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Roman Hispania: the center in the periphery


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La Razón

Javier Andreu

Professor of Ancient History and director of Diploma in Archaeology

"What have the Romans done for us?". This question of cinematographic echoes is recurrent in the classes of "Classical World" that I teach at the University of Navarra. Among the many answers from my students there is always a recurring one: "Law". Indeed, Rome was able to manage in a modern and efficient way, centralizing, but also respectful of local identities and homelands, an Empire of an almost unprecedented extension until then. And it did so by means of central power - the administration exercised by the Senate of Rome, by the consuls, and, since Augustus, by the emperor - but wisely combining it with municipal autonomy, with the "empowerment" of local elites who, perhaps decades before, had opposed Rome but who, from the first century B.C., understood that the best way to be part of a world that was already Roman was to collaborate in its administration, development and expansion, in that propagatio Imperii that became the basis of the Roman imperial ideology. An ideology endowed with a sense of civilization, of the State and of belonging that, as we know, has been behind the construction of Europe itself.

For at least six centuries, from the foundation of the provinces Vlterior and Citerior, until the reforms of Diocletian, the current territory of Spain and Portugal, was included in this provincial apparatus, with three great circumscriptions from the change of Era: Lusitania, Baetica and Citerior, unequal the three but managed in a similar way: with the authority of a provincial governor for each, with a provincial council for each territory that, each year, elected the priests of the imperial cult from the votes cast by members of the local elites who in turn occupied municipal priesthoods and who came from all the cities of each province. The Hispanic provinces, and their capitals, thus constituted the first examples of that "co-governance" of which the government has been speaking so much in recent months. Any member of the local elite of any Hispanic city who, voluntarily, had brought his degree program of services to the municipality had a vote in those councils that were developed in an administration that had only the cursus publicus, the imperial mail, the juridical legates and the apparatus of subordinates of the governor as the only, but very agile, mechanisms of power. For its part, the local administration rested on collegiate mayors - the duouiri -who, with the aediles - in charge of the supply and sanitation of the city - and with the quaestors - responsible for finances - made decisions presiding over local senates, the ordines decurionum, which, as corporations of ex-magistrates, governed the destinies - with neighborhood affairs and ordinary administration - of the nearly half a thousand cities that Hispania had in the high imperial period, those same cities whose excavations -such as the ones we are conducting in Los Bañales de Uncastillo or in Santa Cruz de Eslava, and so many others in all parts of the Spanish geography- continue to become today poles of attraction for an archaeotourism increasingly consolidated as resource, also economic, against that "emptied" Spain and, also, sadly ignored by the current executive.

In the knowledge of this system of administration, the "Hispanic experience" is, in addition, of reference letter for any researcher given the entity and quality of the documentation recovered in Spain in recent years. From the Edict of El Bierzo, for example, we know that there were ephemeral provinces, created by Rome for times when it was of interest, as it is now said, to "bring the administration closer to the citizen" even if only for military or tributary reasons. Through the repertoire of municipal laws - such as those of Irni (El Saucejo, Seville) or Malaca (Malaga) - experts from all over the world can learn how local elections were called and held in municipalities throughout the Roman orb and thanks, also, to the attestation of intermediate districts between provinces and cities, the so-called juridical convents, we can see how Rome was almost 2,000 years ahead of the councils, judicial districts or regions.


The knowledge of all this, and of the adventure by which our land went, in two centuries, from being a land of conquest to being a province of the Empire capable of providing emperors to Rome is what now wants to be hidden from our young people when the project of reform of the teaching of History for the 2nd year of secondary school emphasizes only what happened after 1812. high school diploma emphasizes only what happened after 1812. History, Cicero wrote, is the teacher of life. We teach little to our young pre-university students if we deprive them of knowing the moment when the instructions of that municipal and administrative system that still marks our territorial reality was established.