Knowledge of the direct role humans have had in changing the landscape requires the perspective of historical and archaeological sources, as well as climatic and ecologic processes, when interpreting paleoecological records. People directly impact land at the local scale and land use decisions are strongly influenced by local sociopolitical priorities that change through time. A complete picture of the potential drivers of past environmental change must include a detailed and integrated analysis of evolving sociopolitical priorities, climatic change and ecological processes. However, there are surprisingly few localities that possess high-quality historical, archeological and high-resolution paleoecologic datasets. We present a high resolution 2700-year pollen record from central Italy and interpret it in relation to archival documents and archaeological data to reconstruct the relationship between changing sociopolitical conditions, and their effect on the landscape. We found that: (1) abrupt environmental change was more closely linked to sociopolitical and demographic transformation than climate change; (2) landscape changes reflected the new sociopolitical priorities and persisted until the sociopolitical conditions shifted; (3) reorganization of new plant communities was very rapid, on the order of decades not centuries; and (4) legacies of forest management adopted by earlier societies continue to influence ecosystem services today.