Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.11.11

Géza Alföldy, Provincia Hispania Superior. Philosophisch-historische Klasse der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften.   Heidelberg:  Carl Winter, 2000.  Pp. 79.  ISBN 3-8253-1009-4.  



Reviewed by Michael Kulikowski, Smith College (mkulikow@smith.edu)
Word count: 926 words

In the course of excavations at Lavinium in the mid-1990s, excavators discovered a statue base with a dedicatory inscription to C. Servilius Diodorus, put up by his wife Egnatia Salviana on 7 September 227, and giving the honoree's cursus honorum to that point: Caio Servilio Qurina Diodoro, viro egregio, procuratori ducenario provinciarum Hispaniarum citerioris et superioris, etc. The highest office he had yet held, therefore, was the procuratorship of Hispania superior. This province, however, is not otherwise attested, though it has long been known that Caracalla did experiment with the administrative structure of northern Spain. The explication of Hispania superior is the main task which Géza Alföldy sets himself in the present book, and one cannot imagine an author better qualified to do so. His knowledge of Spanish inscriptions is genuinely unparalleled among living authors, and he has done more than any other author to demonstrate how far epigraphy can substitute for the deficit of literary sources which befalls Spain after the late Republican period.

In the present book, Alföldy asks us to take certain things on faith: he suggests that Diodorus went directly from the financial procuratorship of Hispania Citerior to a praesidial procuratorship in Hispania Superior, and that it was this transfer which prompted Egnatia Salviana, who had not accompanied her husband to Spain, to put up a statue honouring his achievement. That reconstruction is speculative, but it allows Alföldy to turn rapidly to the substance of his enquiry, the shape and the history of the new Spanish province. In his view -- and he is almost certainly right -- the historical circumstances are fairly simple. Our newly-attested Hispania Superior must be the same province as the Hispania Nova Citerior Antoniniana attested in two famous inscriptions (CIL 2: 2661 and 2: 5680) as having been created by Caracalla during his sole reign, which is to say, between 211 and 217. Alföldy rejects any automatic link between this reform and the divisions of Pannonia and Britain dateable to 214, but suspects that P. Plotius Romanus, legatus Augusti censibus accipiendis Hispaniae citerioris (CIL 6: 332), was charged with making the census of the new province shortly after 214.

Alföldy finds the question of where precisely the province lay rather more interesting. The traditional approach has always been to see the Nova Provincia as consisting of the three northwestern conventus of Lucus, Bracara and Asturica. This cannot be correct since it is clear that, in 218, Legio -- and thus the conventus of Asturica -- continued to belong to that part of Citerior which was administered from Tarraco (see AE 1957: 161). If Asturica remained part of the old Citerior, then we are left with the conventus of Lucus and Bracara as the basis of the new province, a hypothesis strengthened by the fact that in 238 Hispania Citerior and Gallaecia were separate provinces (CIL 6: 41229). To make the equation Nova Provincia Antoniniana = Hispania Superior = Gallaecia requires no great imaginative leap.

Alföldy offers various possibilities to explain the nomenclature, and he is probably right to think that Hispania Superior and Gallaecia were two separate abbreviations for the same official title: a provincia Hispania Superior Gallaeciae to parallel the then current provincia Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis and the long obsolete provincia Hispania Ulterior Baetica. He would explain the provincial division in terms of the political history of the Severan age. Severus' own rise to power, and the wars he had fought on his way to the purple, had made very clear the dangers posed by imperial legates in charge of large, armed provinces. Although the military resources of Citerior were hardly equal to those of Syria, Britain, or Pannonia, all of which underwent similar divisions, it is in this context of administrative tinkering that the creation of the new province makes most sense. It also, in Alföldy's view, is the natural consequence of earlier Severan reforms of financial administration in a region which was dotted with imperial mines. Alföldy concludes the book with a chapter on the future of the new province, arguing that it was reincorporated into the old Citerior some time after 238, before the Diocletianic reforms of the 290s once again revolutionized the administrative shape of northern Spain. Here one might raise objections: what Alföldy reads as a definitive reincorporation of the two provinces may have been an extraordinary command over two separate provinces. Diocletian's creation of the new, late-imperial Gallaecia may therefore have rested more directly on Caracalla's foundations than Alföldy suggests, though it must be admitted that we know too little to be anything like sure of this.

This is a short book -- really a long article in approach and conception -- but a very good one. On the other hand, not everyone will be pleased with what we might call Alföldy's 'maximalist' approach to the sources. He squeezes every hint of meaning out of what little evidence we have, and in doing so he frequently travels a very great distance from anything explicitly stated in that evidence. No one has a better presumptive claim to take this approach and, so far as I can tell, no shred of relevant evidence has escaped his notice here. His explanation of Severan administration in northwest Spain is as convincing as any is ever likely to be and his long experience of Hispano-Roman history gives his opinions in these matters great weight. Provincia Hispania Superior should be read with attention but in the certain knowledge that its conclusions are all hypothetical -- at least until another revelatory inscription surfaces to alter them again.

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