Ancient Town-Planning
by F. Haverfield
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

[109] The plots are of three sizes, two being 3-4 acres (128 x 130 yds.), six about 2.4 acres (128 x 89 yds.), and six about 1.4 acres (89 x 80 yds.). In the third size the dimension of 240 Roman feet (p. 79) can perhaps be recognized.

But whatever the exact amount of Roman building and Roman street-plan given to Silchester when it was first laid out, the place is not in effect a real town. It is not merely that, as I have said, the houses do not form continuous streets. A glance at the houses will show that they could not possibly be fitted into streets. The types of house here visible are not town houses. They are the types which appear among the 'villas', that is, the landlords' or the farmers' dwellings, up and down the rural districts of Roman Britain and northern Gaul, and the town which they constitute is a conglomeration of country houses. The reverse has taken place of that which we often see to-day in England. Our modern builders and architects had—until perhaps quite recently—only one idea of a small house, the house, namely, which to-day characterizes the monotonous streets in the poorer quarters of our new towns, with its front door and bow window on one side, its offices behind, and its two other sides left blank for other houses to stand against. This is a town house. Yet our modern builders use it, all by itself, in the most desolate country districts. I came across one such not long ago, when driving over a lonely valley in Exmoor. There it stood, with no other house near it, yet with its two sides blankly waiting for the street that ought to form itself to the right and left.

The opposite of this has occurred at Calleva; here the rural house has been used, with scarcely a change, to form a town. We see the Roman street-plan introduced in surroundings which are not properly urban. The outward expression of the civilised municipal system jostles against a provincial and rural life. Here was a premature attempt to municipalize the Briton, which outstripped the readiness of the Briton to be municipalized. Silchester was probably a tribal centre before the Roman came; for awhile it may have remained much the same under Roman rule. But forty years after the Roman Conquest, in the reign of Vespasian (about A.D. 70-85), the Romanization of the whole province appears to have rapidly advanced. It was, indeed, encouraged by the Home Government. Various details suggest that the laying out of Silchester belonged to this very date. But to this the Callevan failed to rise. He learnt much from Rome; he learnt even town-life; he did not learn town-life in its highest form. When his town had been 'haussmannized' and fitted with Roman streets, and equipped with Roman Forum and Basilica, and the rest, he yet continued to live—perhaps more happily than the true townsman—in his irregularly grouped houses and cottages amid an expanse of gardens. The area of Silchester differed little from that of Aosta; its population, if we may judge by the number of dwelling-houses, was hardly as large as that of Timgad.

Caerwent (fig. 33).

I turn lastly to another Romano-British town, Caerwent (Venta Silurum), between Chepstow and Newport in Monmouthshire. It is a smaller town than Silchester. Both towns perhaps began with the same area, 40 or 45 acres. But Caerwent never expanded; it remained not much more than 45 acres within the walls. Land was probably valuable within it; certainly its houses are packed closer, and its garden ground is smaller than at Silchester. Its general type is, however, the same. It has a very similar Forum and Basilica, Temples, an Amphitheatre, and a large number of private houses which resemble closely those of Silchester. It has, moreover, at least in the parts that have been so far excavated, distinct traces of a rectangular street pattern, which, if it was carried through the whole town, would provide (including the Forum) twenty 'insulae'. The size of these blocks cannot be determined with any precision. Indeed, in some cases the houses seem to have encroached on and distorted the street-plan. Probably it would be true to say that the average block covered an acre and a half or an acre and two-thirds.[110] We do not know enough of the history of Caerwent to do more than guess how this street-plan came to it. Very likely the same process of establishing a Roman-looking town for a local capital was adopted here as at Silchester. Very likely the step was taken in the same period as at Silchester, that is, in the last thirty years of the first century. Its occurrence is significant. Caerwent lay remote in the far west, with nothing but garrisons beyond it. It was the outpost of Roman city life towards the Atlantic. It was the only town of Roman municipal plan in Britain which was swept by Atlantic breezes.[111]

[110] The three best defined examples measure about 260 x 260, 260 x 280, 275 x 275 ft. (1.55, 1.61, and 1.73 acres respectively). The unit of 240 Roman feet (p. 79) does not appear at Caerwent.

[111] Accounts of the Caerwent Excavations, 1899-1910, will be found in Archaeologia, vols. lvii-lxii. A good plan of the whole town, from which fig. 33 is taken, was issued in vol. lxii, plate 64, by Mr. F. King, architect to the excavations (scale, 1:900).

Silchester and Caerwent did not stand alone in Britain. At Wroxeter, the ancient Viroconium, tribal centre of the Cornovii and a Romano-British country-town much like Silchester, though somewhat larger, oblong 'insulae' have recently been detected by Mr. J.P. Bushe-Fox which measure 103 x 126 yds. (2-2/3 acres). At Cirencester, the Romano-British centre for the canton of the Dobuni and a still larger town than Wroxeter, the 'insulae' near the Basilica seem to have measured as much as 120 yards in length, though full details have not yet been obtained. Both these towns may be ascribed to the later years of the first century and to the same civilizing process as Silchester and Caerwent. As further Romano-British towns are uncovered, we may therefore hope for more examples. However imperfectly the inner meaning of town-planning was understood, it was plainly common in the south of Roman Britain.


To complete the survey of Roman provincial town-planning, we must glance briefly at the East. Here towns of Roman origin were few, and of those few scarcely any are well known. But they do not lack interest. For example, take Antinoe, built by Hadrian in memory of his favourite Antinous, on the banks of the Nile. It was a parallelogram more than 3 miles round, which covered an area of 360 acres. Two main streets, each colonnaded, crossed at right angles and cut it into four parts. Of the other streets, nothing certain seems to be known. But references to the town in papyri denote four quarters of it by various letters, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and distinguish its house-blocks by the term Plintheion with a numeral attached. Thus, a house is described as lying 'in the letter Delta and the Plintheion 7'. Our documents show that there were in Antinoe at least eleven of these Plintheia.[112] It is fairly plain that they are rectangular 'insulae', of either Roman or Hellenic type, while the general fashion of the town and of its monuments suggest a Greek rather than an Italian city.

[112] Exploration des ruines d' Antinoe, by A.C. Gayet (Annales du Musee Guimet, xxvi, Paris, 1897); Grundzuege der Papyruskunde, Wilcken, i, pp. 49, 50. Professor A.S. Hunt refers me to the following papyri:—Reinach, 49. 11; Oxyrhynchus, 1110. 9-10 and note there; Brit. Mus. 1164 (c) 12. The numeration of the divisions of the town by letters was borrowed from Alexandria, where the five parts of the city were known as A, B, C, D, E. For plans see the Napoleonic Description d'Egypte iv (Paris, 1817), plate 53, and E. Jomard, Antiquites d'Egypte (1818), chap. xv.

Another instance may be found still further east, in the land beyond Jordan, at the capital of the Hauran, Bosra, anciently Bostra. Little has been achieved in the way of exploration of this site beyond studies of the stately ruins of theatres, palaces, temples, triumphal arches, aqueducts. Little can therefore be said as to the date of its ground-plan. But it was rectangular in outline, or nearly so; and its streets crossed at right angles and enclosed rectangular insulae.[113] The place owes all its greatness to Rome. During the second century it was the fortress of the Legio III Cyrenaica, which guarded this part of the eastern Roman frontier. About A.D. 225 it became a 'colonia,' and perhaps we should date from this the town-plan just described (fig. 34).

[113] Baedeker, Palestine and Syria (1906), p. 162.

This rectangular planning remained long in use in the Eastern Empire. When in A.D. 705 (as it seems) the town of Chersonnesus in the Crimea was rebuilt after a total destruction, it was rebuilt on a symmetrical plan of oblong 'insulae' (25-30 by 60-70 yds. area). Its streets were mean and narrow. But their plan at least was apparently more regular than that of their predecessors.[114]

[114] Minns, Greeks and Scythians, pp. 493, 508, and references there given.



Archaeology tells us that the western half of the Roman Empire and many districts in its eastern half used a definite town-plan which may be named, for brevity, the chess-board pattern. It remains to ask whether literature, or at least legal literature, provides any basis of theory or any ratification of the actual system which archaeology reveals. Of augural lore we have indeed enough and to spare. We know that the decumanus and the cardo, the two main lines of the Roman land-survey and probably also the two main streets of the Roman town-plan,[115] were laid out under definite augural and semi-religious provision. We should expect to find more. A system of town-planning that is so distinctive and so widely used might reasonably have created a series of building-laws sanctioning or modifying it. This did not occur. Neither the lawyers nor even the land-surveyors, the so-called Gromatici, tell us of any legal rules relative to town-planning as distinct from surveying in general. The surveyors, in particular, are much more concerned with the soil of the province and its 'limitation' and 'centuriation', than with the arrangements of any individual town, and, whatever their value for extramural boundaries,[116] throw no light on streets and 'insulae'.

[115] See p. 73.

[116] Schulten, Hermes, 1898, p. 534.

The nearest approach to building-laws which occurs is a clause which seems to be a standing provision in many municipal charters and similar documents from the age of Cicero onwards, to the effect that no man might destroy, unroof, or dismantle an urban building unless he was ready to replace it by a building at least as good or had received special permission from his local town council. The earliest example of this provision occurs in the charter of the municipality of Tarentum, which was drawn up in the time of Cicero.[117] It is repeated in practically the same words in the charter of the 'colonia Genetiva' in southern Spain, which was founded in 44 B.C.; it recurs in the charter granted to the municipality of Malaga, also in southern Spain, about A.D. 82.[118] Somewhat similar prohibitions of the removal of even old and worthless houses without special leave are implied in decrees of the Roman Senate passed in A.D. 44 and A.D. 56, though these seem really to relate to rural rather than to urban buildings and were perhaps more agrarian than municipal in their object.[119] Hadrian, in a dispatch written in A.D. 127 to an eastern town which had lately obtained something like municipal status, includes a provision that a house in the town belonging to one Claudius Socrates must either be repaired by him or handed over to some other citizen.[120] Similar legislation occurs in A.D. 224 and in the time of Diocletian and later.[121]

[117] Mommsen, Eph. Epigr. ix, p. 9; Dessau, Inscr. sel. 6086; 'nei quis in oppido quod eius municipi erit aedificium detegito neive demolito neive disturbato nisei quod non deterius restiturus erit nisei de senatus sententia. sei quis adversus ea faxit, quanti id aedificium fuerit, tantam pequniam municipio dare damnas esto eiusque pequniae quei volet petitio est.' (English translation in E.G. Hardy's Roman Laws and Charters, p. 101.)

[118] Dessau, 6087, 6089; Hardy, Roman Laws, part 2, pp. 34, 108.

[119] For these decrees, which are practically equivalent at this date to laws, see CIL. x. 1401 = Dessau 6043, and de Pachtere in Melanges Cagnat, p. 169.

[120] For the letter of Hadrian see Bulletin de Corresp. Hell. x. 111; it is quoted by Bruns, Fontes, 1909, p. 200. Compare the Historia Augusta, Life of Hadrian, ch. 18.

[121] Mommsen, Eph. Epigr. iii, p. 111 and Ges. Schiften, i. 158, 263, 371; Liebenam, Staedteverwaltung, 393.

Rules were also laid down occasionally to forbid balconies and similar structures which might impede the light and air in narrow streets, and it was a common rule that cemeteries and brickyards must lie outside the area of inhabitation. At Rome too, efforts were made by various emperors to limit the height of the large tenement houses which there formed the 'insulae'. These limits were, however, fixed haphazard without due reference to the width of the streets; they do not seem to occur outside of Rome, and even in Rome they were very scantily observed.

But in general no definite laws were framed. Probably the municipalities were somewhat closely tied in the administration of municipal property and had to refer schemes for the employment even of the smallest bit of vacant space to the 'patron' or the curator of the town. But, apart from the provisions mentioned above, they had no specific rights, that are recorded, against private owners or builders. It was only once, after Rome itself had been burnt out, that an imperial order condemned landowners who 'held up' their ground instead of using it, to forfeit their ownership in favour of any one who offered to build at once.



What was the sequel to this long work of town-planning? Two facts stand out distinct. First, the Roman planning helped the towns of the Empire to take definite form, but when the Empire fell, it too met its end. Only here and there its vestiges lingered on in the streets of scattered cities like things of a former age. But, secondly, from this death it rose again, first in the thirteenth century, with ever-growing power to set the model for the city life of the modern world.

I. The value of town-planning to Roman civilization was twofold. It increased the comfort of the common man; it made the towns stronger and more coherent units to resist the barbarian invasions. When, after 250 years of conflict, the barbarians triumphed, its work was done. In the next age of ceaseless orderless warfare it was less fit, with its straight broad streets, for defence and for fighting than the chaos of narrow tortuous lanes out of which it had grown and to which it now returned. The cases are few in which survivals of Roman streets have conditioned the external form of mediaeval or modern towns. We in England tend perhaps to overrate the likelihood of such survivals. Our classical education has, until very lately, taught most of us more of ancient than of mediaeval history, and when our antiquaries find towns rectangular in outline and streets that cross in a Carfax, they give them a Roman origin.

Such a tendency is wrong. Plentiful evidence shows that even in Italy and even in towns where men have dwelt without a break since Roman days, the Roman streets, and with them the Roman town-plans, have far oftener vanished than endured. Rome herself, the Eternal City, uses hardly one street to-day which was used in the Roman Empire. Some few Italian towns, described in detail above, have a better claim to be called 'eternal'; half a dozen in northern Italy retain their ancient streets in singular perfection. Yet even there cities like Padua and Mantua, Genoa and Pisa, have lost the signs of their older fashion. So, too, in the provinces. In the Danubian lands only one town can even be supposed to preserve a few of its Roman streets. In all the once great cities of that region, Sirmium and Siscia, Poetovio and Celeia and Emona, they have wholly gone; you may walk across the sites to-day and seek them in vain in modern street or hedgerow or lane. In Gaul there were many Roman municipalities in the south; there were many towns of lesser rank but equal wealth in the centre and west and north. But we owe our knowledge of their town-plans to an inscription from Orange and to some excavations at Autun and Trier. Cologne and Trier alone, or almost alone, keep Roman streets in modern use, and they are significant. Both became Roman towns in the first century; both held colonial rank; both have lived on continuously ever since and hardly changed their names. Yet both bear to-day the stamp of the Middle Ages, and the Roman streets which they use are small and nearly unrecognizable fragments.

There is, indeed, no law of survivals. Chance—that convenient ancient word to denote the interaction of many imponderable forces—has ruled one way in one place and otherwise in another. Sometimes monuments have alone survived, sometimes only streets, and we can seldom give reasons for this contrast of fates. At Pola, gates, temples, and amphitheatre still tell of the Roman past and the modern town-square keeps so plainly the tradition of the Forum that you cannot walk across it without a sense of what it was. Yet not a single street agrees with those of the Roman 'colonia'. In the Lombard and Tuscan plains, at Turin and Pavia and Piacenza, at Florence and Lucca, the Roman streets are still in use, just as the old Roman field-ways still divide up the fertile plains outside those towns. But, save in Turin, hardly one Roman stone has been left upon another. In the no less fertile plain of the lower Rhone, at Nimes and Arles and Orange, the stately ruins wake the admiration of the busiest and least learned traveller; of the Roman streets there is no sign.

Britain has enjoyed less continuity of civilization than any other western province; in Britain the survivals are even fewer. In London, within the limits of the Roman city, no street to-day follows the course of any Roman street, though Roman roads that lead up to the gates are still in use. At Colchester the Roman walls still stand; the places of the Roman gates are known; the masonry of the west gate is still visible as the masonry of a gateway. But the modern and ancient streets do not coincide, and the west gate, which has so well withstood the blows of time, can hardly be reached by road from within the city. At York the defences of the legionary fortress have still their place in the sun, but the 'colonia' on the other bank of the Ouse has vanished wholly from the surface, walls and streets together, and the houses of the citizens of Eburacum are known solely by finds of mosaic floors. At Lincoln the Roman walls and gates can easily be traced and one gate rears its arch intact, but the Bailgate alone follows, and that erratically, the line of a Roman street. The road from the Humber, thirty miles north of Lincoln, runs to-day, as it has run for eighteen centuries, under the Newport arch and through the modern town and passes on southwards. That long straight road has given a feature to Lincoln, but it is a feature due to the Roman highway outside the town, not to the streets within it. Lincoln itself is as English as Cologne and Trier are German.

II. But if Roman streets have seldom survived continuously to modern days, if Roman town-planning perished with the western Empire, it has none the less profoundly influenced the towns of mediaeval and modern Europe and America. Early in the thirteenth century men began to revive, with certain modifications, the rectangular planning which Rome had used. Perhaps copying Roman originals seen in northern Italy, Frederic Stupor Mundi now built on a chess-board pattern the Terra Nova which he founded in Sicily. Now, in 1231, Barcelonette was built with twenty square 'insulae' in south-eastern France. Now, too, the 'Bastides' and 'Villes Neuves' of southern France and towns like Aigues-Mortes (1240) were built on similar plans.[122]

[122] For the Bastides and Villes Neuves see Dr. A.E. Brinckmann, Deutsche Bauzeitung, Jan.-Feb., 1910, and, for an example, fig. 35. Many of them may be earlier than 1200 (A. Giry, Bibl. de l'Ecole des Chartes, xlii. 451), but those with more or less chess-board plans seem later.

Soon after, the chess-board pattern came to England and was used in Edwardian towns like Flint[123] and Winchelsea; then, too, it was adopted at the other end of the civilized world by German soldiers in Polish lands. Cracow, for example, owes to German settlers in the mid-thirteenth century that curious chess-board pattern of its innermost and oldest streets which so much puzzles the modern visitor.[124] It is unnecessary here to follow further the renaissance of town-planning. By intervals and revivals it continued to spread. In 1652 it reached Java, when the Dutch built Batavia. In 1682 it reached America, when Penn founded Philadelphia. In 1753, when Kandahar was refounded as a new town on a new site, its Afghan builders laid out a roughly rectangular city, divided into four quarters meeting at a central Carfax and divided further into many strangely rectangular blocks of houses.[125]

[123] Compare E.A. Lewis, Medieval Boroughs of Snowdonia, pp. 30, 61 foll.

[124] So, too, Lemberg. Compare R.F. Kaindl, Die Deutschen in den Karpathenlaendern, i. 178, 293; ii. 304; he does not, however, deal with the actual plans.

[125] I have to thank the late Sir Alfred Lyall for a sight of a survey made by English engineers in 1839.

But in growing, the old town-planning has passed into a new stage. The Romans dealt with small areas, seldom more than three hundred acres and often very much less. The town-plans of the Middle Ages and even of modern times affected areas that were little larger. Only the last days have brought development. Till the enormous changes of the nineteenth century—changes which have transferred the termination of ancient history from A.D. 476 to near A.D. 1800—the older fashions remained, in town-life as in most other forms of civilized society. Towns were still, with few exceptions, small and their difficulties, if real, were simple. Save in half a dozen abnormal capitals, they had, even in relatively modern days, no vast populations to be fed and made into human and orderly citizens. They had no chemical industries, no chimneys defiling the air, or drains defiling the water. Now, builders have to face the many square miles of Chicago or Buenos Ayres, to provide lungs for their cities, to fight with polluted streams and smoke. Their problems are quite unlike those of the ancients. When Cobbett, about 1800, called London the Great Wen, he contrasted in two monosyllables the ancient ideal of a city with the ugly modern facts.

It is not, therefore, likely that modern architects or legislators will learn many hints from plans of Timgad or of Silchester. There are lessons perhaps in the growth of Turin from its little ancient chess-board to its modern enlargement, but such developments are rare. The great benefit to modern workers of such a survey as I have attempted is that it shows the slow and painful steps by which mankind became at last able to plan towns as units, yet inhabited by individual men and women, and that it emphasizes the need for definite rules and principles. Nor is it perhaps quite superfluous to-day to point out how closely, even after the great upheaval of the nineteenth century, the forms of modern life depend on the Roman world.


Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse