Barbara Furlotti presents a dynamic interpretation of the early modern market for antiquities, relying on the innovative notion of archaeological finds as mobile items. She reconstructs the journey of ancient objects from digging sites to venues where they were sold, such as Roman marketplaces and antiquarians' storage spaces; to sculptors' workshops, where they were restored; and to Italian and other European collections, where they arrived after complicated and costly travel over land and sea. She shifts the attention away from collectors to the elusive peasants with shovels, dealers and middlemen, and restorers who unearthed, cleaned up and repaired or remade objects, recuperating the role these actors played in Rome's socioeconomic structure.
Furlotti also examines the changes in economic value, meaning, and appearance that antiquities underwent as they moved from person to person during their journey and as they reached the locations in which they were displayed. Drawing on vast unpublished archival material, she offers answers to novel questions: How were antiquities excavated? How and where did peasants, merchants, and agents trade them? How was a price agreed upon between sellers and buyers? How were laws about the ownership of ancient finds made, followed, and evaded?