Society and economy in marginal zones: a study of the Levantine agricultural economy (1st-8th c. AD)

Andrea Zerbini

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis analyses the social and economic structures that characterised settlement in ecologically marginal regions in the Roman to early-Arab Levant (1st-8th c. AD).
Findings show that, far from being self-sufficient, the economy of marginal zones relied heavily on surplus production aimed at marketing. The connection of these regions to large-scale commercial networks is also confirmed by ceramic findings. The thesis is structured in four main parts. The first outlines the main debates and research trends in the study of ancient agrarian society and economy.
Part II comprises a survey of the available evidence for settlement patterns in two marginal regions of the Roman Near East: the Golan Heights, the jebel al-cArab. It also includes a small-scale test study that concentrates on the long-term development of the hinterland of Sic, a hilltop village in the jebel al-cArab, which housed one of the most important regional sanctuaries in the pre-Roman and Roman period.
Parts III and IV contain the core the thesis and concentrate on the Limestone Massif of northern Syria, a region located between the cities of Antioch, Aleppo (Beroia) and Apamea. Following settlement development from the 2nd c. BC to the 12 c. AD, these sections provide a comprehensive assessment of how a village society developed out of semi-nomadic groups (largely through endogenous transformations) and was able to attain great prosperity in Late Antiquity.
Epigraphic, archaeological and literary sources attest to a vibrant milieu of small-holders who were capable of climbing the social ladder. This was made possible by the economic capabilities of the region, and especially its capacity for surplus production of wine and oil, of which the thesis offers small-scale quantitative assessments (Dehes, Sergilla). Finally, continuity of settlement after the Arab takeover of the region is explored through the archaeological evidence. Continuity, it is argued, rested on the survival of an institutional framework that could maintain security (the Umayyad and early-Abbasid caliphate) and on the availability of a regional demand for local goods.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Alston, Richard, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2013
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013


  • Syria-palestine
  • ancient economy
  • epigraphy
  • Archaeology
  • Roman
  • Byzantine

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