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In ancient Rome, the vicus (plural vici) was a neighborhood. During the Republican era, the four regiones of the city of Rome were subdivided into vici. In the 1st century BC, Augustus reorganized the city for administrative purposes into 14 regions, comprising 265 vici. Each vicus had its own board of officials who oversaw local matters. These administrative divisions are recorded as still in effect at least through the mid-4th century.
The Latin word vicus was also applied to the smallest administrative unit of a provincial town within the Roman Empire, and to an ad hoc provincial civilian settlement that sprang up close to and because of a nearby official Roman site, usually a military garrison or state-owned mining operation.
Local government in Rome
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Each vicus elected four local magistrates (vicomagistri) who commanded a sort of local police chosen from among the people of the vicus by lot. Occasionally the officers of the vicomagistri would feature in certain celebrations (primarily the Compitalia) in which they were accompanied by two lictors.
Ad hoc settlements
These vici differed from the planned civilian towns (civitates), laid out as official, local economic and administrative centres, the coloniae which were settlements of retired troops, or the formal political entities created from existing settlements, the municipia. Unplanned, and originally lacking any public administrative buildings, vici had no specific legal status (unlike other settlements) and developed in order to profit from Roman troops. As with most garrison towns, they provided entertainment and supplies for the troops, but many also developed significant industries, especially metal and glass working.
Initially ephemeral, many vici were transitory sites that followed a mobile unit; once a permanent garrison was established they grew into larger townships. Often the number of official civitates and coloniæ were not enough to settle everyone who wished to live in a town and so vici also attracted a wider range of residents, with some becoming chartered towns where no other existed nearby. Some, such as that at Vercovicium (Housesteads) outgrew their forts altogether, especially in the 3rd century once soldiers were permitted to marry.
Early vici had no civilian administration and were under the direct control of the Roman military commander. Those that attracted significant numbers of Roman citizens were later permitted to form local councils and some, such as the vicus at Eboracum (York), grew into regional centres and even provincial capitals.
The Latin term, pronounced with an initial 'u', was adopted into Old English as wic, wick, or wich. Wych naturally became one of the most widely occurring common placename elements e.g. Wick, Wyck, Hackney Wick, Gatwick, Exwick, Wickham, Aldwych, Dulwich, Ipswich, Norwich, and indirectly York, from Eoforwic via Old Norse Jorvik. In the Brittonic languages the cognate word is gwig Cornish, gwig Welsh and guic in Breton; all now meaning "village". In continental languages the term became Old High German wih "village," Modern German Weichbild "municipal area," Dutch wijk "quarter, district," Old Frisian wik, Old Saxon wic "village."
- Paul Zoch, Ancient Rome: An Introductory History (University of Oklahoma Press, 1998), p. 233; Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (University of Michigan Press, 1988), p. 155.
- As recorded in the regionary catalogues; Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, "Emperors and Houses in Rome," in Childhood, Class, and Kin in the Roman World (Routledge, 2001), and "Domus and insulae in Rome: Families and Housefuls," in Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003).
- Oxford Classical Dictionary, Vicus.
- Wacher, John (1996). The Towns of Roman Britain. London: Routledge.
- "Online Etymology Dictionary". Etymonline.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07.