An island economy: Ierapetra and Crete in the Roman Empire
Gallimore, Scott Charles
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The overall aim of this study is a comprehensive analysis of the Cretan polis of Ierapetra during the Roman period and the consideration of the role of this center within the broader historical and economic contexts of Roman Crete and the Mediterranean as a whole. To accomplish this goal, consideration is given first to some broader issues concerning Roman Crete. This includes asking how and when the island became Roman, what is the time span for which the designation 'Roman Crete' is relevant, what factors led to Crete's administrative, economic, and cultural transformation into a Roman territory, and when does Crete cease to be Roman. These topics have not been sufficiently addressed in the scholarship of Roman Crete, and a preliminary evaluation provides a foundation from which to gain a better understanding of the history of Ierapetra. Following an assessment of the types of evidence available to scholars of Roman Crete and of the way in which secondary literature has made use of these sources, the discussion turns to Ierapetra and an attempt to provide an overview of our current level of understanding of the city. Topics addressed include the earliest history of the site, reconstructions of the topography, territory, politics, religion, and economy of the Late Hellenistic and Roman poleis , and the post-antique transformation of the site into an archaeological relic. At the heart of the study is the analysis of three ceramic assemblages recovered from rescue excavations in the western part of Ierapetra. A fourth assemblage from the rural site of Kato Mertia, located approximately 6.5km north of Ierapetra, also was examined. Recording a diachronic history of the city from circa 150 B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E., this pottery shows that Ierapetra grew into a major Cretan polis in the Late Hellenistic period and reached the apex of its prosperity in the Early Roman period due to its role as a transshipment port for goods being transported across the Mediterranean. Diocletian and Constantine's Empire-wide reorganizations changed the Mediterranean economic landscape, leading to Ierapetra's decline when Cretan trade focused on other ports. This decline continued unabated until the city was a shell of its former self by the seventh century. Thus, this outline shows the historical trajectory of an eastern polis and demonstrates that its rise and fall are connected directly to pan-Mediterranean exchange networks. By building on connectivity models proposed by P. Horden and N. Purcell in The Corrupting Sea , an additional outcome is the use of Ierapetra, and Crete as a whole, as proxies for understanding the evolving economic relationships between the eastern and western Mediterranean throughout the course of the Roman Empire.