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"Affluence" – The Beginning of the "Roman Optimum" and the Founding of Cities in the Mediterranean Basin During the Fourth and Third Centuries BCE

Date and Time: 
2016
Meeting Location: 
Building 110, Room 112
Workshop: 
Approaches to Data Scarcity in Ancient History
Meeting Description: 

Affluence, unlike setbacks or collapse, is not an event with a clear beginning or definite end, and it is difficult therefore to date or measure it. I define affluence as an extended process in which luxury goods and services gradually become commodities and even staples, and a “state of mind” of affluence is created. Fine examples of such historical transitions are societies’ attitude toward running water, monumental construction, infrastructures, public domains, private housing, consumption, diet and leisure. Affluent societies are constantly occupied with their welfare and with their fear of losing it, and care less about ‘economy.’

My paper will analyze the correlation between the ameliorated climatic conditions that prevailed from the beginning of the Roman Optimum (which I date to the 390s BCE), and the continuous population growth that lasted for more than 6 centuries without reaching a discernible Malthusian ceiling, although many cities reached sizes which would not be paralleled until the early modern period. It will show how the foundation date of the 334 cities established during the early stages of the Roman Optimum can serve as a well dated proxy of this process.

Empirically I base my arguments on the mass of literary and archaeological evidence that remains from the Roman/Classical Optimum. The integrated database relies on the annalistic tradition of the Roman chroniclers and on the extremely rich and well-dated archaeological findings that enable a yearly/decadal resolution. Proxy data is added whenever necessary although it is less accurate temporally and spatially than the written or archaeological evidence.

About the speaker:

Ronnie Ellenblum is a professor at the Department of Geography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Prof.  Ellenblum is specializing in the geography, history, and archaeology of the Crusades and in urban geographical history and in environmental history. The Cambridge University Press published three of his  books: one on the agricultural settlements during the Crusades (1998)  the other (in 2007), deals with medieval castles and the modern interpretations of the Crusades and the third entitled The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean Climate Change and the Decline of the East, 950-1072 was published in 2012. Ellenblum initiated several research projects, which he heads. In the scope of the Historic Cities research project he initiated the Jerusalem  Library together with Prof. Sari Nusseibah of Al-Quds University, and the library of the Maps of Jerusalem. Ellenblum also heads the Vadum Iacob archaeological expedition, and recently he initiated another digital project, the Revised Regesta Regni Hierosolimtani Database.

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