BMCR 2022.09.44

Colonies, territoires et statuts: nouvelles approches

, Colonies, territoires et statuts: nouvelles approches. Dialogues d'Histoire Ancienne supplément 23. Besançon: Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2021. Pp. 282. ISBN 2848677732 €29,00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The reassessment of Roman colonisation is one which my own research interests have gravitated towards, particularly as a result of reading a number of older studies on the subject around the time that the Black Lives Matter protests were front page news. The tone, language, and approaches of these older works, products of their time they may well be, sat uneasy with how I consider people and their cultures, past, present, and future, should be treated and respected. The theoretical frameworks of postcolonialism, and more recently decolonisation, across disciplines may well explain the phase post E.T Salmon’s Roman Colonization under the Republic (1969) where the study of Roman colonisation had become, to quote Christopher Smith’s Conclusions to this volume, “somewhat moribund”. The five studies within this volume, two in French, two in Italian and one in English, cover the procedures involved in the foundation of colonies (Tarpin), the nature of colonial rule and the degrees of autonomy experienced by colonies (Sisani), the impact of Roman colonisation on existing settlement dynamics at Potentia (Vermeulen) and post-colonial development at Sena Gallica (Lepore and Silani), two colonies in Italy, and the earliest colonial phases of Philippi in Macedonia (Tirologos). The results of extensive research and fieldwork, this volume is one which should provide reassurance to all that the field is very much alive and forward facing.

The date of the foundation of an institution implies one fixed, set point, when that institution, and all that it entails, began. Such a mentality has been applied to Roman colonies, though as Michel Tarpin argues in his article, this is erroneous. The foundation of a Roman colony was rather a procedure with a number of stages, involving political, legal, and religious dimensions, and of course, the physical movement of people. Despite significant developments in our knowledge of the occupation of space by, and within, colonies thanks to excavations over the last half century, how these colonies were founded remains difficult to determine. Tarpin aims here to define the acts involved in founding colonies and to identify the main stages, their relative importance, and their duration. Focusing his attention on the mid-Republican period, Tarpin is reliant on a somewhat patchy literary record for his dating material, largely based on when triumvirs were in office. Velleius and Livy’s accounts are both incomplete, and whilst Diodorus provides occasional gems, Tarpin laments that Polybius was just not interested enough in colonies! Using these sources, it appears that the gap between the decision to send settlers to a colony and the deductio could be as long as two years, though Tarpin wonders whether the terms missi and deductio have been misinterpreted by the authors of his sources. The deductio of a colony is the date most often recorded, but Tarpin is keen to stress that, despite the importance given in the extant sources, a colony’s deductio was neither the beginning, nor the end, of the colonial procedure. What it did represent was the validation of the necessary technical and legal operations, the registration of volunteers, the measurement of land, and the allocation of the land. There is no evidence however to suggest that the deductio involved outlining the perimeter of the colony and the associated rituals, and Tarpin is keen to define the differences between the uses of the terms urbem condere, the creation of the urban space by technical and ritual rules including ploughing the boundary, and coloniam deducerem, the civic operations involving colonists. Tarpin concludes that our surviving sources show that the procedure of colonial foundation was cumbersome and complex, brought into play important administrative and technical mechanisms, and was punctuated by different institutional stages. Moreover, colonial foundation should be considered as two separate, but interrelated processes, the creation of a physical city with its boundaries and its urban fabric, and the organisation of a political city. Such a process took at least a year, sometimes up to four. Tarpin admits that there is much more work to be done on defining the colonisation procedure; whether or not the process becomes less complex as time moves on would be fascinating to know.

Simone Sisani begins his study by returning to a well-known passage of Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights (16:13), where he describes the legal differences between the Roman citizens living in municipiae and those living in coloniae. Aulus Gellius provides us with the only testimony in support of the full autonomy enjoyed by the municipiae civum Romanorum which suggests they had different levels of autonomy to those of the colonies. However, due to the inconsistencies in Aulus Gellius’ work more broadly, his account of these legal differences needs taking with a pinch of salt. In pursuit of a more accurate picture, Sisani turns to a number of historical sources, quoting extensively from Livy, Cicero, and Festus. From these sources he concludes that prior to the Social War, municipiae may well have had more local autonomy than those founded later, but such privileges would not have existed in the municipiae of Aulus Gellius’ day. Despite the very thorough coverage of the extant material, greater discussion of the sources and their implications would have greatly aided the reader’s understanding, especially for those less familiar with the precise legal terminology. As problematic as Aulus Gellius’ account may be, Sisani has shown that the passage still contains material that is worthy of discussion. The second part of the article is devoted to discussing the implications of the cives sine suffragio, “citizens without suffrage”. Again, through a thorough coverage of the available written sources, Sisani builds on his study of the extent of colonial autonomy and suggests that the rise of the influence of the praefecti caused a decline in local autonomy and of the cives sine suffragio, which gradually disappeared over the 2nd century BC. Whilst there can be no doubt as to Sisani’s knowledge of his material, Christopher Smith notes in his comments on Sisani’s article in the conclusion that it is always a challenge to make various strands of evidence tell a consistent story. Ignorance on my part may be the issue, but I am not entirely certain of the story here.

Whilst the first two articles focus on colonial foundations and jurisdiction more broadly, the next two focus their attention on the latest excavations of two individual colonies. Frank Vermeulen’s work on Potentia and Giuseppe Lepore and Michele Silani’s work on Sena Gallica, both located on the Adriatic coast of Italy, encouragingly focus not only on the impact of the colonial foundation on the indigenous peoples and pre-existing settlements and wider landscapes, but also how these pre-existing entities had an impact on the colony itself. At Potentia, which was founded in 184 BC, Vermeulen and his team from the University of Ghent have shown that the site quickly developed from a camp to a proper town that within ten years of foundation had a number of large Roman public buildings, including a Capitoline Temple, a gated circuit wall, a street system, and a water supply system. Livy attributes this rapid growth to financial support from the censor Quintus Fulvius Flaccus. Alongside the Roman public buildings, a temple of unknown dedication, but Etrusco-Italic in style with Doric columns and a Hellenistic inspired terracotta frieze, has been found, perhaps indicating the presence of indigenous peoples living within the colony. Vermeulen’s fieldwork has also extended beyond Potentia’s walls both in search of further evidence for the survival of pre-colonial culture, and also to understand the use and development of its hinterland. The woodland around Potentia was cleared, the wetlands drained for farming, and evidence has been uncovered of a grid system of roads and portions of land extending for over 2.3 km outside the city walls. Though the development of Potentia and its hinterland relied not only on local topography, past or present land use, or funding from Rome. Vermeulen’s fieldwork has shown that the development of Potentia as a settlement went hand-in-hand with the development of the road network in the area. The colony of Sena Gallica, whose foundation has been dated to 290 BC by Livy and 284 BC by Polybius, lacks the evidence for monumental public buildings that Vermeulen’s team found at Potentia, but fortification walls 2.6 m wide have been located. The focus of Lepore and Silani’s study is to define the extent of the territory of Sena Gallica. There is no written evidence for the limit and size of its territory, so the authors have relied on a combination of geographical, geomorphological, and archaeological data. Lepore and Silani’s study builds upon data from topographical research in the 1980s and 1990s, which showed evidence of grid systems in the lower valley of the Misa River and in the neighbouring Cesano valley to the north. From this it was deduced that the colonial territory of Sena Gallica extended across these two river valleys. The extent and orientation of the surviving grid systems associated with the neighbouring settlements of Suasa and Ostra also shaped previous understanding of the boundary of Sena Gallica’ territory. However, Lepore and Silani’s work has shown that these other grid systems are not necessarily indicative of the boundary of Sena Gallica and that the territory extended across the three neighbouring valleys of the Cesano, Misa, and Esino rivers, covering approximately 290 km2. This is similar in size to other neighbouring colonies on the Adriatic coast including Firmum and Arminum. Although work is ongoing at both Potentia and Sena Gallica, it is encouraging that colonial settlements in Italy are being considered as part of their wider landscape, and that consideration is being given to how colonies were shaped by their hinterlands as well as how the colony and its residents were able to shape the hinterlands. Colonies were not simply symbols of imperialism, but part of a wider physical, cultural, and political landscape.

Georges Tirologos attempts to clarify the details concerning the foundation of Philippi in Macedonia, the only colonial foundation outside of Italy dated to the triumviral period. Numismatic evidence suggests that it was founded by Antony shortly after the battle there in 42 BC, but no textual evidence survives to confirm this. After piecing together textual and epigraphic evidence for the movements of Octavian and Antony post-Philippi, Octavian’s possible motivations for allowing Antony to found a colony in Macedonia, and the socio-political situation in Italy, Tirologos states that the evidence for Philippi being an Antonian foundation is far more elusive than Paul Collart in his monumental work on the colony Philippes, Ville de Macédoine, depuis ses origines jusqu’à la fin de l’époque romaine (1937) made it out to be. A particularly fascinating archaeological find from Philippi that Tirologos discusses is a gromatic cippus. This stone, the only one found so far in Greece, corresponds closely in size, shape, and inscription to Hyginus Gromaticus’ description of such stones in his discussion of Augustus’ contribution to the reorganisation of territories in the Roman world. This, Tirologos suggests, means that the laying out of the colony might have been Octavian’s work. As shown in Tarpin’s study earlier in the volume, founding a colony was a process involving many stages which extended over a long period of time. Tirologos promises to return the question of who founded Philippi and when, but it is quite plausible that Antony began the process and Octavian completed it.

Despite the differences in their focus, there is a definite theme running through each of the articles within the volume, that being the need for more work to be done within the exciting, and very much living and breathing field of reassessing Roman colonisation. I hope that this volume is the first of many such studies.


Authors and Titles

Michel Tarpin, Avant-propos

Michel Tarpin, Vrbem condere/coloniam deducere : la procédure de « fondation » coloniale

Simone Sisani, Tra autonomia e integrazione: diritti locali e giurisdizione prefettizia nelle comunità di cives sine suffragio

Frank Vermeulen, The Impact of Later Republican Colonisation on Coastal Settlement Dynamics in Central Adriatic Italy: the Case of Potentia

Giuseppe Lepore and Michele Silani, Lo sviluppo di una conquista. Dalla fondazione della colonia di Sena Gallica all’organizzazione dell’ager

Georges Tirologos, Antoni iussu colonia Victrix Philippensium: réflexions sur la première fondation coloniale de Philippes (Macédoine orientale, Grèce)

Christopher Smith, Conclusions: The Future of the Study of Roman Colonization