Panel abstract

The urban geography of the Roman Empire has a long historiography, with scholars like A.H.M. Jones already making an excellent monograph of the cities of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 1930's. Yet these studies focused primarily on the history of cities and they saw the ancient town as an isolated historical phenomenon or at best as an index of the spread of Hellenism or Romanitas. Unlike these studies, "An Empire of 2000 cities" adopts a different approach to the study of Roman urbanism. The current project is an attempt to take a step further and place the town in its socio-economic context, collecting the most up-to-date archaeological evidence and using statistics to appraoch the urban phenomenon in the Roman East. The data used, however, is often disparate and complex and many uncertainties surround the theme of urbanism. To achieve a more balanced treatment in the various regions that constitute the Roman East, we will base our discussion on the most basic parameters of urbanism: the number of towns per province, their spatial distribution and size under the High Empire. The panel will consist of four presentations that will focus on particular regions or provinces of the Roman East. The first issue to be analysed is our solution to the fundamental difficulty of deciding what a town is in the first place, in order to arrive at a simple definition that will encompass all the different regions in the study. Subsequently we shall show that much can be inferred from the variations in the number of towns per province or region, their geographic foci and the variations in size. Equally intriguing questions emerge when we attempt to interpret the distribution of the urban settlement in terms of the character of the regional economies and the distribution of wealth. What was the share of the structural factors of landscape, climate and infrastructure and the continuity or discontinuity of pre-Roman urbanism? In order not to get lost in the particularities of the Roman East, the panel intends to lift the results out of regional isolation for cross-regional comparison, allowing for an in-depth discussion of the nature and economy of ancient cities in general. We invite at least one distinguished scholar of Roman urbanism who has studied a different part of the Roman Empire to comment on the pattern of urban settlement and its implications in the socio-economic sphere from a comparative perspective.