chapter  4
The use and abuse of urbanism in the Danubian provinces during the Later Roman Empire
ByANDREW POULTER
Pages 37

Along the length of the Danubian frontier from Noricum to the Black Sea, the public and private monuments of Roman cities reflect increasing prosperity for the majority under the Antonines and, for some, little short of extravagant indulgence under the Severi. In their adoption of Roman forms of civic organization and their display of material wealth, cities in the hinterland of the Danube were remarkable for their rapid development during the second century AD. Three factors, in particular, encouraged urban development. The first was imperial interest. During each successive stage in the consolidation of the Danubian frontier, territory in the hinterland was released from military control and the responsibility for local administration and taxation was handed over to newly created cities. Whatever the higher motivation may have been behind the foundation of cities, there were obvious advantages for Rome: conferring municipal status transferred financial and administrative obligations to civilian communities at no cost to the imperial treasury. It is no coincidence that the periods of rapid urban development in the Claudian, Flavian and then Trajanic periods were also times during which the army advanced towards its permanent second-century bases on the right bank of the Danube. The process was further encouraged by Hadrianic reforms which granted municipal rank to existing settlements and official status to the growing extramural settle ments (canabae), many of which

also acquired urban rank under the Severi (Mócsy 1974, 218-21; Poulter 1983,

78-85). Secondly, once established, the cities, municipia as well as coloniae,

attracted veterans from the legionary and auxiliary garrisons, swelling the number

of citizens with money to invest and the status to assume curial office.1 If

imperial interest and the steady influx of new citizens promoted the rapid

development of the Balkan cities, the new villa estates established within their

territories must have profited from the proximity of a military market for

agricultural and industrial goods, providing landowners with the wealth which

Until recently, archaeology has contributed little to our understanding of

urbanism in the Later Roman Empire. Our perspective has been determined by

ancient sources. Drawing upon the literary and particularly legal evidence for

Late Roman urbanism, A.H.M. Jones concluded that the classical city survived

in the East as late as the reign of Justinian and, in the West, probably even later

(Jones 1964, 759-61). For Jones, the hallmark of the classical city was the

maintenance of local autonomy in the form of curial administration and it was

the very tenacity with which cities clung to their civic institutions which

demonstrated the essential continuity between the cities of classical Greece and

the poleis of Justinian (Jones 1940, 251-8; 1964, 724; 1971, xii-xiii). This

conclusion has been supported by recent interpretations of the archaeological

evidence: although it is universally accepted that the cities of the Balkans suffered

destruction and economic decline during the Gothic invasions of the third century,

it has also been held as axiomatic that the Diocletianic reforms of army and

administration revitalized cities throughout the Balkan provinces (Alföldy 1974,

198 and 205; Mócsy 1974, 297; Velkov 1977, 77-80). For the sixth century, a

Justinianic revival of towns has been claimed, although admittedly, less widely

accepted.1 However, our literary sources are biased towards the Eastern Empire

and, for the fourth century, as Jones admitted, there must have been marked

differences between those cities where the curial class was able to raise imperial

revenue and cover the cost of local public expenditure without resorting to

burdensome levies from decurions in the form of liturgies, and those cities which

could not (Jones 1964, 737). Where the curial class was subject to excessive

taxation, it may be presumed that the decline of urban government would have

rapidly followed.