The Romanisation and non-Romanisation of the provinces of the Imperium Romanum is becoming a well-researched topic and one might be excused for thinking that this title is yet another addition to a very long list of similar books. Nevertheless, most of these deal with cross-cultural influences in the first to third centuries AD; research that deals with the situation in a Republican setting is comparatively rare and seems to focus on Spain and increasingly on the Greek East.
Gallia Narbonensis offers two attractions in this context: first that it is the first province to send senators to Rome, from the reign of Claudius onwards, and second its culture was so Romanised, that Pliny the Elder described it as more like Italy than a province. Equipped with these two inspiring ‘gobbets’, Narbonensis has long been regarded as a ‘perfect province’; an in-depth study of its development up to the time of Augustus is therefore very attractive in its own right and a welcome addition to the literature on Spain and the Greek East.
Freyberger’s approach to the question of Roman-Native-Greek interaction and reaction is to combine a historical hypothesis on the processes and developments with current archaeological results. This requires familiarity with archaeological approaches to evidence as well as an ability to assess historical sources critically, both of which Freyberger possesses admirably. The results are well referenced, giving access to a lot of the current French literature on the subject (via a bibliography of c.60 pages, which in itself makes the book a worthwhile tool).
The author begins with a review of the available source material and a description of the prehistory of the area. On comparing the Central Gaulish oppida and defining the proto-urban character of this civilisation, he stresses the high level of variation within the sites covered, ranging from subsistence level settlements like Taradeau to a proto-town like Entremont.
The second cultural root to be explored in Gallia Narbonensis is of course the Greek influence of Marseille and its satellites. Freyberger does not see Massalia’s politics as expansionistic per se, but nevertheless feels that the chora was probably a sphere of influence with a distinctly defensive character. From his explanations it becomes clears that Massalia saw its hinterland mainly as an area for trade and exchange, which was worth protecting, but having little interest for territorial gains or domination.
The Roman influence at the beginning of the 1st century BC is attested mainly by Italian traders, which may have been catalysts to the introduction of real trade (as opposed to bartering and other exchange patterns) in the south of France. In his review of the political situation Freyberger stresses the uncertainties surrounding this period. We do not know about a lex provinciae, and the governors are only known from the 70s BC onwards. The formal organisation into civitates also remains unattested before Augustus. Freyberger’s general political overview (2.5.) is more a historical survey of the province itself, stressing the ad hoc decisions due to specific political crises affecting Rome rather than a co-ordinated long-term provincial policy.
The original Roman settlement appears to have been dispersed, with a few colonies sited between local centres, linked by newly-constructed roads. The close study of these settlements appears to be hindered by a lack of chronological fix-points, where the sparse archaeological data can at best provide dates exact within two decades but not the desirable historical accuracy of one or two years. Nevertheless, it seems likely that these early settlements are linked to a castramentatio which originally appears to have been a local Roman reaction to local native unrest. Real changes occur only under Caesar and Augustus when the castramentation of the province as a whole goes hand in hand with the systematic settlement of veterans in Gallia Narbonensis. This change in settlement policy is seen throughout the book as fundamental to the development of the Gallo-Roman culture that is apparent in the province during the empire.
Freyberger makes it abundantly clear that urbanisation itself was not newly introduced into the South of Gaul but had a complex history before the Roman arrival, with both Gaulish and Greek ideas mixing and producing a range of possible settlement patterns and types. Equally varied is Rome’s reaction to these urban and proto-urban centres. The author stresses that for the period in question no forceful resettlements can be proven, and that the Roman policy encompassed the whole repertoire from non-interference in native sites to founding of completely new Roman coloniae and municipia.
Signs of monumentalisation (i.e. the development of architecturally impressive features as foci, e.g. fora or temple complexes) seem to be an Augustan phenomenon in the Roman settlements, while in Massalia Roman architectural influence appears to be rare before Claudius. In the native settlements it seems that this Roman influence begins even later, after the middle of the first century AD, and is then limited to the private sphere. Similar chronological differentiation, with real change becoming only apparent from the time of Caesar, but esp. Augustus, can be seen in most of the material covered in the book (e.g. coinage, economy, religion and art), as well as in the rise of the numbers of Roman citizens in the province.
As a whole Freyberger manages to present a very detailed account of a province where three cultural influences combine to produce not one uniform new culture, but a range of possible reactions and expressions. This level of variety and what today would be termed multi-culturalism is best expressed in his chapters on religion, language and art.
With a range of topics covered, it is necessarily the case that some will be better than others and the reviewer felt a little bit let down by the chapters on citizenship and the imperial cult. Freyberger focuses mainly on mechanisms that would have increased the number of citizens in the province (natural procreation, settlement of veterans, grants of citizenship to local communities or individuals, obtaining citizenship by serving as a town official). Once this level ( cives Romanus) was obtained everybody appears the same to the author. Perhaps it would have pushed the evidence too much, but it would have been interesting to have at least a discussion on the possible problems that may have developed as a result of this policy. Given what we know about urban Roman prejudices against Roman citizens from Gaul and other provinces, it would have been worthwhile to raise the question of stratification within the Roman citizenry of the province: old Roman families from the colonies vs. newly made citizens from the native settlements perhaps. In this context further studies into the marriage patterns of veterans may be useful (for a similar study in Africa recently see D.Cherry (1998), ‘Frontier and Society in Roman Africa’).
At the end of this book, Freyberger is able to begin to expand on general trends of provincial development. In comparison with Spain he is able to develop the idea that very little changed in the provinces during the Republic and that all provinces appear to have been administered in response to problems in Rome. Real changes on a large scale both in Spain and in Gallia Narbonensis seem to date to the time of Caesar and are accelerated under Augustus. It seems that much of what we perceive today as the typical features of western provincial culture ( civitas based administration with a main urban centre, which used monumental architecture to stress its religious and administrative function) is an innovation of the end of the first century BC. Given the fact that this is also the time that Rome itself develops the concept of architectural monumentalisation, some of this is probably to be expected, but it is nevertheless valuable to have it confirmed. With two ‘early’ western provinces now presenting what is basically the same pattern it would be interesting to see if further studies could produce similar results for Africa Proconsularis.
The only drawback of this book is the lack of plans and drawings, for one the more recent important discoveries are only briefly mentioned and not depicted. This is probably due to the size and price of the book. Given the range of material covered, depicting just the basic material would have doubled the size of the book and tripled its price. The former is not necessarily a bad thing, the latter would have made this book unaffordable for most of its likely audience.
As with every book, a few typos here and there remain, but they are so rare that they are easily forgotten in view of the well-written argument and wealth of information presented and all I can do is to recommend the book wholeheartedly to scholars with an interest both in the South of France and the early stages of Romanisation.