II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > E. Rome > 4. The Roman Empire, 14–284 C.E.
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  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
4. The Roman Empire, 14–284 C.E.
a. Geography and Climate
 
During this period Rome organized the provinces of Gallia Transalpina, Britannia, Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, Moesia, Dacia, Mauretania, Cyrenaica, Egypt, Thrace, Syria, Judaea, Mesopotamia, Bithynia et Pontus, Galatia, Cilicia, and Lycia et Pamphylia. The Roman world therefore encompassed an enormous area centering around the Mediterranean but extending, significantly in places, into continental Europe, Asia, and Africa. It can be conveniently divided into several climatic and geographic zones. Provinces circling the Mediterranean enjoyed mild rainy winters and summers which were moderate on the northern coasts and warmer and drier on the southern. Agricultural productivity depended on exploiting the winter rains and working soil which, except for volcanic regions, was comparatively light. In lands such as Greece, where rocky soil is common, the typically Mediterranean combination of olive trees and grapevines predominated. These crops were combined with intensive cultivation of cereals in the more fertile areas of North Africa (modern Tunisia) and Sicily, and to a lesser degree in Italy, in the valleys of Anatolia, and southwestern Spain. The land of Egypt was uniquely fertile, since it depended not on rainfall, but on the regular flooding of the Nile. In most Mediterranean countries, however, rivers that were navigable year-round were uncommon; cities therefore tended to cluster along the coasts or in nearby valleys and plains. The climate of northern European provinces was characterized by seasons that were more extreme and by rainfall that was more evenly distributed than in Mediterranean countries. Agricultural development was impeded by various factors. The soil was fertile but heavy and consequently more difficult to work. In addition, a climate that was generally more humid resulted in wide belts of heavy forests, many of which were also swampy. Highlands made for excellent pasturage, while mountains were frequently rich in minerals of various kinds. Navigable rivers were the principal avenues of communication and trade, and it was on these that cities were founded. Few cities of the Roman Empire had populations of more than 20,000 persons. Larger ones, like Pergamum, reached 100,000, while a few, such as Alexandria and Antioch, approached 500,000. The city of Rome was unique in having about one million inhabitants. The population of the Roman Empire is estimated to have been between fifty and sixty million persons in 14 C.E. The southern boundaries of the Roman world were desert country. Here irrigation extended agriculture and urban life into regions where pasturage and nomadic life prevailed.  1
The Romans had a clear idea of the frontiers (limes) of their empire and had armies to guard them. But these borders were very permeable, and the function of soldiers was as much to monitor the movements of persons and goods across the frontier as it was to defend them. The Roman world, in fact, extended beyond the borders of Roman provinces to trans-Danubian areas where overland commerce was constant, as well to the Indian Ocean, where long-distance, seasonal maritime trade was conducted. The true boundaries of the Roman world were not marked by frontiers. Roman civilization was urban, and it was delimited by deserts and mountains both outside and inside its imperial borders.  2
The ancient Roman view was of a spherical world, the inhabited region of which (the oikoumene) was surrounded by oceans, and this world centered around the Mediterranean. It was bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the mouth of the Ganges River. The southern extent of the African continent and the northern expanses of the land masses of Europe and Asia were vastly underestimated.  3
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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