RSRC Workshop Spring 2010

The use of archaeological data in historical research

May 31st, 2010

location : VUB, Campus Etterbeek Room D2.01 (click here for map)

participation free


14:00 welcome

Richard Hingley (Durham University),
Globalization and Roman imperialism: assessing the success of ‘post-colonial Roman archaeologies [abstract]

15:00 coffee break

Pieter Cosyns (VUB),
Black glass production and consumption as an indicator for (inter)regionalism within the Roman Empire during the later 2nd and early 3rd century AD

Wim Declercq (UGent)
Living on the edge. Transformation processes in the local communities of te civitas Menapiorum, 150BC-400AD

for further details and registration please contact Paul Erdkamp ()

Richard Hingley, Durham University
Abstract for Roman Society Research Centre at Brussels on Monday, May 31, 2010

This paper explores how recent theoretical developments in cultural studies and globalization theory help to inform the study of Roman imperialism. Classical knowledge has been reinvented over the past 50 years to form a vital element of a developing discourse of modernity through which imperial relations in the modern world have been directed and transformed. Recent theoretical works in cultural studies break down such binaries by addressing contemporary Empire as a ‘less dichotomous and more intricate pattern of inequality’ (Balakrishnan 2003; reviewing Hardt and Negri 2000). People can be marginalized while being assimilated, or can resist while apparently becoming incorporated. Status and identity are malleable and hybrid and part of a highly transformative system of expanding Empire in which the vast majority co-operate while also being marginalized.

Drawing upon Gopal Balakrishnan, I have argued that that recent accounts of the Roman Empire develop an empire-wide gestalt of flows and hierarchies – a less dichotomous and more intricate pattern of inequality (Hingley 2005). Ideas of Roman and native, elite and non-elite, incorporation and resistance, are seen to break down, to a degree at least, in a Roman empire that recreated itself through local engagement. People became incorporated according to their natural abilities and local resources, building on relations established with Rome at the time of their initial contacts, assimilation or conquest. The Roman empire became a highly variable series of local groups, roughly held together by directional forces of integration that assimilated many into a atomized and multiform society that lasted for several centuries. Such accounts often view cultural heterogeneity and indigenous agency as naturally empowering. These new writings aim to contradict a continuing modernist emphasis on imperial imposition and Romanization (directional/predictable cultural change).

My paper seeks to examine an ethical issue with these new ‘post-colonial’ accounts. If we accept that heterogeneity has come to serve (to an extent) as a binding force of imperial stability in our own world – a tool for the attempted creation of perpetual imperial order (e.g. Hardt and Negri 2000) – we must also accept a need to apply a critical lens to accounts of heterogeneity in the classical world. ‘Post-colonial Roman archaeologies’ cannot be exempt from the critical focus provided by colonial discourse theory.  At the same time, a critical re-assessment of the idea of multiform and transformational identities is not an argument for a return to the binary assumptions of modernist thought. Rather it is a call for Roman scholars to situate their writings within the context of contemporary Empire.