Photo of Professor Martin Pitts

Professor Martin Pitts

Research interests

Recent research projects include:

The Roman object revolution. Objectscapes, mass consumption and intra-cultural connectivity in northwest Europe

This project aims to explore the circulation of ideas, people and material culture in northwest Europe in the period traditionally associated with Roman imperial expansion and consolidation (c. 100 BC - AD 100). Drawing upon concepts of globalisation and connectivity, this study seeks to examine the myriad of cultural networks that connected communities in Britannia, Gallia Belgica and Germania Inferior, and the role of circulating material culture in constituting new objectscapes and fostering degrees of shared practice between a range of communities. While the importance of military supply networks has been flagged in the past, the continued role of pre-Roman cultural connections across provincial boundaries is less clear, as is the motivation for the selective appropriation of 'military-style' patterns of consumption and display among civilian communities.

Materialising Roman Histories (with Astrid Van Oyen, Cornell University)

The Roman period witnessed massive changes in the human-material environment, from monumentalised cityscapes to standardised low-value artefacts like pottery. This book explores new perspectives to understand this Roman ‘object boom’ and its impact on Roman history. In particular, the book’s international contributors question the traditional dominance of ‘representation’ in Roman archaeology, whereby objects have come to stand for social phenomena such as status, facets of group identity, or notions like Romanisation and economic growth. Drawing upon the recent material turn in anthropology and related disciplines, the essays in this volume examine what it means to materialise Roman history, focusing on the question of what objects do in history, rather than what they represent. In challenging the dominance of representation, and exploring themes such as the impact of standardisation and the role of material agency, Materialising Roman History is essential reading for anyone studying material culture from the Roman world (and beyond).

Big data on the Roman table (with Penelope Allison, University of Leicester)

As a vital sphere of socio-cultural practice, greater knowledge of everyday food consumption practices can better inform understandings of social connectedness and disconnectedness in the Roman world. This AHRC-funded research network examines the artefacts associated with eating and drinking which constitute the largest component of ‘big data’ from the Roman world. These under-utilised data provide fine-grained information on Roman food-consumption practices essential for a bottom-up approach to varied experiences of phenomena such as imperialism and globalisation. An artefactual approach permits analyses of representative cross-sections of societies throughout the empire, and more understanding of the lives of people less well recorded in the written sources (e.g. women, children, ordinary soldiers, non-élites, provincials), while also incorporating more visible groups such as urban elites. Current knowledge of everyday consumption practices for the majority living in the Roman Empire remains uneven. Little is known about how, where and with whom most people ate their meals, or what aspects of this social practice might have conveyed a universal sense of shared behaviour.

Globalisation and the Roman world. World history, connectivity and material culture (with Miguel John Versluys, Universiteit Leiden)

Building on a lively workshop held at the Devon and Exeter Institution in April 2011, this project represents the first in-depth critical exploration of the application of globalisation theories to the Roman empire. The book arising from the workshop (Cambridge University Press, 2014) features the contributions of several prominent archaeologists, ancient historians, and a global sociologist in order to determine the value of globalisation for understanding the Roman empire. Subjects include: the Roman economy, imperialism and the Roman state, mass consumption, urban change, time-space compression, mobility and migration, visual culture, post-colonialism, cultural heritage, and history in the longue durée. Overall, the project concludes that the globalisation discourse offers a range of alternative conceptual frameworks for bringing new understandings of the Roman world and (especially) its material culture.

Alien cities: consumption and the origins of urbanism in Roman Britain (with Dominic Perring, University College London)

The economic and cultural impact of Britain's first cities has long been debated. Through the lens of everyday consumption and the analysis of a variety of artefact types (pottery, coins, animal bones, and small finds), this project explored the relationship between city and country in the territory of Roman London and Colchester. Once thought to have provided a role model for aspiring locals, the results highlight the 'alienness' of the urban communities of Londinium and Colonia Claudia Victricensis and the lack of cultural integration with their surrounding hinterlands. Whilst the pax Romana guaranteed a steady flow of rural produce for urban consumption, the evidence for reciprocal exchange is slim by comparison. This project is part of the English Heritage-funded project 'Town and Country in Roman Essex', with the main volume published in 2013. Further research on the topic extends to the establishment of the first urban communities elsewhere in Britain, and is published in Journal of Roman Archaeology (2014).

Research collaborations

I am Section Editor for Europe for the Routledge Handbook of Globalization and Archaeology (2017), led by Dr Tamar Hodos (University of Bristol).

Professor Penelope Allison (University of Leicester) - Big Data on the Roman table. Research network funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, 2015-16.

Dr Astrid Van Oyen (Cornell University) - Rethinking artefacts in Roman archaeology: beyond representation, (Laurence seminar, Cambridge, 2015). Book in press with Oxbow as Materialising Roman Histories

Professor Miguel John Versluys (Leiden University) – Globalisation and the Roman world. Expert seminar held in Exeter 2011, co-edited volume published with CUP, 2015.

Dr Dominic Perring (University College London) – Town and country in Roman Essex. Research project funded by English Heritage, and published as Alien cities: consumption and the origins of urbanism in Roman Britain, 2013.