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Ludovicus

Rapid Urban Abandonment in 6th Century Rome

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At its height, the City of Rome numbered just over a million inhabitants. By the late 6th century C.E., the population was perhaps 30,000. According to Pope Gregory the Great, at one time after the Gothic Wars, the City was almost completely abandoned. What would it be like to live in an urban hull, with so many large imperial constructions falling to pieces?

 

Here's a collection of photos of a major American city with rapid demographic plunge. The city population [of Detroit] dropped from its peak in 1950 with a population of 1,849,568 to 910,920 in 2009. Wikipedia.

http://fiveprime.org/flickr_hvmnd.cgi?meth...earch_type=Tags

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Imagine how Detroit would look if the US tries to reconquer it :rolleyes:

I had once an eerie experience in the Carpathians where we placed our tents on the grass in the middle of an abandoned village. The buildings were intact and included a church and a school. Only one house was used the rest were abandoned because there was no road and no electricity.

If you want to see modern urban abandonment search for images of Famagusta, the ancient city in Cyprus, abandoned since the turkish invasion.

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An interesting collection of photos of a depopulated urban area.

 

It would have been quite something to see the eternal city fall to such depths. Imagine what it would have been like to see the Pantheon during this time, or the Colosseum? Would the forum of Trajan have looked the same as it did a century before? What would we have thought about the Roman Senate building during this low period in Roman history? What famous parts of the city were already ruined? Did Justinian see Rome during this time?

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I believe there is a battle account from one of the histories of the mid-6th century Gothic Wars during which warriors hurled statues from the roof of the Pantheon down onto enemy troops below. The earthquake of 847 C.E. is often cited as the last blow to the ancient structures such as Trajan's Forum, the Basilica of Maxentius, and the Colosseum.

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I think that Rome declined gradually in size, while there wasn't any abrupt collapse in the city's population, with the possible exception in the 6th century. However by 500 CE Rome probably was less than a tenth of the city of 400 years before.

 

Also, since the decline of Rome lasted for many centuries, there weren't many buildings standing in the mid 6th century as there were 500 years before. Only the ones made of marble and stone, like the Colosseum, that remained in mostly conserved state.

Edited by Guaporense

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During the Gothic Wars I believe three of the four major aqueducts were cut by the Goths once the East Romans had re-occupied the City. These aqueducts were never repaired, and from that point on until the high middle ages the main population of Rome was strung out along the course of the remaining aqueduct and the Tiber.

 

The Forum itself must have retained its function into the 7th century, as seen by the placing of the Column of Phocas in AD 608. This column, though, was not purpose built, it was salvaged from an earlier structure. Thus, it appears that even though Rome was still in the hands of a recognisably Roman state, already the buildings of its glorious past were either falling into ruin, or only maintained by the demolition and salvage of architectural ornaments from redundant buildings.

 

A century later, anonymous accounts refer to the forum being used as a cattle market.

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During the Gothic Wars I believe three of the four major aqueducts were cut by the Goths once the East Romans had re-occupied the City. These aqueducts were never repaired, and from that point on until the high middle ages the main population of Rome was strung out along the course of the remaining aqueduct and the Tiber.

 

That's an Interesting fact about the last functioning aqueduct. I wonder what its name was.

Richard Krautheimer's, Rome: A Profile of a City: 312-1308, is one of the best resources I know of, if you're interested in how the City survived Late Antiquity and beyond. Like most shrunken cities, a new pattern emerges. The once vast expanse enclosed by the Aurelian Walls becomes separate villages, islands, amidst the disabitato. Krautheimer's work is loaded with medieval and Renaissance maps that illustrate this. I recommend it highly. If you're interested in early medieval churches in Rome, this is the resource.

http://www.amazon.co...98210311&sr=8-1

Edited by Ludovicus

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During the Gothic Wars I believe three of the four major aqueducts were cut by the Goths once the East Romans had re-occupied the City. These aqueducts were never repaired, and from that point on until the high middle ages the main population of Rome was strung out along the course of the remaining aqueduct and the Tiber.

 

That's an Interesting fact about the last functioning aqueduct. I wonder what it's name was.

My re-gurgitation of things I read many years ago required some re-reading on my part - this has been done! Aparently Belisarius repaired all the aqueducts after the Siege of Rome; they subsequently fell into disuse again over the next few centuries. So, although the aqueducts were cut in the Gothic War, this may not have been the single reason for the depopulation of Rome. The bit I put in about the 'course of the remaining aqueduct' refers to the Aqua Virgo. By the ninth century, this was the one aqueduct which remained in working order, the others having fallen into disrepair, and it is in this period when the main population of Rome was strung out along its course, or around wells and the banks of the Tiber.

 

The book you mention sounds fascinating, and I will order myself a copy straight away. Colin McEvedy mentions 'Villages surrounded by fields of rubble' in his Atlas of the Middle Ages, and my (very) old copy of 'Rome in the Dark Ages' paints this haunting picture of a linear population struggling to survive along the line of the one working aqueduct. The images these two books evoke are tantalising to say the least, and I look forward to learning about this part of Rome's history in more detail.

Edited by Northern Neil

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Here's an interactive site based on the Nolli Map of Rome, University of Oregon:

http://nolli.uoregon.edu/

 

The Nolli Web Site presents the 1748 Nolli map of Rome as a dynamic, interactive, hands-on tool. The public now has access to cataloged information about the map in both written and graphical form. The map not only provides rich information, but it has the ability to be updated with new data over time to embrace expanding knowledge.

 

http://nolli.uoregon.edu/disabitato.html

As a casual glance at the Nolli map shows, even as late as the 18th century the vast area between the urbanized center and the ancient Aurelian wall circuit was an area dominated by ancient ruins and open space. Historically this zone has been called the uninhabited place or disabitato.

 

The impression this name gives is that of dusty fields with occasional ancient ruins picturesquely placed among a boundless no-man

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