Institute of Archaeology


Giacomo Fontana

The Samnites and successful alternatives to urban organisation in the 1st millennium BCE Mediterranean

Giacomo Fontana's profile

Email: giacomo.fontana.19@ucl.ac.uk
Section: World Archaeology 


The Samnites and successful alternatives to urban organisation in the 1st millennium BCE Mediterranean

Since the Enlightenment, scholars have linked urbanisation to state formation in the evolution of complex societies. This urbanocentric perspective continues to dominate the study of the development of modern society, leading to an under-theorisation of alternative responses to social complexity. This project draws on recent research on non-urban organisation (e.g., the Hawaiian state) and low-density urbanism (e.g., the Maya states in Mesoamerica, the Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia and the recent discussion on European oppida) to question this classic paradigm. It focuses on the core of the Classical Mediterranean world, using Samnite hillforts (in central-eastern Italy) as a case study for wider European sites that present alternative solutions to Greco-Roman urbanism.

Different socio-political models structure the landscape in a variety of ways, and give rise to different settlement patterns related to territorial organisation. This project will develop a new  systematic and comprehensive study of the Samnite hillforts to trace how the landscape was structured without an urban model. The hillforts are an optimal proxy to pursue this investigation because they are directly related to the Samnite performance in military and territorial organisation, which were key elements of the resilience of contemporary societies. The topography, spatial distribution and connectivity of the hillforts will be investigated using an original approach based on a primary dataset collected through the integration of new remote sensing data, spatial and network analysis, and fieldwork.

This study will address the lengthy and ongoing debate concerning the success of Samnite society. It will contribute to the research on alternative responses to social complexity and to redefining our understanding of the relationship between the structure and the performance of societies.




  • BA , Cultural Heritage, University of Bologna, 2015
  • RMA, Archaeology, Leiden University, 2018

Fontana G., Semi-automatic detection and extraction of complex burial monuments in the Arabian Peninsula from high-resolution multispectral satellite imagery. Paper presented at the 46th Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) international conference, Tübingen, Germany (19 - 23 Mar 2018).

Fontana G. and A. Prioletta, Digital Views: a modern approach to the recording, studying and sharing of rock art drawings and graffiti. Paper presented at the 1st Saudi Archaeology Convention, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (7 - 9 Nov 2017).

Garcia-Sanchez J. and G. Fontana, In search of Montagna di Gildone: developing an optimal workflow for the application of LIDAR in central Italy. Paper presented at the Joint Chapter Meeting CAA-DE and CAA-NL-FL, Ghent, Belgium (24 - 25 Nov 2016).