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The Roman city

Roman cities, like their modern counterparts, could vary enormously in size and appearance, from the huge urban conglomerates of Rome, Alexandria and Carthage to small centres in provinces such as Britain and Morocco. Many cities and towns had pre-Roman origins, especially in the urbanised eastern Mediterranean and in Italy. But in Britain, Gaul and other provinces, urban centres were often either founded by Rome or stimulated into growth by the imperial presence. These settlements often began as military camps, or as colonies of settlers and soldiers deliberately planted by Rome in strategically important sites.

Whatever their origins, towns were the backbone of the empire and shared a basic group of functions that were vital to the empire's organisation and administration. The forum with its large open paved area was a focal point for the whole community and was often used as a marketplace. This commercial element was so important that many Roman towns used the word 'forum' as part of their names. Facing onto the forum were several buildings with very specific functions. These included the capitol, the principal temple of the town, and the basilica, a long, aisled building, which was the seat of local and imperial legal administration. The basilica could also be used for tax-collection and record-keeping of all types. Public facilities such as the bath house, the theatre, the amphitheatre for gladiatorial and animal combats, and the stadium for horse and chariot racing were also commonly found in Roman cities and towns.

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