Polygonal masonry platform sites in the Lepine mountains (Pontine Region, Lazio, Italy)
This article discusses research carried out within the Pontine Region Project on thirteen sites with polygonal masonry platforms in the footslopes of the Lepine Mountains. Its aim is to assess the data available on the function, chronology and socio-economic status of this group of sites in light of debates on the broader development of rural estates and agricultural specialization in Republican central Italy. The data regarding the architecture of these sites and pottery samples, recorded during various field surveys, is presented in the accompanying site and artefact catalogue. We first present the data gathered during a number of field surveys carried out between 1988 and 2008, which show that these sites are to be interpreted as farmsteads, with in some cases additional functions such as pottery production. While the scant direct dating evidence suggests that the platforms were constructed in the 3rd or perhaps the 2nd century BC, the pottery shows that the sites themselves had been occupied earlier, in some cases from the Archaic period on. We subsequently discuss these thirteen platform sites in their wider geographical context, showing that they were part of a complex settlement system. The platforms were the sites of farms involved in specialised production of olive oil, intensively exploiting the footslopes around the towns of Cora, Norba and Setia. While platform sites in close proximity to Norba and Setia may represent extra-urban sanctuaries, a third group of platform sites represent estates that exploited the cultivable areas in the interior Lepine Mountains. The evidence thus suggests that the platform site is an important phase in the development of villas: they most probably represent elite estates involved in specialised, market-oriented production. Although the development of these sites, which scholars have attributed to different historical contexts, definitely needs further (stratigraphic) study, in the Lepine Mountains they may well have evolved in the 3rd century BC.