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10 III: Daniel Syrbe (FernUniversität in Hagen), A world of small towns and nomads. The Mauretania provinces of the Roman Empire as ‘areas of limited statehood’ (1st - 6th c.)?


The Roman Empire of the 1st to 6th century CE is often considered the pre-modern empire par excellence, which functioned on the basis of deep governmental hierarchies. A closer look at the organisation of provincial territories, especially in remote areas, reveals that the Roman Empire functioned rather as a supra-structure that linked regions with different political traditions anchored at the local level. In particular the epigraphic and archaeological material from the provinces of Mauretania Caesariensis and Mauretania Tingitana offers interesting insights in interrelations between the supra-level of the empire and the local level of self-governing communities. On the one hand, urban communities in remote areas often maintained traditional structures of self-government for centuries. In many ways, these cities seem to be only loosely connected to Roman governmental structures. On the other hand, the nomadic communities of Mauretania posed the particular challenge of establishing control over spatially mobile populations in an empire that essentially functioned as a network of cities. Using concepts of “weak statehood” and “limited statehood” and drawing on debates about “governance” in modern political science, this presentation will first discuss different ways in which units of local self-government were integrated into the mechanics of the empire of and then ask for the impact of Roman institutions on the formation of new power relations in the post-Roman period. In a broader context, the example of the Mauretanian provinces of the Roman empire can contribute to our modern understanding of how the Roman Empire functioned in practice as well as to debates in political sciences about governance and failed states.