The Roman Family in Italy: Status, Sentiment, Space

The Roman Family in Italy: Status, Sentiment, Space

The Roman Family in Italy: Status, Sentiment, Space

The Roman Family in Italy: Status, Sentiment, Space

Synopsis

The family continues to be seen as a central institution in Roman as well as modern, Western society. The Roman family is often used as a stereotype, sometimes of severity, sometimes of decadence, with its decline often cited as a cause of wider decline and fall. Definitions and concepts continue to be modified and nuanced, however, as the availability of new evidence and new methodologies make possible a much less simplistic picture. In this volume, the study of family draws on a wide range of disciplines to develop the intertwined themes of status, sentiment, and space. For example, on status there are contributions about Junian Latins and a survey of senators' monuments, while sentiment is represented by a gloomy but convincing picture of old age and a paper on the sentimental ideal which argues that conflict as well as concord is a feature of family life. Space is represented, among others, by the contribution on who commemorates whom in Roman Italy, pointing up the regional variations in custom and the difficulties in tracing complete families. The final contributions focus on the house: how people lived in the Roman house, the use of rooms, and the artefacts that might indicate this use. The book makes use of many types of evidence from the legal and literary to the iconographical and archaeological. Visual and material evidence play an important role in reconstructing real lives in considerable colour and variety. The book moves beyond the city of Rome to the rest of Roman Italy and even into the provinces, just as Roman culture moved outwards and mingled with other cultures. Chronologically too there are new directions, towards the later Empire and Christianity. So, although the contributors do not abandon any of the territory already gained in Rome, nor literary and epigraphical sources, nor the late Republic or early Empire, there is an exciting sense of new discovery.

Excerpt

The concept of the 'Roman family' is of strategic importance in the study of Roman society. This applies whether the focus is on social structure, or the legal framework of Roman institutions, or cultural, moral, and emotional sensibilities, or quantitative economic questions. This importance is reflected in the vast expansion of scholarship devoted to the field and in the increase in serious attention to 'the family' over the last two decades. The field has expanded to embrace areas of study as diverse as the Roman aristocracy, municipal élites, the familial roles of women and children and slaves and freedmen, and housing. There have also been fertile contributions from cognate disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, archaeology, art history, and legal scholarship.

What is 'the Roman family'? What are its distinguishing and specifically Roman features? The three international conferences on The Roman Family which have been held in Canberra since 1981 have helped develop answers to these questions. The volume which resulted from the first conference, The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives (Croom Helm and Cornell University Press 1986, Routledge paperback 1992), argued that there was so little material readily available on the topic that a book was needed 'to guide scholars in other fields and students to what has already been done, to give examples of specialised current research which illuminates the subject, and to point the way to future research'. The present volume still has the same aims but there is now a wealth of new work on which to draw. It is also possible now to have a more coherent and nuanced view of 'the Roman family' as a result of the work done in the last fifteen years or so.

Not that this claims to be a definitive study: perhaps there will never be a definitive work on the family in any society, because there will always be diverse perceptions of the evidence. This volume is partly about perceptions, but it also presents a wide range of evidence on which to base perceptions, arguments, and future discussion. We draw on literary and legal texts, inscriptions, art and architecture, and on a variety of disciplines. Most chapters focus on one of the . . .

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