Space and Place- Albinian Style

This weekend was a more laid back one for me. After so many summers of traveling, you get tired of always being on the go and with my students coming later this week, I know I will be on the go constantly with them so I didn’t put too much effort into my plans this weekend. It mostly consisted on eating and walking in the local area. I did get to Orbetello Saturday night, it is one of my favorite Italian cities. Small but bustling, full of people but not crowded and businesses stay open past 8 pm (something that doesn’t happen in Albinia). I was also able to hang out on Sunday and go to the beach, something I find I miss at times in Colorado and this beach is amazing by my New England standards that I grew up with. It was while walking the beach that I started to think about my blog post for this weekend, and as I wandered through the sands of the Gianella looking out on Monte Argentario and Isola del Giglio I started to think about the area and what makes it a place to me, instead of just a space (I have my lovely girlfriend to thank for introducing me to John Agnew’s ideas of this).

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Looking out from the beach.

To me, Ablinia the space, is a place of archaeology. I come here to work with FSU at the site of Cosa at a bath complex. I mostly just sleep and eat in the town and work south of here. But as I was walking the beach I started to think about how this area is a place for middle class Italians to vacation (I mean the beaches are nice but not out of this world). It is a place for people to fish and to teach their kids how to swim or even to peddle their wares. It is a place for some recreation and relaxation. And that is pretty amazing that the same geographic coordinates can elicit so many different place ideas. But then being an archaeologist I let my mind wonder to how the Romans would have experienced this area.

Albinia is about 14 km north of Cosa, so a Roman would have gone to the “big city” on special days but instead I imagine the people living in this area would have had their own small hamlet or village that life centered around (there have been Romans remains found in Albinia so this isn’t just ideal speculation). Walking the beach I found a lot of oyster shells and other, shellfish, so I would assume that harvesting them would be a big part of life here. The Romans loved their oysters, Pliny talks about oyster farming down near Naples. There is a proliferation of birds in the lagoon area so I’d have to imagine that like what is depicted on the tomb of hunting and fishing in Tarqunina, the people of Albinia would also use slings to hunt birds for cooking. So the Gianella would have been a place of food gathering for the locals here. Very different from how the Albinians and Italians use the area now.

But then after taking a dip into the Tyrrhenian Sea, I then started thinking about our work at Cosa. We are digging a bath and while our questions are mostly focused on how the water got up to the baths and how the structure was laid out, there are lots of other things that could be investigated on top of this. One could take a phenomenological approach to the bath. From many different ancient authors we know how the rich, their clients, the poor and slaves would have experienced the structure. Right now we have found a alveus (apsidal pool) in a caldarium with mosaic flooring: The slave may never have seen this area except to clean it, but the rich patron and his client may have sat in this pool discussing how to best elicit votes for the upcoming duovir election. We also have parts of areas that seem to be service corridors, here almost no free citizen would have gone however the slaves would have spent a lot of time running back and forth in these halls for the different needs of the bath.

Sometimes I and the other archaeologists can get to far into the trenches and forget that fact that Romans, real live people, lived and walked in these different areas. The footprint tile of last week really helped remind me of this, which is always a good reminder to have.

Ciao till next time.

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About handyatmurlo

I am a Latin teacher at Regis Jesuit High School. I earned my MA at CU Boulder and my BA at UMass Amherst. I have spent my summers working in Italy as an archaeologist at three different sites. One I have worked at for 10 years at Poggio Civitate at Vescovado di Murlo. I have worked at the Villa of Maxentius in Rome for 2 years, before the project ended. I also spent 2 summers at the FSU excavations in Cosa.
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