylvania. He has been a regular member of the American School for Classical Studies at Athens and a Rome Prize Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. His research focuses broadly on the social and economic history of Rome and Italy, particularly of the Republican period. He published a 2018 monograph with Oxford Press on architectural production and the developing structures of labor in the Mid-Republican city of Rome, and he has completed a draft of a second book on non-written forms of historical culture in Iron Age Italy. A co-edited volume on new methodologies and approaches to Mid-Republican Rome is also forthcoming, and he holds a SSHRC Insight grant for a project to collect and analyze data for economic change in Italy before and during the period of Roman conquest. He is also actively involved in archaeological fieldwork in Italy, where he co-directs excavations on the acropolis of Populonia with colleagues from the University of Siena, and he is starting a new collaborative project at Falerii with the British School at Rome.