restricted access Seven: A Landscape Transformed
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SEVEN A LANDSCAPE TRANSFORMED Cities THE LANDSCAPE of high imperial Palestine was dominated by the pagan city. It was there that wealth was concentrated, and there that patterns of expenditure generated by the Greco-Roman ideology of euergetism resulted in the production of monumental structures and public writing.1 These were rare outside the city, but where they existed they were unambiguously derived from urban models—bathhouses and basilicas, marked with inscriptions in Greek. In Syria, large villages had long been important, and in the high empire, many aspired to be cities of the standard Greco-Roman type.2 Smaller villages on the whole lacked monumental construction and public writing, except occasionally for monumental grave complexes. By the fifth and sixth centuries, the landscape had been transformed. The cities remained important; indeed, some of them grew. Aelia Capitolina, a backwater in the high empire, became, as Christian Jerusalem, a metropolis with a population estimated at 50,000–80,000. Negligible desert settlements, such as Sobata, Mampsis, and Nessana, grew and some of even became cities—small (Elusa, the largest of the Negev settlements and the only one among them that was unambiguously a city, is thought to have had a population of about 10,000) and chaotically laid out, but cities all the same. Jerusalem and the Negev cities were unquestionably anomalous. The tremendous growth of the former was obviously due to its importance in Christian theology; it was second only to Constantinople as an ecclesiastical center. The growth of the Negev cities is more problematic: recent surveys show that the northern Negev as a whole was surprisingly densely inhabited in the fifth and sixth centuries, and probably later. The well-known sites were all surrounded by villages and farmsteads, and winepresses are extremely common. The area as a whole is comparable to the limestone massif of northern Syria, another agriculturally marginal region that flourished under the later Roman Empire at a time when the density of population in adjacent, rainier areas was at its maximum.3 The presence at Nessana, which was perhaps no more 1 See G. Woolf, “The Roman Urbanization of the East,” in S. Alcock, ed., The Early Roman Empire in the East (Oxford: Oxbow, 1997), pp. 1–14. 2 See Millar, Roman Near East, pp. 17–23. 3 See G. Tate, Les campagnes de la Syrie du Nord I, Institut français d’archéologie du procheorient , Bibliothèque archéologique et historique 133 (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1992). 204 C H A P T E R S E V E N than a village, of a caravansarai with ninety-six beds suggests something about the role of a possibly expanding commerce in the growth of the region.4 It may at least be suggested that cultural changes (e.g., the sedentarization of desert tribes perhaps connected to their christianization) played a role, too.5 Evidence for the growth of other Palestinian cities is more ambiguous: the walls of Caesarea and apparently Tiberias were extended, some formerly uninhabited districts of Scythopolis and Sepphoris became residential, and so on. But the consensual view that on the whole the urban population of Palestine increased in the late empire, an aspect of a general increase in population, seems entirely plausible.6 Less controversial is the transformation in character and physical appearance of the cities: where they had once been pagan in appearance, they were now Christian, though in many places older structures continued to be maintained and used. The Palestinian cities thus participated in changes that occurred throughout the eastern empire. Pagan temples were destroyed or turned into churches, theaters and amphitheaters fell into ruin or were filled in with market stalls or private houses, agorai and other public spaces became cramped bazaars and residential districts.7 Monumental construction certainly did not cease and was not restricted to churches. The Tiberians built a new bathhouse in the fourth century, and the Sepphorites built lavishly decorated public buildings and a classical-style colonnaded street in the fifth.8 But in general there was massively more public expenditure on religious buildings, and, conversely, much less expenditure on other types of public buildings than there had been previously.9 Though some of the Palestinian cities were notorious, at least among church fathers, for their resistance to Christianity—Gaza, Raphia, and Petra because of their inveterate paganism, and Tiberias and Sepphoris because of 4 See C. J. Kraemer Jr., Excavations at Nessana, vol. 3, Non-Literary Papyri (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958), no...


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