The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World

The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World

The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World

The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World

Synopsis

The study of Roman society and social relations blossomed in the 1970s. By now, we possess a very large literature on the individuals and groups that constituted the Roman community, and the various ways in which members of that community interacted. There simply is, however, no overview that takes into account the multifarious progress that has been made in the past thirty-odd years. The purpose of this handbook is twofold. On the one hand, it synthesizes what has heretofore been accomplished in this field. On the other hand, it attempts to configure the examination of Roman social relations in some new ways, and thereby indicates directions in which the discipline might now proceed. The book opens with a substantial general introduction that portrays the current state of the field, indicates some avenues for further study, and provides the background necessary for the following chapters. It lays out what is now known about the historical development of Roman society and the essential structures of that community. In a second introductory article, Clifford Ando explains the chronological parameters of the handbook. The main body of the book is divided into the following six sections: 1) Mechanisms of Socialization (primary education, rhetorical education, family, law), 2) Mechanisms of Communication and Interaction, 3) Communal Contexts for Social Interaction, 4) Modes of Interpersonal Relations (friendship, patronage, hospitality, dining, funerals, benefactions, honor), 5) Societies Within the Roman Community (collegia, cults, Judaism, Christianity, the army), and 6) Marginalized Persons (slaves, women, children, prostitutes, actors and gladiators, bandits). The result is a unique, up-to-date, and comprehensive survey of ancient Roman society.

Excerpt

In prefacing the first edition of his monumental Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, M. Rostovtzeff lamented, “We have not, however, a single book or monograph treating of the social and economic life of the Roman Empire as a whole and tracing the main lines of its evolution” (Rostovtzeff 1926: vii). The volume thus introduced served precisely to launch the study of ancient Roman society. Two premises underlay Rostovtzeff’s approach: (a) that Roman society was necessarily to be understood as an historical phenomenon, in other words, was to be investigated over the course of time, as it passed through a series of wrenching evolutions; and (b) that society and economy were intimately woven together, so that neither could individually be grasped without meticulous attention to the other. Rostovtzeff’s story, then, was the following.

The mighty landlords and businessmen who had long dominated Republican Rome were swept from their perches of power by Augustus. The first emperor thereupon initiated a policy of nurturing his realm’s urban centers, which led to an era of great prosperity for the metropolitan populations. Neglected, however, were the peasants, who languished miserably in the countryside. Thus, come the third century AD, the armies, which had always sought their recruits precisely among the rural folk, revolted against those who had for so long oppressed them, and the Roman world was tumbled into crisis. Fifty-odd years of social and economic uproar could lead, in the end, only to an absolutist military monarchy. Soon thereafter, collapse.

1. One piece of scholarship that might perhaps be considered a proper forerunner to Rostovtzeff—and it is still an invaluable mine of information, well worth consulting—is Friedlaender 1922. Cf. also Marquardt 1886, or Warde Fowler 1926.

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