Materialising Roman Histories
Astrid Van Oyen and Martin Pitts (eds)
Oxbow Books, £40
Review by: Matthew Fittock
Your possessions can tell people a lot about who you are, but this only makes up a small part of what objects do and mean: all have hidden stories that have quietly shaped lives in ways that often go unnoticed.
This book therefore asks a simple question: what did objects do to Roman society? Objects obviously did not have minds of their own, but they did have powerful effects on behaviour, whether intended or not, through their evolving shapes, styles, and decoration. How and why objects evolved is not always clear – perhaps new crazes in ceramic lamp and figurine design, for example, were simply the artistic pursuits of bored craftspeople. But this did affect how people interacted with objects. Standardised Samian tableware, for instance, stacked and allowed traders to transport more goods and make bigger profits. Less variation also meant that more people with similar pottery were now more concerned with owning the ‘shiniest’ and ‘purest’ products.
At its heart, this is a digestible academic book that shows how people and objects were closely connected in the Roman world, and is vital reading for archaeology students and anyone interested in wider material culture studies.