11-12 May 2023, Istituto Svizzero di Roma


Urban transitions in Roman Egypt from the third to the fourth century CE

Ancient writers testify to the renown and significance of Egyptian cities in the Roman Empire of the Fourth Century CE: thus, in his ethnographic digression on Egypt, Ammianus Marcellinus (22, 16.) provides a list of such “cities more renowned than others” (urbes clariores) in the Thebaid or “largest cities" (urbes maximae) in “Egypt itself,” i.e. the Delta and Middle Egypt. From literary sources, whether historiography, hagiography, or else, to archaeology, coins, and documentary texts, not least papyri, the multifaceted evidence from urban sites in Egypt suggests tremendous activity and, arguably, significant change from the third to the fourth century CE. Yet despite, or perhaps owing to, the wealth and complexity of these data, Egypt too often cuts a pale figure in the discussion of cities’ role in the transition to Late Antiquity. How did the cities of Egypt in the fourth century differ from those of the third, in relation to one another and individually? Which forces, political, cultural, or economic, did contribute most to refashion the urban landscape of Egypt? And, finally, did cities evolve along similar or different lines than other provinces in the Roman Empire? With these questions in mind, the conference purports to demonstrate the relevance of Egyptian urbanism to the transition of the Roman world into Late Antiquity.