ROMAN IMPERIALISM AND THE CITY IN ITALY
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ROMAN IMPERIALISM AND THE CITY IN ITALY book
The city occupied a highly privileged position in the Roman world, and was recognised even in antiquity as one of the central features of Roman imperialism. It was the preferred form of social, political and administrative organisation throughout the empire. In those regions, particularly in the western provinces, where there were no indigenous cities or only a low level of urban development, Roman conquest was rapidly followed by a programme of urbanisation, pursued either by direct imposition or by indirect encouragement. As such, urbanisation went hand-in-hand with Roman conquest and acculturation, and was an integral part of Roman imperial expansion. Indeed, Tacitus makes a clear correlation between urban life, Roman conquest and civilisation, as does Strabo. The consensus of ancient authors was that, as a general point, civilised people lived in cities, and, more specifically, so did those who had adopted a Roman way of life (Strabo, Geog. 4. 1. 5; Tac. Agric. 21, Germ. 16, Hist. 4. 64). Tacitus overtly connects this Romanocentric (and Hellenocentric) viewpoint with imperial expansion by his assertion that the Germans looked down upon urban life, seeing it as the chief symptom of servitude to Rome (Tac. Hist. 4. 64). To some extent he even endorses this view himself, describing the adoption of urban amenities by the British as a symbol of slavery and corruption (Tac. Agr. 21). The tight control maintained by Rome over both the process of city foundation and the assignment of legal status to cities under Roman law further emphasises the close relationship between urbanism and Roman imperialism. Ultimately, in the Roman Empire, a city was a city because the senate (or later, the emperor) had decreed as much, and new foundations or existing cities which changed their status had the framework of their civic existence determined for them in the form of detailed charters drawn up by Roman commissioners. The relationship between urbanisation, imperialism and acculturation is not, however, a straightforward one. The processes at work are highly complex, and any understanding of them must include both the direct and overtly imperialist imposition of urbanisation, most graphically seen in Roman programmes of colonisation, and the more indirect processes of acculturation within existing cities.