Isabel Moreira

title.none: Brogiolo et al., eds, Towns and their Territories Between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Isabel Moreira)

identifier.other: baj9928.0111.003 01.11.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Isabel Moreira, University of Utah,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Brogiolo, Gian Pietro, Nancy Gauthier, and Neil Christie, eds. Towns and their Territories Between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The Transformation of the Roman World, Vol. 9. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Pp. iv, 404. 125.00. ISBN: 9-004-11869-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.11.03

Brogiolo, Gian Pietro, Nancy Gauthier, and Neil Christie, eds. Towns and their Territories Between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. The Transformation of the Roman World, Vol. 9. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Pp. iv, 404. 125.00. ISBN: 9-004-11869-1.

Reviewed by:

Isabel Moreira
University of Utah

The past decade has seen a flurry of scholarly interest in towns and urbanism in late antiquity. This volume joins some other notable essay collections devoted to the theme, including J. Rich ed., The City in Late Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1992), N. Christie and S. T. Loseby eds., Towns in Transition (Aldershot: Scholar's Press, 1996), Claude Leppelley, ed., La fin de la cite antique et le debut de la cite medievale (Bari: Edipuglia, 1996), and G. P. Brogiolo and B. Ward-Perkins eds., The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999). The last mentioned is in the same series as the book currently under review: the proceedings of the "Transformations of the Roman World" project sponsored by the European Science Foundation.

This volume of thirteen essays is the second collection of papers generated by the "town" group of that project. Whereas the focus of the first collection of essays was on the town specifically, this second collection seeks to examine the town in relation to its territory. In antiquity, it is argued, town and territory were so interconnected that they functioned as a single unit, often indistinguishable from one another in the terminology of contemporary authors. Towns prospered by siphoning resources from the countryside. But what happened when essentially non-urban barbarian elites took control of towns and the territories upon which they depended? What constituted a "town" in the post-Roman period? This question, posed by Neil Christie in his contribution to the collection, is one with which most contributors sought to grapple. What constituted a "territory" or "hinterland" is less consistently addressed.

In the absence of a substantive introduction to the collection, the opening essay by Pablo C. Diaz, "City and Territory in Hispania in Late Antiquity", introduces themes explored by all contributors to some degree. Diaz charts an evolution from the late antique concept of the city, in which the city and its territory formed an integrated unit, to the beginnings of the early medieval city, which was little more than an "appendix" (sic) to the countryside. Diaz uses Hispania as a model to make more general inferences about town transformation in western Europe. He examines the function of the city in antiquity, the duties and personnel of its city administration, and its relationship with its territories. Drawing on literary and archaeological evidence, he argues that many ancient cities disappeared only in so far as their urban characteristics disappeared. Cities which had once been centres for the collection of taxation for centralised powers (the Roman imperial structure) relinquished that duty under the Visigoths as private landowners began to collect rents from their lands and no longer looked to connect with centralised powers. Justice was increasingly meted out on the peasantry by landowners (including monasteries), notwithstanding the attempt of Visigothic legislation to focus justice on the authority of the king and his cities. The formation of private armies obviated the need for centralised payment for defense. As a result of these changes, Diaz argues, the countryside developed its own morphology, which made it both distinct from the town and virtually independent from it. Diaz points to the important distinction to be made between the perception of the unity of city and its territory (the "fiction" of unity, as he terms it) that is generated by ecclesiastical writings centred on bishops and urban cults, and what was really going on in practice: the "segmentation" of power from centralised authority to a multiplicity of local powers in the wake of the fifth century barbarian invasions. The transformation was complete when "territoria could, definitively, ignore the fact that they had a city." The scope of this article makes its placement at the beginning of the collection an obvious choice. It is therefore especially unfortunate that it is often badly rendered into English (a problem with a number of contributions in this collection)

To differing degrees, the articles in this collection address the same issues of the relationship of city to territory through their chosen regional, institutional, or source focus. Most authors confront the problem of reconciling and interpreting literary and archaeological evidence directly. Michel Fixot's "La cite et son territoire: l'exemple du Sud-Est de la Gaule" examines encomium literature on the city to better understand the ideal image of the town as indissoluble from the territory, and puts that evidence to the test of archaeology, asking whether the town's relationship to its territory was that of "harmonious organizer" or "parasitic exploiter"? The ensuing discussion of archaeological evidence reveals a far more complex picture than that of a simple town / countryside dichotomy, and argues convincingly that the rise (and occasional disappearance) of "secondary agglomerations" played an important role in the new face of political, social, and religious relationships between towns and their hinterlands.

Gisela Ripoll and Javier Arce revisit the issue of continuity of villa use in their contribution, "The Transformation and End of Roman villae in the West (Fourth-Seventh Centuries AD): Problems and Perspectives". Their paper examines the pars rustica of the villa estate, focusing on those sites where a history of transformation could be evidenced over centuries. They examine how villa structures were adapted for use as production areas, monastic buildings, and cemeteries. Sometimes villae served as the nucleus of a future medieval town or parish. They examine cases of barbarian appropriation of villae (including estates), charting the gradual change that took place in the "system of exploitation". Their examples of villa reuse span the western Mediterranean: modern day Spain and Portugal, France, England, Germany, Italy, North Africa. Unfortunately this ambitious synthesis of archaeological evidence is ill-served by its diagrams. For example, Fig. 5 depicting the villa phases of Sao Cucufate (the tilde over the letter "a" is often missing) has no legend and the details described in the text are nearly impossible to follow by reference to the plan. (The study from which the plan is drawn is not easily available to scholars.)

Sauro Gelichi's paper on ceramic production and distribution has an even broader geographical and chronological span, covering much of the Mediterranean basin, East and West, and keeping in view developments as late as the tenth century. Gelichi's approach is to uncover "general patterns of behaviour" and "theoretical models of production and distribution". The paper highlights the problems in generalising about urban versus rural production and consumption. The urban example of Constantinople ties pottery evidence more closely to the survival of urban elites than can be claimed for some other areas of the former Roman Empire.

Wolfram Brandes and John Haldon focus on the fiscal consequences of the "ruralization" of Byzantine society between the seventh and ninth centuries. They argue that, with the notable exception of Constantinople, the central role that cities had once played in the East Roman state's fiscal administration changed "as small defensible centres become increasingly part of the State's strategic requirements". There are interesting discussions on Heraclius' possible reintroduction of the chrysargyron (the collatio lustralis) in the sixth century, on the role of state-run warehouses for storing taxes collected in kind, and on the fate of the old civic elites. The article concludes with some suggestions of how developments in these centuries provide a context for the tenth century "revival of towns" as a "de-ruralization of social and economic life and the re-assertion of the dominance of urban centres over hinterlands."

The next four essays examine in various ways how the history of Christian institutions and christianisation efforts both reflect on, and are informed by, the relationship between urban resources and the dynamism and patronage of religious centres in rural areas. Nancy Gauthier's fine article on episcopal networks of power in early medieval Gaul is a strongly argued appraisal of the nature and quality of episcopal control, both theoretically and practically. Bishops defined and derived their powers in relationship to the community they addressed: the diocese, episcopal peers, the papacy, the judicial forum, and their embeddedness in aristocratic society. It was the latter which effected change most profoundly: as Gallo-Roman bishops were replaced by candidates of the new Germanic aristocracy, ties between men usurped more abstract ideas of State or Church. Gauthier argues that the bishop's identity, once so rooted in the territoriality of his diocese up to the sixth century, changed so profoundly that by the seventh century the bishopric's tie with its territory was lost, with a concomitant dislocation of the bishop's control over his diocese. The bishop remained a powerful figure, she notes, but the notion of territory had disappeared. The full significance of this powerful and densely-argued paper will be felt in any subsequent studies on the Merovingian episcopate, and fully justifies the importance of the book's theme.

Gauthier's article is followed by another exceptional paper. Gisella Cantino Wataghin's "Christianisation et organisation ecclesiastique des campagnes: L'Italie du nord aux IVe-VIIIe siecles", is a critical examination of Christian presence in the north Italian countryside, assessing the problems and value of the literary and archaeological evidence. Her analysis of the evidence of rural oratories, baptismal churches and rural monasteries can be read profitably by those working on other regions of the West. Her discussion of the discontinuity of rural monasteries in northern Italy as a result of the Gothic Wars and Lombard invasions, is illuminating.

The final two articles focus on specific religious sources and practices. Ross Balzaretti examines twenty-six charters in the Milanese archives, A.D. 712-99, to discuss urban monasteries, rural donations, and the nature of charter evidence in the Archdiocese of Milan. Rural transfers of property were recorded and witnessed in urban settings by means of a written document which was a tool of urban culture: "Power over the recording process reflected the real social power of townspeople over the peasantry." Lombard monasticism, he argues, was primarily an urban phenomenon, which "slowly diffused civic habits and values throughout the mostly rural lands which they came to control". Martina Caroli's article, "Bringing Saints to Cities and Monasteries: Translationes in the Making of a Sacred Geography (Ninth-Tenth Centuries)", covers known territory but adds occasional insights as it addresses the city / territory theme.

The next group of articles focus more on towns than on territories. In "Towns, Land and Power: German-Roman survivals and interactions in fifth and sixth-century Pannonia", Neil Christie plunges in where many hesitate to tread: an analysis of archaeological findings with no contemporary historical source as a back-up. Mapping the influence of the many barbarian groups which made a temporary home in this region is an extraordinarily complex problem. In order to straddle some of the difficulties of the Pannonian evidence, Christie looks for potential models and parallels in better documented areas such as Noricum (a model for continuity) and Anglo-Saxon Britain (for hiatus). Considering Lombard Pannonia he questions whether a coherent picture of a post-Roman "town" existed and considers the possibility that, for the Lombards, towns played a symbolic and administrative role more than an economic one. Rather more belaboured is Gian Pietro Brogiolo's paper, "Towns, Forts and the Countryside: Archaeological Models for Northern Italy in the Early Lombard Period (AD 568-650)". Brogiolo admits that better evidence is available for the eighth century than for the seventh. His decision, then, to focus on the period before the eighth century when so many contributors extended their research into the ninth and tenth centuries, makes for a narrowly interpreted and sometimes tedious discussion. Furthermore, the reader must struggle with such baffling terms as "pre-Alpine territories", "capillary presence", and "economic gerarchy".

By comparison, the study of Constantinople and major western cities profits from a wealth of literary and architectural sources. Bryan Ward-Perkins examines the ideological or cultural territory of the city by looking at the influence on the West of the ceremonial architecture of Constantinople. Ward-Perkins considers the power of imitation and of being imitated in turn. From renovations to a papal dining-room, to an Arab-style palace near Constantinople, Ward-Perkins traces the ways in which western and eastern powers strove to rival, and ultimately succeeded in breaking, the cultural and ideological hegemony of Constantinople.

In the final essay in the collection, John Mitchell's "Artistic Patronage and Cultural Strategies in Lombard Italy" highlights the often unappreciated sophistication of Lombard artistic production, which was not merely inspired by antique models but which at times even improved upon them. In Italy the Franks (non-urban) encountered the lavish urban culture of the Lombards and were influenced by it. The paper includes an interesting discussion of the highly decorated monastic complex of San Vincenzo al Volturno and is accompanied by sixteen black and white plates.

Nancy Gauthier's conclusion to the collection is a valiant attempt to impose structure on papers whose chronological focus ranges from the fourth through the tenth centuries. Her discussion of major themes would have been useful as an introduction.

Few papers in this collection truly break new ground in research, however most contributions have bibliographically dense and informative footnotes, and usefully synthesize the state of research in their areas. There is also value in a collection which seeks to fully integrate the evidence of archaeology and art history into the discussion of the towns / territories theme. Unfortunately, some papers lack clarity due to poor translation. The discussion of the archaeology of the hinterland is more directly addressed in the essays of Diaz, Fixot, Ripoll and Acre, Gelichi, Brandes and Haldon, and Wataghin, than in others. As Brandes and Haldon point out, "hinterlands had also a social, economic and cultural identity". But for many regions rural archaeology is scant, so some contributors focused more on methodology for future research rather than attempting an overall picture. However, taken as a whole, the essays reveal that the balance of power and resources enjoyed by town and territory could shift in response to military crisis and to the cultural priorities of its inhabitants, and that, with some exceptions, there was a general shift in this period (dates differing by region) towards a privileging of the territory over the town.

The book has an index but lacks a bibliography.