Over the last decades, the study of cities in antiquity has evolved toward more sensitivity to the diversity of urban entities and networks and more complex models of “urban scaling”. This project builds on these premises, asking not only how urban life was shaped by the state, the economy, and the environment but what made up the lived experience of ancient city-dwellers.
Empire and imperial administration loomed large over the development of cities in Roman and late antique Egypt. Urban autonomy, it is true, had always been strictly limited. Thus, recent research on the transition from Ptolemaic to Roman Egypt has emphasized the role of Augustan fiscal reforms in creating a “metropolitan élite”. Historians of the late antique world have also singled out Diocletian’s reforms, followed by Christianization and the “rise of the bishop,” as a cause for the decline of classical urbanism in the late Roman world.
The project is based on the premise that cities are best studied for their singularity or individual character. Except for Alexandria, for which so much remains unknown, the cities of Roman and late antique Egypt are often presented as an undifferentiated historical block. Instead, cities of Roman and late antique Egypt presented diverse historical profiles: emerged from the same environmental, cultural, and political context, but displayed notable variations. The genre of the urban biography, treating cities as individuals reflecting, but also contradicting, the logic of their times, seems therefore most appropriate for our project.