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New Cities in Late Antiquity: Documents and Archaeology

April 2019 (123.2)

Book Review

New Cities in Late Antiquity: Documents and Archaeology

Edited by Efthymios Rizos (Bibliothèque de l’Antiquité tardive 35). Pp. 297. Brepols, Turnhout, Belgium 2017. €80. ISBN 978-2-503-55551-5 (paper).

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The volume New Cities in Late Antiquity: Documents and Archaeology is a welcome addition to the debate on urbanism in late antiquity. This collection of 19 essays written in French, English, and German, is the result of a conference on Late Antique cities held at the ANAMED center in Istanbul in 2013. As the editor Rizos points out, the late Roman empire was already heavily urbanized, but new cities were nonetheless founded to tighten control of the empire’s territory (9). New Cities in Late Antiquity therefore focuses on the understudied phenomenon of new urban foundations in this period, which has overwhelmingly been considered a time of urban decline. The essays collected in the volume consider the practices of urban foundation and development in late antiquity through the lens of a growing body of archaeological evidence as well as a careful reexamination of the literary texts available.

New cities were often founded on the frontiers of the empire, and their main urban forms are detailed in two essays, one by Assénat and Pérez and another by Intagliata, who discuss Amida and Palmyra, respectively. These cities were not newly founded in late antiquity, but their renovation and enlargement represented the new ideals for the creation of “fortress towns” (10); this urban model, which aimed to reconcile a substantial population and massive fortifications, was already in place by the later third century C.E., and it was then replicated and adapted all the way into the sixth century. The essay by the editor demonstrates clearly that this urban pattern was also applied by Roman emperors more widely in the Balkans, Anatolia, and the Danube region over the course of the fourth to sixth centuries C.E. These new foundations aimed to tighten control over the peripheries of the empire’s territory, which were more frequently subjected to external attacks.

Given the wealth of archaeological and textual data, the wave of urbanization in the late fifth to mid sixth century C.E. is better known to us, and this volume provides the latest updates on three major sites on the eastern frontiers founded or refounded by the emperors Anastasius and Justinian: Dara-Anastasiopolis (in the paper by Keser-Kayaalp and Erdoğan), Resafa (Gussone and Sack), and Zenobia (Blétry). Recent research at these locations has clearly shown that the cities were founded, as at Dara, or enlarged substantially, as at Resafa and Zenobia, through direct intervention of the central administration, and they received new, massive fortifications as well as baths, colonnaded roads and squares, and churches. The case of Resafa particularly demonstrates that fortification projects were not the only goal behind the establishment of new cities, which also functioned as means to solidify “a Christian Roman identity” (11). At Resafa, the cult of Saint Sergius played this role. Church constructions were also important in the replanning of new cities such as Theodosiopolis in Armenia, as we learn from the paper by Crow. The importance of Christian identity is stressed in Heinrich-Tamáska’s comparative analysis of the military outposts established on the Pannonian and Moesian limes from the fourth century C.E., as well as in the relocation of preexisting communities in Cappadocia, detailed by Berger for Mokisos (modern Viranşehir). At these sites, we learn that the erection of substantial fortifications is always tied to a settlement core occupied by churches.

Roman territory in the Balkans also underwent a substantial wave of urbanization between the late fifth and the early sixth century C.E., when a network of fortified outposts as well as proper urban centers appeared quite suddenly. This phenomenon is well detailed in two essays, by Ivanšević and Snively, who discuss the development of Justiniana Prima (modern Caričin Grad) and Golemo Gradište at Konjuh, respectively. Justiniana Prima, birthplace of Justinian, became the focus of the new administrative and religious district for the Lower Danube region.

The need for further security was not the only reason behind the creation of new cities in late antiquity. For example, as described by Mango, the city of Androna in Syria took advantage of imperial investments on the Syrian frontiers in the sixth century C.E. and developed from a village to an area of 150 ha along the state line of supply for the army. Economic reasons seem to be behind the emergence of other urban sites in the eastern empire; Rizos and Sayar discuss the considerable vitality of the many urban centers in the Bosphorus region, which were founded (and refounded) from the later third century C.E. onward. In spite of the dearth of archaeological investigation, the authors were able to identify a number of small (10–20 ha) cities that developed in conjunction with the growth of Constantinople. Deligiannakis and Karabatsos examine the development of the insular settlement on Saria, while Varinlioğlu considers that on Boğsak. In both locations, the size and monumentality of the settlements are unprecedented compared to other periods, and this phenomenon can only be understood as part of changes in the wider maritime network of the eastern Mediterranean. In particular, the authors convincingly argue that reconfiguration of the religious landscape brought Christian pilgrims to sites such as Saria and Boğsak that were never developed before late antiquity and then were quickly abandoned as soon as pilgrimage routes changed.

This volume represents a very valuable contribution to the field of Late Antique urbanism, and it certainly advances our understanding of important topics like the final development of Roman cities. It will no doubt become a compulsory read for anyone interested in cities in late antiquity. Nevertheless, the clear strengths of this work would have been reinforced by a more explicit discussion of the geographical and thematic focus of the volume. In particular, one aim of this collection appears to have been to discuss new urban forms in the Late Antique north and east, but certain regions, such as the massive Central Anatolian Plateau and the northern and southern coasts of Turkey, are underrepresented. Another goal may have been to examine further the connections between imperial power, northeastern frontiers, and urbanism. However, it is not clear how the discussion of survey evidence and urban centers by Bintliff and the examination of the water supplies in Visigothic Spain by Jiménez fit in this volume, although both of these contributions are valuable and worth reading. The 19 essays in this collection do not appear in any identifiable geographic or thematic order. This may be the result of its origin in an academic conference, but the reader nevertheless may wish some explanation of the organization. The concluding remarks, an interesting synthesis written by Spieser, address the general focus of the volume to some extent, but discussion of the focus and the organization might be expected before the end of the book.

Paolo Maranzana
Department of Archaeology and History of Art
Koç University

Book Review of New Cities in Late Antiquity: Documents and Archaeology, edited by Efthymios Rizos

Reviewed by Paolo Maranzana

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 2 (April 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1232.maranzana

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