Roman city

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As a Roman city or Roman city such cities are called, which were founded in the time and in the area of the Roman Empire or to a particular extent. A characteristic of many of these cities is a city plan of the square grid type with the two city axes Decumanus and Cardo .

Urban development

Large parts of the Mediterranean were already urbanized at the time of the expansion of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, many planned cities also emerged throughout the empire. The reason for this was that the Romans were dependent on the existence of local administrative centers, to which numerous fiscal and legal tasks were assigned in order to be able to rule their vast empire. Where there were no cities, for example in Germania, these were therefore laid out according to plan (see for example Waldgirmes ). The totality of the cities was legally divided into colonies ( coloniae , for example Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium ), whose inhabitants also had Roman citizenship, municipia (e.g. Mogontiacum and Augusta Vindelicorum ), whose upper class was privileged, and simple civitates (e.g. B. Aquae Mattiacorum ).

Where no towns or town-like structures existed and were not founded according to plan, they grew out of the vicus (camp village) of a fort or at trade hubs, for example . When it comes to the actual founding of cities, different types can be distinguished according to the founding requirements:

  • New construction of the city in the immediate vicinity of already existing cities / settlements / sanctuaries
  • New construction of the city instead of a previously existing and / or destroyed city / settlement (e.g. Carthago )
  • New development of the city without a previous settlement

Different groups were used to colonize the city. a. Veterans and defeated populations.

The actual city foundation was completed in the following four steps

  1. Inauguration , determination of the location by inspection of the entrails
  2. Limitatio , defining the inner and outer boundaries of the city
  3. Orientatio, determination of the decumanus
  4. Consecratio, consecration of the city, so that the determinations become binding.

Roman city foundations took place mainly during the first three centuries AD ( principate ); but also in late antiquity there were still new foundations (e.g. Iustiniana Prima ).

Building a planned Roman city

Ideal-typical structure of a Roman city
In many cases the cardo is interrupted by the forum or offset to the side

The planned Roman cities - analogous to the Castra ( Roman military camps ) - were structured according to a common pattern: In the center of the city was the forum , the market square, where, in addition to markets, court hearings or political debates took place. Several temples , a market hall, courthouse ( basilica ) and public buildings (such as the curia ) were usually built around the forum . In the forum, the two main streets of the city, cardo (north-south axis) and decumanus (east-west axis) intersected . All other streets ran parallel to this and divided the city into blocks of flats ( insulae ) like a chessboard . After all, the entire city was surrounded by a city wall, which in turn was parallel to the streets and protected the residents from attacks, especially in the provinces. In the ideal form presented here, it had a city gate at each end of the axis.

A right-angled street grid was already widespread among the Etruscans. The earliest theoretician of the right-angled street grid was the Greek Hippodamos of Miletus in the 5th century BC. BC (so-called " Hippodamian scheme ").


The Roman cities mostly consisted of rectangular residential buildings: On the one hand there was the domus (town house). It consisted of a residential part with an atrium, under which there was an inner courtyard, which in turn was surrounded by the living and working rooms. Behind it there was often a hortus ( garden ), which could also be surrounded by a colonnade and several rooms. Today you can visit well-preserved townhouses in Pompeii and Herculaneum , among others . On the other hand, the common people often lived in insulae (tenement barracks). They had a similar structure to today's tenements. Such houses can still be found in Ostia today . In addition to residential buildings, there were numerous public buildings in Roman cities: bathhouses, market halls ( basilicae ), temples for various gods (often also for regional deities), administrative buildings, (amphi-) theaters and much more. It also often happened that the city obtained public buildings through donations from the wealthy. These include, for example, the amphitheater in Pompeii or the library that Pliny the Younger donated to his hometown.

In terms of appearance, the cities tried to emulate the cityscape of Rome. For example, the two main streets were often flanked by magnificent columns.

Living conditions in the cities

In the old Roman cities, the living conditions for a large part of the population were significantly better than in the countryside. The cities were supplied with water via aqueducts, so that the drinking water supply was guaranteed. In addition, thanks to the distinctive bathing culture of the Romans, the hygienic conditions were relatively good even in the lower classes. The recreational value of Roman cities was upheld by amphitheaters and theaters, in which animal and gladiator fights were held alongside plays . In Rome these shows were even free.

Street in Pompeii
The forum of Pompeii

Today's remains of Roman cities

Many originally Roman cities still exist today, but have been changed significantly over the course of history. Nevertheless, many traces of Roman architecture can often be found in these places up to the present day.

Other cities such as Pompeii or Herculaneum are by the sudden eruption of Vesuvius went down in 79. Chr. And apply today after excavations to conserved most ancient ruined cities . As important archaeological monuments, they offer a comprehensive introduction to art, culture, and v. a. social coexistence during the Roman Empire and are now tourist attractions. In addition to the well-preserved buildings and entire streets, it is the wall paintings and mosaics from the buildings and palaces with their countless motifs that characterize the attraction of the excavation site.

In the Archaeological Park Xanten numerous reconstructions can be viewed original floor plans and excavations. The park is located on the site of the Roman city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana and is gradually being developed, similar to Pompeii. This Roman Colonia was completely abandoned in post-Roman times. The floor plans of the buildings have been preserved and are being excavated.

The ruins of the ancient city of Thamugadi in what is now Algeria are also well preserved. The main features of a planned Roman city can be seen here, especially in aerial photographs, but also when looking at the city map.

See also

supporting documents

  1. See Jürgen Hotzan: dtv-Atlas zur Stadt. From the first foundations to modern urban planning (= dtv 3231). Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-423-03231-6 , p. 27.
  2. ^ Declaration by Consecratio . Retrieved June 9, 2013.
  3. Johnston's Private Life of the Romans, Ch. 13. Retrieved January 21, 2020 .