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The discovery early in this century of the exceptional longevity of the Sardinian population has given new impetus to demographic studies of this phenomenon during the classical period. In the present study, the available evidence was examined in order to test this hypothesis.
Literary, juridical, epigraphic, papyrological, anthropological and archaeological sources regarding the population of the Roman Empire, including Sardinia, were retrieved by accessing Science Direct, PubMed, Scopus and Google Scholar databases, as well as regional libraries, regardless of time limitation, and were independently reviewed by the authors.
For Roman Sardinia, only funerary epitaphs were retrieved, in contrast with the numerous sources available for the whole Roman Empire. The majority were located in a highly Romanised rural area of central-western Sardinia. In conclusion, the funerary evidence, the only available data from Roman Sardinia, is too weak to estimate the life expectancy of the local ancient population and cannot offer valuable arguments to support the hypothesis that exceptional longevity has been a Sardinian trait since Roman times.
A comprehensive review of the available evidence. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attributionwhich permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Data Availability: All relevant data are within the manuscript and its Supporting Information files. Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
The twenty-year-old discovery of the exceptional longevity of people living on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia [ 1 — 4 ] has crowded the literature with studies focusing on the demography of this ethnic group over a wide period of time [ 5 — 8 ]. This trend was somewhat Adult singles dating in sardinianew york ny by the interest in historical demographic research on ancient Sardinians. In the Roman age, that is, from the first century BCE to the third century CE, the publication of studies based on the interpretation of epigraphic data foreshadowed the development of a fruitful line of investigation [ 9 — 10 ].
Robert J. Rowland, Jr. Modern demographic research on Antiquity owes much to the analyses conducted by Karl Julius Beloch towards the end of the 19 th century [ 11 ], and by Keith Hopkins since the s [ 1213 ]. Current developments in this field have proceeded, roughly, since and have been animated by lively discussions on methodology and the use of sources [ 14 — 19 ]. Indeed, issues about the latter ones are still a subject of discussion among scholars. Unfortunately, the main obstacle in the study of ancient demography lies precisely in the scarcity of data.
In fact, there is a severe lack of information on all three components forming the basis of statistical analyses performed on modern and contemporary populations: birth rate, mortality and mobility of people [ 21 ].
Some authors have tried to investigate specific population subgroups whose age is sufficiently attested, such as that of the Roman emperors who died of natural causes, finding an unexpected concordance between their age at death and the information predicted by various statistical models [ 22 ]. The application to the Roman world of demographic models developed for human societies considered similar, closer in time and better known, has long been an important feature of the debate.
In this regard, scholars tend to be divided between more or less sceptical e. Walter Scheidel and optimistic e. Bruce Frier approaches [ 1617 ]. The need to employ other types of sources, such as the scientific archaeology of human remains and the molecular biology of diseases, with the well-known advantages of using novel investigation methods, has been pointed out by Jongman [ 23 ]. On this basis, in this study we reviewed all available evidence about Roman Sardinia to answer the following questions: was mortality in Roman Sardinia comparable to that of other regions of the empire?
Is it possible that the current longevity of the Sardinian population has its roots in Roman times? In order to accomplish the purpose of the study, a comprehensive search was conducted for any available literary, juridical, epigraphic, papyrological, anthropological or archaeological evidence by accessing multiple databases of the published literature, i. All entries were examined, regardless of time or language limitation. Lastly, texts from the main Sardinian libraries, including the ones from the University of Cagliari and Sassari were retrieved and consulted.
Publications containing descriptions of burial findings in Sardinia were independently and blinded examined by two authors Floris P and Pes GM and any resulting discrepancy was discussed among all authors to reach a final consensus. Documentary sources were considered eligible for the analysis on the basis of their reliability and similarity with the demographic structure of better known pre-modern and modern populations of Europe 18 th centuryand especially Asia ChinaIndia and Egypt of the 19 th and early 20 th century [ 1620 ].
In the preliminary screening we were able to retrieve hundreds of articles, books and ancient inscriptions relating to Roman Sardinia. Articles quoting Sardinia marginally in the context of the Roman Empire, or without providing specific demographic data, were excluded from the analysis. Similarly, anthropological articles, reporting findings on skeletal remains in Sardinia were excluded if they did not encompass the Roman era, or if the age of the bones was not provided. Likewise, articles on Roman epigraphy that did not mention Sardinia were excluded.
Following the preliminary screening only funerary epitaphs were retrieved for Roman Sardinia, including the texts of all Latin funerary inscriptions reported by Rowland [ 9 ]. Moreover, articles of historical demography, from the end of the 19 th century to the present, reporting data on the average lifespan in Sardinia compared to other regions of the Roman Empire were considered eligible and used to discuss similarities and differences. Evidence concerning cases of exceptional longevity is not rare. However, the statistical ificance of this information is invalidated by the absence of systematic method, a mixture of references to historical and mythical realities and the pervasive anecdotal and wondrous value that characterises this ancient material.
An exemplary case is that of T. Fullonius, from Bologna, who in the census conducted by the emperor Claudius and L. Vitellius in 47—48 CE, declared himself to be years old. Pliny also reports that as many as 27 of them declared ages of between and years Plin, Nat 7, 49, — The first, in his work Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri IXwritten under Tiberius 14—37 CEdescribed persons who lived to an advanced age, proposing at the same time examples from reality and myth Val Max.
Phlegon, a freedman of the Emperor Hadrian — CEin his Opuscula de rebus mirabilibus et de longaevisreported a list of centenarians extracted from Roman census lists or literary tradition [ 25 ]. Notwithstanding the dubious credibility of the declarations made by these people to the census authorities, these data certainly attest to the presence of extremely old individuals in the Roman age, although they are not useful for statistical purposes.
The passage mentions two schemes that attracted the attention of demography scholars: the first refers to the famous jurist Ulpian c. Among other inaccuracies, the table reveals an obvious gap in life expectancy estimation during early childhood, likely because children did not receive annuities [ 27 ]. Bruce Frier [ 16 ] proposed, in this regard, a comparison with Model West Level 2 of the Regional Model Life Tables of Princeton [ 28 ] and thus a low life expectancy at birth, around the age of 21 years.
Many studies carried out in the past used data from funerary inscriptions to draw conclusions about the average age at death of people living in different regions of the Roman Empire. For instance, the Harkness's study, based on the inscriptions contained in the Corpus of Latin Inscriptionsreported the following average age at death in those who survived up to the age of 10 in various regions of the Roman Empire: Rome This early report highlighted the wide heterogeneity of mortality in the different parts of the Roman Empire and, specifically, the relatively longer life span in Sardinia compared with Rome itself [ 30 ].
Epigraphic data would be influenced, Adult singles dating in sardinianew york ny, by uncontrollable socio-cultural and economic confounders [ 21 ], related to factors such as age, sex, location and living conditions.
Therefore, with the partial exception of Bruce Frier who spared some North African epigraphic samples [ 16 ], most scholars consider funerary texts to be unreliable for studies on mortality rate and life expectancy [ 1314172037 — 39 ].
Beyond the doubts regarding the demographic value of the epigraphic age indication, the attention of scholars focused also on their accuracy. First, it is well-known that, in Roman epitaphs, ages that are multiples of 5 are much more frequent than is admitted by statistics [ 40 — 42 ]. The question was posed even though in many epitaphs biometric data are reported analytically with the indication of the of years, months, days and even hours lived. In fact, Parkin formulated the hypothesis, perhaps worthy of further verification, that such scrupulous data may be related to the importance that the Romans attached to the celebration of their birthday and with their belief in astrology [ 42 ].
In conclusion, it seems better to consider funerary texts as the result of the commemorative practices of a specific area rather than as a faithful reflection of the demographic reality. Although these sources are useless for statistical analyses, their value remains high for social, cultural and economic investigations into commemoration Adult singles dating in sardinianew york ny. Papyrological source, which survived the particular climatic conditions of some areas of Egypt, are considered more reliable by Roman demography scholars.
They consist of birth and death declarations included in about acts related to provincial censuses, providing information on more than 1, people living in the first three centuries CE [ 1617 ].
In addition, Walter Scheidel considered papyri the cornerstone of mortality research [ 20 ]. The most exhaustive analyses of these documents have been performed by Roger Bagnall and Bruce Frier [ 44 ] and by Walter Scheidel [ 45 ], estimating life expectancy at birth in the order of Furthermore, the peculiar geographic and climatic conditions of Egypt, characterised by remarkable internal variability, contributed to the creation of distinctive pathogenic environments probably affecting the mortality and demographic structure of the local population [ 161721 ].
Skeletal anthropology also provided valuable information on eating habits, health status, diseases and causes of death [ 16 ], and in some cases it provided information on mortality aspects little represented in other Adult singles dating in sardinianew york ny of sources, for example foetuses and children under 5 years of age [ 50 ]. However, Walter Scheidel noted at least two factors that make skeletal remains from a specific burial site not representative of local demography: not all members of a given population may have been buried in the same place due to socio-cultural conditioning age, gender, class ; moreover, it seems impossible to measure the impact of migratory phenomena on the formation of the sample [ 17 ].
The excavations conducted in the necropolis of the Roman suburbs in recent decades have provided interesting anthropological and demographic data. In addition, it was observed that most burials pertain to people belonging to lower social classes slaves, freedmen and several diseases affecting the population in the imperial age were identified. There are no data related to the age at death of skeletal remains in Sardinia of the Roman epoch, although physical anthropology research provided data for the prehistorical era in several sub-regions of Sardinia as described by Sanna et al.
Methodologies to establish the demographic structure of ancient populations developed by palaeodemographic scholars are certainly promising and, in the future, they will play an important role in filling our knowledge gap. The shortage of documentary sources, as well as uncertainty about their reliability, have led many scholars to adopt a comparative approach.
Accordingly, scholars applied to the Roman Empire sets of demographic tables developed for more recent societies with a demographic structure assumed to be comparable to the Roman. In the s, Keith Hopkins used the U. Even if specific Model Life Tables are sometimes used e. Model South Level 3 Female, Model West Level 2, 4 or even 6Model West Level 3 Female adopted indifferently for men and women is generally considered by scholars to be the most suitable to represent the Roman population [ 22 ].
The framework outlined by Model West Level 3 Female refers to a society characterised by remarkably high infant mortality and a life expectancy at birth of approximately 25 years. Infant mortality rates would have been balanced by equally high birth rates. Therefore, the Roman population would have been composed mostly of young people and adults up to the age of 50, while people over the age of 60 would have been much less numerous, and people over 80 rare [ 1642 ].
In a recent study, Robert Woods endorsed new sets of tables made in the s, assuming a percentage of childhood deaths lower than usually expected, given the generally high levels of mortality. This would result in higher life expectancy at birth and higher mortality than ly thought for people aged between 15 and 49 years [ 29 ]. Nevertheless, Frier observed that caution is required in the application of the tables to the Roman world, because the overall mortality of this vast area will have been the outcome of the demographic patterns of different regions of the Empire influenced by factors such as time, geography and perhaps individual social status [ 16 ].
Walter Scheidel excluded the notion that Model Life Tables can provide a reliable picture of Roman society, which was characterised by high mortality and considerable local variations in causes of death, considering ecology, climate and pathogenic environments as useful elements [ 21 ]. The identification of the major causes of death in Roman society would be helpful to understand its demographic structure.
Under normal conditions, or in the absence of acute events such as the plagues of the second and third centuries CE [ 5455 ], the impact of infectious diseases on mortality was highly ificant [ 17 ]. For example, the leading causes of death were malaria, diseases of the respiratory system e. However, the vastness and long duration of the Roman Empire make it improbable that identical causes acted everywhere and constantly in the same way. For example, differences existed between the pathogenic environments of the Alps and of the Egyptian marshy regions, and even over much shorter distances such as between rural and urban areas [ 21 ].
Paleochristian funeral inscriptions have proved particularly useful in identifying the seasonal variation of deaths, as they often contain an indication of the day and month of death of the commemorated deceased [ 59 — 61 ].Adult singles dating in sardinianew york ny
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A Population Where Men Live As Long As Women: Villagrande Strisaili, Sardinia