The Rome’s Mediterranean Ports Advanced Grant is funded under the European Research Council Seventh framework “Ideas” Specific programme. The project will last for five years. The temporal scope of the project is focused on the first three centuries AD.

Rome was connected to its Mediterranean provinces by commercial routes channelled through networks of ports acting as poly-functional nodes. Ships, people and goods moved along these, drawing the micro-regions of the Mediterranean into a closer economic and commercial relationship with the City. Central to the success of these networks were the major ports through which were channelled major commercial flows moving between Rome and its maritime hub at Portus and key ports in its Mediterranean provinces, and the relationships of these to lesser regional ports and anchorages. All of them can be described in terms of loosely configured “port-systems” that ensured the movement of ships and their cargoes around the Mediterranean. Some of these, particularly those in the eastern Mediterranean, can be traced back to the Hellenistic or earlier periods.

The Rome’s Mediterranean Ports project will address specific questions relating to the capacities of and inter-connections between a range of 30 selected ports in ways that will allow us to better understand their role in promoting the cohesion and integrity of the Roman Mediterranean during the imperial era.

These concern (1) the layout of Roman ports, (2) the organization of commercial activity focused at them, (3) hierarchies of ports, and (4) pan-Mediterranean commercial and social connections between ports. In addressing them, the project will apply suites of existing techniques in archaeology, ancient history and palaeo-environmental studies to a range of ports. It is an approach that builds upon the PI’s belief in the value of integrating archaeological techniques, archaeological and historical approaches to the study of the past, and in interpreting individual port sites within a broader Mediterranean context. In so doing, the project moves beyond the state of the art in port studies, and raises issues that are key to better understanding the unprecedented degree of economic, social and political convergence that was achieved by the Roman empire during the imperial era.

The project focuses upon the organization and scale of pan-Mediterranean commerce during the first three centuries AD. It will embrace existing techniques that have been developed in archaeology, ancient history, geomorphological studies and computing. They are applied to a range of ports across the Mediterranean, ranging in scale from Portus, to regional entrepôts and down to smaller ports. We will focus upon four themes and associated questions:

  1. The layouts of Roman ports. How far did ports represent a technological advance on what had existed previously? Did layout condition the capacities of ports for handling commercial traffic and supporting industrial activity?
  2. The organization of commercial activity at ports. How far was this the result of state, city, private initiatives, or combinations of all three?
  3. Hierarchies. What were the hierarchical relationships between Rome, the entrepôts and lesser ports and anchorages?
  4. Pan-Mediterranean commercial and social connections between ports. What was extent of these and how far can we speak of networks of connection between them, individuals and cities?

The proposal addresses these questions by applying suites of similar archaeological methods and historical approaches on a Mediterranean-wide scale. The former have been successfully undertaken by the Portus Project (directed by the PI) (www.portusproject.org) making possible a far more holistic understanding of ports than is usually the case – owing to compartmentalized traditions of academic study. However they have never before been attempted in conjunction with historical and epigraphic evidence, given that archaeological and historical specialists in the field of port studies usually work in isolation from one another. The project will also encourage further methodological innovation within each of the disciplines involved as well as building upon our extensive expertise in the management of inter and multi-disciplinary research. It will be underpinned by a tried and tested team of researchers based in the UK and involving other European colleagues, many of who have successfully worked together before. Last but not least, the project will establish the study of Roman Mediterranean ports as a new field of multi-disciplinary research focused at Southampton, underwritten by a nascent European community of researchers.