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Impearls: CotRCS: Types of provincial city

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Earthdate 2007-10-13

Types of provincial city   by G. H. Stevenson

As was pointed out in the first chapter, the policy which Rome pursued in dealing with provincial cities was very different under the Republic from what it became when Cæsar had set the example of founding colonies overseas.  In Italy the possession by a city of full Roman rights brought with it such obvious advantages that the allied communities were bound in time to demand inclusion in the Roman state, even if this inclusion involved a certain loss of autonomy.

In the provinces of the Republic the situation was quite different.  The provincials were definitely subjects of Rome, and paid tribute in token of their submission.  Even in provinces where city-life existed and where the level of civilization was high citizenship was conferred only on a few selected individuals and not on communities as a whole.  At this period the highest privilege which a provincial city could possess was to be regarded as an ally of Rome, and to be included in the small class of treaty-states (civitates foederatae), of which three existed in Sicily and a few in other provinces.

Civitates Foederatae

There was a certain unreality about this status even under the Republic, when Rome was much more than an ordinary city-state.  The terms of an alliance which happens to be preserved between Rome and the tiny Greek island of Astypalæa are almost ridiculous.  The people of Rome and the people of Astypalæa swear to assist each other in war, and not to permit the enemies of the other to make use of their respective territories.

In spite of this, however, the status of a civitas foederata was considered to be a desirable one, and it survived even into the Principate.  Towns possessing it were exempt from the ordinary taxes and the jurisdiction of the governor, and were subject to their own laws.

Under the Republic what provincial cities wanted most was to be free from Roman rule, while in the Principate the greatest privilege which they could receive was to be fully incorporated in the Roman state.  Citizenship came to be regarded by provincials, as it had been regarded by Italians, as preferable to the “freedom conferred by a treaty” [Cicero], and many treaty-states, e.g., Tauromenium, Messana, Gades, and Saguntum, became at a later date Roman colonies or municipia.  The treaties made with them seem to have varied in their terms; thus Tauromenium in Sicily was not required to provide ships, while this obligation was imposed on Messana.  The number of these cities would probably have been greater had republican Rome been willing to make full use of provincials in her army and navy, but she could not trust their loyalty and was forced to raise armies in Italy which to a large extent were paid for out of provincial taxation.

Some of these treaty-states survived into the Principate, though their status was then even more of an anachronism than it had been.  Trajan treated with great respect the privileges enjoyed by the federate city Amisus in Bithynia and exempted it from the rule forbidding the formation of clubs which was rigorously enforced in other cities of the province.  Certain important Gallic tribes described themselves as civitates foederatae, but in this case the title must have been purely complimentary and can scarcely have involved financial or other privileges.

Liberae Civitates

Somewhat similar was the status of the free towns, the so-called civitates sine foedere liberae et immunes, which were much more numerous.  Their status was more precarious in that it was not based on a sworn treaty but on the free gift of Rome.  In other respects, however, they enjoyed the same advantages as the treaty-states.  An extant inscription referring to Termessus in Pisidia in the last century of the Republic shows that it could make its own laws and levy customs-dues.  They were exempt from the jurisdiction of the governor, and Cicero can bring no more serious charge against Piso than that he infringed the privileges of the free cities of Macedonia.

Though at first liberae civitates were normally immunes (exempt from taxation), it is certain that at a later date freedom and immunity were distinct privileges which might or might not be combined.  There is no reason to think that the numerous free cities of the eastern provinces were exempt from taxation any more than the free or federate tribes of Gaul.  In the decree by which Nero conferred freedom on the cities of Greece immunity is mentioned as an additional favour.

Civitates Peregrinae

Before the change of Roman policy which led to the foundation in the provinces of colonies and municipia these two classes of federate and free cities occupied the highest place among the provincial communities.  Below them stood the ordinary “stipendiary” towns whose inhabitants had no claim to exemption from taxation.  Little is known of the details of their constitutions, but it is clear that they enjoyed a good deal of autonomy, the amount of which was determined by the Lex Provinciae and the edicts of the governors.  The names of their magistrates and the general character of their constitutional arrangements seem to have varied considerably.

In Asia Minor, at least, some of the cities were at the end of the Republic extremely democratic, and even under the Principate the Roman tendency to encourage oligarchy was less successful there than elsewhere.  This tendency is illustrated by Pliny’s statement that it was better that new members of the local senates in Bithynia should be the sons of honesti rather than members of the plebs.  At a period when it was the great ambition of a provincial town to be come a colonia or a municipium it was necessary to have a constitution which conformed fairly closely to the Roman model.

Latin Rights

An intermediate position between these non-Roman towns and the coloniae and municipia of Roman citizens was occupied by the cities possessing the so-called Latin rights.  This status, which, as we have seen, had existed in Italy under the Republic, is found in the western provinces from the age of Cæsar.  It provided a stepping-stone to full citizenship, and its conferment on whole provinces is a sign that they were ripe for romanization.  Cæsar proposed, at any rate, to grant it to all the cities of Sicily; Nero gave it to the Maritime Alps, and Vespasian to the whole of Spain.

Two surviving charters of towns which benefited from this last grant are our chief sources of information on the details of provincial municipal organization.  The ordinary citizens of such towns remained peregrini, though they received certain privileges, e.g., the ius commercii, denied to other provincials, but the governing class were given means of acquiring the franchise.  All men who held a magistracy became Roman citizens together with their parents, wives and families, and in the second century a.d. this privilege was extended to all members of the municipal senate, whether they had held a magistracy or not.

Thus a well-defined aristocracy was created in these towns and a stimulus given to the competition for municipal honours, which, as will be seen, were sometimes regarded as a burden.  The title of municipium, which in Italy had been confined to purely Roman towns, was in the provinces freely employed by these Latin cities.




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