The Roman town or city is taken for granted when we look at the Roman Empire. At the beginning of the 21st century, the place of the Romans in the formation of modern urbanism exists in the minds of most architects. Some would even say that every urban form that they see today is shaped by their knowledge of the Roman city (Rem Koolhaas et al 2001). A century ago in Britain, the Town Planning Act (1910) was passed to establish a new era of the city as distinct from the experience of the city under industrialization in the 19th century. It was also in the same year that Town Planning conferences were held in both Berlin and London. At the latter, Francis Haverﬁeld presented a lecture on Town Planning under Roman rule (Haverﬁeld 1911b; Freeman 2007: 334-42). The lecture became a book that was illustrated with numerous plans of cities, mostly deﬁned by their walled circuits of defences (Haverﬁeld 1913), a format that was to be expanded with the advent of aerial photography (Ward-Perkins 1974) and for which there is still a market (Owens 1991). It was possible to read the expansion of Roman urbanism from these studies as a key feature of ‘Romanization’. However, those working later in the 20th century on pre-Roman archaeology in Gaul and Britain realized that the hill forts might have displayed features of what could be described as urbanism or protourbanism (Cunliﬀe and Rowley 1976; Collis 1984; Wells, 1984; Audouze and Buchenschutz 1991). Underpinning this discussion was an assertion that there were towns north of the Alps prior to the appearance of Rome. However, there was also a recognition that these settlements displayed considerable diversity. Sites vary from two hectares to 350 or even 650 hectares, so whether or not to deﬁne a site as urban is problematic (see Woolf 1993 for full critique). Interestingly, the literature on these Iron Age forms of urbanism places a diﬀerent emphasis from that found in the literature on the Roman city. It is profoundly diﬀerent from the Moses Finley economic model of urbanism (discussed in Chapter 5) and emphasizes instead a link between urbanism and commerce, political centralization, industrial growth,
occupational specialization and zoning. Towns and Romanization were demonstrated to ﬁt together, whereas outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire in the west lay a region of barbarians without towns, supported by reference to Tacitus’ account of his father-in-law promoting and encouraging the Britons to build towns (Tac. Agr. 21). Ideas from the past do not simply go away but instead creep back in through footnotes and references (or can be re-invented through the absence of reference even). John Creighton (2006: 71-78) shows how within the discipline of archaeology, the treatment of towns in Roman Britain shifts over the course of the last decades of the 20th century from a position whereby the governor and/or the military promoted towns, to a situation in which the native elite adopted the town as a format for the expression of their power (for example, in Millett 1990a). Yet, the structure of discussion divides the evidence for towns via legal deﬁnitions of coloniae, municipia and civitates, mapping onto modern concepts of regional centres (civitas capitals) and small towns. These deﬁnitions come from much earlier scholarship, but are maintained in the 21st century (for example, Revell 2009), as is an emphasis on the legal structuring of power in the larger towns that is seen to have conformed to the town charters found in the Roman province of Baetica in southern Spain (Revell 2009: 50-54). It has to be said though that Baetica has a far higher density of towns than found in Britain and also a much higher density of inscriptions. In the past, individual types of towns could be studied, for example coloniae (see papers in Hurst 1999) or the smaller towns or vici of an individual province (Burnham and Wacher 1990; Whittaker 1990), to produce an overview of a group of settlements with similar characteristics. What we are now seeing in the 21st century is a move away from these types of studies towards a detailed discussion of a number of towns and juxtaposing these with each other. For example, Creighton (2006) picked out contrasting examples from Britain, whereas Louise Revell (2009) chose sites from Spain and Britain with high incidences of excavated public spaces and survival of inscriptions. These studies tend to draw out the variety of forms in terms of urban ideology, urban experience or urban ways of living found in quite diverse settlements. What we will look at in this chapter is the interpretation of a number of Roman towns and their associated public spaces, and examine approaches to this material that focus on the actions of individuals (or their agency) within a local context (or structure). It is an approach that can be applied to other archaeological sites that are open to interpretation.