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Title: The Urban System of Roman Egypt in the Early Third Century AD
Subtitle: An Economic-Geographical Approach to City-Size Distribution in a Roman Province
Author(s): DE LIGT, Luuk
Journal: Ancient Society
Volume: 47    Date: 2017   
Pages: 255-321
DOI: 10.2143/AS.47.0.3242725

Abstract :
Based on a detailed study of archaeological and papyrological data this contribution argues that a comprehensive reconstruction of the urban system of Roman Egypt can be achieved by relating the surviving evidence for city sizes to the sizes of administrative territories, to regional variations in amounts of marginal land and to region-specific levels of soil productivity. Using this approach the approximate sizes of all of the forty-nine nome capitals of the Nile valley and the Delta and three further cities which did not have this administrative status can be estimated. If Alexandria is added to the picture, we end up with the conclusion that the urban hierarchy of Roman Egypt can be described as a ‘primo-concave’ system in which the vast majority of cities were sustained by their immediate hinterlands but which also had room for an unusually large ‘primate city’ and a tiny number of riverine and maritime port cities whose populations must have been fed in part on imported foodstuffs. Depending on whether Roman Egypt is assigned a population of 5-6 million or 8 million, we are dealing with a society in which either between 17 per cent and 26 per cent of the population lived in cities or with one in which the urbanisation rate did not exceed 16 per cent. The former scenario seems more likely.

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