Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.04.09

Sabine Panzram, Stadtbild und Elite: Tarraco, Corduba und Augusta Emerita zwischen Republik und Spätantike. Historia Einzelschriften, Heft 161.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2002.  Pp. 388.  ISBN 3-515-08039-2.  EUR 76.00.  

Reviewed by Bertrand Goffaux, Bordeaux (
Word count: 2173 words

Since the end of Franco's dictatorship, the reorganisation of Spanish cultural institutions has allowed huge progress in archaeology and has opened the way for a much-needed reappraisal of the epigraphic documentation. The capital cities of the three Roman provinces provide exemplary evidence for this spectacular evolution: they have been the subject of extensive excavations whose results have been published in several books or articles during the last 25 years. Epigraphy has also been very carefully studied, at least in the cases of Tarraco and Corduba, thanks to the masterly works of G. Alföldy and A.U. Stylow.1 Besides, provincial élites have attracted scholarly attention since G. Alföldy's pioneering work on the provincial flamines of Hispania Citerior, which was recently completed by J.A. Delgado Delgado's studies on priests from Baetica and Lusitania.2 A. Caballos Rufino's work has improved our knowledge of senatorial and equestrian aristocracies from the Hispaniae, and collections of papers devoted to a study of the élites have also been published very recently.3

The aim of this book is to take advantage of this renewal to link changes in the urban image of provincial capitals with what we know of their élites through inscriptions or statuary. This study is based on three dossiers that draw together the evidence for each city and form the core of the work: they are accompanied by a short introduction and a brief conclusion, with bibliography and indexes. Panzram states in her introduction that she wishes to analyse them carefully in order to establish comparisons and to consider the integration of regions within the frame of imperial administration, in order to understand urban change not in terms of apogee and decline but as a mirror for mutations in religion, politics, society or lifestyle. The final aim of these comparisons is to see if the evolution of imperial practice has led to a differentiation or, on the contrary, to a homogenisation in cities.

The book is conceived above all as a juxtaposition of three rigorous monographs on each provincial city: Colonia Iulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco (23-127); Colonia Patricia Corduba (129-225); Colonia Augusta Emerita (227-312). Each section is built on the same chronological plan, dealing successively with the republican era (except in the case of Augusta Emerita, founded by Augustus), the reign of Augustus and his Julio-Claudian successors (27 BC - AD 69), the period from the accession of Vespasian to the death of Hadrian (AD 69-138), the end of the Antonine dynasty (AD 138-192), the period between the accessions of Septimius Severus and Constantine (AD 192-306), and the final four centuries until the Arab conquest of the Iberian peninsula (AD 306-716). Any chronological divisions are founded on choices that can be the subject of debate; in this case, it appears clearly that Panzram's attention has focused on the Principate. Republican times serve mainly as a prelude, because the lack of epigraphical evidence prevents her from drawing the same kind of comparison as under the Empire, while Late Antiquity and Early Medieval times are grouped together within a single period that sounds like a coda. For each city and each period, Panzram systematically presents the changes recorded in every part of town, and the composition of contemporary élites: senators, knights, provincial flamines and local magistrates, with a special attention to their geographical origin and social rank.

First and foremost, the high quality of the work must be put forward: the syntheses draw on an impressive 46-page bibliography, which is up-to-date and takes into account the enormous wealth of material that has been published on the three cities. Panzram's overview is very clear and displays, when needed, the various interpretations, always arguing for what seems in her opinion the most appropriate. She sometimes challenges widely accepted views, most notably readings of the urban image which focus too strictly on Rome as a model (imitatio urbis): she stresses that this conception is partly true, especially in the case of Augusta Emerita, but that it cannot obliterate the high level of local variations in the making of cities.

Each monograph thus comprises a survey of the changing urban image and of the known members of the élite, and its wealth lies within the details of this exposé, which I cannot summarise here. As usual in a German dissertation, this work presents a very clear Zusammenfassung at the end of each chapter and section, which will be practical for readers looking for a detailed synopsis of (parts of) the argument. In general, this study highlights the similarities between the three cities, whose urban landscape was defined during the first century AD and did not change substantially afterwards. But it also emphasises the distinctiveness of Tarraco, which was the only capital with a very clear-cut complex for the provincial imperial cult, where statues of the flamines were put up according to similar prescriptions as in the lex de officiis et honoribus flaminis prouinciae Narbonensis. Tarraco also seems different in the composition of its élite: its society was, as G. Alföldy has already noticed, very open to the aristocracy of provincial towns, something that is, as far as we can see, not the case in Corduba or Augusta Emerita. This fact did not of course prevent the three cities from contributing to a renewal of senatorial and equestrian aristocracies, especially in the case of Corduba; but such a comparison between the composition of the élites is very hard to establish, because of the unequal nature of our evidence.

This global outline certainly does no justice to Panzram's meticulous work, which will be in useful to scholars who might feel lost when confronted with the scattered publications concerning these capital cities, and the ever-changing urban image that results from new excavations. This usefulness is further improved by the complete index to the sources, places and people, and the unequivocal plan. What comes next is not intended to question the value of this book as a reference but only to underline its minor flaws, or to express some frustration regarding some aspects in the treatment of such a promising subject.

First of all, one might wonder if the plan is appropriate to give an answer to all the questions raised in the introduction, which are only dealt with en passant. It looks more as if the material is simply presented, albeit coherently, with a few guiding lines in the introduction, instead of a full study of the proposed subject. It is true that comparisons can be drawn from the adoption of a single chronological pattern, inspired by Roman history as pictured in the literary sources, in each separate study, and Panzram sometimes does so, especially about the questionable existence of a provincial forum in each city. The 9-page general conclusion also provides an overview, but the reader is still left unsatisfied by the lack of thematic developments where the evidence from the three cities is discussed together.

Another point of frustration with this book is the scarcity of illustrations: only 4 maps and 6 plans showing a general view of the cities or some specific areas, which are not always very legible, especially the plan of Augusta Emerita under Claudius. It is a pity we are not able to confront the excellent descriptions we are given in the text with something more graphic: we might have expected a plan of the cities for each of the periods that structure the exposé, in order to carry out an investigation on the changing urban image sur la longue durée, as P. Zanker has done for Pompeii.4 This discrepancy between a clear discourse and an inadequate iconography is certainly prejudicial to a book dealing with Stadtbild, especially for readers who are not already familiar with the archaeology of these cities.

Tarraco, Corduba and Augusta Emerita were capital cities, and Panzram is perfectly aware of the consequences of this status on the composition of the élite, which mixed local and provincial aristocracies that were in close contact with imperial power. She also recognises that Tarraco played a key rôle in the accession of provincial élites to imperial service. But the question of the representativeness of the capita prouinciarum is not always raised, especially when she extrapolates from the flourishing situation in Corduba to give a vision of Baetica as an homogenous and resplendent province: maybe this image should not be as radically revised as in A.T. Fear's book,5 but the situation in the province was far more diverse than what appears in her account.

This specificity of the capitals also raises important questions that might have been asked more directly in matters of city planning: to what extent was their urban development the result of the cities' élite involvement or the outcome of imperial euergetism ? Of course, the evidence is incomplete, and Panzram touches on the subject when she deals with the question of imitatio urbis; but still this point deserves closer scrutiny: there are very few acts of imperial generosity in the Spanish provinces, but they are concentrated mainly in the capitals. This special relationship between the emperors and these cities is certainly partly responsible for their urban image; as a consequence, the scope of the local aristocracies' investment may have been defined more precisely by a comparison with the situation in other towns of Spain.

Another recurring theme in the discussion relates to the existence of a crisis during the third century, an idea Panzram fights with good reason (95-96, 121-127, 206-207, 299, 315-316). But it seems somewhat artificial to present, as she does, the vision of a third century marked by invasions or destructions as the communis opinio: since the works of J. Arce, or more recently A. Cepas Palanca, such an interpretation has been thoroughly revised, and Panzram is perfectly aware of these new developments. And, as she has decided to devote many pages to the subject and especially to the change that occurred in mentalities during the third century, it comes as a surprise that her bibliography does not include, for instance, The Making of Late Antiquity by P. Brown.

Along the same lines, she has also decided to tackle the much-debated question of the decline in the epigraphic habit during the third century (83, 106, 319-320), but her treatment may seem superficial as she only uses R. MacMullen's seminal paper on the subject and not the works by Mrozek, Meyer or Cherry, for instance.6 She rightly argues that epigraphic practices continued but that they changed in response to a new form of government.7 But on the other hand, the general view is not that there has been a decline in the epigraphic habit from the beginning of the third century but only after AD 250, and most of the inscriptions Panzram uses to contest the vision of a decline in the epigraphic habit belong to the first part of the century! In this case, one might question the appropriateness of a periodisation that does not differentiate the Severan era from the end of the third century.

A few minor objections will bring this review to an end. In the first place, the picture which is given of Republican Tarraco is perhaps somewhat too definite: in the current state of research, it is almost impossible to know its extension (which has certainly never reached 70ha as Panzram writes several times), or the relationship between the upper and lower towns (it is impossible to know if they were surrounded by a single wall). In the Augustan period, Panzram might have mentioned the arch of Bera\, located about 20km to the north-east of the city: this is a first-class monument that gives us information about the local élite and its self-representation at a time when we lack such information within the city. In Corduba, we cannot assume that the templum Tu[telae] was built during the period between AD 138 and 192: the inscription that mentions it commemorates only the gift of a silver statue within the sanctuary by the end of the second century, but not the construction of the temple itself, even if the (incomplete) inscription was carved on what looks like an epistylium. Finally, it is a very good thing that Panzram retranscribes in the footnotes the inscriptions she uses; but she should have marked the line divisions with a slash (as she does in the body of the text), so that the reader can have an idea of the appearance of the stone (and of its lacunae).

All these critical remarks must not question the high quality of this work, based on an imposing and up-to-date bibliography, and on a sensible use of the epigraphic evidence. It will certainly serve as a reference for anyone looking for a Forschungsbericht on the urban development of the three capital cities of Spain, along with a serious study of their élite's composition. A further look at the original publications will be needed for a more concrete view of their urban image, and the subject is certainly not exhausted: but this book is an important step towards a better understanding of the relationships between local societies and their urban environment.


1.   G. Alföldy, Die römischen Inschriften von Tarraco, Berlin, 1975; A.U. Stylow's new edition of the inscriptions from Corduba is to be found in CIL, II2/7. It must be pointed out that the evidence is uneven between the three cities: Augusta Emerita possesses the far better-preserved monuments and statuary, but its inscriptions are mostly funerary and have not been studied thoroughly, in spite of L. Garcia Iglesias's unpublished thesis.
2.   G. Alföldy, Flamines Provinciae Hispaniae Citerioris, Madrid, 1973; J.A. Delgado Delgado, Elites y organización de la religión en las provincias romanas de la Bética y las Mauritanias: sacerdotes y sacerdocios, Oxford, 1998; Flamines Provinciae Lusitaniae, in Gerión, 17 (1999), 433-461.
3.   A. Caballos Rufino, Los senadores hispanorromanos y la romanización de Hispania (siglos I-III). I. Prosopografía, Ecija, 1990; Los caballeros romanos originarios de las provincias de Hispania. Un avance, in L'ordre équestre. Histoire d'une aristocratie (IIe siècle av. J.-C. - IIIe siècle ap. J.-C.), Rome, 1999, 463-512; J.F. Rodríguez Neila, F.J. Navarro Santana (eds.), Elites y promoción social en la Hispania romana, Pamplona, 1999; M. Navarro Caballero, S. Demougin (eds.), Elites hispaniques, Bordeaux, 2001.
4.   P. Zanker, Pompeji. Stadtbilder als Spiegel von Gesellschaft und Herrschaftsform, Mainz, 1988.
5.   A.T. Fear, Rome and Baetica. Urbanization in Southern Spain c. 50 BC-AD 150, Oxford, 1996.
6.   S. Mrozek, A propos de la répartition chronologique des inscriptions latines dans le Haut-Empire, in Epigraphica, 35 (1973), 113-118, and 50 (1988), 61-64; E.A. Meyer, Explaining the epigraphic habit in the Roman Empire. The evidence of epitaphs, in JRS, 80 (1990), 74-96; D. Cherry, Re-figuring the Roman epigraphic habit, in AHB, 9 (1995), 143-156 .
7.   On the same topic, see now P. Le Roux, "La 'crise' des élites hispano-romaines (IIIe-IVe siècles)", in M. Navarro Caballero, S. Demougin (eds.), Elites hispaniques, Bordeaux, 2001, 45-61.

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