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THE NATURE OF THE EVIDENCE Our two primary sources of information for Rome during the regal period are the ancient literary tradition and archaeological data, both of which are highly problematic for different reasons. As the surviving fragments from Fabius Pictor’s historical account show, the traditions surrounding Rome’s early kings were already well established at the time of the Hannibalic War, but this relatively early date for the existence of these traditions by no means guarantees their reliability. Comparison of Livy’s first book with the other nine books of his first decade clearly reveals that the Romans of later times knew far less about the alleged 244 years of the seven kings (753–509 B.C.) than they did about the 245 years of the early republic (509–264 B.C.). The ancient literary tradition concerning the early kings can perhaps be best likened to a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster concerning some major historical episode. Though the movie is beautifully produced and tells a story in a powerful and memorable fashion, the viewer is left wondering what parts of the film are historically accurate, and what parts are distortions or outright fabrications introduced into the plot to make the movie more appealing. In the case of Hollywood movies, the curious viewer can resolve this enigma by consulting books by reputable and well-informed scholars, but no such option is available to modern students of early Rome. The ancient tradition of the early kings, like the supposed Hollywood movie, tells the story of Rome’s foundation and early growth with much vivid detail and considerable drama. The script is a combination of Roman oral traditions and adaptations of Greek myths, all artfully woven together by generations of skillful Roman storytellers. One might suppose that modern archaeology could come to the rescue and deliver us from the same kind of epistemological enigma that confronts Chapter 4 Rome During the Regal Period 78 rome during the regal period 79 a moviegoer in a Hollywood film devoted to a historical subject, but the archaeology of early Rome is such that it can be of only limited use in testing the accuracy of the ancient literary tradition. First of all, since archaeological data generally pertain only to a past society’s material culture, there will always be many areas in which the literary and archaeological records do not overlap, and archaeology neither corroborates nor contradicts the written testimony. Secondly, even when there is overlap between the historical tradition and archaeology, the latter often has its own problems of interpretation ; and although it is tempting to do so, we should resist the urge to use the problematic literary tradition to settle questions surrounding the archaeological data. Doing so perpetrates a grave injustice upon modern archaeology by reducing it to an obliging servant whom we ask to lie down on the Procrustean bed of the ancient literary tradition. Modern historians of early Rome should respect archaeology and grant it scholarly autonomy. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly for early Rome, we must always keep in mind that the archaeological record is far from being complete. Modern Rome has long been one of the great cities of the world, and its continued habitation and continual rebuilding have placed severe restrictions on what areas can be investigated by archaeologists. The current archaeological record for early Rome is therefore extremely scanty, so that using it to correct the ancient literary tradition is akin to trying to explicate the historicity of a Hollywood film with only a handful of pages randomly torn out of an authoritative textbook. Our archaeological knowledge for matters pertaining to early Roman history is exceptional, whereas our archaeological ignorance is the general rule. In addition, archaeological excavations themselves can sometimes lead to the formation of circular arguments, in that sites are quite often deliberately chosen for excavation in accordance with what the ancient literary tradition has deemed important. In these cases, when archaeologists come upon what they think the written record has told them to look for, many are quick to hail the discovery as con- firming the ancient historical tradition. Consequently, in trying to reconstruct Rome’s early development, our analysis should operate along two parallel lines: the archaeological, and the historical-historiographical. The two should be allowed to interact only with deliberate care. Lastly, one important area in which the ancient literary tradition and modern archaeology do overlap is Roman topography. Although many of the city’s physical features have been altered since Roman...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520940291
Related ISBN
9780520249912
MARC Record
OCLC
70728478
Pages
416
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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