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Cities of ancient Romans

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Imperial forums in Rome
Imperial forums in Rome

Roman cities that arose along with the development of the empire were characterized by a specific location resulting from economic premises. As a result of these location rules, it is believed that Roman cities were primarily consumer centres where goods were traded. However, in many cases the location of Roman cities did not coincide with already existing and favourably located settlements. This was due to some characteristics of the urban layout of the Roman city. This arrangement can be seen in preserved cities like Pompeii or Herculaneum.

Roman elites believed that wild peoples such as Germans live in villages and mainly deal with the gathering and breeding of animals. Civilized peoples are those who deal with farming, and have centres in cities. However, an important element of Roman cities were not only market squares but temples and theatres, and in larger cities; amphitheatres, baths and even triumphal arches. This means that Roman cities could not fulfil only an economic and admiration task. In fact, it was the cultural public buildings that formed the distinctive Roman urban layout and society that consisted not only of the Romans but also of civilized peoples. Such a policy contributed to the assimilation of conquered tribes. Their elites abandoned their habits in favour of Roman culture.

One of the interesting habits that were later constituted by Octavian Augustus was Lex Julia Theatralis which governed the representation of the elite. Illustratively, the regulation on seating in theatres and amphitheatres can be cited. In some cases, women were excluded from the performances. A special dress code was in force that signalled the position in local society. Thus, Roman cities were not only economic centres but also important centres for the assimilation of the conquered peoples and their romanization, which significantly accelerated the conquests of the Roman Empire.

Author: Andrzej Głuchowski
  • Ed. H. Parkins, Taylor & Francis, Roman Urbanism: Beyond the Consumer City, 2005 str. 21-41.

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