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Early Roman Towns in Hispania Tarraconensis

Early Roman Towns in Hispania Tarraconensis

Edited by L. Abad Casal, S. Keay, and S. Ramallo Asensio. Pp. 237, figs. 108, maps 2. Portsmouth, R.I. 2006. $94.50. ISBN 978-1-887829-62-5.

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The biennial Roman archaeology conferences organized since 1995 by the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies have proved ideal occasions to take stock of recent archaeological work in a series of provinces of the Roman empire. The Journal of Roman Archaeology, which has helped sponsor these conferences, has published a number of useful volumes out of these sessions: The Archaeology of Early Roman Baetica (JRA Suppl. 29), edited by Keay, resulted from the inaugural conference; volumes on Roman Germany (Suppl. 32, J.D. Creighton and R.J.A. Wilson, eds.), Roman Dacia (Suppl. 56, W.S. Hanson and I.P. Haynes, eds.), and now Hispania Tarraconensis have since appeared. While such volumes cannot provide a complete overview of any given province, they have made available, in English, well-illustrated samples of much of the most important recent archaeological work. In Spain and Portugal, the results of excavation and field-survey projects often appear in local journals, monographs, or conference proceedings, making them difficult to access for all but specialists. This makes the second JRA supplement on Roman Spain particularly valuable.

Keay has collaborated with two leading Spanish archaeologists, Abad Casal of the University of Alicante and Ramallo Asensio of the University of Murcia, to produce a well-balanced and exceptionally well-illustrated collection of papers on Hispania Tarraconensis. Whereas the Baetican volume covered a broad range of themes (urbanism, local elites, the spread of the epigraphic habit, local civic coinage, the rural economy, the production and exchange of olive oil and metals, and the importance of Baetica in the Roman empire as a whole), the 16 case studies in the Tarraconensis volume focus exclusively on urban development in the Late Republic and Early Empire. In addition to the clear summaries of recent work on towns such as Emporion/Emporiae (Empúries/Ampurias), Tarraco (Tarragona), Saguntum (Sagunto), Valentia (Valencia), Carthago Nova (Cartagena), Segobriga (Cerro de Cabeza del Griego, Saelices), and Bracara Augusta (Braga), the introductory and concluding chapters make the volume particularly effective. These place the various examples of urban development firmly within their historical context, taking account of both the indigenous cultural framework within which these towns were founded and the political changes engendered by the growth in Roman power that gave impetus to their development.

In the opening chapter, the three coeditors sketch the geographic and ethnic diversity of this, the largest province in the Roman empire (not “one of the largest” [9]), and then trace briefly the history of Rome’s military interventions in the area and the administrative reorganization of the province from Augustus onward. The concluding chapter by Keay (223–37) then significantly enhances the value of the preceding essays by exploring how they contribute more broadly to our understanding of Rome’s impact on provincial landscapes. Four themes are given particular prominence: the cultural context of urban foundations; the degree of Italic and Roman influence on the layout and character of towns; the role of local elites and Roman patrons in the development of towns; and the relationship of towns to their hinterlands. Of these themes, only the fourth receives relatively short shrift.

The sheer size of Hispania Tarraconensis creates a potential problem for any overarching synthesis. How does one choose examples to represent the great diversity of local landscapes and cultural milieus to be found in a province covering some 350,000 km 2 and including such varied landscapes as the Mediterranean littoral, the foothills of the Pyrenees, the Ebro and Duero/Douro valleys, the dry central plateau of the southern Meseta (La Mancha), the mountainous uplands of the central sierras, and the damper Atlantic zones of Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia, and that part of Portugal north of the Douro? In general, the editors have made a good selection, and it is particularly gratifying to find alongside many fine contributions by Spanish colleagues a single paper by the Portuguese archaeologist Manuela Martins on the town of Bracara Augusta in northern Portugal (213–22). Most regions are represented, and there is a good balance between larger towns such as the provincial capital Tarraco or Carthago Nova and smaller communities such as Labitolosa in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The latter was a civitas stipendiaria not worthy of mention by Pliny in Book 3 of his Natural History, but the discovery in 1994 of a pedestal set up in the local senate house to honor the Genius of the municipium Labitulosanum (L’Année Épigraphique [AE] 1995, 892 = Hispania Epigraphica [HEp] 6, 600; here = fig. 11.5, 155) now proves that it was promoted to municipium probably in the Flavian period. One might have expected contributions on the important conventus center (i.e., juridical assize center) of Caesaraugusta (modern Zaragoza), a colony founded for veterans of Augustus’ Cantabrian and Asturian wars ca. 25 B.C.E. (F. Beltrán Lloris, ed., Zaragoza: Colonia Caesar Augusta [Rome 2007]), or something on the colony of Barcino (Barcelona), where important archaeological work has taken place in the last 20 years in the heart of the modern city (J. Beltrán de Heredia Bercero, ed., De Barcino a Barcinona (siglos I–VII) [Barcelona 2001]). But this is more than compensated by important new material presented here about towns such as Saguntum (63–74), Valentia (75–90), Lucentum (105–17), Ilici and Ilunum (118–32), and Segobriga (184–96), and various smaller communities in northern Catalunya (44–62), in the foothills of the Pyrenees (146–58), and in central Celtiberia (159–71).

The relationship between the military history of the province and its urban development is examined in contributions on Numantia (Jimeno [172–83]) and Asturica Augusta (Astorga) and Legio VII Gemina (León) (Morillo Cerdán [197–211]). The former, the proud center of Celtiberian resistance to Rome in the mid second century B.C.E., saw its urban development halted following its destruction by Scipio Aemilianus in 133 B.C.E. It continued to be an inhabited center throughout the Late Republic and Imperial period, but it never developed typically Roman urban features such as a central forum with temples and administrative buildings. Jimeno’s brief discussion of Schulten’s interpretation of the Roman camps and circumvallation relating to Scipio Aemilianus’ siege needs now to be read alongside Luik, Die Funde aus den römischen Lagern um Numantia im Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseum (Mainz 2002); Dobson, The Army of the Roman Republic: The Second Century B.C., Polybius and the Camps at Numantia, Spain (Oxford 2008); and Morales Hernández and Dobson, MM 46 (2005) 104–11. Morillo’s chapter summarizes the striking progress made during the last 15 years in clarifying the history of the Roman military occupation of northwest Spain. Asturica, which became one of the seven juridical conventus centers of the province, traced its origins to the presence here of an Augustan military camp, which became the base of the Legio X Gemina. León, long known as the camp of the Legio VII Gemina, which from the Flavian period onward was the sole Roman legion on the Iberian peninsula, had two earlier camps located on the same site, with decisive evidence that the Legio VI Victrix was based here from the Augustan period until its departure in 70 for Germania Inferior and its new base at Novaesium (Neuss).

Some contributions address the stated themes of the volume more closely than others; not surprisingly, a coeditor’s chapter (by Ramallo) on Carthago Nova follows them to the letter, while others touch on them more tangentially. The chapter on Greek Emporion and its relationship to Roman Republican Emporiae, for instance (19–31), or that on the towns of the Balearic Islands, especially Pollentia (133–45). This unevenness, and the fact that the volume lacks an index, makes Keay’s masterly concluding synthesis even more important.

Some themes are central to our understanding of the history of Republican and Early Imperial Hispania. The collection makes it clear that the development of towns following the arrival of Roman armies in 218 B.C.E. was heavily affected by diverse preexisting cultural patterns in what eventually became the Roman province of Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis. The many native hilltop settlements found across the entire region—some large, like the Celtiberian center Numantia or Iberian Azaila, but the vast majority much smaller and more localized in their horizons—need to be considered alongside the small number of coastal settlements established by immigrants from farther east (e.g., the Phocaean Greek trading post at Emporion or Punic New Carthage) and those military and eventually civilian sites that owed their origin to the Roman military presence. An instance of the latter is the Roman military base at the highest point of Tarraco that overlooked an Iberian oppidum (perhaps Cissis/Kese, which issued silver and bronze coinage during the second and first centuries B.C.E.), located in what became the forum and theater of the Colonia Iulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco, as Ruiz de Arbulo shows in his “Iberian reading” of the eventual Roman provincial capital of Hispania Tarraconensis (33–43); for its later urban development, see Dupré Raventós, ed., Tarragona: Colonia Iulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco (Rome 2004). In his contribution on New Carthage (91–104), Ramallo argues for the continuing importance of its Punic foundation throughout the Republican period, not least since the town’s original Punic layout conditioned the later Roman plan.

Much urban development was due to the initiatives of local elites, who had most to gain politically and socially from establishing a clear and loyal relationship with Rome’s political leaders, illustrated most of all in the chapter on Segobriga (185–96), which continues to provide exciting new archaeological and epigraphic discoveries (J.M. Abascal et al., Segobriga 2007 [Madrid 2008]; J.M. Abascal et al., ZPE 161 [2007] 47–60). But developments were distinctly piecemeal and localized; there was no global, unidirectional process of evolution. Competing pro- and anti-Roman loyalties stimulated varying responses at different moments of the conquest process. Violent revolt and resistance followed periods of accommodation. Contributions in this volume rightly emphasize local and contingent factors, arguing against any unilateral process of change. Nicholas Purcell has recently stressed the important role played in the provinces in the Late Republic by conventus civium Romanorum (formal associations of Roman citizens), not least for laying the foundations of subsequent urban developments (e.g., in K. Galinsky, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus [Cambridge 2005] ch. 4). In the Ebro Valley, a mosaic inscription, dating to the last quarter of the second (or start of the first) century B.C.E., from a bath building at the small community of La Cabañeta (province of Teruel) shows that it was set up by freedmen magistri of a conventus civium Romanorum (AE 2001, 1237 = HEp 11, 621). Groups of immigrant Romans and Italians were crucial in shaping change at the local level in the late second and first centuries B.C.E.

The reign of Augustus rightly emerges as a significant watershed, when a major reorganization began, to define more clearly the territorial limits of each of the province’s communities (civitates), a process crucial to the effectiveness of Roman administration. This was not complete by the time of Augustus’ death, but the broad framework had already been established. In particular, it required the creation of new towns or the development of existing centers, equipped with monumental centers where local elites could demonstrate their loyalty to Rome by adopting Roman architectural styles, Roman practices of self-representation, and a Roman lifestyle, especially in those towns granted privileged status either as colonies of Roman citizens or as municipia with Latin rights of citizenship. Even though much developmental impetus came from local elites, this collection reminds us of the roles played by powerful Romans in concert with such local elites: M. Agrippa was patron of New Carthage and Emporiae; Cn. Domitius Calvinus, proconsul in Hispania from 39 to 36 B.C.E., was patron of Tarraco; T. Statilius Taurus, proconsul in Hispania Citerior in 29–28 B.C.E., was patron of Ilici (119–21, fig. 9.4 = CIL 2 3556). Recently discovered pedestals from the forum at Segobriga (191) reveal that Augustus’ personal scribe (scriba), M. Porcius M.f., and later M. Licinius Crassus Frugi, the father-in-law of Claudius’ daughter Antonia, were patrons at Segobriga. Such patrons often helped by providing financial assistance, skilled personnel, and/or materials for the construction and embellishment of developing urban centers.

Our knowledge of much of this is derived from epigraphy, and the volume rightly places considerable emphasis on inscriptions (both long known and recently discovered). Few regions of the empire have turned up so many valuable inscriptions in the last 25 years. Several from Tarraconensis are discussed here, and some are illustrated, although it is a shame that references to standard epigraphic repertories such as LAnnée Épigraphique and Hispania Epigraphica are lacking. Among recent discoveries, pride of place must go to the bronze plaque from Ilici (La Alcudia de Elche, province of Alicante) that records the distribution of centuriated land to 10 Roman settlers, possibly veterans, at the Colonia Iulia Ilici Augusta in the Augustan period (121, fig. 9.5 = AE 1999, 960 = HEp 9, 27). The origins of these colonists are of particular interest, with two drawn from Italy (Praeneste and Vibo), four from Baetica (Ulia, Malaca, Corduba, and Aurelia Carissa), one from the Balearics (if “Balearicus” is an ethnic rather than a more generic geographical cognomen), and three from Icosium in Mauretania, a community formally defined as “contributory” to Ilici (Plin. HN 3.19). Much remains to be said about this important cadastral document (see the poster by O. Olesti and X. Espluga at the 13th International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy, Oxford, September 2007), but it and the many other inscriptions noted in this volume help breathe life and restore some important human activity into the excavated townscapes of Hispania Tarraconensis.

Jonathan Edmondson
Department of History
York University
Ontario M3J 1P3

Book Review of Early Roman Towns in Hispania Tarraconensis, edited by L. Abad Casal, S. Keay, and S. Ramallo Asensio

Reviewed by Jonathan Edmondson

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 113, No. 2 (April 2009)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1132.Edmondson

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