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By Jonathan Edmondson

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Additional resources for Cities and Urban Life in the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire, 30 BCE–250 CE

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Gradually people started to give in to the attractions of vice: porticoes, baths and the elegance of banquets. And this was called ‘‘civilization’’ (humanitas) by people who did not know any better, although it was in fact part of their enslavement. (Tac. Agr. 21) These remarks develop some of the ideas articulated by Strabo in the passages discussed at the start of this chapter. The Romans were keen to reorganize peoples with scattered settlement patterns into communities with fixed limits and a clearly identifiable administrative center.

Tacitus also emphasizes how crucial the local elites were to this civilizing process. It was often their personal interaction with an imperial administrator such as Agricola that sparked such building programs. Once the idea of the city had been planted in the minds of the local elite, it was fostered by their growing familiarity with central Roman concepts such as humanitas, gleaned from their reading of key Roman texts (not least Vergil’s Aeneid). But most of all it was their ambition to enhance their own status and outdo their counterparts in neighboring communities (honoris aemulatio, in Tacitus’ words) that provided the fuel to carry these projects through to fruition.

Tacitus also emphasizes how crucial the local elites were to this civilizing process. It was often their personal interaction with an imperial administrator such as Agricola that sparked such building programs. Once the idea of the city had been planted in the minds of the local elite, it was fostered by their growing familiarity with central Roman concepts such as humanitas, gleaned from their reading of key Roman texts (not least Vergil’s Aeneid). But most of all it was their ambition to enhance their own status and outdo their counterparts in neighboring communities (honoris aemulatio, in Tacitus’ words) that provided the fuel to carry these projects through to fruition.

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