Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire

Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire

Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire

Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire

Synopsis

Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire examines the notions of ethnicity, citizenship and nationhood, to determine what constituted cultural identity in the Roman Empire. The contributors draw together the most recent research and use diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives from archaeology, classical studies and ancient history to challenge our basic assumptions of Romanization and how parts of Europe became incorporated into a Roman culture. Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire breaks new ground, arguing that the idea of a unified and easily defined Roman culture is over-simplistic and offering alternative theories and models. This well-documented and timely book presents cultural identity throughout the Roman Empire as a complex and diverse issue, far removed from the previous notion of a dichotomy between the Roman invaders and the Barbarian conquered.

Excerpt

Ray Laurence

Cultural identity has become a prominent topic of discussion for both archaeologists and ancient historians (Webster and Cooper 1996; Graves-Brown et al. 1995; Dench 1995; Shennan 1989), which has drawn on the debates in anthropology, social theory and history (see, for example, Bentley 1989; Friedman 1994; Tonkin et al. 1989). The new-found interest in theory and interpretation has led to a fundamental questioning of the meaning of our evidence (see in particular Dench 1995; Cornell and Lomas forthcoming) and key concepts in the disciplines, for example Romanisation (see Webster and Cooper 1996). Both disciplines would appear to be altering the ways in which they conceive of the meaning of their objects of analysis, but in many cases these developments have seldom been communicated beyond the discipline in which they were originally defined (a notable exception is Webster and Cooper 1996)—hence we deliberately decided, at an early stage, to include contributions by both archaeologists and historians. The reasons for doing so were simple and should be obvious: the two groups of scholars had clearly become isolated through the definition of archaeologists as ‘not historians’ from the 1970s onwards and with the main concern of study for the discipline of Roman archaeology in the UK as Roman Britain and the western provinces. Similarly, ancient historians had lost touch with their archaeological colleagues and expressed little or no interest in the study of the western provinces and even less interest in Roman Britain. (This may be too simplistic and there are obvious exceptions to the general rule.)

To bring participants from the two disciplines together, two sessions of the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference in 1995 were given over to the topics of Romanisation and cultural identity, with a view to including both archaeologists and historians. However, the latter were discovered to be already booked to attend the Classical Association conference, held over the same weekend, so were in many cases absent from the discussion, but they were later invited to submit their contributions to the volume. (The lack of co-ordination and information exchange in the organisation of the two conferences in a way typifies the relationship between the two disciplines; depressingly, the same clash repeated itself in 1997.) The general principle of broadening the debate of cultural change is also reflected in the subject areas of the papers, so that the book . . .

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