Building tabernae: how commercial investment changed the cities of Roman Italy (200BCE-300CE)


This project will shed radically new light on Roman urban history. By focusing on the impact of economic growth on urbanism and city life, it will fill a significant gap in our knowledge of the Roman world and connect two debates that play a key role in current Roman scholarship but barely engage with each other: the Roman urbanism debate and the Roman economy debate.

"Building tabernae" starts from the idea that one of the best ways to understand the history of Roman cities is by investigating the development of urban commercial landscapes. Contrary to cities in all earlier societies, Roman cities were dominated by large quantities of shops along their streets. These shops, in literature usually referred to as "tabernae", appeared in increasing numbers from the second century BCE onwards, transforming the outlook and dynamics of urban thoroughfares and neighbourhoods. During the late Republic and early empire, investment in tabernae increased markedly in scale and ambition.

This all points to fundamental changes in Roman urban economies, and shows how such changes had a deep impact on the physical fabric and social characteristics of Roman cities. However, scholars have not yet recognized the significance of these unique developments. Focusing on Roman Italy, this project will explore how Roman prosperity and growth fostered commercial investment on an ever larger scale, and how this completely transformed urban space, urban commerce and urban society.

This approach proposed here integrates archaeological and textual evidence, and operates on the interface between social and economic history. It will be the first to explore, in a Roman context, how economic investment shaped and transformed urban life. In other words, rather than emphasizing how society shaped the economy, as is still common among Roman scholars, this innovative project will explore how the economy shaped society.


Chapter in book

  • K. Verboven, M. Flohr, C. Laes(2016): Work, labor and professions in the Roman World pp. 147 - 172 , Leiden

Scientific article

  • M Flohr(2016): Tabernae Publicae. Commercie en de publieke zaak in Romeins Italië Lampas pp. 67 - 88

Professional publication

  • M Flohr(2013): Building Tabernae - how commercial investment changed the cities of Roman Italy pp. 84 - 84

Publication meant for a broad audience

  • M Flohr(2014): Costruire tabernae: l'investimento commerciale nelle città dell'Italia romana pp. 42


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. M. Flohr

Affiliated with

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen

Team members

Dr. M. Flohr, Dr. M. Flohr, Dr. M. Flohr


01/04/2013 to 09/04/2018