The Impact of Roman Imperialism in the West

KNIR Research Alliance


This Research Alliance underpins an international archaeological project funded by the Dutch Prins Bernhard Culture Foundation, and is based at the Groningen Institute of Archaeology and the KNIR. This project aims to start new collaborations between various international partners for the collection of Mediterranean field survey data that aid academic research in landscape archaeology, and cultural heritage management in spatial planning. Particular attention is given to data collected in rural landscapes of the Italian and Iberian peninsulas that were conquered by Rome between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. Spatial comparative pattern analysis of these data, on a supranational scale, allows for the understanding of the impact of the early strategies adopted by Rome to conquer new territories on her way to domination of the entire Central and Western Mediterranean world, from the Italian Peninsula to its Atlantic Portuguese fringes.


About the project

The core project “The impact of Roman imperialism in the West: settlement dynamics and rural organization in Iron Age and Roman Portugal” (2018-2027) is a landscape archaeological and ancient historical study of the westernmost area that was conquered by ancient Rome and incorporated into the Roman empire (c. 3rd-1st centuries BCE). Using a combination of new archaeological field work as well as a study of previous archaeological and historiographical work, the project aims to generate new understandings of the Roman archaeology of Portugal, moving its study into the center of the international debate on Roman imperialism in the Western and Central Mediterranean.

The Roman conquest of the Mediterranean areas and beyond tied together a wild variety of landscapes and pre-existing polities. It was accompanied by incisive changes in the population, socio-political organization, culture and economy between the Iron Age and the Roman imperial period. Both the character and the impact of the Roman expansion are currently hotly debated. New scholarship sheds a different light on the early phases of Roman expansion in the Italian peninsula. An important question is how these new insights relate to developments in other geographical areas and time periods. This is elemental for better understanding Mediterranean-wide processes at hand in chronological, geographical and, not the least, causal terms. With good comparative data, the evidence from the far west of the Roman empire may become especially relevant to the newly developing hypotheses about early Roman imperialism. As yet, however, transnational comparative analysis is hampered by different national research traditions and (field) methodologies.

Comparative transnational exploration and international scholarly collaboration, allowing to open a broader window on societal trends in the Western Mediterranean, are therefore an important prerequisite for understanding the development of Roman expansion and imperialism. The project includes two collaborative field work projects, one in Alto Alentejo with Dr. André Carneiro and Dr. Mónica Rolo of the University of Évora, and more recently a project with Dr. Tomás Cordero Ruiz of the Nova University of Lisbon. The field work focuses on the rural settlement organization of newly conquered areas, by looking at the settlement and land-use patterns, centuriation, roads/infrastructure as apparent from field survey data and other non-invasive methods. Another part of the project regards the integration of previous landscape archaeological data (‘legacy data’) and its potential for integration and comparison with newer datasets from the Central and Western Mediterranean.

The KNIR-PBCF-GIA Research Alliance provides the framework to support the comparative part of the project’s research. The project is based at the Groningen Institute of Archaeology in the Netherlands and at the KNIR in Italy. Both KNIR and GIA have a long history in landscape archaeological projects and pre-Roman and Roman archaeology in the Italian peninsula. Comparative approaches to settlement trends and the linking of different field survey datasets are at the heart of these studies. The KNIR coordinates the Fasti Online Survey platform, collecting information about field survey projects from the Italian peninsula and the wider Mediterranean. The Research Alliance capitalizes on this concrete infrastructure as well as on the large scholarly community working on landscape archaeology and Roman imperialism in the foreign and national institutes and universities of Rome.

Two team members, the PI Dr. Tesse Stek and postdoc Dr. Anita Casarotto, work at KNIR, whereas Dr. Tymon de Haas and Dr. Jeremia Pelgrom are based at the University of Groningen. The other (future) team members, two PhD students and a research assistant, will come to study at the KNIR during various research stays. Also, workshops and research meetings of the project are planned at the KNIR. A series of internships and other educational projects are also part of the program.



Stek, T.D., A. Carneiro. 2022. The Archaeology of Roman Portugal in its Western Mediterranean Context. Oxbow Books: Oxford.

Casarotto, A. Digitising Legacy Field Survey Data: A Methodological Approach Based on Student Internships. Digital 2022, 2, 422-443.

García Sánchez, J., A. Carneiro, R.A.A. Kalkers, T.D. Stek. 2020. The Late Roman villae of Horta da Torre and Monte de São Francisco and their rural context (North Alentejo, Portalegre district, Portugal), in: Congreso Internacional Las villas romanas Bajoimperiales de Hispania – Actas, Palencia, 15-17 Noviembre 2018. 291-300.

Stek, T.D., A. Carneiro, J. García Sánchez. 2018. Frontier Landscape Project. The archaeology of Roman colonialism in the Fronteira area, ancient Lusitania (Northern Alentejo region, Portugal), TMA 59.