BSR Online Lecture | Thinking about encroachment in the cities of the Roman west


Penny Goodman (Leeds)

BSR–Institute of Classical Studies Lecture

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Textual and archaeological evidence from across the Roman empire indicates that public streets, spaces and monuments were frequently built over or impeded by new constructions. This phenomenon, usually known as encroachment, is particularly associated with late antiquity and the cities of the eastern empire. But scholars of that period increasingly recognise that it occurred most at cities which remained populous and economically active, reflecting continued competition for space. It is also identifiable in western cities, and from a much earlier date, but in these contexts has tended to be discussed in isolation, rather than as a widespread phenomenon.

This paper discusses some of the evidence for encroachment in western cities at the height of the empire, asking how we can usefully build it into our understanding of Roman urbanism. One line of enquiry explores what it reveals about the dynamics of power and control in urban communities. In what circumstances was encroachment most likely to happen? Who might object in practice? Another thread concerns the methodological issues which it poses. For example, how reliably can we identify archaeological cases of encroachment without texts to confirm whether the newly-enclosed space was acquired opportunistically or by agreement? What proxies, if any, can we use to help us distinguish between the two situations? Examples are drawn from Rome, Pompeii, Timgad and Caerwent.

Penelope Goodman is senior lecturer in Roman history at the University of Leeds. Her work on Roman urbanism primarily concerns the relationship between urban space and social interactions within the community. She has published a monograph on the Roman urban periphery and articles on temple locations, the spatial distribution of workshops and the external and internal boundaries of the city of Rome.