When And Why Does The ancient City

When And Why Does The ?ancient City? Come To An End Essay, Research Paper

The Ancient City was more than a

cluster of classical buildings.? If we

were to define an Ancient City we would undoubtedly mention the public

buildings, the civic monuments, the theatres, the temples and the colonnaded

streets.? However the term Ancient City

has a deeper meaning.? In our definition

we must also state that the classical cities were run by the curiale classes on

councils, and that ancient cities were essentially self-governed. Historians see

the Ancient City in its political and cultural context as well as its

aesthetic-architectural one.? As

Liebeschetz states, it was the political institutions, the entertainments, the

arts and the festivals that helped unite social groups within these cities.? So, when analysing the ending of Ancient

Cities we must look at the physical changes, but also the political, social and

cultural ones.There are a number of problems

that we encounter when dating the ending of the Ancient City.? Ancient Cities developed where the Roman

Empire developed and it would be overly simplistic to think that the Roman

cities in the Eastern Provinces and those in the Western provinces ended at the

same time.? More fundamentally we must

ask what we mean by the ending of an Ancient City. Different definitions will

certainly bring differing dates. The remains of Ancient Cities co-existed with

the new forms of cities for centuries.?

Indeed many buildings from the Ancient City were converted or simply

abandoned.? It is wiser therefore to

talk of the ending of the political and cultural characteristics.? Clearly no precise date will fit all cities,

but by the end of the 6th century, and certainly at the start of 7th

century, we can say that most Ancient Cities had ended.? By this point many cities in the Balkans,

such as Stobbi, Nicpolis and Phillioopopolis had few signs of urban life at

all.? A more common consequence seems to

be the fortification of a much contracted city area. This is seen to some

extent in Rome and Constantinople.? Most

importantly, and perhaps most consistently, we see that very few curiales, or

councils, survived into the 7th century.? There is evidence of curiale activity in 590, but this was by no

means the norm.? These dates are

necessarily vague.? The geographical

range of cities and the less than easy to measure criteria make it impossible

to give a more precise date, but we can say that by this period very few cities

could be labelled as ?Ancient?.Traditionally a large amount of

blame for the ending of the Ancient Cities has been apportioned on a series of

damaging events.? Many of these events

occurred in 6th century. Serious outbreaks of plague, invasions,

wars, swarms of locusts and earthquakes afflicted many Ancient Cities, but

especially those in the East.? According

to C. Mango the plague of 542 had severe demographic consequences.? He cites the facts that the plague mainly

affected the young and that it recurred roughly every fifteen years.??? Famine was also common in this

period.? A temporary food shortage was

bearable, but any prolonged shortage was disastrous.? Poor infrastructure meant that agricultural surpluses from

elsewhere could not be imported to alleviate the shortages.? At the peak of the famine in Edessa it is

thought that 180 people a day died of starvation.? Mango believes that the increased price of wheat and the ensuing

inflation that followed famines were a major reasons for urban to rural

migration.? The effect of sacking and

invasions seems even more pronounced.?

Sirmium, once an imperial capital never recovered after a Hunnic sack,

and was completely deserted after an Avar invasion in 582.? It would be overly simplistic to suggest

that these were primary reasons for the ending of ancient cities.? Yes, these factors may have hastened the

fall of the ancient cities, but as we shall see more structural changes had

been transforming cities well before the 6th century. The curial led

self-administration of ancient cities was a central Graeco-Roman

characteristic.? Curiales, or decursions,

were usually landowners who were given the responsibility of administering the

city.? In the first three centuries this

civic responsibility was seen as an honour.?

Curiales competed for status within the city by donating money for civic

buildings and decoration, and on a higher level a city?s status was highlighted

by the quantity and quality of its civil buildings.? However, the responsibilities of curiales became increasingly

burdensome.? As early as the 4th

century we see curiales bemoaning the pressures placed on them from the

imperial authorities.? The burden of

collecting tax was increased as the imperial government requested more and more

revenue for its enlarged bureaucracy and continued war campaigning.? The curiale classes were not only forced to

collect more revenue, but on a personal level it has been suggested that they

had to relinquish up to one third of their income.? For most the financial pressures became too much.? Many escaped into the increasingly large

imperial service.? The imperial service

had many advantageous perks including virtual tax immunity.? A large number joined the clergy as a way of

evading their duties.? Some even turned

to an ascetic life and renounced their property.? Curial positions were taken by the less well off. ?They lacked the resources to maintain

existing civic buildings let alone create new ones.? The weakening of the education system also damaged the curial

order.? The education system was

severely damaged by the imperial and local persecution of Pagans.? Mango suggests that by the end of the 6th

century higher education survived only in Constantinople, Alexandria and

Berytus.? Indeed by 726 a contemporary

source noted the ?extinction of schools?. This is hardly reflective of a

continuing literary tradition. Many of the landowning elite

moved away to the countryside.? The

ruralization of the powerful elites is often cited as a reason for the end of

the Ancient City.? A classical city

could hardly survive without its richest and most educated citizens.? Late Roman aristocrats certainly spent time

in their villas and by the 5th century landowners were able to

fortify their lands.? The case of

Ecdicius using his army to resist the Visogths in 471 is a case in point. The

decline in the literary tradition of the cities will have aided this move to

the countryside.? Similarly the

imposition of the collegia, or tax on craftsmen, may have caused a migration of

artisans from town to country.?

Archaeological evidence shows that villages themselves were becoming

increasingly fortified.? However it is

difficult to distinguish between the pull factors of the rural monasteries and

the push factors of the falling cities.?

There is little empirical evidence of a large increase in the rural

population and we can question the extent of this ruralization. The large-scale

church building in the 5th and 6th centuries was funded

by donations from benefactors, and it would seem highly unlikely that elites

living outside the city would fund such status giving monuments.? We cannot accurately judge the level of

ruralization in this period, but we can say that the dynamic between the

countryside and the urban centres had changed.?

Liebschuetz uses the decline in the Roman tax system and the fact that

the imperial army increasingly recruited from the peasantry as the basis for

suggesting that the integration of urban centre and surrounding territory had

ended.? He also suggests that this

relationship was ?the principle character? of the ancient city. This statement

is questionable and as we have seen previously we can also doubt the level of

breakdown between city and countryside, especially in the east where we

continue to see agricultural markets throughout the period.The Christianisation and

Islamicisation of the Roman Empire were major factors in the transformation of

Ancient Cities.? We see from the period

of church-building in late 5th and 6th centuries, notably

in Trier and Cologne, that urban cities had become dominantly Christian

especially in the West.? Indeed the 4th

and 5th centuries saw the closing of many pagan temples.? The cultural landscape had changed which in

turn changed the physical landscape.?

Rich benefactors were now cajoled into donating money for orphanages,

monasteries, old people?s homes and of course churches. In the ancient city

civic identity was expressed through the medium of building and decoration, but

in the Christian city civic identity was expressed through the cults of

saints.? For example the city of

Seleukia used the cult of St. Thelka to famines of c 500 to assert its identity

vociferously.? The change in emphasis

from secular to religious civil pride highlights the administrative role that

the church played.? The bishop, and his

clergy, took on the role of administering the towns after the demise of the

curiale classes.? In many cases the

church acted out a role as a social security system by redistributing wealth

from the elites to the poor. The Christianisation of urban life also led to a

decline in the activities that bonded urban Roman society.? The church viewed classic features of the

ancient city suspiciously.? It frowned

on the theatre and the hippodrome.? This

aversion to public entertainment can be viewed as a purely theological

phenomenon, or, more cynically, as an attempt to lure the masses into the

cities? increasingly large numbers of churches.? The impact of the growth of Islam

in the east was equally profound.?

Kennedy, whilst telling us of the significant architectural impact of

Islam in the east, also shows us the political and social effects.? The construction of mosques clearly changed

the physical landscape, but he points out that the Mosques took on a political

and social function too.? Mosques can be

seen as an equivalent to the hippodromes or theatres of the classic city.? The religious function of the mosque was

complemented by educational and legal functions.? We see other facets of Islam affecting the physical appearance of

eastern cities.? The home and the family

are fundamental to Islam and this was reflected in their usage of public

space.? Public space in the classical

city was dependent on the relevant civic authorities having the power to stop

encroachment, but the Islamic state was more minimalist than its Roman

counterpart.? Thus we see the erosion of

public space as families built their houses on or indeed in, public space.? The Muslim attitude to commerce also had an

effect on the appearance of eastern cities.?

The Roman attitude to commercial activity was neutral at best, but the

Muslims saw honest commercial activity as more meritorious than civil or

governmental work.? This change in

emphasis saw the development of suqs, or narrow alleys ideally suited for an

abundance of retail outlets, at the expense of the classic colonnaded

streets.? These cultural changes had direct

and profound physical effects, which were intertwined with political, social

and economic changes. It is worthwhile to note that,

while we see a change in urban cities away from Ancient models, it would be

wrong to suggest that we see a universal decline in cities.? Yes, many cities did decline in terms of

population and size.? As we have seen

many cities contracted and fortified around a much-reduced base, whilst others

disappeared all together.? Older

historians have suggested that the transformation of cities away from the

classic ideal has represented a decline.?

They cite a decline from the classical ideal to urban squalor in the

newly Islamicised cities.? These loaded

statements go beyond the scope of the historian by adding value arguments to an

already complex field.? Such arguments

gloss over more important aspects of urban change.? For example, the cities of Damascus and Aleppo were undoubtedly

transformed from classical cities into vibrant Islamic cities.? More old-fashioned historians would call

this a decline, but evidence suggests that urban vitality actually increased as

a result of the Islamicisation.? When

approaching this area we must be careful not to let value judgements cloud our

interpretation and analysis.We have seen that localised

events, socio-economic processes and cultural changes contributed to the demise

of the ancient cities.? By over

estimating the effect of the 6th century disasters we construct an

overly simplistic argument.? Some cities

did indeed succumb to invasion and maybe even plague, but the majority

survived.? However these cities were no

longer ancient.? The flight of the

curiales, the ruralization of the elites, the decline in education and the new

cultures of Christianity, and in the later period Islam, had been changing the

cities for centuries.? The

transformation of cities, not the decline, was long and slow.? Our study shows us that this transformation,

whilst ending a great classical tradition, was regenerative as well as



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