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Provinces over the years

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Terra Sigillata
Terra Sigillata, i.e. stamped clay. Made in Italy, Gaul and on the Rhine.

One of the compelling reasons for Roman supremacy in antiquity was the large-scale conquest and provinces of new lands. The concept of a province is derived from the Latin provincia, i.e. the responsibilities of the governor in charge of the new territory.

Over the years, the approach of the Romans to the provinces changed. Initially, there was great exploitation and immoderation in the use of the riches of the new lands, starting with the capture of the first province of Sicily in 241 BCE. Exploitation has increased over time.

The year 146 BCE was full of important events – on the one hand, the 3rd Punic War ended and Carthage on the other hand Greece was subjugated and Corinth was destroyed. Rome has thus become the true master of the Mediterranean world. No wonder the Romans quickly began to abuse their gains. Hellenization was progressing and with it luxury, luxury and splendor, which was opposed even by Cato the Elder. However, it did not help much, because the above-mentioned phenomena progressed, which entailed high maintenance costs. The costs to be covered by the exploitation of the provinces mentioned.

The exploitation of the provinces was immoderate and disastrous in its consequences, because the exploited areas had no chance for development. The governors stripped money from the territories they ruled shamelessly because they were aware of their impunity. This is evidenced by ancient testimonies that “only a poor senator could be condemned”.

The situation was made even worse by Gaius Gracchus. The provincial question served as a bone of contention for him, which he wanted to lay between the equites and senators. During his people’s tribunal in 123 BCE Gaius rendered tribunals de repetundis to equites, that is, tribunals concerning abuses in the provinces. This meant that the senators no longer had impunity, they had to take into account the verdict of equites. The exploitation of the provinces deepened – the inhabitants now had to worry not only about equite publishers and senatorial governors (in the Asian province, even the governors were equite governors, also on the initiative of Grakch, carried out for the same reason, i.e. the desire to quarrel equites and senators), but also equite judges judging abuse. These three groups often required bribes and buying into favors, which did not ease the already tragic situation of the provinces.

The abuse did not end until the rule of Julius Caesar. He was a skilled observer, and long before assuming his dictatorship, he had noticed how unwise his compatriots’ approach to exploiting the provinces was. One of Caesar’s first decisions after taking power in the state was precisely to solve this burning issue – uncontrolled and pointless exploitation was normalized and turned into a deliberate use of natural resources.

This approach was developed during the principate years – the words Tiberius instructed the governors that “It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them”. Thanks to this approach, the provinces could eventually develop and, over time, constitute serious competition for Italy itself. The province of Egypt, for example, became the “granary of Rome” and it was so fertile that it was an ideal place to establish an independent state, separate from Rome.

It was precisely because of its importance that Egypt was the personal domain of the emperors. During the time of Nero, this province provided as much as 1/3 of Roman grain. In turn, metallurgy and oil production developed in Spain. In Gaul, on the other hand, the famous terra sigillata ceramics were created and an effective Gallo-Roman economy developed, with a strong emphasis on metallurgy carried out with the support of Celtic teachings. Another sign of the outstanding development of the province can also be the order Domitian, who ordered the destruction of half of the vineyards outside Italy, because the provinces dominated the wine sector, which was unbearable for conservatives. An interesting development given that these “competing grounds” 2 centuries earlier had been shattered by the unbridled exploitation of unwise officials and had no prospects for the future.

Author: Juliusz Rakowski (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Maria Jaczynowska, Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 1978
  • Swetoniusz, Żywoty cezarów, tłum. Janina Niemirska-Pliszczyńska, Wydawnictwo Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1987

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