You are here

Roman Architecture in Provence

Roman Architecture in Provence

By James C. Anderson, Jr. Pp. xv + 291, figs. 157. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013. $99. ISBN 978-0-521-82520-7 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This book offers a long-overdue English-language study of the impressive architectural remains of Roman Provence. Anderson sets out to provide a broad perspective on Roman architecture in the region, including evidence for revisions, reconstructions, and restorations to well-known monuments. Throughout, the author challenges widely held assumptions that many of the most famous buildings in Gallia Narbonensis date from the founding, or refounding, of cities by the Romans (most typically in the second half of the first century B.C.E.). Based on critical analyses of the evidence, Anderson argues for new chronologies, redating some significant buildings (among them the Arch at Orange, Maison Carrée, the Temple at Vienne, the Pont du Gard, and the Cenotaph of the Iulii) to the second century C.E. Although his arguments are not always entirely convincing, his case for increased imperial patronage in Gallia Narbonensis beginning with Trajan and Plotina (who was from a Nemausan family) fits neatly with patterns seen throughout other areas of the Roman empire during the second century C.E. That the “flowering” (235) of Roman Provence took place not under Augustus but with the Antonines is certainly a significant new way to look at building in this part of the Roman world.

Anderson stresses the importance of analyzing architecture within its historical and urban contexts, and this is the subject of the first quarter of his book. Chapter 1 offers a succinct historical overview of Roman Provence from the second to the fourth century B.C.E. Here, and elsewhere, Anderson focuses on evidence for pre-Roman and Hellenistic traditions in the region, adding to recent dialogues on Romanization in Gaul. Chapter 2 is devoted to a survey of the development of cities throughout Provence (Massalia, Aquae Sextiae, Narbo Martius, Arelate, Forum Iulii, Vienna, Nemausus, Arausio, Vasio). The utility of having all this information in one place and its relevance to the architectural discussions that follow is clear. One is even left wondering why Anderson chose not to reference cities or urban planning in the book’s title.

The bulk of the book (ch. 3) is devoted to a survey of Roman architectural forms in Provence. This chapter is organized by building type, with a brief introduction to the form and function of each, followed by discussions of the best examples from cities throughout Gallia Narbonensis. The scope is impressive, with city walls, arches, temples and sanctuaries, colonnades, forums, macella, horrea, ports, theaters, amphitheaters, circuses and stadia, libraries, baths, fountains, aqueducts, houses, villas, and tombs, each discussed in turn. By grouping buildings by type instead of location, Anderson is able to illustrate what he considers to be a remarkable level of consistency (234) in the development of Roman architecture throughout the province.

It is not surprising that Anderson focuses on the Arch at Orange, as his 1987 article, “The Date of the Arch at Orange” (BJb 187 [1987] 159–92), argued for the rejection of a Tiberian attribution in favor of a date during the Severan period. Here Anderson identifies the problems with, and quickly dismisses a reconstruction of, an attic inscription (CIL 12 1230) honoring Tiberius as well as the argument that the inscribed name (“Sacrovir”) of an early first-century Aeduan chieftan on reliefs decorating the arch supported this chronology. Instead, he focuses on stylistic elements, such as flat molding profiles and scrolled vegetation on pilasters and archivolts, to suggest that the arch instead fits the decorative traditions of the second century B.C.E. and later. While the dating of the Arch at Orange has been the subject of much debate and a satisfactory resolution has yet to be reached, Anderson at times takes his argument to unnecessary extremes. For example, his questioning of the existence of triple bay arches before the second century C.E. not only dismisses evidence from nearby monuments such as the Arc Amirable at Arles but also ignores the numismatic and archaeological evidence for the Parthian Arch of Augustus in Rome (only mentioned in a quote attributed to P. Gros in a footnote) or the triple bay arch at Antioch in Pisidia, both securely dated to the period of Augustus. Although not without its problems, in the end Anderson’s discussion of the Arch at Orange, in particular its unique decorative elements, begs for renewed investigation into the entire corpus of freestanding arches in Gallia Narbonensis, as many share these formal elements and have been dated precisely by this reference to the Augustan or Early Julio-Claudian periods.

The Maison Carrée is another major monument whose conventional date in the first decade of the first century C.E. is contested by Anderson. Following on his article “Anachronism in the Roman Architecture of Gaul: The Date of the Maison Carrée at Nîmes” (JSAH 60 [2001] 68–79), Anderson focuses on the use of a pes Drusianus (a “Drusian foot,” first identified but not yet published by Jon Harstone) for the temple’s plan and a standard Roman foot as the module for its elevation. He explains this contradiction by suggesting that architectural elements used in the temple’s elevation must have been rough-cut in a quarry near Lens using the standard Roman measurements, while the architect of the building chose to utilize one of the prevailing local units of measurement for the plan. Since there is no evidence for rough-cutting standard architectural members in quarries as early as the period of Augustus, and since the pes Drusianus, which corresponds to a Roman foot plus an inch and a half (or ca. 333 mm), was only used after the period of Trajan, there does appear to be a contradiction here. However, Yegül (Rev. of Principles of Roman Architecture, by M.W. Jones, JSAH 60 [2001] 501) has already pointed to this debate to illustrate “the shaky nature of hypothetical grids and proportions,” and it is yet to be seen whether the contradiction in module type will outweigh evidence for the style of carving and inscription (the latter also contested by Anderson) conventionally used to date the temple.

In sum, this is a very readable, well-organized, and exhaustively researched overview of Roman architecture in Provence. Despite the large bibliography on this topic, Anderson’s integration of literary sources, archaeological evidence, and even the most current scholarly sources makes it a valuable addition to the field. Anderson’s incorporation of his own theories is both informative and stimulating, although, at times, alternate views could also be more clearly presented. The book’s discussion of both city planning and architecture, its lucid organization by building type, and the consistent translations of foreign languages (even French and German) in both the text and footnotes would make it an excellent textbook for a course on the architecture of Gallia Narbonensis.

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
New York University
New York, New York 11028

Book Review of Roman Architecture in Provence, by James C. Anderson, Jr.

Reviewed by Anne Hrychuk Kontokosta

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.HrychukKontokosta

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.