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C h a p t e r 3 The Individual in the City We have seen that criticism of the historiographical model of civic religion was in part indebted to a dated vision of the city and its supposed decline in the fourth century bce. I have argued briefly that city-­ states continued throughout antiquity to constitute the material and legal framework for the life of individuals, in both the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. I described the different types of city known under the Roman Empire and underlined that a city possessed a territory that might include dependent villages: it is the ensemble of this little state that formed the city-­ state. The city-­ states of the Roman Empire largely administered themselves, and there can be no question of imagining that Roman power somehow directed everything . Had it wanted to do this, its material and human resources would never have sufficed to the task. The Romans, which is to say, Roman promagistrates, governed the provinces at a very abstract level, by collecting taxes and maintaining the peace, making war, and holding assize courts. All the rest fell to the supervision of the city-­ states and their citizens. What Was the Place of the Individual in the City? The first general remark that one can make is that, after the defeat at Chaeronea in 388 bce, after the creation of the Hellenistic monarchies, and after the conquest of the civilized world by the Romans, individuals remained integrated in a sufficiently dense network of occupations, responsibilities, and duties and did not become bored and seek refuge in individualist preoccupations The Individual in the City 33 and contemplation of the absolute. They could be magistrates or local officials and participate in one way or another in the administration of their city, of the provinces, or of the empire, according to their personal status. For many, Roman power could be distant, and they would find on the spot a strong and effective power, that of their city, which needed them—­ and to exercise this power through magistracies, there was, in fact, competition. Members of the elites competed with each other to hold office. Among Roman citizens, some rose progressively to equestrian rank and so belonged to a Roman aristocracy spread throughout Italy and the provinces. This aristocracy furnished judges for tribunals at Rome and one portion of the high administrative offices of the empire. Some equestrians achieved a senatorial career, if they had the necessary connections to have themselves chosen by their peers to fulfill one of the magistracies at Rome and then be chosen by the Senate and emperor for a post as governor of a province or commander of an army. The situation was indeed different than daily life had been in the archaic and classical worlds, when day-­ to-­ day power was exercised in small city-­ states. To be sure, some lamented with nostalgia the passage of this age in the history of the city, as we regret the lost villages and small towns of yesteryear. But I do not believe that the inhabitants of the empire suffered in consequence of this evolution. On the contrary, I think the majority lived their relationship to power in a strongly traditional way, in relatively small city-­ states. This is actually a false problem. The city of Rome, which was extraordinarily large and complex, posed a problem that recurred in a few great metropolises of the empire: Carthage, Antioch, Alexandria. But one cannot situate Rome in hermeneutic relation to the rest of the world. At the provincial level, where Rome controlled only the upper echelon of power and justice, daily life resembled life in the past. Only in capital cases was jurisdiction reserved to the governor and, in certain cases, it could come about that even this power was delegated. For the rest, power was local, which means that the life of individuals did not change much compared with earlier eras. In the past, the autonomy of city-­ states depended on the goodwill of their neighbors and their own military power. Under Rome, the autonomy of city-­ states was protected by Rome and by its troops. This may have been less exciting, as individuals knew the next conflict in local politics was profoundly unlikely to change their life but, in totality, city-­ states realized more advantages than disadvantages, even if educated persons like Plutarch or Pausanias mourned the loss of some absolute 34 Chapter 3 freedom. But had such freedom existed even in the...


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