Studies in Ancient Greek and Roman Society

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"This collection of papers originally published in Past and Present includes some of the most innovative history written about Greece and Rome in the last twenty years. The volume offers a convenient and enthralling guide to the hottest issues and topics in Greek and Roman history, maps the changing interests of ancient historians and raises stimulating questions about historical method." The contributors to the volume represent many of the most exciting and influential ancient historians who have been active in the last quarter century. An introduction by the editor, which places the papers in the wider context of changing interests in Greek and Roman history, sets the scene for papers on Greek warfare, the regulation and representation of women and the nature and study of homosexual relationships in Athens, the relationship between Rome and its empire, whether Rome was democratic, the ideology of Augustan Rome, games and gaming at Rome, the lives of slaves, the ancient interpretation of dreams, the nature of religious pilgrimage, early Christian martyr stories, and bandits in the Roman empire.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521837699
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2013
  • Series: Past and Present Publications Series
  • Pages: 402
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Robin Osborne is Professor of Ancient History, University of Cambridge.

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Cambridge University Press
0521837693 - Studies in Ancient Greek and Roman Society - Edited by Robin Osborne



When Moses Finley introduced the fourteen essays published in Past and Present between its foundation and 1970 which he collected as Studies in Ancient Society (London, 1974), he remarked that what they had in common was that all the contributors would 'accept the label "structuralist"' (p. ⅸ). This claim today looks highly implausible, in part because the definition of 'structuralist' which Finley attempted to impose is not the one that has come to be in common use. But Finley's purpose in making the claim that all the contributions to that volume were insistent that political events and institutions could only be understood in their role within the social structure of their day was to mark out the kind of ancient history represented in that volume from much of the ancient history being written at the time. A glance at those works of Greek history that were published at about the time of Studies in Ancient Society and have acquired an enduring place in modern scholarship reveals what the alternatives were. G. E. M. de Ste Croix's The Origins of the Peloponnesian War, Russell Meiggs's Athenian Empire and P. J. Rhodes's The Athenian Boule could not be described as 'structuralist' works, even in Finley's definition of the term: these are careful analyses of political events and political institutions, but in political rather than social-structural terms.1

Yet we are practically all structuralists now, at least in Finley's sense. Already by the time of the publication of Studies in Ancient Society the enduring Anglophone works of Roman historical scholarship were grounding their historical claims in analysis of social structure. P. A. Brunt's Italian Manpower, and the slightly more recent works, Keith Hopkins' Conquerors and Slaves and Fergus Millar's Emperor in the Roman World, all in their different ways demonstrate this, as indeed do such masterly introductions as Brunt's Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (which appeared in a series edited by Finley).2 And a glance at the major works published in either Greek or Roman history in the last two decades of the twentieth century suggests that an approach which had needed to be flagged up as distinctive in 1974 had quickly become standard.

The papers collected in this volume appeared in Past and Present between 1982 and 2001. Although a concern to ground the understanding of institutions and of their transformation in their role within the social structure continues to be common to most, if not all, of these papers, such a concern no longer constitutes their claim to attention. Rather, what these papers reflect and record is the increasing concern of Greek and Roman historians with institutions other than central political institutions and with history that cannot be institutionalized. That is another way of saying that this volume records the impact made, directly or indirectly, upon Greek and Roman history by the work of Michel Foucault.

Although references to the Greek and Roman world are to be found throughout his work, Foucault's most explicit encounter with Greek and Roman texts and history came late in his career with the History of Sexuality project. In particular, in volumes two and three of the History of Sexuality (first published in 1984) Foucault took up earlier work by classical scholars, above all, in volume two, K. J. Dover's Greek Homosexuality of 1978, and made sense of the regulation of sexual behaviour in the classical world in terms of social practice.3 Foucault's work on Greek homosexuality has inspired a great deal of further work on Greek and Roman sexual behaviour by ancient historians, and is further discussed in this collection in the papers by David Cohen and James Davidson, but it is Foucault's more general influence on the field that is at issue here. That influence stems from his perception and insistence that all social relations are power relations. The contributors to Studies in Ancient Society were concerned to locate power within political institutions, examining the place of the popular political leader at Athens and the influence of the mob at Rome, and within the social structure, examining the role of imperial freedmen in the early empire and of peasant revolts in the later Roman empire in the west. What Foucault insisted on was the power located in social practices that might be independent of and cut across institutions, the power constituted by knowledge and by classification.

Greek and Roman historians did not need Foucault to tell them that not all power relations were best examined by paying attention primarily to the social structure. The latest paper to be reprinted in Studies in Ancient Society, Ewen Bowie's 'Greeks and their past in the Second Sophistic', a classic paper that has proved immensely influential, was already concerned with the relationship between the construction of knowledge and the exercise of power in the Greek Roman empire. It was Foucault's work, however, that both explicitly theorized the relationship between knowledge and power, and gave ancient historians the tools with which to exploit types of evidence - Artemidorus' Dreambook, Pausanias' Guide to Greece, Aesop's fictional Life - which they had previously either ignored completely or simply quarried for particular 'facts'. In turning to such texts, however, Greek and Roman historians have been interested not simply in the evidence that they provide for the way in which ideologies are constructed and the way in which groups both negotiate and are manipulated in their social position, but also in the ways that group and individual identities are discursively established. One consequence of this is that historical and literary studies of the Greek and Roman world have come closer together, and ancient authors and artists have come to be seen as important actors in their own right, whose choice of action constitutes valuable historical evidence.

The papers in this volume have been arranged in broad chronological order of their prime subject matter, both as a matter of convenience for readers who are interested in a particular historical period and because the volume is primarily envisaged as a contribution to an understanding of the Greek and Roman world, rather than to the understanding of the history of modern scholarship. Nevertheless, although the papers collected here have much more in common with each other than they have with the papers collected in Studies in Ancient Society, the changing interests of Greek and Roman historians are themselves visible in and usefully traced through this book. As the importance afforded to different aspects of the past changes, so what source material is relevant and how that source material is exploited also changes. Even for a historical period such as Greek and Roman antiquity, for which the quantity of source material is relatively limited, expands only rather minimally through archaeological activity and can rarely be enhanced by archive work, the changes to historians' questions and interests require the rethinking of prior assumptions and the re-examination of texts and material previously scrutinized. This volume is testimony to the constant rejuvenation of Greek and Roman history which this exercise provides.

The papers collected here both exemplify and mark the changing course of ancient historical endeavour in the last quarter of a century. W. R. Connor's 'Early Greekland warfare as symbolic expression', whose title indicates its roots in the anthropological work of Clifford Geertz, picks up a range of questions which had been exercising Italian and French scholars since the 1960s but which had made little impression on Anglophone ancient historians, whose military history tended to be concerned with excavating military practice. Although Connor's paper has not stemmed the tide of publications concerned with exactly how the hoplite phalanx worked, and although the agonistic model of warfare which he adopts has been contested, his emphasis on the effective rituals of warfare and upon the way in which they were rooted in the social relations within the Greek city has been widely taken up. Publications since 1988 show by their titles alone - War and Society in the Greek World; War and Violence in Ancient Greece; Slaves, Warfare and Ideology in the Greek Historians - the increasing interest of scholars in seeing warfare against its wider social and ideological context, and the interpenetration of religious rituals with the rituals of warfare has been a subject of particular interest.4

My own paper, 'Law, the democratic citizen and the representation of women in classical Athens', brings together two concerns that have come to play an increasing role in Greek historical studies over the last two decades. The first of these is a concern with how law worked, not in the sense of sorting out just what the procedures were by which the letter of the law was enforced but in the sense of how individuals and groups used the law and to what social effects. Since 1980 there has been a renaissance in Greek legal studies, and this has taken the study of Greek law from being a technical specialism to being at the heart of our understanding of Athenian society.5 The second concern has been with the historical significance of visual as well as of verbal forms of expression. An increasing number of ancient historians, Roman as well as Greek, have come to look closely at the appearance as well as the mere existence of monuments, and have attempted to understand the active role that the visual expression of particular forms and ideas can play. This field was opened up in very different ways by the collaborative Francophone volume La cité des images, published in 1984, and by Paul Zanker's Augustus und die Macht der Bilder, published in 1987.6 In the 1990s the dominating interest came to be the relationship between art and text and, often bound up with this, the relationship between the visual arts and their viewers.7 My paper here is an attempt to use the monumental evidence of sculpted gravestones to illuminate the practical effects of changes to the law about citizenship in classical Athens, and vice versa.

David Cohen's 'Law, society and homosexuality in classical Athens' is a further product of the new interest in Greek law, but both it and James Davidson's 'Dover, Foucault and Greek homosexuality: penetration and the truth of sex' contribute to a debate which had not even begun when Studies in Ancient Society was published but which has become central not simply within Greek history but much more generally within what have come to be known as 'Gender Studies'. One major consequence of the space devoted by Foucault to the Greek and Roman world in his History of Sexuality has been to alert the wider academic community to the interest of the Greek and Roman material, and to alert Greek and Roman historians to the wider theoretical, and indeed personal, issues at stake in their constructions of ancient gender relations.8 Cohen's paper typifies the important role which comparative and in particular anthropological evidence has played in discussions of sexual relations in classical Greece.9 Davidson, whose earlier work had offered vigorous argument against Foucault's construction of Greek homosexual relations,10 excavates in this paper the history of Foucault's construction to show both how much and how little Foucault's work depended upon that of scholars with very different understandings of the nature of sexual relations.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw extremely vigorous debate about the nature of Roman imperialism. After years in which many scholars had chosen to emphasize Roman failure to annex territories after conquest, W. V. Harris's War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, published in 1979, made the case for emphasizing Roman aggression.11 That case, together with the alternative model for understanding the growth of the Roman empire in the east offered by Erich Gruen's The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome of 1984, turned Roman historians in a new direction, a direction that is still being explored.12 Studies of the Roman principate, by contrast, characteristically looked at the Roman empire in terms of the degree to which it was politically and economically integrated. Fergus Millar's 'The Mediterranean and the Roman revolution: politics, war and the economy' takes those concerns with the empire under the principate back into the end of the Republic to ask how the Republican empire responded to the changed circumstances which led to the establishment of Augustus. In the process he re-emphasizes the patchiness of Roman control and the very varied political and economic circumstances prevailing in different provinces of the empire. His polemical caution that 'the steady movement of coins, corn, slaves and valuables to Rome and Italy' was only one of the highly complex patterns of the Roman imperial economy is one that is worth repeating.

The other major debate that has dominated work on the Roman Republic is one that was re-opened by Fergus Millar. This is the debate about how the constitution of the Roman Republic is best described, a debate that goes back to the analysis of the Roman constitution in Polybius Book 6, and beyond. John North's 'Democratic politics in Republican Rome' offers a succinct description of and an important contribution to that debate. It is a contribution whose importance is rather increased than reduced by the way in which the debate has moved since its original publication; for the sustained argument of Millar's own The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic and Henrik Mouritsen's Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic return to trying to answer the question in terms of measuring the level of popular participation in the late Republican politics for which Cicero provides us with such detailed evidence.13 North's argument that Republican politics were democratic because the failure of the competitive élite to tie things up left space - not regularly but in principle and at least occasionally, and when things were most fraught - which the popular vote filled is not to be refuted by consideration of number of voters or elections if very few apart from the highest class got to vote at all. Whether we choose to foreground the term 'democratic' or not, it was through the expression of will by those outside the élite that factional politics among the 'ruling class' was settled, just as, when no political settlement came, it was through the support of ordinary citizens in arms that the factional disputes which transcended politics were more decisively 'progressed' by civil war.

Just as John North tries to move understanding of Republican politics away from constitutional analysis, so understanding of Augustus has turned away from long-standing debates over the nature of his imperium to examine the ideologies promoted by his régime.14 Andrew Wallace-Hadrill's examination of 'The Golden Age and sin in Augustan ideology' played an important part in alerting scholars to the political work done by the ideological constructions to be found in the cultural products of Augustus' long reign. His paper explores something of the political power of poetic texts just as Zanker would go on to explore the political power of visible images. Like Zanker, Wallace-Hadrill stresses the ways in which the ideas which are worked upon by the poets and essayists of the early principate were themselves drawn from the empire, in particular from Greece and from the eastern empire, as well as from Roman tradition. It has been primarily literary scholars rather than historians who have developed analyses of this sort since Wallace-Hadrill's paper was published, particularly in works such as Karl Galinsky's Augustan Culture.15

Both Nicholas Purcell's 'Literate games' and Keith Hopkins's 'Novel evidence for Roman slavery' take evidence that historians have neglected and show its historical importance. The abundant material on Roman dicing that Nicholas Purcell exploits has, in the main, long been known, but it has been collected and discussed only in antiquarian contexts. 'Literate games' explores the moral discourse about gaming alongside the evidence provided by the material evidence, in particular the evidence of inscribed gaming boards, for the terms in which those who played the game constructed their own confrontation with chance and risk. This enables Purcell to investigate the place of playing such games in Roman society in a much more detailed and nuanced way than has been done by any previous investigator, and to show the intimate links between techniques of gaming and other fundamental ways of organizing the world, through the alphabet, numbers and other technical skills. Emphasis on the technical side of the games brings out the way in which they offered a cultural map which cut across distinctions of wealth and status, and in doing so it goes a long way to explain the negative moral associations with which games of dice became freighted.

The novel evidence upon which Keith Hopkins' discussion of Roman slavery is built is evidence that has been previously neglected because it comes from a text which has been classed as fictional, a work purporting to record the life of the Aesop who lived in the sixth century B.C. and to whom the animal fables were attributed. This paper belongs to the literary turn within ancient historical work, a turn that had been perhaps most clearly marked by Fergus Millar's not uncontroversial use of Apuleius' Golden Ass in 'The World of the Golden Ass', published in 1981.16 So-called 'New Historicism' has encouraged the historical reading of literary texts to illuminate those texts themselves, but the turn in ancient history has concentrated on how resituating literary texts in their historical context can enable the reconstruction of ideologies and can bring to the fore aspects suppressed in the work of soi-disant writers of history. Such reading has become a prominent feature of the work of literary scholars as well as historians, and has led to such works as Emily Gowers's The Loaded Table: Representations of Food in Roman Literature, Catharine Edwards's Writing Rome: Textual Approaches to the City, Denis Feeney's Literature and Religion at Rome, John Henderson's Figuring Out Roman Nobility: Juvenal's Eighth Satire and Telling Tales on Caesar: Roman Stories from Phaedrus, and, closest to Hopkins's concerns, William Fitzgerald's Slavery and the Roman Literary Imagination.17

The literary sources exploited in the papers by Simon Price and Jaś Elsner are not texts that would normally be described as fictional, but they too are texts which have previously been largely ignored by historians. Artemidorus' The Interpretation of Dreams had previously attracted some attention from scholars interested in how it might relate to earlier philosophical discussions of dreams, but historians had afforded it at most a fleeting consideration. In 'The future of dreams: from Freud to Artemidorus' Price devotes attention both to the nature of Artemidorus' enterprise and to the appropriate ways to approach that enterprise, and to the significance of the way in which Artemidorus classifies dreams. He is able to show that Artemidorus' analytical procedures are closely parallel to those of medical writers of the Empiricist school, and he brings out the ways in which that parallel constructed dream interpretation as an activity acceptable to high culture. By juxtaposing Artemidorus to Freud, Price points up the contrasting nature of ancient and modern concern with dreams: whereas ancient interpretation was interested in dreams as signs of what would happen in the future, modern interpretation of dreams is interested in them as signs of what has happened to the dreamer in the past. Artemidorus' work is seen to be, like Freud's, a sign of a culturally specific anxiety.

If Artemidorus illuminates ancient concern with the uncertain future, Pausanias' Guide to Greece illuminates the concern of the inhabitants of Roman Greece with their past. Pausanias' Guide has been very heavily exploited by classical scholars; in particular it has played an enormous part in the identification of locations for direct archaeological investigation. But modern scholarship has been largely obsessed with issues of Pausanias' accuracy as a source - an accuracy which has been increasingly demonstrated and defended in recent scholarship.18 Only in the last two decades, and not least in response to the issues raised by Ewen Bowie's paper in Studies in Ancient Society, has attention turned to the significance of the way in which Pausanias describes the Greece of the second century A.D., to his patterns of selection and omission and to the sort of observations that he makes, and also to the analysis of modern travellers and scholars' reactions to and use of Pausanias' text.19 Jaś Elsner's paper 'Pausanias: a Greek pilgrim in the Roman world' took up the issues of Pausanias' identity as a Greek in the Roman world in a pioneering exploration of their religious aspects. In doing so Elsner drew attention to the phenomenon of 'pilgrimage' within pre-Christian antiquity, exploiting comparative material in order to illuminate what is a unique classical text. Since the publication of this paper, historians have turned their attention increasingly to the phenomenon of pilgrimage, and a lively debate about its nature and significance has developed.20 This debate has played an important part in bringing discussion of pre-Christian religious activity into broader discussions of the construction of identity and of relations of power both within communities and more generally, and is part of a wider intellectual development in ancient history which has brought the discourse concerning the history of religion in the pre-Christian Greek and Roman world back into contact with the discourse concerning the history of the early Christian church.21

The discourse concerning the history of the early Christian church is precisely the subject of the first of two papers by Brent Shaw reprinted here, 'The passion of Perpetua'. This paper concerns itself not only with the way in which Perpetua was martyred but with the way in which an account of the events was written down by Perpetua herself and then packaged by a (male) editor. Shaw's paper is both an example of the interest of classical scholars in the last twenty years in rescuing and making audible the very few women's voices that have been preserved from Greek and Roman antiquity, and a study of the ways in which accounts written by men have shaped the subsequent understanding of women's voices.22 It is also an extremely vivid account of the experience of martyrdom, comparable to the vivid account of the experience of slavery which Hopkins draws from the Life of Aesop. Such vivid writing has been a particular feature of ancient historical writing on late antiquity, following the model example of the evocative prose of Peter Brown, and has led to some notable experimental historical writing intended to alert the reader to the human realities often effaced from both historical narrative and historical analysis.23 Historians' reluctance to engage with such martyr acts has nevertheless remained marked, and, despite Shaw's paper, book-length accounts of early Christian women published in the mid-1990s still made no mention of Perpetua.24

If Shaw's paper on Perpetua is characteristic of the increasing interest of ancient historians in making the voices of the marginal heard, his earlier paper on 'Bandits in the Roman empire' locks into a rather more traditional concern of historians associated with Past and Present, and in particular with Eric Hobsbawm, whom Shaw appropriately terms 'the father of modern bandit studies'. Shaw's study of the practical exercise of power and the establishment of political legitimacy in the Roman empire forms an appropriate pair to Millar's paper, which heads the Roman papers in this volume and which examines the effect of the struggle for legitimacy at the centre in the late Republic upon the rest of the empire. Shaw draws attention to the ways in which bandits were outside the reach or realm of Roman law, which came explicitly to permit their summary punishment by private citizens. The extension to an imperial state of the pattern of government devised for a single city, an extension which lies at the root of the question of democracy at Rome in the late Republic, here passes its breaking point as the authority delegated from the centre is unable to sustain law and order through the policing of mutual citizen surveillance. A problem which the archaic and classical Greek world knew only with pirates, in the no man's land of the sea, here becomes a problem on land, as we reach the limit of the classical city, both spatially and temporally.

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Early Greek land warfare as symbolic expression 12
2 Law, the democratic citizen and the presentation of women in classical Athens 38
3 Law, society and homosexuality in classical Athens 61
4 Dover, Foucault and Greek homosexuality : penetration and the truth of sex 78
5 The Mediterranean and the Roman revolution : politics, war and the economy 119
6 Democratic politics in Republican Rome 140
7 The Golden Age and sin in Augustan ideology 159
8 Literate games : Roman urban society and the game of alea 177
9 Novel evidence for Roman slavery 206
10 The future of dreams : from Freud to Artemidorus 226
11 Pausanias : a Greek pilgrim in the Roman world 260
12 The passion of Perpetua 286
13 Bandits in the Roman empire 326
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