Sabine Panzram / Laurent Callegarin (Hgg.): Entre civitas y madīna. El mundo de las ciudades en la Península Ibérica y en el norte de África (siglos IV-IX) (= Collection de la Casa de Velázquez; Vol. 167), Madrid: Casa de Velazquez 2018, XVI + 393 S., zahlr. Abb., ISBN 978-84-9096-216-9, EUR 49,00
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One knows what to expect from collected volumes in multiple languages when they are based on international colloquia held several years in the past. There will be a great deal of scene setting and restatement of the status quaestionis (and not just by the editor[s] - some contributions will consist of nothing or little more). Some established arguments may be extended or given nuance by the discovery of new, if rarely more than minimal, evidence. There will be the unexpected novelty from the unexpected direction, of which there can never be too many but are usually far too few. And then, always, venerable magistri (here Javier Arce) will proffer the umpteenth iteration of theses first advanced decades earlier and little, if at all, changed since. The question for the reviewer (and reader) must be how much can be gained by persevering towards what is new, even if it means pages of material overfamiliar to anyone with a nodding acquaintance of the subject.
Entre civitas y madina echoes in its title, and takes as its point of departure, Hugh Kennedy's classic Past and Present article, "From Polis to Medina", published in 1985 and hugely influential in conceptualizing the transition from the ancient to the Islamic city. While only some of the articles in this volume engage directly with Kennedy's work, all of them address in some measure or another the question of how and when the late antique, post-Roman townscape was transformed into an identifiably Islamic one. Sabine Panzram contributes a clear programmatic introduction that effectively lays out the contents of the volume and underscores the difficulty of comparative work on Spain and Africa. Outside of a few specific regions in Africa - northern Tunisia, Morocco - there is little that can be done in the way of new excavation and the legacy of colonial-era archaeology impedes our understanding of the post-Classical material evidence. Next, Kennedy himself contributes a retrospective account of his ground-breaking article, standing by his basic thesis that urban change was gradual and due more to economic and social changes than to political events, and that the end of the classical city should not, in and of itself, be read in terms of decline or decay. What he adds to this analysis is a greater concentration on the economic element in the transformation of the Islamic city, pointing out that of all the Roman empire's successor states, only the caliphs maintained a viable system of taxation and the salaried classes that benefited from it, thereby allowing a market economy to flourish and transform urban life in a way that could not and did not happen in either Byzantine or Latin contexts.
From these two general contributions, the volume turns to Spain, first with Arce's easily ignored retread of old themes, and then with an overview of the past two decades' Islamic archaeology in Spain by Sonia Gutiérrez Lloret. Her still excellent La Cora de Tudmir de la antigüedad tardía al mundo islámico (Madrid, 1996) was the first systematic examination of this crucial theme to appear after the transformative and rapid modernization of Spanish archaeological method in the 1980s. This transformation has matured into a general excellence of excavation and survey in most Spanish and some Portuguese projects, publication of which continued despite the devastation wrought on the Spanish economy by the global banking crisis of 2008. Using the site of El Tolmo de Minateda (Hellín, Albacete) as a starting point, Gutiérrez's "Von der Civitas zur Madina" surveys the progress made on the transition from the Visigothic to the Islamic city over the past twenty years, showing in particular the extent to which the eighth and earlier ninth centuries constitute a hiatus in occupation and urbanism in many places, with the reconstruction of town life along new lines really only beginning in the very late ninth and the tenth centuries.
Gutiérrez's piece is one of the best in the book, but there are important essays among the case studies that follow it. Miguel Alba Calzado, who along with Pedro Mateos Cruz has made late antique Mérida legible to a wide audience, here takes the reader on an overview of the city's urbanism from its foundation until the ninth century, surveying new evidence that no general reader will want to extract on his or her own from the half dozen voumes of Mérida: Excavaciones Arqueológicas published in the past decade. As the long-standing capital of Lusitania, and from the tetrarchic or Constantinian period the seat of the diocesan vicarius Hispaniarum, Mérida prospered in the fourth century as very few Spanish cities did, with renovations and expansions in all the spectacula, monuments that had by then gone out of use in most peninsular cities. The violence of the fifth century, as long-since shown in the excavation and musealisation of the Morería, did lasting damage to the townscape. Elsewhere in the city, the Emeritenses seem to have changed the city-scape voluntarily: the temple of the imperial cult was partly dismantled and turned into housing, the cryptoportico of the forum became a tenement block, and the curia was dismantled and its ashlars used elsewhere. By the end of the fifth century, the spectacula had shared the typical fate of such buildings: quarries for new construction or wasteage for the lime kilns. Large parts of the city's funerary corona were leveled and used in the extensive refortification of the city wall, which was doubled in width and provided with defensive towers. It was not until the very late fifth and the sixth century that it began to be rebuilt under the patronage of its bishops, using the "inexhaustible quarry" of classical public buildings and repurposing them for a lavish episcopal palace and other churches. Prone to rebellion, Mérida was held down by the construction of the alcazaba right over the main gate into the city from across the Guadiana. As testament to the general insecurity of the era, one finds not just the deliberate destruction of buildings near the walls to create a cordon sanitaire, but also the conversion of some buildings of the Visigothic era (e.g. the multi-family structure built atop the old temple of the imperial cult) into urban "castles" with limited approaches and fortified entryways. At least twenty new structures are known from the emiral period, probably residences for the new ruling elites, which tended to ignore the old Roman street plan. Very little of this ninth century prosperity survived the caliphal period, and the construction of a new centre of government at Badajoz meant that from the tenth century onwards, Mérida became the provincial backwater it remained for the better part of the next millennium.
Jaime Vizcaíno Sánchez's work on Cartagena is worth reading, particularly because it makes a strong, reasoned case for the way the late republican and early imperial city simply ceased to be viable by the second century, so that late antique Cartagena was effectively a fourth-century refoundation as the capital of the new tetrarchic province of Carthaginiensis. The most famous monument of this period is the macellum installed on the sigma of the ruined theatre, a fifth-century architectural type known from such varied sites as Corinth, Philippi, Stobi and Scythopolis. The decumanus was likewise rebuilt with a portico and lined with tabernae. That said, there is little evidence for any private initiative accompanying these official (probably imperial) renovations, and they were certainly not sustained - the fifth-century renaissance had collapsed altogether by the early sixth century. Dario Bernal Casasola's survey of the landscape on either side of the fretum Gaditanum ("Continuidad y cesura en last ciudades tardorromanas del estrecho de Gibraltar") will introduce readers to a number of sites that are rarely treated in the literature, but it is hampered by an old-fashioned tendency to date material change with excessive precision on the basis of historical events: the Vandals pop up constantly. María Teresa Casal García, by contrast, gives us a careful, thoroughly documented account of the Umayyad rabad of Saqunda, to the south of the walls of Córdoba, in a meander of the Guadalquivir where there had been no previous occupation. Three thematic studies follow the case studies: The account of numismatics and sigillography by Ruth Pliego Vázquez and Tawfiq Ibrahim is a good overview of Visigothic minting and the conquest-era emissions of the first Arab governors. Francisco José Moreno Martín offers an interesting, if rather diffuse, account of seventh-century Toledo and the way its monuments are, or mainly are not, reflected in the early constructions of Oviedo. Finally, Christoph Eger surveys the funerary archaeology of the Islamic period, a useful contribution in part because Spain is one of the few places in the world where early Islamic funerary practice can be studied without offending contemporary mores.
The African chapters show the same diversity as do the Spanish. François Baratte's overview of late antique urbanism in Africa is effectively a brief mise à jour of Lepelley's classic work. Corisande Fenwick, on the Islamic period, draws sharp contrasts between the new cities at Tunis and Kairouan on the one hand, and the old Roman cities - already much changed by the time of the conquest - on the other. Case studies Elsa Rocca and Fathi Béjaoui on Ammaedara (Haïdra, Tunisia) and Theveste (Tèbessa, Algeria) and by Elizabeth Fentress on the Tunisian island of Jerba show the difficulty, in the present state of the evidence, of distinguishing late imperial/Vandal era activity from renewed occupation after the Justinianic conquest. One of the best contributions in the entire volume, Ridha Ghaddab's "Vie urbaine et activités aristanales dans les villes romaines d'Afrique duran l'Antiquité Tardive" is an exhaustive survey of the evidence for Byzantine oleiculture and related artisinal and industrial activities. It complements the thematic study of "Urban decor and public spaces in late antique North Africa" by Anna Leone. Both suggest that the particularly dense urbanism of Proconsularis, as well as parts of Numidia, Byzacena and Tripolitania, was extremely difficult for the local economy to sustain and that monumental display was increasingly confined to a few important sites while many non-viable towns of the early empire were effectively de-urbanized and given over to industrial production. Much as does the numismatic essay in the Spanish section of the book, Lennart Gilhaus' "Statuen und Stadtkultur im spätantiken Nordafrika" gives a comprehensive account of known evidence for the use and reuse of statues in the African provinces: Its Anhang provides an essential supplement to recent surveys of the subject by Ward-Perkins and Witschel.
The two concluding contributions to the volume are rather odd. Patrice Cressier offers "Quelques remarques sur la genèse des villes islamiques au Maghreb occidental", which consist mainly of self-distancing from the themes of the volume as a whole. It is true, of course, that most of Morocco fell outside the Roman empire and that Islamic urbanism - Tangiers and Ceuta excepted - really did start more or less from scratch. While Cressier's account of why particular locations were chosen for new town sites (water supply, mainly) is quite interesting, there is no real engagement with other papers and it feels like a missed opportunity. Esther Sánchez Medina's contribution, "Ciudades, obispos y exilio: una nueva lectura (geopolítica) de los rimeros exilios del África vándala", is equally, if not still more, out of place because its relationship to questions of urbanism is so tangential. That said, it is a really excellent piece of scholarly hypothesis, suggesting that Gaiseric's exiling of prominent Nicene bishops should be read alongside the purge of his collateral relations and the execution of four prominent Spanish retainers not as a primarily religious affair, but rather as a dynastic coup, eliminating any and all potential challenges to his personal control of the throne. If it is decidedly too long and perhaps too reliant on rigid and dated concepts like the Heerkönigtum of the Vandal kingdom, it makes a genuinely valuable historical contribution that deserves to be read.
In short, Entre civitas y madina has all the features of its genre, for better or for worse. On the Spanish side, Gutiérrez Lloret, Alba Calzado, and Vizcaíno Sánchez are essential reading, while Casal García and Eger's pieces are excellent if highly specialized. On the African side, the quality is less variable, though the evidence generally shallower, with the surveys of Ghaddab and Leone particularly important for generalists and the sui generis historical study by Sánchez Medina deserving of a wider audience than books of this sort tend to find.