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Reviewed by:
  • Late Roman Spain and its Cities
  • John Richardson
Late Roman Spain and its Cities. By Michael Kulikowski. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2004. Pp. xxii, 489. $55.00.)

Kulikowski's interesting new study brings together two themes that have occupied the attention of historians of late antiquity and the Iberian peninsula over the past quarter-century: the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the west, and the appearance, development, and change of urban settlements. His earlier chapters present a coherent account of the growth and flourishing of the cities of the three Augustan provinces of Tarraconensis, Baetica, and Lusitania, seen most notably in the capital cities of the provinces, Tarragona, Córdoba, and Mérida, but by no means confined to those three. He traces the remarkable explosion of public building in many parts of the peninsula which followed the grant of the Latin right (ius Latii) to Spain in the Flavian period and the evidence for the activity of the local notables who constituted the ruling curiae of the cities, a number of whom also pursued political and military careers in Rome and the wider empire. The life of these communities is displayed with acumen and nuance, taking due regard for regional variation, though some evidence which would have further helped his picture is neglected (for instance, the fragment of the Vergilius orator an poeta?, attributed to Florus, which gives an insight into the cultural life of Tarragona in the early second century). He argues, surely rightly, that there is no evidence for the widespread destruction and decline of the third century which used to be asserted, especially by Spanish historians, but he is perhaps too inclined to insist on the novelty of this re-interpretation (see, for example, J. Arce in Hispania Antiqua, 8 [1978], 257–269). His evidence shows, however, that, although the construction of large-scale public works was no longer undertaken, a substantial and economically active population was still present in most cities.

In chapters 4 to 6, Kulikowski uses this picture of a Spain of many still-flourishing cities as the background for the reforms of the provinces executed by the emperor Diocletian. He suggests that the extension of the new diocesis Hispaniarum, made up of five rather than the previous three peninsular provinces, to incorporate Mauretania Tingitana on the southern side of the Straits of Gibraltar, was designed to provide the African frontier with a hinterland which could provide supplies and military reinforcement when needed. Whether or not so developed a strategy was intended by Diocletian, it is clear that there [End Page 271] had been a level of interdependence between Roman forces in southern Spain and Mauretania since the late second century, and the grouping of Tingitana with the Hispanic provinces (as seen in a number of inscriptions: ILS 1353, 1354, and 1354a). The changes internal to the peninsula led to consequential alterations to the cities, and Kulikowski makes a good case for an influx of wealth to Mérida, the capital of the new diocesis, and for the draining of the civic energy to be seen in Córdoba being the result of the construction of the palatial building at Cercadilla, perhaps constructed for the emperor Maximian but surely used, as Kulikowski suggests, for the administration of the province of Baetica. He also provides a good account of the large-scale rural villas which were built in various parts of Spain in the fourth century, insisting, surely rightly, that these did not represent a wholesale flight from the cities but rather the desire of the rich and the super-rich to live in the countryside, while exploiting more fully its agricultural resources. He points out that the cities, while no longer functioning in precisely the way they had before (hence the decay of some public buildings, in particular the theaters), nonetheless remained active centers of population which articulated the administration of the areas in which they were situated.

It has been traditional to see the invasion of Spain by the war-bands of Alans, Suevi, and Vandals in 409 as the effective end of Roman control of the peninsula. Kulikowski believes that it remained part of...


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