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Thu, 19 Feb 2009 17:40:50 -0600
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Late Roman Spain and Its Cities. By MICHAEL KULIKOWSKI. Baltimore and 
London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Pp. xxi + 489. Cloth, $57.00. 
ISBN 0–8018–7978–7.

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CJ Forum Online Exclusive 2009.02.03

The title and cover picture of a book are inseparably connected; the cover, 
so to speak, depicts the words, illustrating the subject they name or 
referring to one of its parts. Michael Kulikowski’s monograph does not 
meet this expectation. The cover picture shows the terrace sanctuary of 
Munigua or rather, to put it more precisely, its monumental retaining wall 
at its western side. It thus presents a view that appears after a walk of 
about 9 km—the starting point is the small town of Villanueva del Rio y 
Minas—through the foothills of the Sierra Morena, through olive groves, 
woods of holm oaks and cork-oaks, along good-natured and lethargic bulls. 
As we know due to the long years of excavations by the Deutsches 
Archäologisches Institut Madrid, Munigua, located about 50 km northeast of 
Seville with an area of four hectares, was an extremely small municipium 
which began to be important under the Flavii. The prosperity of the town, 
with its podium temple, smaller sanctuaries, a two-storeyed hall, forum, 
thermal baths, domus, town wall and the gigantic terrace sanctuary, was 
based on ore mining—at first copper and later iron—in the immediate 
hinterland. But an earthquake made the inhabitants abandon Munigua as early 
as in the first half of the 3rd century. Choosing the only terrace 
sanctuary on the Iberian peninsula for a cover picture of a book on the 
cities of Spain in late antiquity thus requires an explanation.

Michael Kulikowski’s explanation is divided into twelve chapters. On the 
basis of historiographic and epigraphic, and particularly material 
tradition he first offers a systematic discourse on different constituents 
of the “habitat” of a city during the imperial period (Chapters 1–6), 
followed by a chronological reconstruction of the events of late antiquity 
(Chapters 7–12). In K.’s opinion, the different types of cities founded 
in the course of the administrative re-organization of the Hispanic 
provinces under Augustus were decisive for the process of Romanization: 
only in this context was the indigenous elite able to accept the “Roman 
way of life.” As early as during the period of the Flavii its members 
internalized the patterns of behavior that defined a citizen as such: they 
led an institutionally determined social life, and thus held municipal or 
rather provincial offices, fulfilled their obligations (e.g. as patrons) 
and used the medium of inscriptions to express their civil participation. 
The already proverbial “decline of the epigraphic habit,” starting in 
the 3rd century—of about 20,000 inscriptions we know from the Republican 
period to the Arab invasion, less than one-tenth date from the four and a 
half centuries after 250—is not regarded by K. as expressing a decline of 
the cities. In his opinion, this change instead only reflects an alteration 
in the local way of life, and is not at all a paradigm of the general 
“crisis of the 3rd century” postulated by research during the 1960s as 
a result of the so-called “invasions” first by the Mauri during the 
reign of Marcus Aurelius and later by the Franci. Nor, K. argues, is it 
possible to prove a general improvement of all city walls, or to identify 
destruction horizons or a rural exodus as a consequence. Much more, in his 
opinion the excavations during the past 25 years show that only 17 of the 
more than 40 city walls date from the 3rd or 4th century; the villae cum 
grano salis show continued settlement from the turn of the millenium to the 
time of the Visigoths; and cities like Tarragona, Mérida, Córdoba, 
Itálica and Ampurias display a picture of unbroken continuity, 
particularly regarding their institutions. Only these, K. argues, are 
decisive criterion for the continued existence of the Empire: “Where 
people held imperial office there was an empire; where they did not, there 
was not” (p. 83; see pp. 152, 192). Thus, only for the end of the 5th 
century, when the murder of Maiorian made this type of political 
participation impossible, does K. recognize discontinuity. The history of 
the “disappearance” of Roman Spain, after all, is “the first 
narrative history” (p. 153) we could write, due to the fact that only now 
do the chronicles begin, and thus K. tells of the invasions by the Suebes, 
Vandals and Alans; of Rome trying in vain to resist with the help of the 
Visigoths; of the Visigoths successfully occupying the country once the 
balance of power had turned; and of Gothic magnates making “history” 
during a period with no efficient supra-local power. He also discusses the 
beginnings of Christendom on the Iberian peninsula; the martyrdoms during 
the period of persecution; and a Christian-influenced monumentalizing of 
cities like Mérida in the 5th century which tried to include the 
martyr’s basilicas, located extra muros, into their topographies. K. 
further describes the new political-religious local rule of the bishops, 
their supra-regional councils, and the Spanish church between heresy and 
orthodoxy, and he points for a final time to the unbroken significance of 
the “habitat” of the city itself in the “New World of the Sixth 
Century”: although in place of several hundred civitates during the 
imperial period there are only about 80 ones in the age of the bishops, the 
low quantity, K. suggests, does not affect their importance as centers of 
rule even in a “post-imperial world.”

K.’s conclusion comes as no surprise and—in contrast to the title and 
the cover picture of his book—requires no explanation. This is a profound 
and stimulating event history of the Iberian peninsula in late antiquity, 
and thus, after more than two decades, there is again an overview of the 
subject in the English language [[1]] whose level of research is reflected 
both in the extensive endnotes—increasing with the centuries—and the 
more than 50 pages of bibliography. This part of the book amounts to 150 
pages, and it is difficult to see why the first 150 pages, literally 
starting with “The Creation of Roman Spain” and even employing the 
Republic as a background, seemed a conditio sine qua non for those that 
follow. K.’s particular focus is on cities, and he provides an 
overview—somewhat fragmentary because it is scattered in various chapters 
that have varied interests—of these urban histories. K. does not explain 
the criteria for his choices: he discusses the history of the three Roman 
provincial capitals and of conventus main places like Zaragoza, but also of 
Ampurias and Munigua. The general impression is that the existence of 
source evidence and recent excavations, rather than criteria like the legal 
status of the area in question, have motivated his decision. On the other 
hand, no case is discussed ex negativo: no matter how convincing the source 
situation, it is considered evidence—now and then completed by analogical 
inference. Thus K. states that, according to the archaeological evidence, 
the domus east of the forum at Munigua were repaired and at the same time 
completed in such a way as to house more residents. He also states that 
apart from structures of residential buildings and possibly rows of shops 
along the streets towards the terrace sanctuary, the necropolis as well 
indicates an increase of population. This evidence hardly justifies 
speaking of a “dramatic example” (p. 21) of a city flourishing in late 
antiquity, in contrast to the imperial period. Conclusions like this 
require significant bases; and in this case, at least, K. does not offer 

Universität Hamburg						 

[[1]] Until now, one was dependent on E.A. Thompson, The Goths in Spain 
(Oxford, 1969); R. Collins, Early Medieval Spain. Unity in Diversity, 
400–1000 (London, 1983); or E. James, ed., Visigothic Spain: New 
Approaches (Oxford, 1980).

[[2]] This conclusion is only based on K.E. Meyer, C. Basas and F. 
Teichner, Mulva IV (Mainz, 2001) = Madrider Beiträge 27; the author did 
not take cognizance of the most recent publication by T.G. Schattner, 
Munigua: Cuarenta Años de Investigaciones (Madrid, 2003) = Arqueología: 
Monografías, who leads the actual excavations and does not dare this 

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