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Content archived on 2024-05-30

An empire of 2000 cities: urban networks and economic integration in the Roman empire


The central aims of this project are to establish the shapes of the various urban hierarchies existing in the provinces of the Roman empire and (especially) to use the quantitative properties of these hierarchies to shed new light on levels of economic integration. Should we conceptualize the urban system of the Roman world as a collection of cellular ‘modules’ which were only loosely connected by the imposition of a rudimentary administrative superstructure and by resource flows of limited significance? Or did the creation of an overarching empire favour the emergence of an economically well-integrated urban network or at least the growth of certain ‘nodal points’ which helped to tie the empire together by mediating resource flows between regions? Key topics to be explored include the physical size of cities, the overall shape of regional urban hierarchies, the role of harbour cities in connecting various parts of the empire, and the economic implications of the emergence and existence of large provincial capitals and other ‘primate cities’.
Building on spatial and economic theories from various disciplines, the project starts from the working hypothesis that the urban system of the Roman empire possessed a number of unique features which set it apart from that of the various urban system existing in the same geographical area during the early-modern period. While some of these features (such as the size of Rome) can plausibly be attributed to the fact that the Roman empire was much larger than the empires and emerging nation states of early-modern times, the project aims to demonstrate that the specific configuration of regional urban hierarchies in the Roman world also reflects levels of economic integration which fell dramatically short of those achieved in various parts of early-modern Europe.

Call for proposal

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Host institution

EU contribution
€ 2 496 560,00
2311 EZ Leiden

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West-Nederland Zuid-Holland Agglomeratie Leiden en Bollenstreek
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Vincent Dobbe (Mr.)
Principal investigator
Lukas De Ligt (Prof.)
Total cost
No data

Beneficiaries (1)