New Excavations to Shed Light on Roman Trade and Road Network

The Economic Landscapes of Roman Istria (ELRI) project is a new collaboration between the Juraj Dobrila University of Pula and the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University that focuses on the site of Barbariga, a Roman olive oil production facility on the southwestern coast of Istria, Croatia. The Istrian peninsula was well known in antiquity for both its olive oil and wine production as well as the production of the amphorae that carried these products across the Empire, but our understanding of the nature and scale of this production remains limited as the production sites themselves remain unevenly researched and published. Explorations at Barbariga in the early 1950s, while never published, revealed a large olive oil production facility with at least eight olive presses.

Select sites and rough transport network of Roman Istria (Andrew McLean)

While these explorations only uncovered a portion of the site, there was no evidence for residential spaces, suggesting that the presses were part of a centralized, factory-style production facility of a type rarely seen outside Roman North Africa. Production on this scale was undoubtably significant to the economic development of Istria and that of the wider Roman Empire and a detailed understanding of the processes and modes of production at the site will provide a window into the effects of Roman colonization, trade and vitally connectivity and the transport network.

This project will address these issues by investigating agricultural and ceramic productions at the site-, regional-, and supra-regional scales through a combined program of geophysical survey, paleoenvironmental investigations, and stratigraphic excavation aimed at providing highly resolved chronological and spatial data in order to understand the many effects of Istria’s integration into wider Roman transport networks by sea and road.

An exploratory ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey was conducted in September 2023 by Prof. Fabian Welc (Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University, Warsaw) and initial results have been very promising, showing the presence of large-scale structures across much of the area beyond what has been previously excavated. Additional GPR and magnetometry surveys are planned during 2024.

Survey undertaken in September 2023 (Picture by Davor Bulić)
The Project team during initial site investigations in Summer 2023 (Picture by Candace Rice)

As part of the first season, the project team will clean and digitally record the previously excavated portion of the site to ensure that it is thoroughly and accurately documented before targeting selected areas for additional excavation. This will also facilitate assessment of the state of preservation and conservation needs. As one of—if not the—largest Roman-period olive oil production sites in Istria, a region in which olive oil is still a significant part of the economy, Barbariga is an important piece of cultural heritage and this project seeks to study, preserve, and make it accessible to the public.

Funded by the European Union (Reconstructing Roman Road Network for the understanding of Urban development (R3NUrb); HORIZON-MSCA-2022-PF-01-01-101109605).

Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

The excavation in Barbariga is funded by:

  • Economic Landscapes of Roman Istria Project (ELRI) – Rust Family Foundation
  • Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University Roman Landscape and Settlement Dynamics of the Istrian Colonial Territories (ROLAND) – Croatian Science Foundation

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