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College of Arts and Sciences

The Emperor’s Closet—Power and Storage

By: J. Edward Anthony
Cornell Research
July 13, 2020

Astrid Van Oyen, a classical archaeologist and assistant professor in the department of classics, explores Rome’s tumultuous transition from republic to empire through everyday objects—namely storage systems. An article on the Cornell Research website discusses her most recent book, "The Socio-Economics of Roman Storage," (Cambridge University Press 2020).

“Archaeologists and anthropologists have traditionally given storage a crucial role in the formation of empire,” Van Oyen says in the piece. “The idea is that as sociopolitical formations scale up—from bands to tribes to chiefdoms to states to empires—they need to bridge spatial and temporal lags. The grain harvest is only once a year, and Rome had an urban population of one million. They somehow had to make sure that the grain that’s harvested now will still be available five months from now.

“Elites soon start to appropriate storage and storage facilities. Storage becomes a source of power.”

Read the story on the Cornell Research website.

 Lines of giant ceramic jars sunken into the earth
Large sunken jars at Caseggiato dei Doli, a wine storage facility in Ostia, one of the main ports of Rome. The facility dates to the second century. Photo by Astrid Van Oyen/Provided

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