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More in this section Richard Alstonpages

The City and its Reception

Classics and the Modern City

Work in this area examines the formative influences of Classical history on the cities of Modern Britain. As industrialisation led to the growth of cities across the Western world, social thinkers became increasingly concerned with the ‘urban problems’ of poverty and disorder. They looked to the Classical city both to understand what was happening in their cities and for possible solutions. Whereas Rome provided an example of what might happen if social problems were left unchecked, the Greek city provided an ideal urban community. The urban reformers of the US and Britain drew the conclusion that they should develop cities on the Greek model. As a result, they started to build new towns in the countryside, and abandon industrial society as failed. Classical ideas transformed social thinking and the urban landscape of the US and UK. A preliminary article has been published with Journal of Historical Geography together with some book chapters. I am currently working on a book-length project looking at Classicism and the development of three cities in the nineteenth century: London, Athens, and Rome.  

Urbanization and Politics in Roman Italy

Work in this area derives from work on the Roman revolution of c. 49 - c. 28 BCE. I examine how the politics of Rome was shaped by poverty and in particular the poverty of the Roman urban population. The project uses comparative material drawn from contemporary African societies to understand the operation of clientalism in violent, non-Western politics. I also use geographical theory to discuss models of political economy (and their misuse in Classical history). The central elements of the project are to reconstruct the political economy of Roman and the lives of the poor in Roman Republican Society. Rome's Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire is the major output from this work. 

Completed Projects

The City in Roman and Byzantine Egypt studied the development of the city in Egypt over seven centuries, arguing that the cities were socially transformative of Egyptian society. Since the publication of that book, I have worked on settlement patterns in the Near East in late antiquity, arguing that the survival of the Classical settlement pattern into the eighth century CE indicates that the late antique development of these regions depended on endogenous regional developments, centred on cities, rather than imperial level structures. More generally, I have published on the theory of urban settlement in antiquity, in particular in essays in the collections I have edited with Onno van Nijf on the Greek Polis after the Classical Age: Feeding the Ancient City, Political Culture in the Greek City after the Classical Age, and Cults, Creeds and Identities in the Greek City after the Classical Age.


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