Friday, September 16, 2011

Not to be missed: conjuring up Rome in AD 600

Dr. Beachcombing imagines the near-ghost town it must have been:

Let’s take the lowest sensible estimate for classical Rome – half a million – and the highest for Rome c. 600, about 50,000. That means that the population has not only been decimated, but that it had been decimated nine times over. And what is more these heirs of Rome (as fashionable ‘late antique’ historians call them) were resident in an echo box; a city that they no longer had the technology to repair, let alone recreate, where nine out of every ten residences were empty, where three and four story buildings gradually keeled over into the streets and where the Parthenon and the Coliseum looked down mockingly on the little people below, not so much dwarfs on giants’ shoulders, as blue-bottles buzzing around a cow’s backside.

Then, remember, perhaps the actual population of Imperial Rome was more like a million and the population of Rome c. 600 was more like  ten thousand, a hundredth of what it had been. The psychopathic Anglo-Saxon guard, the tourist from Scythia and the Pope and his tiny administration could shout as loud as they wanted and no one would have heard them in their ghost town. No one was listening, not even the red baked tiles made in a happier age.
I have recently lived across the river from this is evocative.  Detroit is not, however, quite so echoic.

Parthenon presumably should be Pantheon (above).

More on ancient population estimates in a later post.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure they lacked the technology to repair the city so much as the need. A city of 500,000, or even 100,000, may need to pipe in outside water. A city of 25,000 does not.