Early Rome
A study of culture and identity among the first Romans and their neighbours
Sine Saxkjær

Early Rome Ė the period between the 8th and 6th centuries BC Ė is an era in Roman history that has traditionally been known and defined on the basis of the written sources, from which we know the tales about the founding of Rome, the Etruscan kings and their neighbours: the Latins, the Sabines and the Faliscans. During the last decades, archaeological projects and investigations in the central part of Rome as well as in the nearest hinterland have contributed to an increasing amount of material from the period, which enables a reĀ]evaluation of our understanding of the earliest Romans, their ethnic identity and the cultural developments that took part in shaping the region of Latium and the earliest phases of Rome.
The project aims to shed light on the ethnic and cultural developments through comparative studies of the material culture from central case studies, such as the SantíOmobono sanctuary, which encompasses the earliest temple in Rome, as well as the material from the Iron Age necropoleis on Forum and the Esquiline Hill, the contemporary settlement contexts on the Palatine Hill and the archaic contexts from Forum. The project will further include material from sites outside Rome as well as from central settlements in Southern Etruria, which makes it possible to identify the cultural developments among the indigenous populations in the nearest hinterland of Rome.
Academic approach
In the ancient sources, the accounts of the Romansí origin and their early history are characterized by a complex mixture of different ethnicities. In the earliest of times, Aeneas travelled to Latium after the Trojan War, where he married Lavinia, the daughter of the Latin king, and became ancestor to the Romans. Aeneas himself was out of the Trojan lineage, which derived from Dardanus, who originally came from Arcadia. In addition, it is described in the sources that the indigenous people in the area of Latium were descendants of Greek immigrants, who came to the area long before the Trojan War. Similarly, in connection with Romulus and the founding of Rome, we have the account of the Romansí abduction of the Sabine women, which led to yet another union of two tribes.
These are just a few examples from the narrations about the Romansí origin, but they do nonetheless provide a picture of a branched genealogical tree which encompasses several ethnic groups. This inevitable leads to the question of who the earliest Romans were: Was the earliest Roman culture a mixture of indigenous tribes as well as immigrated people? What was the cultural and ethnic identity of the earliest Romans? What constituted the background for the narratives about the early Romans and their neighbours we today know from the written sources?
The project will re-address these questions based on the increasing volume of archaeological material from the period. The case studies, which count the early contexts from Rome and selected sites in the hinterland, are situated within a geographical area that encompasses at least four different indigenous groups Ė the Etruscans, the Sabines, the Faliscans and the Latins Ė within a radius of just 40 km. These people were not only in contact with each other, but furthermore had close commercial contacts with Greeks and Phoenicians: the area of early Rome was clearly a cultural nerve centre. Through contextual and comparative analyses of material style and cultural determined patterns in the application of material culture, the project aims to identify ethnic and cultural markers and hereby uncover the finer nuances of the earliest Romansí identity. The project will further include the written sources Ė both as an element in the backdrop of the analyses of the archaeological material as well as in connection with the cultural memory that surrounds the early Roman culture and which is reflected in the later written sources.