Ancient cities, whether ancient or modern, with their wide range of services and dense and diverse populations, rely on some degree of zoning and planning as a means of organizing space. Indeed, recent theoretical perspectives on urban form have conceived of spatial organization and the levels of investment in the built environment as reflecting social negotiations among the diverse, sometimes conflicting, and persistently changing interests of a city’s constituent communities. In the case of economic activities, tracking the spatial distribution of different types of economic activity through time provides a means to evaluate the shifting cultural attitudes towards industry and commerce, as well as variable levels of economic investment in them. For the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, discussions of urban space and social negotiation have tended to focus on themes of elite benefaction and political power, as expressed through monumental building programs. This is perhaps not surprising, as Roman-period cities in this region are often characterized by grand colonnaded avenues, marble-faced temples, and expansive stadia and theaters. This scholarship, however, leaves a comprehensive, in-depth, and comparative study of economic elements, such as shops and workshops, still to be performed, at a time when work in other regions is highlighting diversity in industry-city relations and when there is growing interest in the urban ‘middle class’ labor that occupied them.
In response, this project investigates economic development, urban planning, and social negotiation in the eastern Mediterranean from imperial to late antique periods (1st c. BC – 7th c. AD) through the lens of economic activities in order to assess local decision-making in the placement of and investment in shops and workshops. By comparing the spatial characteristics of cities in Asia Minor and the Near East, patterns in the scale, character, and status of manufacturing and commercial segments of urban society for the region may be discerned. Tracking changes in the economic topographies of cities—through times traditionally characterized as being politically and culturally ‘stable’ (i.e., the high imperial period), as well as in periods of ‘transition’ (i.e., Late Antiquity)—this project evaluates the changing nature of urban and periurban economic practices through time. In doing so, this project offers unique insights into local perceptions of industry and commercial activities within ancient communities, as expressed in the socio-political negotiation of urban space, as well as general regional and chronological trends in urbanism and economic development. Examples of cities across the eastern Mediterranean (modern Turkey, Israel, Syria, Jordan) are to be analyzed in order to tease out regional trends and local specificities.