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Royal Holloway

Egham Hill

Egham

TW20 0EX

United Kingdom

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Feeding Gotham: comparing urban metabolisms of imperial mega-cities in Long Late Antiquity

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Feeding Gotham: comparing urban metabolisms of imperial mega-cities in Long Late Antiquity

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Date: Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Time: 15:00-17:00

Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, Institute for Medieval Research/Division for Byzantine Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Late Roman imperial centres such as Rome and Constantinople have been often discussed as “outliers” with regard to their scale and the complexity of their infrastructure. This paper aims at interpreting these otherwise exceptional places in comparison with other imperial “megacities”, which were equally dependent on elaborate supply networks and institutional frameworks. For the purpose of comparative analysis, we adapt concepts from environmental history such as “imperial ecology” and “urban metabolism”.

In particular, the paper focuses on the three entangled case studies of Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo from the 4th respectively 8th and 10th century CE up to the 12th century CE (so within a “Long Late Antiquity” as recently proposed by Garth Fowden, 2015, or Thomas Bauer, 2018). All three imperial centres underwent periods of rapid demographic and urban growth, but also of severe crisis, connected with political and socio-economic turbulences as well as (especially in recent scenarios, i.e. Ronnie Ellenblum 2012) environmental change. We re-evaluate the actual shares of these factors in these times of calamities in order to re-interpret “natural events” as social processes and to explore strategies of resilience and adaptation both with regard to the re-orientation of urban metabolisms as well as spatial modifications of urban fabrics.

Furthermore, for the purpose of comparative analysis of large-scale urbanism, we consider other imperial centres beyond the Mediterranean across early medieval Afro-Eurasia, especially in China (such as Chang´an and Luoyang) and Japan (such as Nara or Kyoto), for which data allows an even more nuanced estimate of the actual burden these places put on the economies and ecologies of their immediate and wider hinterlands. The paper thus contributes also to current debates on urban sustainability of “mega-cities”.

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Royal Holloway

Egham Hill

Egham

TW20 0EX

United Kingdom

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