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New trajectories or accelerating change? Zooarchaeological evidence for Roman transformation of animal husbandry in Northern Italy

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  • Institute Milà i Fonatanals CSIC Barcelona
  • Independent Researcher

Abstract and Figures

Throughout the Western provinces of the Roman Empire, greater economic and political connectivity had a major impact on agricultural production, which grew in scale and specialisation after integration with the Roman state. However, uniquely in Western Europe, farming strategies in Italy began to evolve centuries before the Roman conquest, and many 'Roman' patterns associated with livestock size and the relative proportions of different taxa first emerged during the early and middle centuries of the first millennium BC. These changes imply a significant reorganisation of production strategies well before Roman hegemony, even in relatively marginal areas of Italy. Zooarchaeological studies have documented further significant changes to livestock production in Roman times, but the relationship between these developments and earlier trends remains unclear. Through analysis of zooarchaeological data for species representation and livestock biometry from lowland northern Italy (Po-Friulian Plain), this study investigates animal exploitation between the Bronze Age and Late Antiquity in order to characterise the influence of Roman political and economic organisation on animal husbandry. Results demonstrated subregional variation in species representation, and different trajectories in the biometric evolution of cattle, sheep and goats, compared to pigs. Initial steps established in the Iron Age towards a more complex and dynamic livestock economy were accelerated and further reconfigured in Roman times, facilitated by Roman economic organisation and the specialised and large-scale production systems within it. Zooarchaeological trends continued to progress over the Roman period, until further changes at the very end of the chronology considered here-around the sixth century AD-suggest another wave of change. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s12520-020-01251-7.
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ORIGINAL PAPER
New trajectories or accelerating change? Zooarchaeological evidence
for Roman transformation of animal husbandry in Northern Italy
Angela Trentacoste
1
&Ariadna Nieto-Espinet
2
&Silvia Guimarães
2,3
&Barbara Wilkens
4
&Gabriella Petrucci
5
&
Silvia Valenzuela-Lamas
2
Received: 28 May 2020 /Accepted: 1 December 2020
#The Author(s) 2021
Abstract
Throughout the Western provinces of the Roman Empire, greater economic and political connectivity had a major impact on
agricultural production, which grew in scale and specialisation after integration with the Roman state. However, uniquely in
Western Europe, farming strategies in Italy began to evolve centuries before the Roman conquest, and many Romanpatterns
associatedwith livestock size and the relative proportions of different taxa first emerged during the early and middle centuries of
the first millennium BC. These changes imply a significant reorganisation of production strategies well before Roman hegemony,
even in relatively marginal areas of Italy. Zooarchaeological studies have documented further significant changes to livestock
production in Roman times, but the relationship between these developments and earlier trends remains unclear. Through
analysis of zooarchaeological data for species representation and livestock biometry from lowland northern Italy (PoFriulian
Plain), this study investigates animal exploitation between the Bronze Age and Late Antiquity in order to characterise the
influence of Roman political and economic organisation on animal husbandry. Results demonstrated subregional variation in
species representation, and different trajectories in the biometric evolution of cattle, sheep and goats, compared to pigs. Initial
steps established in the Iron Age towards a more complex and dynamic livestock economy were accelerated and further
reconfigured in Roman times, facilitated by Roman economic organisation and the specialised and large-scale production
systems within it. Zooarchaeological trends continued to progress over the Roman period, until further changes at the very
end of the chronology considered herearound the sixth century ADsuggest another wave of change.
Keywords Agriculture .Improvement .Economy .Biometry .Iron Age .Roman Empire .Late Antiquity
Introduction
Political unification under the Roman Empire had a profound
impact on the social and economic organisation of Western
Europe, and, consequently, the agricultural strategies
employed throughout this territory. Greater connectivity
brought new tastes (Rowan 2019), and wider exchange net-
works transformed food production, allowing greater speciali-
sation and the long-distance transport of an agricultural surplus
(Mattingly and Aldrete 2000; Ward-Perkins 2006). New plants
and animals were introduced (Witcher 2013;Bosietal.2020),
and both rare species and common foods circulated with great-
er intensity (Orengo and Livarda 2016). Although different
regions followed distinct trajectories, zooarchaeological stud-
ies document a suite of changes in livestock production across
the Western Empire. Firstly, changes in the relative propor-
tions of livestock illustrate the evolution of animal husbandry
regimes and suggest change in meat preferences (e.g. King
1999; Valenzuela-Lamas and Albarella 2017). Secondly, dis-
tinct modes of carcass processing associated with Roman
towns and military establishments became recognisable, and
large structured animal bone deposits point to specialised pro-
cessing in these contexts (e.g. Groot 2016;Rizzettoetal.2017;
Seetah 2018). Thirdly, after millennia of size diminution,
*Angela Trentacoste
angela.trentacoste@arch.ox.ac.uk
1
Institute of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
2
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Institució
Milà i Fontanals, Archaeology of Social Dynamics, Barcelona, Spain
3
CIBIO-InBIO, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos
Genéticos, Universidade do Porto, Vairão, Portugal
4
Alghero, Italy
5
Trieste, Italy
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01251-7
/ Published online: 15 January 2021
Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences (2021) 13: 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
livestockespecially cattleincreased significantly in size. In
Western Europe, this increase in body size has been document-
ed in Britain (Johnstone 2004; Albarella et al. 2008), France
(Méniel 1984; Lepetz 1996; Forest and Rodet-Belarbi 2002;
Frémondeau et al. 2017; Duval and Clavel 2018), Belgium
(Pigière 2017), the Netherlands (Lauwerier 1988), Germany
(Teichert 1984;Groot2017), Switzerland (Breuer et al. 1999;
Groot and Deschler-Erb 2015,2017), the Balearic Islands
(Valenzuela et al. 2017) and the Iberian peninsula (Altuna
1980; Colominas and Saña 2009;Colominas2013;
Colominas et al. 2017). However, within continental-scale
trends, evidence of diversions and different regional rhythms
are also found: Portugal (Valenzuela-Lamas and Detry 2017;
Nieto-Espinet et al. 2021) and Rhaetia (Trixl et al. 2017)show
little change in livestock size after the Roman conquest.
Zooarchaeological evidence also demonstrates that this
reorganisation of animal production, although profound, was
not permanent: in many areas changes to species representa-
tion, carcass processing and animal size relaxed or reversed
over Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages (e.g. Rizzetto
et al. 2017; Duval and Clavel 2018;Salvadori2019).
Livestock improvement in Western Europe has traditional-
ly been viewed as the product of Romanhusbandry strate-
gies related to improved feeding practices (e.g. Kron 2002),
changes in sex ratios with greater preference for male animals
(Forest and Rodet-Belarbi 2002), and the importation of new
phenotypically larger stock (e.g. niel and Brunaux 1983;
Méniel 1996; Minniti et al. 2014; Colominas and Edwards
2017). Recent research, however, has revealed an increase in
livestock size prior to Roman influence in some areas of
Western Europe. In northern Gaul, increases are visible from
as early as the third century BC (Duval et al. 2012;
Frémondeau et al. 2017), during a period in which an expan-
sion in trade networks and changes in territorial and adminis-
trative structure are attested (Buchsenschutz2015; Duval et al.
2018). These changes in animal size then accelerated during
Roman times. Furthermore, uniquely in Western Europe, live-
stock in Italy increased significantly in size even earlier, dur-
ing the early and middle centuries of the first millennium BC
(De Grossi and Minniti 2017; Valenzuela-Lamas and
Albarella 2017; Trentacoste et al. 2018; De Grossi and
Minniti 2019). Over a similar period, a pig-focused subsis-
tence strategy emerged in parts of central and northern Italy
(De Grossi and Minniti 2009;Minniti2012; Trentacoste
2016). As in the Gallic examples, these changes to Italian
animal management were probably catalysed by the develop-
ment of new economic strategies and social relationships, ev-
idenced archaeologically by a reorganisation of settlement
networks and new forms of connectivity and human mobility
(see Fulminante 2014; Antonio et al. 2019; Cavazzuti et al.
2019a; Cavazzuti et al. 2019b). These zooarchaeological
trends then intensified in Roman times: further increases in
livestock size and an even greater reliance on pork
consumption are recorded in Imperial Italy (MacKinnon
2004a,2010;Love2008; De Grossi and Minniti 2017). Are
these Roman trends an acceleration of pre-existing tendencies,
or do they represent a new direction in animal management?
An appreciation of the pace and character of Roman devel-
opments, and to what extent these differed from earlier proto-
historic strategies, is essential to understanding the nature of
agriculture in Roman Italy, and to what extent Roman devel-
opments represented technical innovations versus a
reorganisation of existing strategies in a new socioeconomic
context. These conclusions have implications for how we un-
derstand the impact of Roman political annexation on produc-
tion, and how we conceptualise what defines Romanfood
and farming. This study analyses zooarchaeological data for
species representation and livestock biometry in order to in-
vestigate the influence of Roman sociopolitical and economic
organisation on animal husbandry in lowland northern Italy
(Fig. 1). The study area covers the eastern Po Valley and
adjacent VenetianFriulian Plain, encompassing an area of
comparable climate and topography (see Rubel et al. 2017)
within Cisalpine Gaul: an area later incorporated into Roman
Italy as the Augustan regions of Venetia and Histria (regio X)
and Aemilia (regio VIII). We expand previous studies of
Roman animal biometry in northern Italy (e.g. Riedel 1994b;
MacKinnon 2001,2004a,2010) with data published during
the past decade to analyse a significant body of
zooarchaeological information from an underrepresented re-
gion of Roman Italy. The primary focus is on the late Iron
Age, Roman, and Late Antique periods, but results are placed
in context over the longue durée, from the Middle Bronze Age
through Late Antiquity (c. 1700 BCAD 700), to understand
how Roman developments relate to long-term trends. This
analysis builds on a similar study dedicated to the Bronze
and Iron Ages in the PoFriulian Plain (Trentacoste et al.
2018); consequently, prehistory is not discussed in detail in
this paper, although the comparative data provide an important
point of comparison for the degree and pace of change. This
investigation allows us to address to what extent Roman trans-
formations to animal management represents the acceleration
of established trends versus new directions in livestock hus-
bandry, and it lays a foundation for future zooarchaeological,
isotopic and genetic analyses in the region.
Archaeological and historical context
Over the early part of the Iron Age (c. 950early second century
BC), material culture across the study area developed more
distinct regional identities, leading to the emergence of proto-
and then fully Etruscan, Venetian and Golaseccan traditions
(Bonetto 2009; Bietti Sestieri 2010). Zooarchaeological evi-
dence for increases in the size of sheep and cattle suggests a
significant reorganisation of animal production from as early as
25 Page 2 of 22 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25
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the BronzeIron Age transition, well before Roman influence
in the region (Trentacoste et al. 2018). Settlements and trade
networks in the southern Po Plain and Veneto expanded over
the early part of the first millennium BC, and by the fifth cen-
tury BC cities with urban characteristics and site hierarchies had
developed (Balista et al. 2002;Govi2014). In the southern Po
Plain, a new pig-focused subsistence strategy developed around
the flourishing network of Etruscan cities (Trentacoste 2016,
2020). Livestock representation in other parts of lowland north-
ern Italy demonstrates greater continuity or variability, and
higher percentages of cattle remains (Trentacoste et al. 2018).
The fourth and third centuries BC saw a cultural and eco-
nomic reorganisation of the territory, as the presence of La
Tène material culture increased (Frey 1995;Williams2001).
Much of the central and western Po Plain became dominated
by peoples of Celticorigin (Curina et al. 2015). These mi-
grations caused major disruption to the Etruscan urban net-
work that occupied this area: settlement organisation became
more fragmented and dispersed, and cities declined (Malnati
1988; Sassatelli and Govi 2013). Archaeobotanical evidence
broadly suggests continuity in arable crop choice over the Iron
Age (Trentacoste and Lodwick in prep.), although the greater
a
c
b
Fig. 1 Map of sites showing location of the three study regions. See Online Supplement 1for site details. Terrain data from the U.S. Geological Survey
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 3 of 22 25
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diffusion of imported millstones from the fourth century BC
(e.g. Renzulli et al. 2002) illustrates developments in the
technologyand possibly also scaleof crop processing.
Animal production also demonstrates a degree of continuity
through the final centuries before Roman control ofthe region,
although there are few assemblages from this period to offer a
robust assessment. The Etruscan cities of Spina and
Marzabotto continued to produce high frequencies of pig
bones (4759%) during the fourththird centuries BC (Curci
2010; Briccola et al. 2013), although at lower percentages and
possibly in different management systems than at their
Archaic peak. Major transitions in animal management are
not visible north of the River Po (Trentacoste et al. 2018).
The Roman Republic gained control of Cisalpine Gaul
through campaigns over the third and early second centuries
BC. The adjacent territories of Rhaetia and Noricum (eastern
Switzerland, Tyrol, Austria) were later incorporated by
Augustus during the first century BC (see Smith 2017;
Roncaglia 2018 for recent summaries). Roman political con-
trol had a profound impact on the territory, initially through
the foundation of colonies and construction of roads
(Laurence 1999; Matteazzi 2017). Life in the region was also
reshaped by immigration and integration with Roman eco-
nomic and social networks (Curina et al. 2015)develop-
ments supported by the extension of citizenship to communi-
ties south of the River Po (89 BC), and later to Transpadana
north of the river (49 BC). With the creation of regiones by
Augustus, the area was incorporated into Roman Italia.
Archaeological evidence demonstrates limited rural occupa-
tion before the second century BC, with greater in-filling of
the landscape during the first centuries BC and AD (Calzolari
et al. 2003; De Franceschini 2003; Matteazzi 2014,2017).
This was also a period of significant territorial organisation
via centuriation, land reclamation, and development of a new
water management network (Calzolari et al. 2003; Bruno et al.
2013;Matteazzi2016,2017; Cremaschi et al. 2018). A broad
survey of zooarchaeological evidence from across Italy has
suggested that the first century BC was also an important point
of change in animal management (Trentacoste and Lodwick in
prep.), which became more organised and integrated into
Roman trade networks at moment of significant economic
expansion (Wilson 2014). The evolution of animal production
strategies during the early Roman transitional period is diffi-
cult to assess due to the paucity of assemblages dated exclu-
sive between the late third to early first century BC.
During Imperial times (firstthird centuries AD), intensive
land exploitation in northern Italy led to significant deforesta-
tion (Marchetti 2002;Bosietal.2011). Human activity
shaped a landscape in which cereal fields and pasture were
punctuated by gardens, orchards, and thin woodland, along-
side freshwater marshy areas (Bosi et al. 2011; Bosi et al.
2015;Bosietal.2019). Botanical remains demonstrate arable
cultivation focused on wheats and barley alongside millets,
and the consumption of various legumes and new types of
fruits, raised both in fields and garden plots (Bosi et al.
2020). Agricultural strategies also impacted livestock, and
biometric studies have demonstrated that cattle in northern
Italy became even larger during the Roman period (Riedel
1994b;MacKinnon2004a,2010). However, in Alpine areas
of northern Italy, cattle demonstrate greater continuity in size
(MacKinnon 2010; Trixl et al. 2017). Together with the rural
landscape, the built environment was also reshaped, as urban
centres constructed the hallmark buildings of Roman life (the-
atres, bathes, temples, basilicas) and villas were built in their
rural territories (De Franceschini 2003).
Beginning in the third century AD and escalating in the
fourthfifth centuries AD, communities in northern Italy
were profoundly impacted by invasions, plague and polit-
ical power struggles surrounding imperial succession
(Christie 2006;Roncaglia2018). A reorganisation of the
countryside, during the late third and especially fourth
centuryAD,isevidencedbyareductioninruralsites,
and the degradation of the roads and land preservation
systems (De Franceschini 2003;Fontanaetal.2008;
Cremonini et al. 2013; Matteazzi 2017). However, while
overall numbers of rural sites declined in the fourth cen-
tury, many surviving villas were rebuilt, some at larger
sizes and elaborately refurbished: changes that point to
the growth of large estates and consolidation of land hold-
ing in the hands of elites (Sfameni 2004). Urban areas
reduced in size, and forests expanded (Bosi et al. 2015;
Bosi et al. 2019). Political instability led to greater
militarisation of towns and surrounding landscape,
reflected both in the construction of walls and other for-
tifications, as well as a reconfiguration of the regional
economy, as state-owned supplying the army operated
from northern Italian towns (James 1988; Christie 2006).
Following the disposition of the last Western emperor in
AD 476, Gothic rulers of Late Antique Italy largely continued
the established economic system (Castagnetti 1982; Ward-
Perkins 2006), until the Gothic Wars and subsequent political
fragmentation of the peninsula brought about an end to
romanitas in northern Italy (Marazzi 1997). Alongside this
social and political division, the JustinianicPlague and climat-
ic cooling during the Late Antique Little Ice Age (Whittow
2019) contributed to a collapse of the agrarian system (Banaji
2012; Castrorao Barba 2014;Forin2017). Without mainte-
nance of land reclamation systems, climatic deterioration dur-
ing the sixthcentury AD (McCormicket al. 2012; Bruno et al.
2013) caused large areas of the Po Plain to become marshland,
at least periodically (Marchetti 2002;Brandoliniand
Cremaschi 2018;Bosietal.2019). Nonetheless, many
Romantowns continued to be inhabited into medieval times,
even if in a form structurally, politically, and economically
very different than during earlier periods (La Rocca 1992;
Ward-Perkins 1997;Christie2006).
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This reconfiguration of the urban and rural landscape over
Late Antiquity had an impact on agricultural production, al-
though dramatic changes do not appear to have been immedi-
ate. Regional zooarchaeological studies found further in-
creases in cattle and pig biometry during Late Antiquity
(MacKinnon 2001,2004a,2010), suggesting that any changes
to production impacted animal size after this period.
Archaeobotanical evidence from northern Italy suggests con-
tinuity in crop choice, with a focus on barley and naked
wheats, but with greater diversification of local resources from
the fifthsixth centuries AD (Squatriti 2013;Rottoli2014).
When Italy is considered as a whole, zooarchaeological stud-
ies suggest general continuity until around the sixth century
AD, when a decrease in the proportion of cattle remains, body
size reductions, and changes in mortality patterns indicate a
break from Roman and Late Antique production systems
(Salvadori 2011,2015,2019). In cattle, this reduction in rela-
tive abundance and gradual decrease in height reached a min-
imum in the tentheleventh centuries AD (Riedel 1994b;
Salvadori 2019). In contrast, sheep and pigs followed appear
to have remained more stable in height between the Roman
period and Early Middle Ages (Salvadori 2015).
Materials and methods
Sites and assemblages
Sites considered in this metadata analysis were selected from
the eastern Po Valley and the VenetianFriulian Plain (Online
Supplement 1). Materials associated with religious or cultic
activity were excluded from NISP analyses. Ritual animal
bone assemblages from Italy often have features distinct from
those of habitation sites, with notable biases toward a partic-
ular species or body part (see Barker 1989; De Grossi and
Minniti 2012; Trentacoste 2016). This pattern of selective
killing and deposit curation continues from prehistory into
the Roman period (e.g. De Grossi and Minniti 2002;De
Grossi 2004; Corbino and Fonzo 2017), thus warranting sep-
arate consideration of ritual and habitation assemblages when
species frequencies are compared. Where possible, contextual
details were considered, and surface finds and plow zone ma-
terials excluded. Assemblages were assigned to a chronolog-
ical period: Bronze Age (c. 1650950 BC), Iron Age (includ-
ing the Etruscan period, c. 950180 BC), and Roman period/
Late Antiquity (c. 180 BC to 7th century AD) (see Online
Supplement 1). The Iron Age, Roman, and Late Antique pe-
riods were further subdivided into subphases, which were
considered in greater detail: IA1 (8th to 6th century BC),
IA2 (6th to 2nd century BC), Early Roman (Republican and
early Imperial: 2nd century BC to 1st century AD, including
assemblages dated within the 1st century AD), Mid Roman
(Imperial: 1st to 3rd century AD), and Late Roman (Late
Antiquity: 4th to 7th century AD). The Bronze Age and ear-
liest centuries of the Iron Age (tenth to eighth centuries BC)
were investigated in detail in a previous paper (Trentacoste
et al. 2018). Assemblages with long chronologies between
the 1st and 5th centuries AD were designated to an interme-
diate MidLate phase. Roman/Late Antique materials that
could not be confidently assigned to one of the above phases
were classified General. Roman sites were classified follow-
ing MacKinnon (2004a:3233) as rural (villas, rural settle-
ments), urban 2 (sites with urban characteristics not confirmed
as municipia),andurban1(urbansitesknowntobe
municipia) (see Fig. 1c) to compare differences in livestock
abundance between different site types.
Analysis of livestock abundance and biometry
The number of identified specimens (NISP) was used to quan-
tify the relative abundance of cattle (Bos taurus), sheep/goat
(Ovis aries/Capra hircus), and pigs (Sus domesticus).
Although a widely employed method for investigating taxon
representation, NISP is subject to systematic biases related to
specimen interdependence, fragmentation and inter-observer
variation in identification skill and recording practices
(Grayson 1979; Lyman 1994; Morin et al. 2016). To better
control for these concerns, skeletons and articulating bone
groups were excluded from NISP counts. Rib and vertebrae
fragments, which were identified to species only in some re-
ports, were also excluded. Only assemblages with more than
100 remains were considered in quantification of taxon abun-
dance. Differences in species abundance were tested with a chi
square test.
Animal size and morphology were investigated using log
standard index (LSI) values (Simpson et al. 1960;Meadow
1999) and direct comparison of measurements (in millimetres)
from mandibular third molars (M3s) and metacarpals. LSI
values from width and length measurements were calculated
following the method presented in Trentacoste et al. (2018).
This method employs one measurement per specimen and one
bone from any group of articulating remains in order to avoid
over representation of particular individuals. Published stan-
dards for cattle (Nieto-Espinet 2018), sheep/goat (Davis
1996) and pigs (Albarella and Payne 2005)wereusedtocal-
culate LSI values of post-cranial bones. Measurements from
the mandibular third molar (M3) were used to investigate tooth
biometry. Teeth, and especially tooth widths, are thought to be
less susceptible to environmental changes than post-cranial
bones (Payne and Bull 1988). Changes in sex ratios were in-
vestigated using measurements from metacarpals. The lower
front limb is sexually dimorphic in domestic bovids (Higham
1969; Thomas 1988;Davis2000), and is also thought to be so
in suids (Payne and Bull 1988). Consequently, these elements
can be used to identify male and female animals from archae-
ological remains (Davis et al. 2012). To facilitate
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 5 of 22 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
interpretation, metacarpal biometry of cattle was compared to
archaeological specimens of known sex from Eketorp
(Telldahl et al. 2012), a ringfort in Sweden dated c. 300
1250 AD, and Beja, a 15th-century AD site in Portugal
(Davis et al. 2012); metacarpal measurements from sheep were
compared to those of a modern Shetland flock (Davis 1996,
2000).
Statistical differences in LSI values between major periods
and phases with the Iron Age and Roman period were
analysed using MannWhitney Utests. Confidence intervals
(95%) for M3 measurements were calculated based on a mul-
tivariate tdistribution using the stat_ellipse function in the R
package ggplot2.
Results
Taxon abundance
Livestock representation varied across Roman and Late
Antique sites (Fig. 2; Online Supplement 1). Cattle tended to
predominate in Friuli, a pattern driven by their abundance in
assemblages from Aquileia. Assemblages from the southern Po
Plain generally contained higher proportions of sheep/goats and
pigs and low (< 12%) percentages of cattle, with the exception
of one assemblage from Calvatone. Livestock ratios from the
North study area were more variable, with some regional
trends. The two assemblages from Ficarolo-Gaiba, on the
southern border of the region, had high percentages of pigs,
followed by cattle. Torcelloan island the Venetian
lagoonhad a similar distribution of taxa. Taxon frequencies
in other assemblages in the North region were very diverse.
Assemblages differed significantly in their nature and size,
which influenced regional trends: the two largest assemblages,
from Aquileia and Calvatone (indicated in Fig. 2), each had a
livestock NISP over 1500, which included a very high propor-
tion of cattle remains, as well as distinct patterns in skeletal
element distribution and evidence of relatively standardised
butchery. At a regional level, these large assemblages had a
clear impact on broader patterns in NISP trends (Table 1,Fig.
3). This was especially evident in the South study area, where
the exceptional cattle-dominated assemblage from Calvatone
rendered the Early Roman phase markedly different from ad-
jacent phases (Fig. 3c). NISP percentages for the large deposit
from Aquileia were comparable to other late Republican and
Imperial assemblages from the same city. These two large
assemblages also influenced species representation on differ-
ent site types (Online Supplement 2): when all rural and urban
assemblages were compared, urban assemblages contained
significantly higher proportions of cattle remains. However,
when the two largest assemblages from Aquileia and
Calvatone were excluded, livestock representation was rela-
tively balanced between the three taxa across different site
types, although with a lower proportion of cattle and greater
representation of sheep/goat at urban 2 sites.
Sheep were more abundant than goats on all Roman/Late
Antique sites where these taxa were identified to species level.
The ratio of sheep to goats was comparable across the study
areas, although the dataset was small: South (2.8, n= 19),
North (3, n= 32) and Friuli (2.03, n= 97). These ratios varied
across Roman/Late Antique phases: Early (2.8, n=19),Mid
(1.7, n=70)andLate(2.8,n=53).
Diachronic changes in species representation differed
across the study areas. When Northern Italy is considered as
a whole (Fig. 3d), the relative abundance of cattle decreases
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
100%
Pozzuolo - Early (267)
Aquileia - Early (506)
Aquileia - Mid (531)
Vidulis - Mid-Late (119)
Aquileia - Mid-Late (205)
Udine - Late (1167)
Aquileia - Late (1984)
Trieste - Late (330)
Friuli
Cattle % Sheep/goat % Pig %
109
Map no.
113 111 108 114 110 115 117
*
Calvatone - Early (2583)
Calvatone - Early (317)
Modena - Early (130 9)
Spilamberto - Mid (294)
Spilamberto - Mid-Late (126)
South
85 86 89 91 92
*
Ca Tron M - Mid (199)
Ca Tron A - Mid (154)
Altino - Mid (199)
Oderzo - Mid (189)
Altino - Mid-Late (722)
Rosa - Late (181)
Torcello - Late (172)
Fic.-Gaiba - General (1003)
Fic.-Gaiba - General (168)
North
104 100 99 105 98 97 101 95 96
Fig. 2 Relative proportions of livestock on Roman sites. NISP in parenthesis. Stars indicate NISP > 1500. See Online Supplement 1for details
25 Page 6 of 22 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25
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over prehistory, before increasing significantly in the Early
Roman phase. Cattle remained the most abundant taxon for
the remainder of the Roman/Late Antique period, although at
lower percentages than documented at the Early Roman peak.
Trends in sheep/goats and pigs were more variable. All differ-
ences in NISP at the macro-regional level were significant
according to chi square tests (p< 0.001) (Online
Supplement 3).
Within these macro-regional trends, the three study areas
followed distinct trajectories (Fig. 3ac). In both Friuli and the
northern Po Plain, the relative abundance of cattle decreased
over the Bronze Age and early part of the Iron Age, before
increasing in the late Iron Age. In Friuli, proportions of cattle
continued to increase in Roman phases, and they remained the
most abundant taxon across the Roman and Late Antique
periods. Livestock representation in the North study area in
Roman times was more balanced, if variable, with a modest
increase in the relative proportion of pigs and decrease in the
abundance of sheep/goats in later Roman phases. The South
study area registered very high frequencies of pigs in the Iron
Age (i.e. Etruscan period), while cattle generally decreased in
abundance over the time period considered, with a notable
exception in the Early Roman period due to the large cattle
dominated assemblage from Calvatone. Diachronic changes
in NISP relevant to Iron Age and Roman phases were statis-
tically significant in all instances, except the transition from
the Early to Mid Roman period in Friuli, and from the Mid to
MidLate periods in the southern Po Plain (see Online
Supplement 3).
Biometry
Summary statistics for LSI values and measurements from
M3s from major periods are presented in Online Supplement
4and 5. Summary statistics for LSI values from Roman
phases are shown in Online Supplement 6. The results of
MannWhitney Utests comparing LSI values and tooth mea-
surements from different periods are found in Online
Supplement 7; results for phases within the Iron Age and
Roman periods are presented in Online Supplement 8.
Table 1 NISP and relative percentages of livestock by region and period. See Online Supplement 1for details
Bronze AgeIron Age Roman and Late Antique phases
MiddleRecent BA Recent/Final
BAEarly IA
Iron Age 1:
8th6th c. BC
Iron Age 2:
6th2nd c. BC
Early Mid MidLate Late General
Friuli
NISP 138 3536 437 769 773 531 324 3481
Assemblages 1 4 1 2 2 1 2 3
Cattle 42% 38% 24% 42% 52% 63% 52% 58%
Sheep/goat 23% 23% 42% 26% 21% 21% 20% 23%
Pig 35% 38% 34% 33% 27% 16% 28% 19%
South
NISP 10883 2322 32701 4209 294 126
Assemblages 14 7 11 3 1 1
Cattle 21% 27% 14% 60% 2% 2%
Sheep/goat 49% 29% 23% 18% 59% 55%
Pig 30% 44% 63% 23% 38% 44%
North
NISP 22394 2607 1606 7435 741 722 353 1171
Assemblages 17 7 1 8 4 1 2 2
Cattle 38% 32% 26% 47% 36% 43% 35% 29%
Sheep/goat 40% 24% 48% 28% 38% 19% 28% 20%
Pig 22% 43% 26% 25% 26% 39% 37% 51%
All
NISP 33415 6143 4365 40905 4982 1566 1172 3834 1171
Assemblages 32 11 9 21 5 6 4 5 2
Cattle 32% 36% 26% 21% 58% 39% 41% 56% 29%
Sheep/goat 43% 24% 37% 24% 18% 36% 23% 23% 20%
Pig 25% 41% 36% 55% 23% 25% 36% 21% 51%
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 7 of 22 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Cattle
Analysis of LSI values from cattle post-cranial bones demon-
strated a progressive increase in both width and length LSI
values across major chronological periods (Fig. 4.1). These
changes were highly significant in all comparisons (p<
0.001). Measurements from cattle teeth also registered an in-
crease in size between major periods (Fig. 4.2); again, all
differences were highly significant (p< 0.001). Comparison
of length and width measurements from individual teeth (in
mm) showed that the size increase in teeth occurred along a
similar regression line (Fig 4.2c). Comparison of LSI values
from phases within the Iron Age and Roman periods (Fig. 5)
revealed significant changes in length values between IA2 and
Early Roman phases (p> 0.001). Significant differences in
width values were also found between IA2 and Early
Roman phases (p> 0.001), as well as between Mid and Late
(p = 0.020) phases, and MidLate and Late (p<0.001)phases.
When compared with later prehistory, cattle metacarpal
biometry (Online Supplement 9) illustrated the presence of
large cattle during Roman times, similar in size and robustness
to animals (especially males) from fifteenth-century Beja.
Compared to later prehistory, metacarpals from small cattle
(Bd <58 mm) were rare in Roman/Late Antique times. The
distribution of distal metacarpal breadth measurements from
the Roman/Late Antique did not produce a clear bimodal dis-
tribution, complicating assessment of sex ratios; however, the
limited data occupy a similar range to the mixed malefemale
population at Beja.
Sheep/goat
Sheep, goat and sheep/goat LSI values demonstrated an in-
crease across major periods (Fig. 6). In sheep, this size increase
was statistically significant for both length and width values.
Most inter-period comparisons had highly significant results (p
ab
cd
Fig. 3 Relative proportions of livestock by region and period. MBA
RBA: MiddleRecent Bronze Age. RFBAIA: Recent/Final Bronze
AgeEarly Iron Age. Iron Age 1: 8th6th century BC. Iron Age 2: 6th
2nd century BC. Asterisksindicate significant differences between phases
(p< 0.01**, p< 0.001***). See Table 1for details on NISP and number
of assemblages. See Online Supplement 3for results of chi square tests
25 Page 8 of 22 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
< 0.001), while the significance of change between the Iron
Age and Roman/Late Antique period was less strong in length
values (p= 0.005). Although mean values increased, in LSI
lengths this was primarily influenced by the lack of small
values in the Roman period: the upper range of LSI length
values was similar between the Iron Age and Roman times.
In goats, LSI width values followed a similar trend, with
significant interperiod increases (p< 0.001). LSI length values
from goats also registered an increase in later prehistory (p=
0.044), but changes in length values between the IronAge and
Roman period, for which there were few data (Roman n=4),
were not significant. Measurements from sheep/goat M3s cor-
roborated trends visible in post-cranial LSI values (Fig. 7). M3
length increases were statistically significant between both the
Bronze Age and Iron Age (p< 0.001) and Iron Age to Roman/
Late Antique times (p= 0.001). Increases in M3 widths were
significant over prehistory (p< 0.000), although no significant
change was observed between the Iron Age and Roman peri-
od. The scatter plot of sheep/goat M3 measurements indicates
that the size change in teeth occurred along similar regression
lines, with similarity in tooth size between the Iron Age and
Roman/Late Antique periods.
Within Iron Age and Roman/Late Antique phases (Fig. 8),
significant diachronic differences in combined sheep and
sheep/goat LSI length values were noted between the IA1
and IA2 phases (p< 0.001), as well as IA2 and Early
Roman phases (p< 0.001). Analyses of width values pro-
duced significant differences between several phases: IA1
and IA2 (p= 0.002), IA2 and Early Roman (p< 0.001),
Roman Mid and MidLate (p> 0.001), and Roman Mid
Late and Late (p> 0.001). When values from sheep were
considered independently, similar results were produced (see
Online Supplement 8)
Measurements from sheep metacarpals (Online
Supplement 10) demonstrate diachronic changes in size and
shape. Iron Age metacarpals were longer and more slender
than those of the Roman/Late Antique period, which are more
robust and comparable with Shetland rams. Within the Roman
period, there appear to be two metacarpal groups: one very
robust group, and a second more slender group similar to Iron
Age individuals. This division is even more apparent in meta-
carpal distal breath (Bd) measurements: compared to the
Bronze and Iron Ages, Roman/Late Antique Bd values pro-
duced a broad and clearly separated bimodal distribution.
************
*** *** *** ***
Fig. 4 Cattle LSI values and mandibular third molar (M3) measurements by period. Asterisks indicate significant diachronic changes according to
MannWhitney Utests: p< 0.001***, p< 0.01**, p< 0.05* (see Online Supplement 7). Ellipses in Fig. 4.2c represent 95% confidence intervals
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 9 of 22 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Pigs
LSI results for pigs include large valuesfrom specimens iden-
tified as wild boar alongside a broad range of values from
bones identified as domestic pigs or generally as Sus(Fig.
9.1). Wild boar generally plotted as outliers, separated from
the smaller domestic population by a gap around LSI value
0.05. Outliers in width values were more clearly separated
from the main pig population than length outliers. When a
relatively conservative value of 0.05 is used to separate large
(potentially wild) from small (potentially domestic) pigs, LSI
values record a decrease in the percentage of largeindivid-
uals between the Bronze Age and Iron Age, with relative
stability in percentages between the Iron Age and Roman/
Late Antique times (Table 2).
Unlike domestic bovids, LSI values from pig post-cranial
bones did not demonstrate a clear diachronic increase over
later prehistory. In contrast, there was a significant decrease
in length LSI values between the Bronze Age and Iron Age (p
< 0.001), and no significant difference in late prehistoric width
LengthWidth
IA1 − Gradisca
IA1 − Castenaso
IA1 − Terranegra
IA1 − Bologna
IA1 − Verucchio
IA1 − San Claudio
IA1 − Marzabotto
IA2 − Gradisca
IA2 − Fidenza
IA2 − Padova
IA2 − Gradiscutta
IA2 − Marzabotto
IA2 − Forcello
IA2 − Case Vandelli
IA2 − Casale di Rivalta
IA2 − Bologna
IA2 − Rubiera
IA2 − Mirandola
IA2 − Castelrotto
IA2 − Spina
IA2 − Monte Bibele
IA2 − Santorso
IA2 − Colognola ai Colli
IA2 − Oderzo
Early − San Damaso
Early − Pozzuolo
Early − Trieste
Early − Modena
Early − Calvatone
Mid − Spilamberto
Mid − Ca Tron
Mid − Monfalcone
Mid − Trieste
Mid−Late − Oderzo
Mid−Late − Altino
Mid−Late − Aquileia
Mid−Late − Torcello
Late − Aquileia
Late − Udine
Late − Torcello
General − Calvatone
−0.05
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
−0.1
0.0
0.1
0.2
Period – Site
LSI value
Period IA1 IA2 Early Mid Mid−Late Late General
--- *** --- --- ---
--- *** --- --- ***
Fig. 5 Cattle LSI values from Iron Age, Roman and Late Antique sites. Asterisks indicate significant diachronic changes according to MannWhitney U
tests: p< 0.001***, p< 0.01**, p< 0.05* (see Online Supplement 8). Horizontal line marks the phase mean
25 Page 10 of 22 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
values. Between the Iron Age and Roman period, width
values registered a weakly significant increase (p=0.012),
while length values did not produce a statistically significant
change. Statistical tests produced similar results when large
values comparable in size to wild boar (LSI value greater than
0.05) were excluded (lengths: Bronze AgeIron Age p<
0.001, Iron AgeRoman p= 0.492; widths: Bronze Age
Iron Age p=0.440,IronAgeRoman p= 0.016). M3 widths
and lengths registered a small increase in mean molar width
between the Bronze and Iron Ages, followed by a decrease in
Fig. 6 Sheep, sheep/goat and goat LSI values by period. Box plots only displayed for sheep and goat. Asterisks indicate significant diachronic changes
according to MannWhitney Utests for sheep (red) and goats (grey): p< 0.001***, p< 0.01**, p< 0.05* (see Online Supplement 7)
ab
c
Fig. 7 Sheep/goat mandibular third molar (M3) measurements by period.
Asterisks indicate significant diachronic changes according to Mann
Whitney Utests for sheep (red) and goats (grey): p< 0.001***, p<
0.01**, p< 0.05(see Online Supplement 7). Ellipses in Fig. 7c represent
95% confidence intervals
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 11 of 22 25
*** **
*
*** ****** ***
ab
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Roman/Late Antique times (Fig. 9.2); however, these changes
were small and not statistically significant. The scatterplot of
pig M3 measurements also demonstrates relative continuity in
tooth size between periods (Fig. 9.2c).
Within the Iron Age, Roman, and Late Antique phases,
both LSI length and width values (Fig.10) registered a weakly
significant change between the Roman MidLate and Late
phases (lengths: p=0.005;widths:p= 0.031). When outliers
greater than 0.05 were excluded, MannWhitney Utests pro-
duced similar results, and the only comparison found to be
significant was between the MidLate and Late phases
(lengths: p=0.005;widths:p= 0.035). Measurements from
LengthWidth
IA1 − Gradisca
IA1 − Terranegra
IA1 − Bologna
IA1 − Verucchio
IA1 − Marzabotto
IA2 − Gradisca
IA2 − Padova
IA2 − Gradiscutta
IA2 − Marzabotto
IA2 − Forcello
IA2 − Case Vandelli
IA2 − Casale di Rivalta
IA2 − Bologna
IA2 − Mirandola
IA2 − Castelrotto
IA2 − Spina
IA2 − Monte Bibele
IA2 − Santorso
IA2 − Colognola ai Colli
Early − Montereale Valcellina
Early − Pozzuolo
Early − Trieste
Early − Modena
Early − Calvatone
Mid − Spilamberto
Mid − Ca Tron
Mid − Trieste
Mid−Late − Oderzo
Mid−Late − Vidulis
Mid−Late − Altino
Mid−Late − Aquileia
Mid−Late − Torcello
Mid−Late − Spilamberto
Late − Aquileia
Late − Udine
Late − Torcello
General − Calvatone
−0.05
0.00
0.05
0.10
0.15
0.0
0.1
0.2
Period – Site
LSI value
Period IA1 IA2 Early Mid Mid−Late Late General Taxon sheep/goat sheep
*** *** --- --- ---
** *** --- *** ***
Fig. 8 Sheep and sheep/goat LSI values from Iron Age, Roman and Late Antique sites. Asterisks indicate significant diachronic changes according to
MannWhitney Utests: p< 0.001***, p< 0.01**, p< 0.05* (see Online Supplement 8). Horizontal line marks the phase mean
Table 2 Relative abundance of
LSI values from pigs (all Sus sp.)
in different size classes
Bronze Age Iron Age Roman
Lengths Widths Lengths Widths Lengths Widths
LSI value > 0.05 (wild?) 24% 8% 5% 3% 8% 3%
LSI value < 0.05 (domestic?) 76% 92% 95% 97% 92% 97%
n115 212 777 571 36 91
25 Page 12 of 22 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
pig metacarpals (Online Supplement 11), especially fourth
metacarpals, suggest a notable diachronic change in Sus
shape. Iron Age and especially Roman metacarpals tend to
be markedly more robust than Bronze Age specimens, exclud-
ing bones larger than c. 85 mm in length (and thus probably
from wild boar).
Discussion
Regional diversity in taxon abundance and new forms
of animal processing
When northern Italy is considered as a single unit, it demon-
strates a rise in cattle percentages during Roman timesan
increase that is also documented in the neighbouring prov-
inces of Germania, Rhaetia, and Noricum (King 2001;
Deschler-Erb 2017; Trixl et al. 2017). Compared to central
and southern Italy, our results confirm the pronounced inter-
regional differences in livestock representation documented in
previous studies of the Roman period (MacKinnon 2004a;
Ikeguchi 2017). Cattle remains are more abundant in northern
Italy than other parts of the peninsula, especially when com-
pared to the pork-focused consumption strategies that define
Rome and its hinterland (De Grossi and Minniti 2017).
However, our results suggest that this cattle-dominant pattern
was predominantly a feature of Friuli (particularly Aquileia)
and some special assemblages, rather than a representation of
northern Italy as a whole.
Analysis of taxonomic abundance demonstrated different
subregional trajectories in livestock representation. In Friuli,
the proportion of cattle rose across the Iron Age and into the
Roman Imperial period, from IA1 to the Roman Mid phase. In
the South study area, the preference for small livestock, i.e.
sheep/goats and/or pigs, that predominated in Bronze Age and
Etruscan assemblages continued into the Roman period, with
the exception of a particular deposit from Calvatone. If this
assemblage is excluded, the relative abundance of cattle in the
region continued to fall from IA1, through IA2, and into
Roman phases, with lower proportions of cattle in each of
these periods compared to other contemporary study areas.
The North region, however, demonstrated significant dia-
chronic and intraperiod variability in taxon representation.
This diversity appeared partly impacted by site locations and
−0.1
0.0
0.1
Bronze
Age
Iron Age Roman
LSI value
1a. LSI length values
−0.2
−0.1
0.0
0.1
Bronze
Age
Iron Age Roman
LSI value
1b. LSI width values
12.5
15.0
17.5
20.0
Bronze
Age
Iron Age Roman
M3W (mm)
2b. M3 width
20.0
30.0
40.0
Bronze
Age
Iron Age Roman
M3L (mm)
2a. M3 length
12.5
15.0
17.5
20.0
20 30 40
M3L (mm)
M3W (mm)
Period
Bronze Age
Iron Age
Roman
2c. M3 width vs length
Taxon Pig Wild boar
2. Mandibular M3 measurements (mm)1. LSI values
Fig. 9 Pig and wild boar LSI values and mandibular third molar
measurements by period. Box plots exclude specimens identified as
wild boar. Asterisks in boxplots indicate significant diachronic changes
according to MannWhitney Utests: p< 0.001***, p< 0.01**, p<0.05*
(see Online Supplement 7). Ellipses in Fig. 9.2c represent 95% confi-
dence intervals
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 13 of 22 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
the different environmental situations that they represented.
For instance, Torcellothe only island and one of the latest
sites included in this studycontained a high proportion of
pig remains. Assemblages from Ficarolo-Gaiba, a minor rural
settlement, also had high pig percentages, whichgiven its
location near the border with the South study regionmay
reflect the trends towards small livestock seen in assemblages
south of the Po River.
While these trends are based on a small number of assem-
blages, sometimes only one or two for a region and time pe-
riod, they nevertheless evidence complex subregional dynam-
ics in NISP representation. When amalgamated at a regional
level, these dynamics are obscured by a few large assemblages
that reflect particular forms of cattle butchery. The two largest
Roman assemblages also attest to specialised cattle process-
ing: Calvatone (the vicus of Bedriacum)(Wilkens1997)inthe
South study area, as well as the city of Aquileia in Friuli. At
the latter site, assemblages associated with markets in the
towns centre produced characteristic hook-markedscapulae
associated with meat smoking and standardised butchery pat-
terns (Riedel 1994c; Petrucci 2007). A cache of over 600
cattle horncoresassociated with craft activities and therefore
not included in this studyfurther suggest that the city was a
centre of cattle horn and probably hide production (Riedel
1979). These types of depositsrich in cattle bones with rel-
atively standardised butchery modificationsare common
across the Roman provinces, especially in towns and military
sites, where they attest to specialised large-scale carcass pro-
cessing and associated craft activities (e.g. Lepetz 1996;
Maltby 2007;Groot2016; Deschler-Erb 2017; Seetah
2018). In contrast to Roman times, large bone accumulations
in pre- and protohistoric sites in northern Italy generally de-
rived from the disposal and accumulation of domestic rubbish
within settlements. Due to the size and number of assemblages
available for this study, large cattle-dominated assemblages
had a significant impact on NISP percentages, driving up the
archaeological visibility of cattle in NISP metaanalyses in
regions and on urban site types. Thus, it may have been this
LengthWidth
IA1 − Gradisca
IA1 − Terranegra
IA1 − Bologna
IA1 − Verucchio
IA1 − San Claudio
IA1 − Marzabotto
IA2 − Gradisca
IA2 − Fidenza
IA2 − Padova
IA2 − Gradiscutta
IA2 − Marzabotto
IA2 − Forcello
IA2 − Case Vandelli
IA2 − Casale di Rivalta
IA2 − Rubiera
IA2 − Mirandola
IA2 − Castelrotto
IA2 − Spina
IA2 − Monte Bibele
IA2 − Santorso
IA2 − Colognola ai Colli
Early − Montereale Valcellina
Early − Pozzuolo
Early − Trieste
Early − Modena
Early − Calvatone
Mid − Ca Tron
Mid − Trieste
Mid−Late − Oderzo
Mid−Late − Altino
Late − Aquileia
Late − Udine
Late − Torcello
General − Calvatone
−0.1
0.0
0.1
−0.2
−0.1
0.0
0.1
Period – Site
LSI value
Period IA1 IA2 Early Mid Mid−Late Late General Taxon domestic pig / Sus sp. wild boar
--- --- --- --- ***
--- --- --- --- ***
wild?
wild?
Fig. 10 Pig and wild boar LSI values from Iron Age, Roman and Late
Antique sites. Asterisks indicate significant diachronic changes in
domestic pig/Sus sp. values according to MannWhitney Utests: p<
0.001***, p< 0.01**, p< 0.05* (see Online Supplement 8). Horizontal
line marks the phase mean for values identified as domestic pig/Sus sp.
25 Page 14 of 22 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25
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scale of cattle processing, and associated activities of butchery
and material production (tanning, bone working, glue/oil pro-
duction)rather than sociocultural factors like meat
preferencethat divided urban and rural sites: when cattle-
dominated deposits from Calvatone and Aquileia were ex-
cluded, urban 1, urban 2 and minor sites produced comparable
and fairly balanced livestock percentages (cf. Online
Supplement 2). Further zooarchaeological research and new
assemblage analyses are needed to flesh out this conclusion:
we were unable to include urban assemblages for the Roman
Mid or Late phases in the southern Po Plain (e.g. from
Piacenza, Modena, Bologna, or Ravenna) due to a lack of
published zooarchaeological data, which is needed to appre-
ciate animal consumption and processing on cities south of the
River Po, and whether they aligned more closely with the pig-
focused central Italian strategy (as suggested by Modena), the
cattle-dominated trend of Aquileia, oranother different model.
Size change in domestic livestock
Cattle
After an initial increase between the Bronze and Iron Ages,
cattle demonstrated a subsequent major size increase in
Roman times (Figs. 4and 5). The initial nature of this change
during Republican timesa key transitional periodis diffi-
cult to characterise. One of the earliest Roman assemblages
we consideredSan Damaso, a minor agricultural site in the
southern Po Plainproduced some of the largest Roman cat-
tle included in this study. LSI length and width values from
the site exceed all Iron Age samples, although a very large
value from Etruscan Spina suggests an individual comparable
in size. Biometric, isotopic and genetic results have provided
evidence for cattle mobility and trade elsewhere in Western
Mediterranean during the early Roman period (e.g. Minniti
et al. 2014; Colominas and Edwards 2017; Nieto-Espinet
et al. 2020), and changes in the circulation of these animals
certainly would have occurred in Roman northern Italy.
Considering the biometric evidence for pre-Roman livestock
improvements, steps in this direction were probably underway
during the Iron Age as well. Metacarpal measurements also
suggest that the Iron Age was a moment of experimentation in
cattle husbandry or with the adoption of new animal types.
Compared to metacarpal distal breadth (Bd) measurements
from the Bronze Age, which were roughly bimodal, Iron
Age measurements produced a wider range and more uneven
distribution of values (cf. Online Supplement 9). This distri-
bution suggests greater intra-population variation in metacar-
pal biometry, possibly due to differences in sex ratios or cas-
tration practices, a greater diversity of cattle morphotypes, or
even traction-related changes to metacarpal biometry (see
Bartosiewicz 2008). Problematically, our data for the third
and second centuries BC represent relatively marginal areas
(e.g. Monte Bibele) or non-Etruscan regions of northern Italy
with smaller Iron Age livestock (see Trentacoste et al. 2018),
so it was not possible to trace high-resolution changes in the
study region during the Republican period. Large early
Roman cattle may therefore represent the evolution of a large
cattle morphotype already present in the Etruscan Po Plain, or
the introduction of a new large type with Roman colonisation
of the area, or a combination thereof.
During the Roman Imperial period, the minimum, maxi-
mum and mean LSI values for cattle all increased. The
smallest cattle recorded in Iron Age assemblages disappeared
completely from the study area. Measurements from metacar-
pals provide limited insight into the representation of male and
female animals in Roman herds, but Roman measurements
fall across a similar range as prehistoric populations, indicat-
ing that both male and female cattle increased in size. The
distribution of Roman metacarpal measurements illustrates a
significant proportion of robust animals, comparable with
male individuals from fifteenth-century Beja (Online
Supplement 9). Previous discussions of cattle mortality
patterns in Italy, which indicate a predominance of adult and
elderly individuals, and documentation of traction-related pa-
thologies have highlighted the role of Roman cattle in draught
and agricultural labour (see MacKinnon 2004a; Salvadori
2015:265). The intensification and specialisation of produc-
tion in large agricultural states in Roman times would have
incentivised keeping large cattle and an increased use of oxen, as
suggested by Classical sources (Varro, On Agriculture 1.20.1;
Columella, On Agriculture 6.2.1).
After increasing in size in Republican to Imperial times,
significant changes in LSI width values between the Mid
and Late phases, as well as the MidLate and Late phases,
suggest a decrease in the robustness of cattle sometime after
the fourth century AD. Length values were more variable
betweenLatesites,withverytallcattleatAquileia(fourth
fifth century AD) and much shorter animals at Udine (fourth
seventh century AD) and Torcello (fifthseventh century
AD). This distinction may suggest that decreases in livestock
height date to the very end of the chronology considered here,
i.e. the sixthseventh century AD, thus coinciding with
broader socioeconomic reorganisation related to the Gothic
Wars or Lombard invasion. Alternatively, it may reflect dif-
ferences in site type or context: Aquileia, an important city and
imperial seat, would have had different supply requirements
and economic networks than the island settlement of Torcello,
where smaller or female animals may have been preferred.
Still, the small size of cattle at Udine and Torcello align with
broader Italian trends that register a decrease in the height of
cattle during the fourth to sixth centuries AD (Salvadori 2015,
2019). A decrease in cattle LSI width values, although not
statistically significant, has also been documented in Rome
during this period (De Grossi and Minniti 2017). Ultimately,
with only three assemblages for the period, we are unable to
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 15 of 22 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
establish the precise timing or nature of size developments,
but the large size of cattle across the Roman MidLate phase
suggests that any diminution was a feature of the latest assem-
blages considered in this study, resulting from the progressive
reorganisation of the rural landscape over several centuries
and/or the ultimate collapse of agrarian system in the sixth
century AD (Banaji 2012; Castrorao Barba 2014;Forin2017).
The development of large-scale cereal production within a
market-orientated villa economy of Imperial Italy, followed
by the emergence of more locally oriented, diverse, and self-
sufficient means of food production, would have had a signif-
icant impact on cattle husbandry, particularly the exploitation
of draught oxen in some areas (Rottoli 2014; Salvadori
2015:9297; Varro, On Agriculture 1.20). Considering the
general continuity in cereal preference in northern Italy, which
focused on cultivation of barley and wheats from the late Iron
Age through Late Antiquity (Rottoli 2014;Bosietal.2019;
Bosi et al. 2020), greater use of large oxen during the Roman
period points to a change in how staple crops were produced.
For example, cultivation of larger plots compared to prehis-
toric practices would have incentivised animal over human
labour (Bogaard et al. 2019). The Iron Age/Etruscan period
may have seen moves toward similar agricultural develop-
ments that encouraged exploitation of large cattle, especially
in more intensively used and urbanised landscapes within the
Po Plain (e.g. Govi 2014). These agricultural systems relaxed
gradually over Late Antiquity and post-classical times, even-
tually giving way to more local, small-scale and diverse food
systems (Salvadori 2011; Squatriti 2013; Rottoli 2014). If ac-
companied by a shift towards human labour in farming prac-
tices (Rottoli 2014), it would incentivise keeping smaller, less
demanding cattlerather than large oxenor cows that could
be used for dairying as well as light work (Salvadori
2015;Varro,On Agriculture 1.20.4 ).
Sheep and goats
Sheep also increased in size in Roman times, and where suf-
ficient data was available, goats produced similar trends.
However, their development differed from that of cattle: size
increases in the Roman period were less exceptional com-
pared to Iron Age improvements, and developments were
more visible in widths than in heights. Differences between
Iron Age and Roman LSI means from sheep were smaller than
those between the prehistoric periods; M3 measurements re-
inforce this continuity. While the mean of LSI values in-
creased, the largest Roman sheep were comparable in height
to large Iron Age animals, excluding a few exceptional indi-
viduals. These significant developments in the Iron Age/
Etruscan period indicate a reorganisation of sheep manage-
ment well before Roman control (Trentacoste et al. 2018),
likely encouraged by increasing centralisation and specialisa-
tion in textile production during the Iron Age (Gleba 2008;
Trentacoste 2020). Textile production, and sheep exploitation
in support of it, may have been particularly developed in the
southern Po Plain, where there is evidence for a livestock and
wool market at the Campi Macri near Mutina in the Celtic
period (Ortalli 2012).
Roman animals, however, were notably more robust than
Iron Age sheep,and the bimodal distribution of metacarpal Bd
measurements illustrates the emergence of two groups: one
comparable to Iron Age sheep and a second significantly more
robust type. This distribution of distal metacarpal values is
very different from those ofthe prehistoric periods, suggesting
an increase in the management of rams and castrates in Roman
compared to prehistoric herds. The Roman author Columella
describes how fine-wooled sheep in southern Italy wereraised
in flocks with more castrated male animals than coarser-
wooled varieties, due to the superior qualityand higher
pricesof fleeces obtained from wethers (Columella, On
Agriculture 7.2.34). While zooarchaeological evidence from
age profiles suggests a significant variability in management
strategy across northern Italian assemblages (MacKinnon
2004a), Cisalpine Gaul is one of the regions repeatedly cited
by Roman authors as a key area of wool production
(MacKinnon 2004b; Busana et al. 2012). Northern Italy was
renowned for the quality of its fleeces, which came in different
colours and levels of fineness suited to different purposes
(Columella, On Agriculture 7.2.3; Pliny, Natural History
8.190). Sheep from Altinum (Altino), Mutina (Modena),
Parma, and the vicinity of the Panaro River are named as
especially valuable on account of their wool, with Padova also
recognised as a centre of production (Columella, On
Agriculture 7.2.34; Strabo, Geography 5.1.12). Towns in
northern Italy were also renowned for production of different
types of textiles, and numerous inscriptions attest to the many
individuals and associations involved in their creation (Flohr
2013;Liu2013) as part of an export-driven economy (Flohr
2016). In this context, the composition of sheep herds, espe-
cially those specialised in the breeding of finer-wooled varie-
ties, may have shifted to include more male animals.
Replacement or interbreeding of local animals with new, more
robust types for reasons of fleece quality as well as other
motivations is also possible, alongside changes in sex ratios.
Like in cattle, the smallest sheep all but disappeared from the
published Roman data, and a decrease in widthbut not length
valueswas noted in the latest sites considered in the study. This
trend may suggest a reconfiguration of sheep management after
the fourth century AD, possibly around the sixth century AD,
although with few sites clear conclusions are not possible.
Broad analysis of Italy as a whole indicates relative continuity
in sheep biometry from Late Antiquity through the early Middle
Ages, with notable size diminution around the tentheleventh
centuries AD (Salvadori 2015); the trend is also visible in biomet-
ric data from Verona in northern Italy (Riedel 1994a,b). In Rome,
however, sheep/goat LSI length values in fact increased between
25 Page 16 of 22 Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
Imperial and Late Antique times (De Grossi and Minniti 2017).
This development might have a parallel in the significant increase
in LSI width values found between Roman Mid and MidLate
(as well Early and MidLate) phases in this study, but with the
few well dated assemblages, it is difficult to establish the timing of
and therefore relationship between these trends. Further quantita-
tive comparisons with medieval data are needed to contextualise
these changes, and the pace of change in northern Italy compared
to broader Italian trends.
Pigs
Compared to domestic bovids, pigs followed a different trajecto-
ry. Pigs decreased in height over later prehistory, while LSI width
values remained comparatively unchanged. Only in the Roman
period did they become taller and more robust, in a process that
appears to have been gradual. MacKinnon (2001,2004a)also
recorded minor increases in mean pig withers height between
Republican and Late Antique periods. Our results corroborate
these conclusions, with mean values increasing progressively,
with significant differences compared to IA2 values becoming
visible in the Roman MidLate and Late phases (see Fig. 10;
Online Supplement 8). Measurements from pig bones alongside
iconographic depiction of pigs different in colour and hairiness
has led to the suggestion of the presence of two breedsof pig in
Roman Italy (MacKinnon 2001): a smaller, dark, bristly pig (60
75 cm withers height) and large, light-coloured, smooth pig (c.
80 cm withers height). In this study, large outliers were consistent
with wild Sus common in the prehistoric periods, suggesting that
many large Roman specimens identified as domestic pigs are
potentially wild boars rather than domestic animals. Still, hybrids
and imported domestic pigs may be concealed within the sample:
comparison of pig biometry in the Western provinces suggests
that pigs in Roman Italy were markedly smaller than contempo-
raneous animals in other parts of the Empire (Frémondeau et al.
2017).
In contrast to the size increase registered across the Roman
period in northern Italy, biometric data from central Italy suggest
a different trend, with increases in pig size between Republican
and Imperial times, but decreases in pig LSI width values (but no
change in length values) during Late Antiquity (De Grossi and
Minniti 2017); however, by the seventheighth century AD, pigs
in Rome were markedly larger than their Imperial counterparts
(Albarella et al. 2019). If the divergent patterns in Late Antique
north and central in pig biometry can be taken as representative
and not simply an artefact of small sample size or site typethey
may reflect broader economic and environmental developments.
Firstly, the decline in Rome as a major consumer market and
reconfiguration of northern Italy as a seat of imperial power and
military activity would have had differing impacts on the two
regions. Pork consumption in Rome progressively declined from
the fifth century AD (De Grossi and Minniti 2017), which would
impact other areas of the peninsula where these animals were
produced (Barnish 1987; Belli Pasqua 1995). Communities in
the north may have stopped supplying large pigs or preserved
pork cuts to Rome, or otherwise reorganised production in re-
sponse to new supply demands and increased military presence
in the region. Security concerns in the wake of invasions could
also promote greater control over animals through more local
management, enclosure, or stall-feeding, potentially facilitated
by the ruralisation of urban environments. Changes to the com-
position of the countryside may also have had an impact. If com-
munities continued to utilise extensive free-range pig herding
strategies, greater contact and inbreeding with larger wild boar
might promote Late Antique increasesinbodysize(Albarella
et al. 2019). Forest regrowth and less intensive land usage patterns
would have offered increased opportunities for such meetings,
while also increasing the availability of grazing environments
for wild foods (e.g. Squatriti 2013)feeding patterns that may
also have improved pig diets. Studies of dietary isotopes would
shed much light on these hypotheses (e.g. Hamilton and Thomas
2012), as would more detailed examination of pig mortality
patterns.
Conclusions: continuities and changes
in livestock production in Roman north Italy
The evolution of taxon representation and animal biometry doc-
umented in this study this point to both continuities and changes
in the management of livestock in northern Italy. Continuities can
be seen between the late Iron Age and Roman times in the pro-
gressive size increases in cattle, sheep and goats, alongsidein
Friuli and the South study areathe continuation of trends in
livestock abundance established in the late Iron Age. These de-
velopments suggest that the first steps towards a more dynamic
and integrated livestock economy predate Roman political annex-
ation of the region, and result less from new Roman technological
innovation or a new Roman interest in large animals, but from the
ability of different socioeconomic structures to facilitate new
forms of animal and land management (Lepetz 1997;
Valenzuela-Lamas and Albarella 2017; Duval and Clavel
2018). New patterns of settlement organisation and forms of so-
cial connectivity (e.g. Fulminante 2014; Cavazzuti et al. 2019a)
and increasingly complex and integrated economic systems
(Morel 2007; Sestieri 2008;Nijboer2017) would have encour-
aged this pre-Roman reorganisation of livestock management
(Trentacoste 2020). Drawing parallels from Roman examples,
new mobility regimes and exchange strategies probably helped
catalyse these early developments in animal size (Valenzuela-
Lamas 2020), potentially alongside new foddering regimes and
breeding strategies (Méniel 1996;Kron2002) that were adjusted
alongside broader changes to farming strategies. Roman annexa-
tion and integration with the marketised supply systems of the
Roman Republic and Empire brought about greater connectivity,
supporting a further suite of changes to livestock production
Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2021) 13: 25 Page 17 of 22 25
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
(Albarella et al. 2008; Valenzuela-Lamas and Albarella 2017),
andin northern Italyfurther development of existing trends
in sheep, goat and cattle size.
Alongside this evidence for continuities in livestock manage-
ment, zooarchaeological analyses illustrate significant changes in
how livestock were managed and processed during the Roman
period. Special cattle bone deposits dominate regional NISP anal-
yses, illustrating new large-scale and standardised modes of car-
cass processing. The shortest cattle and sheep disappear from the
zooarchaeological data and changes in metacarpal biometry sug-
gesting further reconfiguration of the farming system and poten-
tially specialisation in livestock exploitation. Pigs reversed their
prehistoric trend towards size diminution and gradually increased
in size, suggesting a change to their management despite the con-
tinued use of extensive husbandry practices (see MacKinnon
2001). Divergent patterns are also suggested in regional trends
in livestock body size during Late Antiquity, when northern and
central Italy appear to follow different courses at the end of the
period considered hereresults that, if not an artefact sample size
and site chronologies, may reflect of meaningful changes related
to the socioeconomic and political trajectories of these regions
during Late Antiquity, related to, for example, greater
militarisation, taxation and political division the of peninsula into
Annonaria (geared at supplying the army) and Suburbicaria (sup-
plying Rome) diocese (Christie 2006:65).
Thus zooarchaeological evidence illustrates both new trajec-
tories and acceleration of established prehistoric trends in live-
stock exploitation between late prehistory and Late Antiquity.
These conclusions, however, raise further questions on peoples
changing relationships with the same key animal species
relationships at the heart of the most basic and essential area of
ancient production: farming. Further research has the potential to
shed new light on agriculture practices, particularly through new
zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical assemblage studies,
metadata analyses considering additional variables like age data,
comparisons with central Italy and circum-Alpine zones, and
bioarchaeological techniques with the potential to provide details
on where and how plants and animal were managed.
Approaches informed by landscape variables might also help
unravel complex sub-regional variation in features like NISP
values (e.g. Brandolini and Carrer 2020), especially in a region
where lowland zones had increasingly active relationships with
upland areas (and their complementary ecologies) from late pre-
history. Current data demonstrate that socioeconomic changes in
the Iron Age and political unification under the Roman Republic
and Empire had clear, and sometimes similar, impacts on farm-
ing strategies. Further research will continue to shine light on the
specific changes in human behaviour that underlie these trends,
and the decisions that shaped agriculture at the heart of the
Empire in Roman Italy.
Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary
material available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01251-7.
Acknowledgments We are grateful to Francesco Boschin and colleagues
at the University of Siena for facilitating access to the papers of Alfredo
Riedel.
Authorscontributions Not applicable.
Funding This work was financially supported by the ERC-Starting Grant
ZooMWest Zooarchaeology and Mobility in the Western
Mediterranean: Hudry production from the Late Bronze Age to the Late
Antiquity (award number 716298), funded by the European Research
Council Agency (ERCEA) under the direction of SVL.
Data availability Not applicable.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of
interest.
Code availability Not applicable.
Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adap-
tation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as
you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, pro-
vide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were
made. The images or other third party material in this article are included
in the article's CreativeCommons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a
credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's
Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by
statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain
permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this
licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
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