Industrialization and Urbanization: Studies in Interdisciplinary History

Industrialization and Urbanization: Studies in Interdisciplinary History

by Theodore K. Rabb

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Focusing on urban development and the influence of urbanization on industrialization, this volume reflects a radical rethinking of the traditional approaches to the development of cities.

Originally published in 1981.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the

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Focusing on urban development and the influence of urbanization on industrialization, this volume reflects a radical rethinking of the traditional approaches to the development of cities.

Originally published in 1981.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

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"Rabb and Rotberg's Industrialization and Urbanizationis slick, sophisticated to the touch and to the eye, and impossibly eclectic in its presentation of an urban experience that reaches from imperial Rome to post-colonial India, passing by early industrialization in England, Wales and the United States, and social experience in Gilded Age and Progressive Boston and Buffalo."--Urban History Review

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Industrialization and Urbanization

Studies in Interdisciplinary History

By Theodore K. Rabb, Robert I. Rotberg


Copyright © 1981 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05328-8


Thomas W. Africa

Urban Violence in Imperial Rome

Bread, circuses, and an occasional riot — such, we are told, were the main interests of the populace in Imperial Rome: an indolent and debased people, glutted with free food and addicted to spectacles. Tacitus sneered at "the sordid plebs who hang about the Circus and theaters," and Juvenal impaled them with an epigram: "The people, who once bestowed republican offices, have now only two interests, bread and games." These charges have been echoed by many modern authors, and even authorities of the stature of Rostovtzeff repeat them.

Evidence for the history of the Roman commons is fragmentary, but, even so, the record does not confirm the image of a spoiled, fickle, and irresponsible people. Since Roman history was written by men of the senatorial class, or by those who had attached themselves to its interests, it is not surprising that Roman historians had little sympathy for the lower classes. Tacitus employed an arsenal of invective against the commons: plebs sordida, vulgus imperitum, inops vulgus — they were a vile, ignorant, wretched rabble. From his viewpoint, the Roman masses were canaille, Lumpen, or, in Burke's words, "a swinish multitude." Impudent and unruly, they seemed an amorphous mass, potentially a mob. Yet even Tacitus made a subjective distinction between the "respectable commons" who rejoiced at the fall of Nero and the "riff-raff" who lamented the tyrant's passing.

Rhetoric should not be confused with historical evidence, and a crowd is not a mob merely because historians label it so when they disapprove of the masses' actions. While Imperial Rome had its share of social scum and criminals, the people who demonstrated in the Circus, and who sometimes took to the streets in riots, were not the dregs of society. The Roman "mob" was generally composed of shopkeepers, craftsmen, and workers (particularly in transportation and the building trades)8 who had grievances to air. The Principate had wiped out all but the formalities of republican government. No longer able to effect decisions through republican channels, the Roman commons could only petition the emperor through mass demonstrations, and, if he failed to heed their demands, they sometimes resorted to violence.

In assessing urban violence in Imperial Rome, one must not lose sight of its causes, nor of the grievances and loyalties that prompted humble men to challenge tyrants, and civilians to battle professional soldiers. The environment and values of the Roman masses must be considered, as well as their composition and actions. Clichés about "bread and circuses" throw little light on the lives or aspirations of the urban masses.

Imperial Rome was a city of about one million inhabitants. Filled with palaces, monuments, and slums, it was a city of contrasts where splendor and squalor existed side by side. Short of space, Rome had expanded vertically as well as horizontally, and much of the population lived in multistoried tenements. Most housing was poorly built, and the collapse of apartment houses was not uncommon. Yet, since living space was at a premium, rents were high. Fires were frequent and destructive. Although the city contained many large public baths, sanitation was poor. Congested and noisy, Rome had grown without planning, and its streets were narrow and winding — a factor that aided rioters. Like modern capitals, Rome depended on imported food, and a delay in the arrival of the grain fleet could reduce the city to famine and bread riots.

As the cosmopolitan center of a world state, the population of Rome was mixed, for freedmen of varied ethnic backgrounds were absorbed into the body politic as citizens. The city also included a large number of non-citizens and probably 100,000 slaves. Though upper class Italians were contemptuous of provincials in general, and Eastern peoples in particular, Roman society was not marred by overt racial or ethnic discrimination. Organized in guilds, craftsmen and tradesmen often lived together on the same streets, thus affording them a sense of sodality.

In Imperial Rome, crime was commonplace, and some of it was organized. Domitian broke up a ring of professional murderers who killed their victims with poisoned needles, and who operated both in the city and throughout the empire. Under Commodus, there was a revival of the same gang, but it was soon suppressed. Most criminals at Rome followed more traditional pursuits, and the city was plagued with housebreakers, pickpockets, petty thieves, and muggers. Juvenal gives a vivid description of the many dangers of Rome at night. Yet, despite the inconveniences of life in the great city, Juvenal and a million others found Rome too exciting to leave.

The attractions of Rome included bread for some and circuses for all. Occasionally, the emperors would distribute gifts of cash or grain to the citizenry. In 5 B.C., for example, 320,000 citizens of Rome received a cash gift from Augustus. More important was the monthly dole which the state furnished to a fixed number of citizens, who were issued a square wooden chit redeemable for five modii (about 1 ¼ bushels) of grain. A holdover from the Republic, the grain dole was not welfare, or even philanthropy, but was viewed as the hereditary privilege of the descendants of the Romans who had conquered the world and were entitled to its tribute. The privilege was confined to citizens who resided in the city, and only the poor relied on the dole. No man could live on the dole alone, however, much less depend upon it to feed his family, and rent and clothing required money. The Roman masses worked hard for a living, and at the most the dole only supplemented their meager incomes. In all periods, the dole and its recipients have been criticized by well-fed moralists, but the Roman commons were not lazy parasites feeding at the public trough — they were working men who received a food supplement and little else from their imperial masters.

Like all peoples, the Romans enjoyed shows and games, and the more spectacular they were, the better. Much, though not all, of the public entertainment at Rome was free, and holidays were frequent, for the ancients did not subscribe to the Puritan ethic. Under Claudius, ninety-three days per year were devoted to spectacles at government expense; in the third century A.D., the figure almost doubled. How much time a working man could afford to waste on amusement is open to speculation, though common sense suggests some obvious limitations. The city boasted many large theaters which offered pantomimes, ballets, and operas of sorts. However, the main centers of public entertainment were the Circus Maximus and (after Vespasian) the Colosseum. Many Romans were passionately devoted to the races in the Circus, and rivalries were strong between the fans of famous teams of charioteers. Best known are the partisans of the Blues and the Greens, who were also active in Antioch and other cities, especially later at Constantinople. (A comparable phenomenon is the rabid devotion to soccer teams in Latin American countries today.) While not edifying, the races were hardly demoralizing, and even Fronto admits that all classes were fond of them. Originally, the Circus seated 150,000 spectators; later, it accommodated 250,000. When a crowd of this size chanted a grievance to the imperial box, the emperor did well to pay attention. The Colosseum held about 50,000 spectators and featured games with rare beasts from foreign lands. It also provided grislier fare with gladiatorial combats and the staged executions of criminals. Though always bloody, not all gladiatorial fights were to the death, for many gladiators were popular with the crowds, and no impresario would allow the slaughter of a champion who had many fans. Nevertheless, death was part of the scene in the arena. While such sports degraded men, it was an age not squeamish to pain and hand-to-hand combat. In any case, the aristocracy flocked to the arena as eagerly as did the masses, and the Romans have not been the only people in history to enjoy violent sports.

In Roman society, violence was endemic and had been accentuated by the political chaos of the Late Republic. Like other Italians, the Romans were emotional and volatile. Though the state could usually cope with major disorders, personal violence plagued the city. Under the Republic, the police powers of the state had been rudimentary, with a few officials and their limited staffs trying to maintain a semblance of order. Without a police force, Romans traditionally had to rely on relatives and friends when violence entered their lives. While a commoner would call upon his friends and neighbors to assist him, a noble could also summon a throng of clients to do battle for him. In rural areas, the situation was worse, and landowners hired armed bands to protect them and intimidate their foes. In the 50s B.C., Clodius and Milo had headed private armies of thugs at Rome, but such gangs were banned by the Principate. Even when public violence was at a low ebb, the average Roman felt it quite natural to call upon his friends to help him resist an assault — or to commit one.

One of the major achievements of Augustus was the establishment of effective military and paramilitary forces to police Rome. Within or near the city were stationed about 12,000 professional soldiers. Nine cohorts of Praetorian Guards served as the household troops of the emperor, while three urban cohorts policed the city, although they functioned mainly as riot troops. The 3,000 troopers of the urban cohorts were under the command of the urban prefect, who was responsible for public order in the city. A fourth urban cohort was added, probably by Caligula, and a total of seven was reached under Claudius. During the civil wars of A.D. 69 the Praetorians and the urban cohorts gambled in politics, and both units backed Otho against Vitellius. After defeating Otho, Vitellius reduced the urban cohorts to four but increased the Praetorian cohorts to sixteen by adding his own troops. When Vespasian's brother, the urban prefect Sabinus, rose against Vitellius, the urban cohorts supported the prefect, and most died in his abortive attempt to hold the Capitol. In A.D. 70 the victorious Vespasian restored the number of cohorts to four urban and nine Praetorian. His son Domitian added a tenth Praetorian cohort, and the number apparently remained fixed. While available in an emergency, the Praetorian Guards were an elite corps, and the actual policing of the city fell on the urban cohorts.

The "police force" of Rome was augmented by a quasi-military fire brigade, the vigiles, who served as both firemen and nightwatch-men and often in a police capacity as well. In A.D. 6 Augustus established seven cohorts of freedmen as vigiles, with a strength of about 7,000.33 In the second century, however, the vigiles were largely recruited from freeborn citizens. (Frequently, the office of prefect of the vigiles was a stepping-stone to the choice Praetorian prefecture.) When Tiberius engineered the overthrow of the powerful Praetorian prefect Sejanus in A.D. 31, neither the Praetorians nor the urban cohorts could be trusted, so vigiles guarded the crucial meeting of the Senate where Sejanus was deposed. Yet, during the great fire of A.D. 64, some vigiles behaved unprofessionally, looting and spreading fires themselves. Discounting the Praetorians, the "police force" of Rome, including vigiles, numbered about 10,000 in the Augustan age, and later about 11,000. With a third of the population of Chicago, Imperial Rome had a police force of about the same size as that of the modern city. By present standards, Rome was heavily policed in terms of numbers, but much of that force was occupied with fire fighting, and the core of the police were riot troops, not patrolmen. When the average resident of Rome was in difficulty, he stood little chance of aid from a policeman and called upon his neighbors for help. When he had a grievance against the state, he was likely to do the same.

Under an authoritarian regime, it is not easy for a citizen or even a group of citizens to communicate with the head of state. Absorbed in the awesome task of running the empire, the emperor at Rome was generally inaccessible to his subjects. It was equally difficult for him to learn of their needs and wishes, for the ruler was surrounded by secretaries and courtiers. The great exception to the isolation of the emperor was his appearance at the Circus or the theaters. To display their affinity with the people, even rulers who were bored by shows and games made token appearances, although Marcus Aurelius, like Caesar, annoyed the audience by reading and dictating letters. Augustus, on the other hand, frankly enjoyed the shows, and so did most of his successors. When the emperor was present, the crowd took full advantage of the opportunity to attract his attention. In the anonymity of a mass audience, it was safe to be impudent and call out witticisms that bordered on sedition. In the sheer numbers which filled the Circus, there was great power, both in the psychological force of noise itself and in the latent possibility of a riot. Claques organized rhythmic chants and clapping in unison and were often joined by other spectators, who were caught up in the compulsive excitement of a crowd atmosphere. Sometimes the cries and requests were flippant, but often matters of import were brought to the ear of the ruler. Though freedom had long since vanished from Rome, the emperors could not afford to disregard public opinion when it was howled by an immense throng. Even the dour Tiberius, who loathed the games and the crowds, was forced by their cries to grant freedom to a slave comedian and to restore a statue which had been taken from a public building. When the crowds blamed him for high grain prices, however, the emperor ordered the Senate to issue an official censure of the populace for their impudence.

Toward the Circus crowds, the tyrannical Caligula was less forbearing than Tiberius. From a good Roman source (possibly Cluvius Rufus), Josephus preserves an account of a clash between Caligula and the masses in the Circus:

There, the assembled throngs make requests of the emperors according to their own pleasure. Emperors who rule that there can be no question about granting such petitions are by no means unpopular. So in this case, they desperately entreated Gaius to cut down imposts and grant some relief from the burden of taxes. But he had no patience with them, and when they shouted louder and louder, he dispatched agents among them in all directions with orders to arrest any who shouted, to bring them forward at once, and to put them to death. The order was given and ... carried out. The number of those executed in such summary fashion was very large. The people, when they saw what happened, stopped their shouting.

When faced with a resolute tyrant, Cassius Dio remarks of this episode, the people can only be sullen and mutter. Yet most emperors were receptive to public opinion as represented by the multitude in the Circus. When the masses in the Circus and theaters cried for the death of Nero's hated henchman, Tigellinus, Galba quieted them by announcing that their foe was dying of disease. Later, the crowds in the Circus and theaters — where, Tacitus adds, "they have less restraint" — compelled Otho to order Tigellinus' death. Only foolhardy tyrants like Caligula totally disregarded the voice of the people in the Circus.

When civil war broke out between Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus in A.D. 196, Dio witnessed an extraordinary display of crowd discipline during a demonstration for peace that took place at the Circus:

While the entire world was disturbed by this situation, we senators remained quiet, at least as many of us as did not, by openly inclining to the one or the other, share their dangers and their hopes. The populace, however, could not restrain itself but indulged in the most open lamentations. It was at the last horse race before the Saturnalia, and a countless throng of people flocked to it. I, too, was present ... and I heard distinctly everything that was said. ... They had watched the chariots racing ... without applauding, as was their custom, any of the contestants at all. But when these races were over and the charioteers were about to begin another event, they first enjoined silence upon one another and then suddenly all clapped their hands at the same moment and also joined in a shout, praying for good fortune for the public welfare. ... Then, applying the terms "Queen" and "Immortal" to Rome, they shouted: "How long are we to surfer such things?" and "How long are we to be waging war?" And after making some other remarks of this kind, they finally shouted, "So much for that," and turned their attention to the horse race.


Excerpted from Industrialization and Urbanization by Theodore K. Rabb, Robert I. Rotberg. Copyright © 1981 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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