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Cities of Empire

Urbanism and Imperialism in the Roman Empire

Course Code: CL5314 

Course Tutor: Richard Alston: r.alston@rhul.ac.uk

 Location and time: 2013: Bedford Square, Royal Holloway Annex: Thursdays 11-1, Spring term

 Credits: 20


  1. City and Empire: Theories of Imperialism and Urbanism
  2. Writing Alexandria: Philo and the Greek City
  3. The Roman City in Egypt
  4. Making Romans: Utopian Cities and the Roman West
  5. Cultural Memories and Political Cultures: The City in Asia Minor
  6. What is a City: Urban Theory I: City as Nature
  7. What is a City: Urban Theory II: City and Community
  8. Imperial Cities: Cities and Religious Change
  9. Feeding the Roman City
  10. Cities in Crisis: The City of the Third-Century West



The course looks at the development of Roman urbanism within the Roman Empire. It relates both changes in urban form and the spread of Classical urbanism to Roman imperial cultural, economic, and political structures. The course aims to question traditional approaches to Roman imperial urbanism, using in particular, contemporary theorisations of the city and employing a variety of different analytical perspectives. These include examination of ancient writings on urban communities (Philo on Alexandria), ideas of acculturation and cultural change in cities of the West, notions of political culture in cities of the East, issues of religious identity, and finally considerations of the sociological nature of the city. The period covered will be approximately AD 30 to AD 300 and will introduce students to the varied and changing nature of Roman urbanism, East and West.


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able

·         demonstrate a critical awareness of approaches to studying the ancient city and ancient urban society in the Roman period

·         show a systematic understanding of the varied history  of the urban form over a long period to be able to compare urban forms in different periods

·         discuss structural changes in Roman society and the cities over this period with a critical understanding of past research.

·         understand and evaluate current scholarship concerning the development of urbanism in different regions and in different periods.

·         analyse problems and demonstrate a knowledge of the general context of the history of cities and theories of urbanism and the formation of urban communities.

·         demonstrate individual study skills, such as researching, presentation and analytical thought.


Formative: Essay Draft 

Summative: Essay (3,500-4,000 words): One electronic copy and one hard copy. (100%).


Key Readings

Alston, R The City in Roman and Byzantine Egypt (Routledge, London, New York, 2002)

Alston, R and Onno van Nijf (2008) Feeding the Ancient City (The Greek City in the Post-Classical Age I) (Peeters, 2008)

Alston, R. and Onno van Nijf, Political Culture in the Greek City after the Classical Age (Peeters, 2011)

M.I.Finley, The Ancient Economy (1973).

M.I. Finley ‘The ancient city  from Foustel de Coulanges to Max Weber and Beyond’, CSSH 19 (1977), 305-27 reprinted in M.I. Finley ( Economy and Society in Ancient Greece (ed. B.D. Shaw & R.P. Saller) (Harmondsworth,1981)

M.I. Finley  Ancient History: Evidence and Models (London,1985).

W.Jongman, The Economy and Society of Pompeii (1988).

N. Morley, Metropolis and Hinterland: The City of Rome and the Italian Economy 200 BC - AD 200 (Cambridge, 1996) [330.9376 MOR]

H. Parkins and C. Smith Trade, Traders and the Ancient City (1998).

Holleran, Claire. Shopping in Ancient Rome: The Retail Trade in the Late Republic and the Principate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Ray Laurence, Simon Esmonde-Cleary, Gareth Sears (edd.) The city in the Roman West, c. 250 BC-c. AD 250. (Cambridge, 2011)

Davis, M. (1992 [1990 1st ed.]) City of Quartz: Excavating the future in Los Angeles, London.

Deutsche, R. (1991) ‘Boys Town’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 9: 5-30.

Gregory, D. (1994) Geographical Imaginations, Cambridge, Mass., Oxford.

Harvey, D. (1973) Social Justice and the City, London.

Harvey, D. (1979) ‘Monument and myth’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 69, 362-81.

Harvey, D. (1990) ‘Between Space and Time: reflections on the Geographical Imagination’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80: 418-34, reprinted in T. Barnes and D. Gregory (eds) (1997) Reading Human Geography: The poetics and politics of inquiry, London: 257-79.

Harvey, D. (1991) The Condition of Postmodernism: An enquiry into the origins of cultural change, Cambridge, Oxford.

Lefebvre, H. (1991) The Production of Space (trans. D. Nicholson-Smith), Oxford, Cambridge.

Massey, D. (1991a) ‘Flexible sexism’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 9: 31-57.

Massey, D. (1991b) ‘A global sense of place’, Marxism Today (June): 24-9, reprinted in T. Barnes and D. Gregory (eds) (1997) Reading Human Geography: The poetics and politics of inquiry, London: 315-23.

Soja, E.W. (1989) Postmodern Geographies: the Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory, London, New York

This page gives indicative information. Detailed information will be available via Moodle. 


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