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Figures d’empire, fragments de mémoire

Stéphane Benoist
Anne Daguet-Gagey
Christine Hoët-van Cauwenberghe

A. Notions d’empire et approches impériales

1. Law and the landscape of empire

Clifford Ando


Cet article analyse les sources disponibles qui rendent compte, sur le long terme, dans la pensée romaine de la conceptualisation de l’empire comme un État, à savoir en d’autres mots l’existence d’institutions se diffusant uniformément à travers son territoire. Deux axes ont été principalement suivis. En premier lieu, à propos des normes romaines qui ont évolué par paliers, d’un modèle différenciant les pratiques urbaines et provinciales à un modèle assimilant les provinces à Rome. En second lieu, à partir du vocabulaire latin, tant politique que juridique, qui détient tout à la fois une capacité considérable à l’abstraction et des modalités distinctes de métonymie. Tout ceci permet de relever l’intérêt fortement limité des Romains pour l’acculturation. Un corrolaire important de ce dernier constat est que les pratiques romaines de gouvernement semblent avoir visé à produire un changement culturel : notre incapacité à reconnaître ce fait est une conséquence de notre mauvaise compréhension des concepts romains d’appartenance culturelle et politique.

Texte intégral

1I commence with two groups of passages, in order to provide an ostensive definition of my topic.

  • 2 M. Crawford (éd.), Roman Statutes, Londres, 1996 (= RS).

2The first group is a pair. In a narrow, formal sense, its texts concern jurisdiction. The first text of the pair survives on a bronze tablet found at Veleia and is now housed in the Museo Nazionale di Parma. It reads as follows (Roman Statutes, no 292):

[---]plebes i[---]
[---]mue mue condemne[---]
[---]ue non licebit aut [---]
[---]m is quei ibei [---]

3As much as anything, it is the words «quei ibei» in the fifth line that identify this as a piece of late Republican legislation, written at Rome, for those words signal the issuing of an instruction to a local magistrate, namely, «he who holds jurisdiction there (is quei ibei [ius deicet ---] (line 5))». The text may therefore be provisionally restored:

[---]plebes<q(ue)> i[ure sciuit ---]
[--- dum ne --- que] mue {mue} condemne[t---]
[---]ue non licebit aut [---]
[---du]m is quei ibei [ius deicet ---]

  • 3 Relevant at least are RS, 6, 15, 16, 17, 24, 28 and 29.

4As it happens, there survive from late Republican Italy and Cisalpine Gaul numerous fragments of legislation in which problems of jurisdiction are repeatedly raised and solutions, both restricted and general, are advanced3. A schematic reading of those texts might outline their contents as having the following form:

  • 4 See RS, 16, ll. 4-5: de ea re in eo municipio colonia praefectura iudicio certare uolet; RS, 17, l. (...)
  • 5 RS, 16, l. 11: quoiusque IIuiri eiusue qui ibei… iure dicundo praefuit…; RS, 17, l. 15: quoius ibei (...)
  • 6 RS, 16, l. 6:… et si ea res sestertium decem milium minorisue erit.
  • 7 RS, 17, ll. 16-17 (the text is defective, but the sense seems clear).

(1) In communities of types A, B, and C, in area D4, (2) in which jurisdiction rests with magistrates of types G or H5, (3) legal actions of type K shall be handled locally, using procedure M, if conditions P and Q are met6, or (4a), if condition P and Q are not met, procedure R should be used locally, or (4b) the case shall be sent to Rome7.

5The laws in question are substantially more heterogeneous in form and structure than this schema probably suggests, and had more such texts survived, the picture might be even more cloudy (not least because some newly-enfranchised municipalities clearly anticipated action from Rome and attempted to refashion their self-governance in light of what they knew of existing statutes).

  • 8 R(ubrica). Quo iure in tertium denuntietur, dies diffindatur diffi<s>susue sit, res iudicetur, lis iud</s> (...)

6The second text in the first group is the 91st chapter of the lex Flauia municipalis, which is to say, the municipal charter written at Rome and enacted there as a piece of comitial legislation, and handed over to those cities in Spain that were elevated to the status of self-governing municipalities by Vespasian8:

«Rubric. According to what law notice for the third day may be served, the day may be postponed or have been postponed, a matter may be judged, a case may be at the peril of the iudex, a matter may cease to be under trial:
… if judgment has not taken place within the time laid down in Chapter XII of the
lex Iulia that was recently passed concerning iudicia priuata and in the decrees of the senate that relate to that chapter of the statute, so that the matter be no longer under trial; the statute and law and position is to be as it would be if a praetor of the Roman people had ordered the matter to be judged in the city of Rome between Roman citizens…»

7Written perhaps a hundred years apart, these texts offer startlingly different visions of the legal landscape of the empire. The Veleia tablet distinguishes explicitly between Rome and everywhere else; in line with other legislation of its era, it reserves the power and capacity of judgment in matters of import to the metropole. Only its judges, sitting in its forum, animated by its soil, could decide. Late Republican jurisdictional clauses also cleave the empire socially, for it is not all disputes, nor even all disputes between citizens, that are removed to Rome for adjudication, but only those in which the matter in dispute, converted to monetary terms, was worthy of Roman attention.

  • 9 I have elsewhere explored at some length the conceptual relationship between territoriality and sov (...)

8In contrast, the Flavian municipal law preserves the distinction between Rome and elsewhere only to upend it, by means of a fiction that operates on two levels, geographic and social: for it dissolves both distance in time and distinctions in the legal status of persons: disputes between alien municipes are to be resolved «as if a praetor of the Roman people had ordered the matter to be judged in the city of Rome between Roman citizens». Provinces and provincials are thereby assimilated to Rome and Romans9.

  • 10 Gaius, Inst., 4, 103-105: Omnia autem iudicia aut legitimo iure consistunt aut imperio continentur. (...)
  • 11 On legal fictions at Rome, see for now Y. Thomas, «Fictio legis. L’empire de la fiction romaine», D (...)

9At the risk of trying the reader’s patience, let me now interject two asides. First, I should point out that jurisdiction is one among many issues on which Augustus displayed reactionary conservatism of a very high order, at odds with developments before his time and after within Roman practice, and at odds also with the aspirations of provincials. For the lex Iulia cited in the lex Flauia was proposed by Augustus himself around the turn of the millenium and it provided that the formulary system, stricto sensu, obtained only in the city of Rome and to the first milestone beyond it, and governed only disputes the parties to which were Roman citizens10. One way to explain the use of legal fiction in the lex Flauia is that it permitted the continued operation in principle of the so-called lex Iulia iudiciaria. So to describe the intent of its authors is not, however, to describe its effects, but that is a story for another day11.

  • 12 See Gaius, Inst., 1, 1, with C. Ando, «The ontology of religious institutions», History of religion (...)

10Second, these late Republican laws on jurisdiction, as well as much of what we know about Roman processes of adjudication in the provinces, stand in conflict with the formal rules that jurists and legal philosophers in Rome articulated regarding the relationship between jurisdiction, political boundaries, and the law of persons. To take only one such, related to but not homologous with that reified in the lex Iulia, standard definitions of ius ciuile insist that systems of civil law apply to citizen communities; conversely, that any political community worthy of the name will have its own ius ciuile12. Standing on this principle would seem to require that aliens not be permitted access to civil law actions, and that sometimes occurs. But in point of fact, jurists seem regularly to have urged that adjudication in the provinces should take account both of formal rules and of abstract principles articulated in Roman civil law, in contravention, it would seem, of their own political framework. This evidence, too, is part of the larger history I seek ultimately to tell.

11My second group of texts are instantiations only, of habits of mind deeply ingrained in Roman thought and widely expressed in extant literature. Specifically, I cite here examples of what I take to be significant metonymies for city, civic community, and the rule of law in classical Latin.

Cic., Att., 114, 9: Id. Febr. quo die has litteras dedi, forum institueram agere Laodiceae Cibyraticum et Apamense…

On the ides of February, on the day I dictated this letter, I arranged to hold an assize at Laodicea for the districts of Cibyra and Apamea…

Cic., Verr., 2, 2, 38: Aduersarii postulant ut in eam rem iudices dentur, ex iis ciuitatibus quae in id forum conuenirent electi, qui Verri uiderentur.

The adversaries demand that iudices be appointed in this matter, selected from those communities of citizens who gather in the same forum, whoever should seem appropriate to Verres.

Liv., 39, 18, 2: eadem solitudo, quia Romae non respondebant nec inueniebantur quorum nomina delata erant, coegit consules circa fora proficisci ibique quaerere et iudicia exercere.

Since the people whose names had been drawn did not respond and were not found, the desertion compelled the consuls to set out around the fora and seek there and hold trials.

Plin., nat., 3, 25: Carthaginem conueniunt populi lxv…

65 peoples come together at Carthage…

Plin., nat., 3, 26: In Cluniensem conuentum Varduli ducunt populos xiv…

The Varduli lead 14 tribes to the assize Cluniensis…

Plin., nat., 3, 26: In eundem conuentum Carietes et Vennnenses v ciuitatibus uadunt…

The Carietes and Vennenses go to the same assize, with five communities…

Plin., nat., 3, 142: petunt in eam (coloniam) iura uiribus discriptis in decurias cccxlii Delmataei…

The Delmataei, whose men are divided into 342 cohorts, seek laws in that colony…

Plin., nat., 5, 109: longinquiores eodem foro disceptant Orthronienses, Alidienses…

Among the people further away who settle their disputes in the same forum are the Orthronienses, the Alidienses…

12Among the most essential associations revealed by the patterns in metonymy above are the use of forum for conuentus, assize (Cic., Att., 114, 9), even as conuentus and equally conuenire – literally, «a coming-together» and «to come together» – are themselves metonymic of the purpose for which people come together, namely, the holding of an assize (Plin., nat., 3, 26 and 3, 25, respectively). In other words, the naming of a Roman-style monumentalized urban core can stand – by virtue of the assumption that all cities properly ordered will have one – for the functioning of depersonalized, communal institutions of dispute resolution and rights redemption, which are understood to have such a forum as their necessary context. Forum fulfills the same role in Pliny’s geography (e. g. nat., 5, 109), where the word suffices to identify the function of Roman-style conurbations as nodal points for the intrusion of Roman institutions into landscapes of peoples not articulated along Roman lines.

13In similar fashion, forum stands in Livy both for the cities in which fora are located and of necessity for the spaces in those cities in which public power is legitimately exercised (Liv., 39, 18, 2). Elsewhere, the action of seeking redress at the law is used by Pliny to evoke the systematic movement of peoples across the landscape, from villages defined as such by their lack of robust institutions of law to cities that anchor government in the world through their possession of the same (Plin., nat., 3, 142; cf. above on Plin., nat., 3, 25). Finally, as Cicero makes clear, those who «come together at the same forum» do so because they constitute a community united by law: that is to say, he imagines justice to be administered among peoples, and by peoples over themselves, within communities united by consensual commitment to law and community of interest (Cic., Verr., 2, 2, 38, above; Cic., rep., 1, 39, 1, below).

14So read, my second group of texts addresses a rather different set of questions about Roman urbanism. What did Romans think cities were for? What was the relationship between cities and their hinterlands? How did this understanding shape Roman efforts to promote urbanism in east and west? How did the Romans conceive of the affective, cultural and political components of communal membership? Of subjectivity? And in what sense were these considered best expressed, or even exclusively expressible, in conurbations monumentalized along Roman lines?

15Although susceptible to autonomous investigation, these areas of inquiry – the expansion of Roman law, on the one hand, and the intellectual and ideological superstructures of Roman urbanism on the other – must be addressed together by any serious historian of the empire, for two reasons.

16First, if the cities of the empire – their fora that held conuentus – were to be relay stations wherein Roman law was received from the center and transmitted, as it were, to the cities and villages in their districts, then these texts surely imply a vision of those cities as instantiations of Rome: each must be so organized that without too great dissonance Roman law can be administered there as though by a praetor of the Roman people judging disputes between Roman citizens. That is the background to the one great material fact of the empire, that its monumentalized cities coalesced in their design around a Roman vision. I shall return to this problem by and by.

17The second reason to read the laws on jurisdiction in light of the cognitive structures made visible in the metonymic habit is that, taken together, they crystallize the problem the Romans set themselves when they deployed the institutions of Republican life to conceptualize and indeed to actualize the embrasure of alien individuals and populations within the structures of their state. By «institutions of Republic life», I intend above all Republican citizenship, but also the ideological and legal frameworks that made the idea as well as the reality of public property politically, socially and economically meaningful.

18By «the problem the Romans set for themselves» I mean the following: that for a Roman the universalization of the culture of the metropole, insofar as it was conceivable, would have consisted in the reduplication in multiple sites of the depersonalized institutions that made a life structured by law possible. This required the articulation of communities by systems of law, including definitions of membership; conversely, communal membership – political identity at the level of the individual – was understood to consist in consensual commitment to such norms as were reified by those same bodies of law. Such would be a Roman lawyer’s articulation of the conceptions of identity, both individual and communal, instantiated in the foundation myth’s emphasis on asylum.

Cic., rep., 1, 39, 1: Est igitur, inquit Africanus, res publica res populi, populus autem non omnis hominum coetus quoquo modo congregatus, sed coetus multitudinis iuris consensu et utilitatis communione sociatus. «A commonweath, said Africanus, is the property of a people, but a people is not any gathering of humans, assembled for any purpose, but a gathering of many, united by consensual commitment to law and community of interest.»

Cic., rep., 6, 13, 2: nihil est enim illi principi deo qui omnem mundum regit, quod quidem in terris fiat, acceptius quam concilia coetusque hominum iure sociati, quae ciuitates appellantur. «Nothing that happens on earth is so pleasing to that chief god who governs all the world than those assemblies and gatherings of humans united by law, which are called ciuitates.»

19The definitions offered by Cicero in his De re publica for res publica, populus, and ciuitas exercised a decisive influence in this tradition, and they make abundantly clear why ciuitas could function in Latin as a metonym for community as well as city in a way that politeia in Greek could not.

  • 13 An inquiry into this topic would have to pursue at least two lines of inquiry: the influence in the (...)

20Across the long history of the Principate, the precise nature of what one might call the paradox of Republican empire naturally changed: insofar as the organization of local civic life had perforce to occur through the taking up or sending down of Roman public law (both processes are well attested), the separate communities of the empire were or became themselves republics – they had res publica, which were administered in a Roman law framework, whether legally or not. Many certainly named themselves such and conducted their affairs in the language and forms of Roman politics13. How those republics stood in conceptual relation to the Roman republic is not clear; nor is it clear how individuals were supposed to understand their membership in the fractally-ordered but nominally-conflicting republics of the western provinces, whether earlier, when many were aliens in respect to Rome, or later, when they were all citizens.

Festus s. v. municeps (126L): Municeps est, ut ait Aelius Gallus, qui in municipio liber natus est. Item qui ex alio genere hominum munus functus est. Item qui in municipio ex seruitute se liberauit a municipe. At Servius filius aiebat initio fuisse, qui ea conditione ciues fuissent, ut semper rempublicam separatim a populo Romano haberent, Cumanos, Acerranos, Atellanos, qui aeque <ciues Romani erant et in legione merebant, sed dignitates non capiebant>. «According to Aelius Gallus, a municeps is one who was born free in a municipium. Likewise, one who took up a munus from another race of persons [the tautology is in the original]. Likewise, one who was freed from slavery in a municipium by a municeps. But Servius the son said that in the beginning they were municipes who had become citizens on this condition, namely, that they should keep their res publica separate from the Roman people – the Cumani, the Acerrani, the Atellani, who were fully Roman citizens and served in the legions but did not take up magistracies.»

Festus s. v. praefecturae (262L): Praefecturae eae appellabantur in Italia, in quibus et ius dicebatur et nundinae agebantur; et erat quaedam earum res publica neque tamen magistratus suos habebant. in † qua his† legibus praefecti mittebantur quotannis qui ius dicerent. «Those things are named prefectures in Italy, in which jurisdiction is exercised and markets are held; and although they have something like res publica, nevertheless they do not have their own magistrates. To them prefects are sent annually, who hold jurisdiction.»

  • 14 See «Imperial identities», dans T. Whitmarsh (éd.), Local knowledge and Microidentities in the Impe (...)

21A significant source of tension around precisely these problems of conceptualization is visible in the constitutionalist language used by Festus to describe problems of communal life and jurisdiction in imperial Italy: how were they citizens, if they kept their res publica separatim, separately? As regards prefectures, in what sense were they – had they – res publicae, when they had no magistrates? (I have actually attempted elsewhere to address this question, namely, how in light of modern theory we might understand political subjectivity in the provinces of the empire, east and west; but I am posing the question here en route to another, concerned rather with how Romans understood the world and the actions they took on the basis of that understanding, and, after a fashion, how we should go about studying them14).

  • 15 For a reading of Cicero, Leg., 2, 5 in the context of late Republican dates on the unification of I (...)

22It will not do, alas, to cite Cicero’s De legibus at this juncture, and the model there articulated of Roman citizenship as simply superordinate to local ones, both because, rather surprisingly, few followed him in so understanding the legal landscape, and because his model already participated in the evacuation of meaning from republican citizenship then long underway15. For Cicero had nothing to say about the forms of agency and the material benefits that citizenship might bring; it was, rather, merely a locus for affection and aspiration. What is more, as with magistracies, so with citizenship Augustus relied on the continuance of Republican forms to substantiate and legitimate his system; as with jurisdiction, Augustus urged a radical retrenchment that tied the performance of citizenship to the city and not the people of Rome. Indeed, he did so publicly: for elections continued for magistrates as well as emperors well into the Principate, and the dole was distributed, but neither franchise nor food was made available to anything more than a tiny fraction of the citizen body.

23Whether we should regard as problematic this evacuation of meaning from the Republican institutions around whose formal continuance political life continued to be structured, depends on how seriously or, perhaps, how literally or metaphorically one takes the presence of Republican language in texts of the Principate evocative of the structures of public law. Tertullian’s famous panegyric to the empire, embedded in a chapter of his De anima on historical patterns in population growth, is a case in point.

Tert., anim., 30, 3: Certe quidem ipse orbis in promptu est cultior de die et instructior pristino. Omnia iam peruia, omnia nota, omnia negotiosa, solitudines famosas retro fundi amoenissimi oblitterauerunt, siluas arua domuerunt, feras pecora fugauerunt, harenae seruntur, saxa panguntur paludes eliquantur, tantae urbes quantae non casae quodam. Iam nec insulae horrent nec scopuli terrent; ubique domus, ubique populus, ubique respublica, ubique uita. «Certainly the world itself is patently daily more cultivated and more built up than earlier. All places are now accessible, all are known; all open to commerce; very pleasing farms have wiped from memory what were once stricken wastelands; fields have conquered woods; herds have put wild beasts to flight; sands are sown; rocks broken; marshes drained; and there are as many cities as there once were cottages. Islands no longer arouse dread, nor do crags terrify. Everywhere is domestic life; everywhere the populace; everywhere res publica, everywhere life.»

24This passage, with its emphatic singular collectives, is perhaps the most radical description we have of the empire as nation state avant la lettre, in which a Republican political culture is described as permeating uniformly throughout its territory. But the legal and institutional structures that had developed over the previous centuries used this same language effectively to tesselate that same empire. To what extent did the maintenance of the civic compromise rest upon the simultaneous deployment of this language in reference both to the concrete and local and the imperial and abstract? Were the ciuitates of the empire and their urban cores understood as instantiations or reflections of the metropole? Were their authority structures homologous with, derivative from or indeed parasitic upon those of the imperial superstructure?

25Up to a point, the questions I have been raising concern two classic problems in Roman history: first, Romanization – whether it occurred; its beginning and, in some philosophical sense, its end; and second, the collapse of imperial political culture in the west, what I have called, following Richard Gordon, the failure of the civic compromise. Where Romanization is concerned, neither the term nor indeed the concept is much in fashion nowadays, for related reasons. At the risk of vast oversimplification, let me explain why I think this is so, and then my own, somewhat different reasons for dissent.

26One difficulty is agency. «Romanization» once and perhaps still refers to one-way forms of cultural exchange, impelled by the Romans, who sought to refashion indigenous cultures along Roman lines or, better yet, to induce colonial populations to abandon their own cultures and become Roman. A second difficulty has been the tendency in this literature to essentialize cultures: to regard Roman culture in particular as an unchanging unity, but cultures in general like garments that one might don or shed at will. (The metaphor is in fact an ancient one; I shall take up another such at the end of this essay.)

  • 16 Tac., Agr., 21 (trans. Winterbottom, modified): «The following winter was spent in the prosecution (...)

27A third problem is evidentiary and has several components. Exhibit A in any discussion of Romanization has traditionally been the 21st chapter of Tacitus’Agricola, for what it is naturally taken to describe is an ambitious program of, well, Romanization, in which Romans with agency impose culture upon those who lack it16. Skeptics of Romanization point to this passage and seek corroboration: is there any other evidence, they ask, that cultural change was an explicit policy of Roman government in the provinces? But the back and forth over the supposed splendid isolation of this passage masks more serious difficulties, namely, the primacy both sides concede to literary texts, which apparently can uniquely provide the interpretive framework for the staggeringly more abundant evidence of practice, and the simplistic models of agency that rather surprisingly arise from that concession. If the Romans did not describe themselves in every instance as imposing their culture, then provincials must have Romanized themselves.

28There are in fact still further problems of evidence masked by this search for literary testimonials to the formulation and actualization of policies of culture change. The most serious is chronological. For the literary evidence that might be used to understand Roman ambitions in the organization and settlement of populations and construction of cities – and it is vastly more abundant than the one passage of Tacitus – derives overwhelmingly from the century and a half between the accession of Vespasian in 69 and the death of Ulpian in 223, to chose two not wholly arbitrary dates. But the Romans had been in the business of founding cities and organizing life in and around them for several hundred years. One need only look at long-familiar evidence of Roman colonial foundations from the mid-Republic to recognize this fact.

Fig. 1: Minturnae, plan of the original foundation

Image 1000000000000182000001788FDFFF95DE3657C7.jpg

Fig. 2: Tarracina, plan of the original foundation

Image 10000000000001E6000001340021AB80769E72B7.jpg

Fig. 3: Cosa, plan of the original foundation

Image 1000000000000153000001B5BE289869B8BC13D5.jpg

29Here, the accommodation at Cosa of an ideal schema to local topography might usefully be set alongside the quite remarkable visual and theoretical evidence for Roman practice in laying cadastral grids around land and water formations. Figures 4-9 juxtapose evidence from the work of Roman landsurveyors as workers in the world and as theoreticians, the former in the form of modern drawings of their work as it can be reconstructed from evidence on the ground, the latter from the illustrations provided by the surveyors in their instructional manuals.

  • 17 For the Flavian survey at Corinth see D. G. Romano, «A tale of two cities: Roman colonies at Corint (...)

Fig. 4: The Flavian grid in the gulf of Corinth17

Image 10000000000002500000019FF56528C66A9F95CE.jpg

  • 18 On the survey at Biterrois see M. Clavel-Lévêque, «Centuriation, géométrie et harmonie. Le cas du B (...)

Fig. 5: Biterrois: the rural survey along the Domitianic roadway18

Image 100000000000022C0000018B90428943765BA7CE.jpg

  • 19 For convenience of reference, I cross-reference to Lachmann’s repertoire: see F. Blume, K. Lachmann (...)

Fig. 6: The math of the surveyors, 1: calculating angles when an orthogonal plan cannot be laid19

Image 100000000000017400000179E29C586E9D59BBB6.jpg

Codex Arcerianus f. 6r

Fig. 7: The math of the surveyors, 2: manipulating triangles to adapt squares to curves

Image 100000000000019500000122BE57E11242074D07.jpg

Codex Arcerianus f. 15v

  • 20 I reproduce Lachmann’s line drawing of Wolfenbüttel Gud. lat. 105 (G): Lachmann plate 23, fig. 196b

Fig. 8: An ideal meets the world, 1: accounting for the terrain in surveying and mapping20

Image 10000000000001C5000001F88752390DD7674DBA.jpg

30The literary evidence for Roman understandings of urbanism, some of which I will consider momentarily – on the topics what cities were for, what services they should provide, how civic spaces shaped modes of existence – should thus be understood as late, second-order reflections on practices long since internalized.

31I call those reflections second-order not least because I grant primary status to the deeper, structural features of Latin language and Roman thought that favored certain kindred forms of ideation – for example, abstractions created by the violent transposition from realist to nominalist uses of terms or the sundering of once native and concrete connections to place – and which furthermore found expression in the commonplace metonymies that I spoke of earlier. Of the first type of abstraction a famous case is Latin status: it came into being as a body of constraints and legal rights applied to individuals understood as Latin in both ethnicity and political identity – Latin status was, in other words, a legal and political construct imposed upon a pre-existing extra-legal taxonomy of persons and cultures; but the package of rights and the term that denominated them were rapidly given away to individuals understood as culturally non-Latin. They were, rather, created as Latin de novo in the social reality that law brings into being through its own operation. Of the second, surely the most notable is the decision in the settlement of transpadane Gaul not to create a new voting tribe, to accommodate the annexation of new territory, as had been done in all prior such extensions of the citizen body into new Roman lands. At once, a prior necessary and after a fashion organic connection between soil and political identity was permanently altered.

  • 21 On the reconstruction of the cadastral map of Arausio see A. Piganiol, Les documents cadastraux de (...)

Fig. 9: An ideal meets the world, 2: detail from the cadastral map from Arausio21

Image 100000000000017B00000223137C33C5451F6035.jpg

  • 22 The illustrations in the manuscripts of the agrimensores have received less attention than they des (...)

32These cognitive operations were, I suggest, fundamental to Roman governance, and in the end necessary to empire. For even in Italy the Romans ruled populations of extraordinary diversity. The linguistic forms and administrative practices they developed relied often enough on analogy and its characteristic linguistic and cognitive forms, namely, metaphor and fiction, but more natively and distinctively upon the creation of taxonomies – of persons, say, or land – in which categories were abstracted from concrete particulars, categories of sufficient generality to embrace the governed in all their variety and of sufficient precision so as to make governance of that variety within a uniform administrative and legal framework thinkable. We witness the reification of this same fondness and aptitude for carefully modulated combinations of the concrete and ideal in that extraordinary tradition in Roman illustration, uniting the figurative or iconographic with the schematic, that is now best represented to us in the illustrated manuscripts of the agrimensores22. Nor is the example innocent: for it is precisely in that branch of social-theoretical reflection that combined urban planning and law that this Roman genius for abstraction is first manifest to us.

Fig. 10: An icon for a city in an idealized relationship to its rural grid.

Image 10000000000002820000010FDEB8B787AFBFBABE.jpg

Codex Arcerianus f. 62v = Lachmann pl. 22 fig. 196a

Fig. 11: An icon for a city, situated problematically adjacent to the intersection of kardo and decumanus maximus, with an icon for a river iconically disturbing the surveyor’s schema.

Image 100000000000019400000147016302981A36AADF.jpg

Lachmann pl. 15 fig. 151

Fig. 12: A rural grid accommodating land unsuitable for cereal agriculture and so designated compascua communia, «common pastureland».

Image 100000000000025F0000019C7950F839256C4560.jpg

Codex Arcerianus f. 21v = Lachmann pl. 3 fig. 18

Fig. 13: A bird’s eye view of Minturnae, in which icons for built interventions in the rural landscape are situated alongside a schema for a rural grid and a figurative representation of the city itself.

Image 1000000000000251000001C3EEF0B4DED05D1C61.jpg

Codex Palatinus 1564 = Lachmann pl. 15 fig. 150

Fig. 14: An icon for a city surrounded by mountains, with the explanatory caption «closed in by mountains»: the grid must therefore be laid in adjacent land.

Image 100000000000024800000176513AB1C39769AEDE.jpg

Codex Arcerius f. 56v = Lachmann pl. 19 fig. 175

33These widespread deployments of quite specific metonymies and forms of ideation might usefully be compared to more elaborated forms of analogical and metaphoric reasoning in Latin literature, which employ understandings of government in both its principles and its practices as ground or source. I have elsewhere explored what might be revealed by tracing the history of metaphors involving the emperor and his subordinates in Greek and Latin theological literatures under the empire, as well as construals of the empire as polis in Greek literature of the late Republic and Principate, and several others. Let me add two more to this repertoire (but the list could go one):

Tert., pall., 2, 7: Sed uanum iam antiquitas, quando curricula nostra coram. Quantum reformauit orbis saeculum istud! Quantum urbium aut produxit aut auxit aut reddidit praesentis imperii triplex uirtus! Deo tot Augustis in unum fauente, quot census transcripti, quot populi repurgati, quot ordines illustrati, quot barbari exclusi! Reuera orbis cultissimum huius imperii rus est, eradicato omni aconito hostilitatis et cacto et rubo subdolae familiaritatis conuulso, et amoenus super Alcinoi pometum et Midae rosetum. «But antiquity is now vanity, when the events of our own age lie before us. How much of the earth has the present age refashioned! How many cities has the threefold virtue of our present empire produced, augmented or restored! With God so favoring these many Augusti as one, how many populations have been enrolled, how many peoples reduced, how many orders ennobled, how many barbarians shut out! In truth the world is the most cultivatived garden of this empire, from which every poisonous plant of hostility has been eradicated and every cactus and thorn of treacherous familiarity torn up: a garden delightful beyond the orchard of Alcinous and the rosary of Midas.»

Hyg., Constitutio Limitum, 142, 31-36 Campbell (trans. Campbell, adapted): Quibusdam coloniis postea constitutis, sicut in Africa Admederae, decimanus maximus et kardo a ciuitate ori<un>tur et per quattuor portas in more<m> castrorum ut uiae amplissimae limitibus diriguntur. Haec est constituendorum limitum ratio pulcherrima. Nam colonia omnes quattuor perticae regiones continuet et est colentibus uicina undique, incolis quoque iter ad forum ex omni parte aequale. Sic et in castris groma ponitur in tetrantem, qua uelut ad forum conueniatur. «In some colonies that were established later, the decumanus maximus and kardo (maximus) start from the town and are directed on limites through the four gates, after the fashion of military camps, like wide roads. This is the most attracted system for establishing limites. For the colony embraces all four areas of allocated land and is close to farmers on every side, and all the inhabitans have equal access to the forum on every side. Thus, too, in camps the groma is placed at the cross-roads, so that the men might gather there, as to a forum.»

  • 23 Governmental processes in fact regularly served as conceptual archetypes in ancient literature, as (...)

34In the first text, I draw your attention to the usage, at once literal and metaphorical, of language appropriate to bureaucratic processes – here, the census – for describing demographic trends at work in the world. That is to say, the usage implicitly recognizes both the legitimacy and heuristic value of the work of government in viewing and knowing the world23. In the second, I wish to highlight the recursive operation of analogy and fiction: ancient historians are accustomed to follow Polybius in positing military camps as paradeigmatic upon Roman colonial foundations; and Hyginus participates in that tradition in his first analogy, in more<m> castrorum. But the second passage folds this explanatory move back upon itself, for there the layout of the camp, and the form of political sociability practiced in it, are both explained by reference to the operations of political and legal life in a purely civilian context, uelut ad forum. All this occurs beneath the level of consciously-constructed argument.

35If all that is highly abstruse, I also attempt to raise one rather more mundane question – but raise only – and it is this: if the Romans conceived a campaign of cultural change, what would it look like? Perhaps the reason we have failed to find attestations of a concerted effort at Romanization is that we haven’t known what to look for.

36My route to a suggestion on that topic will be somewhat elliptical. But it is no doubt easy to surmise the course it will take, for an historical corollary to my earlier observations about the nature of Roman understandings of civic communities and communal membership, and the primacy of law and the language of law in articulating them, is the extraordinary lateness of any significant discourse on the sheer foreigness of the constituent cultures of the empire, and the elaboration within it of axes of difference – in dress, cult, and so forth – that might produce a theory of culture. It seems to me that we must rather commence with the study of practice in the settlement and organization of peoples in the immediate post-conquest period. About it we know this much, that that the Romans founded cities wherever they went and embarked nearly everywhere on massive transfers of populations. Why? About the cities themselves we might ask, how did the Romans understand the connection between architectural form and way of life? Might it not be that the Romans founded cities of the kind they did, with the public properties and conveniences they had, because they assumed an organic connection between the presence of those things and the organization of social and economic life along Roman lines?

37To persuade that this was so, in an historically meaningful rather than merely banal sense, I offer two pieces of evidence about Roman attitudes to urbanism, each exemplifying significant patterns in our data, for lack of a better word. The first is simply one among several reflections by Cicero on the nature of social life within political society:

Cic., off., 1, 53 (trans. Atkins, modified): Gradus autem plures sunt societatis hominum. Ut enim ab illa infinita discedatur, proprior est eiusdem gentis nationis linguae, qua maxime homines coniunguntur. Interius etiam est eiusdem esse ciuitatis; multa enim sunt ciuibus inter se communia, forum fana porticus uiae leges iura iudicia suffragia, consuetudines praeterea et familiaritates multisque cum multis res rationesque contractae. Artior uero conligatio est societatis propinquorum; ab illa enim immensa societate humani generis in exiguum angustumque concluditur. «There are indeed several gradus of societas, degrees of fellowship among humans. Proceeding from that unlimited one, next is a closer one of the same race, tribe and language, by which humans are bound strongly to one another. More intimate still is that of common citizenship; for many are the things held in common by citizens between themselves: the forum, temples, porticoes and roads; statutes and legal rights; legal judgments and political elections; and, besides these, acquaintances and companionships and those business and commercial transactions that many of them make with many others. A tie narrower still is that of the fellowship between relatives: moving up from the vast fellowship of the human race we end up in a confined and limited one.»

  • 24 See also Cic., inu., 2, 168, discussed by C. Moatti, Respublica, p. 814.

38What Cicero here offers is a list broken down into three categories, the buildings owned by the people, the rules enacted by the people to govern themselves, and private bonds formed by people with each other. Passages like this exist in enormous abundance, together with a highly elaborated legal literature directing the maintenance of those public properties through time. These are not happenstance descriptions of the comforts and conveniences of urban life. On the contrary, they amount to what Cicero might have called enumerative definitions of the social, as Romans were capable of seeing it24. As such, they constitute nothing more and nothing less than full articulations of the understanding embodied in the use of ciuitas as metonym at once for city and civic community.

  • 25 A closely analogous process is visible in the development of the Roman law of persons, where the gr (...)

39Stronger evidence that passages like this one offer insight into the analytic and conceptual apparatus available in Rome in the late Republic and beyond (and, I would urge, much earlier, as well), may be found in the history of those communities punished by Rome, where the unnatural dissolution of a political community lays bear the nature and extent of Roman capacities to disarticulate the very components of civic life25. That is to say, they expose the fault lines and the essential connections, weaker and stronger, between the items in definitions such a Cicero’s. Notable examples – and there are many – include Capua and Fregellae, the former described by Cicero, the latter by Strabo: in both cases, the monumentalized urban core remained but without, in Cicero’s language, even the imago rei publicae. Capua was, rather a site for the storage of grain and purely private dwellings.

Cic., agr., 2, 88: Statuerunt homines sapientes, si agrum Campanis ademissent, magistratus, senatum, publicum ex illa urbe consilium sustulissent, imaginem rei publicae nullam reliquissent, nihil fore quod Capuam timeremus. Itaque hoc perscriptum in monumentis ueteribus reperietis, ut esset urbs quae res eas quibus ager Campanus coleretur suppeditare posset, ut esset locus comportandis condendisque fructibus, ut aratores cultu agrorum defessi urbis domiciliis uterentur, idcirco illa aedificia non esse deleta. «Those wise men decided that if they deprived the Campanians of land and removed from that city its magistrates, Senate, and public council, if, that is, they left there not even the image of a civic community, there would be no reason for us to fear Capua. Therefore you will find this written in our ancient records, that an urban structure can exist to supply whatever is needed to cultivate the ager Campanus, that there should be a place where crops might be collected and stored; that farmers, exhausted from the cultivation of the fields, should make use of urban dwellings. Thus were those building not destroyed.»

Strabo, 5, 3, 10: ἒτι δὲ Φρεγελλαι... νImage 100000000000000C0000000FA5C990F2801A22A5.jpgν μν κώμη, πόλις δέ ποτέ γεγονυImage 10000000000000090000000F109B0F40FC390115.jpgα ἀξιόλογος καὶ τὰς πολλὰς τImage 100000000000000C0000000FFDFFFA83F87C3D10.jpgν ρτι λεχθεισImage 100000000000000C0000000FFDFFFA83F87C3D10.jpgν περιοικίδας πρότερον ἐσχηκυImage 10000000000000090000000F109B0F40FC390115.jpgα, α νImage 100000000000000C0000000FA5C990F2801A22A5.jpgν εἰς αὐτὴν συνImage 10000000000000070000000FD0165004C4DCCB21.jpgρχονται, ἀγοράς τε ποιούμεναι καὶ ίεροποιίας τινάς κατεσκάϕη δ' πò Ῥωμαίων ποστImage 100000000000000B0000000F94A87F5E9CEDBF60.jpgσα. «There also is Fregellae… It is now a village but was once a noteworthy city, which held in subordination many of the communities just mentioned situated around it; they still come together at Fregellae to hold markets and perform sacred rites. It revolted from Rome and so was destroyed by the Romans.»

40In closing, I offer an anecdote, as it happens recounting an incident earlier than the Flavian municipal law with which I began. It is a tale of resistance to Romanization. Indeed, it describes recently conquered peoples – in this case, Germans – intimately familiar with precisely those Roman beliefs – those pretensions, if you will – that animated policies of governance in newly conquered territories. The tale is that of Quintilius Varus, and it is told twice in language that interests me.

Dio Cass., 56, 18, 1-2: εχόν τινα ο ‘PωμαImage 10000000000000090000000F109B0F40FC390115.jpgοι ατImage 10000000000000080000000F3E3808CE806D18AE.jpgς, οκ θρόα λλ' ς που κα τυχε χειρωθέντα, διò οδ ς στορίας μνήμην ϕίκετο κα στρατιImage 100000000000000C0000000FFDFFFA83F87C3D10.jpgταί τε ατImage 100000000000000C0000000FFDFFFA83F87C3D10.jpgν κεImage 10000000000000090000000F109B0F40FC390115.jpg χείμαζον κα πόλεις συνκίζοντο, ς τε τòν κόσμον σϕImage 100000000000000E0000000F8156B29C854A0DD2.jpgν ο βάρβαροι μετερρυθμίζοντο κα γορς νόμιζον συνόδους τε ειρηνικς ποιοImage 100000000000000C0000000FA5C990F2801A22A5.jpgντο. «The Romans were holding portions of (Germany) – not entire regions, but merely such districts as happened to have been subdued, so that no record has been made of the fact; and soldiers of theirs were wintering there and cities were been founded by drawing together scattered settlements. The barbarians were changing the rhythm of their lifestyle to that of the Romans and internalizing the ways of the agora = forum (i.e., committing to the rule of law) and meeting in peaceful assemblies.»

41The later account, that by Dio, is an astonishing combination of traditional Greek language and metaphor in descriptions of culture change, with a distinctly Roman conception of what cities were for.

Vell., 2, 118, 1: At illi, quod nisi expertus uix credat, in summa feritate uersutissimi natumque mendacio genus, simulantes fictas litium series et nunc prouocantes alter alterum in iurgia, nunc agentes gratias, quod ea Romana iustitia finiret feritasque sua nouitate incognitae disciplinae mitesceret et solita armis discerni iure terminarentur, in summam socordiam perduxere Quintilium, usque eo, ut se praetorem urbanum in foro ius dicere, non in mediis Germaniae finibus exercitui praeesse crederet. «But the Germans, in a fashion scarcely credible to one who has no experience of them, are extraordinarily crafty and terribly savage all at once – a race born to lying. By feigning a series of made-up lawsuits, now summoning each other to disputes, now giving thanks that Roman justice was settling them and that their savagery was being rendered mild by this unknown and novel discipline and that quarrels which were customarily settled by arms were now being settled by law, they brought Quintilius to such a degree of negligence that he came to think of himself as though he were the urban praetor administering justice in the forum and not as commanding an army in the middle of Germany.»

42That of Velleius is even more fascinating, for he depicts Varus as operating in exactly the fashion recommended to the local magistrates of Roman Spain by the Flavian municipal law: as though he were a praetor of the Roman people, administering justice between Roman citizen in the forum of the city of Rome.


1 This essay adumbrates arguments elaborated at much greater length in a forthcoming monograph, The Ambitions of Government, Berkeley, 2011 (= Ambitions of Government). Because that work provides substantial bibliographies on all topics raised here, citations in this essay are kept to a minimum.

2 M. Crawford (éd.), Roman Statutes, Londres, 1996 (= RS).

3 Relevant at least are RS, 6, 15, 16, 17, 24, 28 and 29.

4 See RS, 16, ll. 4-5: de ea re in eo municipio colonia praefectura iudicio certare uolet; RS, 17, l. 3: in ea colonia; RS, 18, l. 7: in ea colonia eoue municipio…; RS, 24, l. 83: queiquomque in municipeis colonieis praefectureis foreis concilibuleis ciuium Romanorum IIuir(ei) IIIIuir(ei) erunt alioue quo nomine magistratum potestatemue sufragio eorum…; RS, 28, col. 2, ll. 54-55: queiquomque in eorum quo oppido municipio colonia praefectura foro ueico conciliabulo castello territorioue quae in Gallia Cisalpina sunt erunt, iure deicundo praerit…

5 RS, 16, l. 11: quoiusque IIuiri eiusue qui ibei… iure dicundo praefuit…; RS, 17, l. 15: quoius ibei ex hac lege arbitrei recuperatorum…; RS, 24, l. 83: queiquomque in municipeis colonieis praefectureis foreis concilibuleis ciuium Romanorum IIuir(ei) IIIIuir(ei) erunt alioue quo nomine magistratum potestatemue sufragio eorum…; RS, 28, col. 2, ll. 54-55: queiquomque in eorum quo oppido municipio colonia praefectura foro ueico conciliabulo castello territorioue quae in Gallia Cisalpina sunt erunt, iure deicundo praerit…

6 RS, 16, l. 6:… et si ea res sestertium decem milium minorisue erit.

7 RS, 17, ll. 16-17 (the text is defective, but the sense seems clear).

8 R(ubrica). Quo iure in tertium denuntietur, dies diffindatur diffi<s>susue sit, res iudicetur, lis iudici{i} damni sit, res in iudicio esse desinat.
… et si intra it tempus, quod legis Iuliae, quae de iudici<i>s priuatis proxime lata est, kapite XII senatusue consultis ad it kaput legis pertinentibus conpr<e>hensum est, iudicatum non sit, uti res in iudicio non sit, siremps lex {r} i(us) [c](causa) que esto adque{m} uti esset si eam rem in urbe Roma praetor p(opuli) R(omani) inter ciues Romanos iudicari iussisset…
Text and translation in J. González, «The Lex Irnitana: a new Flavian municipal law», JRS, 76, 1986, p. 147-243.

9 I have elsewhere explored at some length the conceptual relationship between territoriality and sovereignty in Roman legal thought and diplomatic practice, and on the use by Romans of public law as an arena for debating the project of empire: see «Aliens, ambassadors and the integrity of the empire», Law & History Review, 26, 3 (Fall 2008), p. 491-519; and «Diana on the Aventine», dans H. Cancik et J. Rüpke (éd.), Die Religion des Imperium Romanum, Tübingen, 2009, p. 99-113.

10 Gaius, Inst., 4, 103-105: Omnia autem iudicia aut legitimo iure consistunt aut imperio continentur. Legitima sunt iudicia, quae in urbe Roma uel intra primum urbis Romae miliarium inter omnes ciues Romanos sub uno iudice accipiuntur; eaque <e> lege Iulia iudiciaria, nisi in anno et sex mensibus iudicata fuerint, expirant. Et hoc est quod uulgo dicitur, e lege Iulia litem anno ex sex mensibus mori. Imperio uero continentur recuperatoria, et quae sub uno iudice accipiuntur interueniente peregrini persona iudicis aut litigatoris. In eadem causa sunt quaecumque extra primum urbis Romae miliarium tam inter ciues Romanos quam inter peregrinos accipiuntur. Ideo autem imperio contineri iudicia dicuntur, quia tamdiu ualent quamdiu is qui ea praecepit imperium habebit.

11 On legal fictions at Rome, see for now Y. Thomas, «Fictio legis. L’empire de la fiction romaine», Droits: revue française de théorie juridique, 21, 1995, p. 17-63. The embracing of aliens before the law, whether through fiction, analogy, or some other formal mechanism, is a major concern of C. Ando, Ambitions of Government.

12 See Gaius, Inst., 1, 1, with C. Ando, «The ontology of religious institutions», History of religions, forthcoming.

13 An inquiry into this topic would have to pursue at least two lines of inquiry: the influence in the early classical period of private law of association upon public law and political philosophy (cf. C. Moatti, «Respublica et droit dans la Rome républicaine», MÉFRM, 113-2, 2001, p. 811-837 = Respublica); and second, the redescription of sub- or extra-Roman political formations ad exemplum rei publicae (see e. g. Gaius, ad edictum provinciale, bk. 3 fr. 87 Lenel = Dig., III, 4, 1).

14 See «Imperial identities», dans T. Whitmarsh (éd.), Local knowledge and Microidentities in the Imperial Greek World, Cambridge, 2010, p. 17-45; and «From Republic to Empire», dans M. Peachin (éd.), Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World, Oxford, 2010.

15 For a reading of Cicero, Leg., 2, 5 in the context of late Republican dates on the unification of Italy see C. Ando, «Vergil’s Italy», dans D. S. Levene et D. Nelis (éd.), Clio and the poets: Augustan poetry and the traditions of ancient historiography, Leyde, 2002, p. 123-142.

16 Tac., Agr., 21 (trans. Winterbottom, modified): «The following winter was spent in the prosecution of sound measures. In order that a population dispersi ac rudes, scattered and uncivilized, and proportionately eager for warfare, might be habituated through pleasures to quies et otium, peace and quiet, Agricola exhorted individuals and assisted communities to build temples, fora, and houses, in such a way that eagerness for his esteem took the place of coercion. Moreover, he began to educate the sons of the leading men in the liberal arts and to prefer the talents of the Britons to the learning of the Gauls, with the result that peoples who had once rejected the Roman tongue then sought eloquence. At that time, too, our manner of dress became a distinction, and the toga became common. Little by little the Britons lapsed into the blandishments of vice, to porticos and baths and the elegance of dinner-parties. And among the inexperienced, this feature of servitude was called humanitas, culture».

17 For the Flavian survey at Corinth see D. G. Romano, «A tale of two cities: Roman colonies at Corinth», dans E. Fentress (éd.), Romanization and the city: creations, transformations and failures. Proceedings of a conference held at the American Academy in Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the excavations at Cosa, 14-16 May, 1998 (JRA Suppl. 38), Portsmouth, 2000, p. 83-104.

18 On the survey at Biterrois see M. Clavel-Lévêque, «Centuriation, géométrie et harmonie. Le cas du Biterrois», dans J.-Y. Guillaumin (éd.), Mathématiques dans l’antiquité, Centre Jean-Palerne, Mémoires XI, Saint-Étienne, 1992, p. 161-184.

19 For convenience of reference, I cross-reference to Lachmann’s repertoire: see F. Blume, K. Lachmann, A. Rudoff, Die Schriften der römischen Feldmesser, Berlin, 1848, plate 29, figure 219. The so-called Codex Arcerianus, namely, the Codex Guelferbytanus 36.23 Augusteus 2 °, may be consulted in the facsimile edition of H. Butzmann, Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum. Codex Arcerianus A der Herzog-August-Bibliothek zu Wolfenbüttel, Leyde, 1970.

20 I reproduce Lachmann’s line drawing of Wolfenbüttel Gud. lat. 105 (G): Lachmann plate 23, fig. 196b.

21 On the reconstruction of the cadastral map of Arausio see A. Piganiol, Les documents cadastraux de la colonie romaine d’Orange, Paris, 1962. These fragments are from cadastre B, ff. 193-195, on which see A. Piganiol, p. 230 with pl. XX.

22 The illustrations in the manuscripts of the agrimensores have received less attention than they deserve, not simply from historians of Roman cognition but also from art historians. For now, see most recently D. Acolat, «Représenter le paysage antique. Des normes des arpenteurs romains aux témoignages épigraphiques (iie-ixe siècle)», Histoire & sociétés rurales, 24, 2005, p. 7-56.

23 Governmental processes in fact regularly served as conceptual archetypes in ancient literature, as sources of metaphor and grounds in processes of analogical construal. For consideration of some examples (including the census, authentication of documents, the reading aloud of legislation, among others) and discussion of the importance of the phenomenon overall, see C. Ando, Imperial ideology and provincial loyalty in the Roman empire, Berkeley, 2000, p. 41-44, 108, 336-353, and 384-385.

24 See also Cic., inu., 2, 168, discussed by C. Moatti, Respublica, p. 814.

25 A closely analogous process is visible in the development of the Roman law of persons, where the gradual disarticulation of duties and entitlements and their recombination in various forms reflects remarkably complex abilities to ideate and abstract. For extended consideration of this material see C. Ando, Ambitions of Government, chapter 5.

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