In alphabetical order

Angelova, Diliana (University of California, Berkeley)

Devotional Uses of Late Roman Coins in India

The published late Roman coins found in South India are far fewer in number than those from the preceding centuries, a fact traditionally attributed to diminished trade. These late Roman coins are principally known from three collections: The Madras Government Collection, the Akki Alur hoard (now presumably at the Karnataka Directorate of Archaeology and Museums in Mysore) and the Managolore hoard (now Prof. Wolgang Hahn, Vienna, private collection. Sixty-two of these coins, from Madras and Akki Alur, have been judiciously catalogued by Rebecca Darley.

The coins in all these three collections bear distinct characteristics that bind them together irrespective of findspot and the intent of the individual/s who possessed them. Most of them are solidi; their findspots are way from the Malabar coast, where presumably trade exchanges from the Mediterranean would have occurred; fifty-three out of eighty-three, or ca. 60%, have distinct double piercings on the obverse, on each side of the emperor’s head; genuine coins mingle with imitations and copies; some coins have traces of a red pigment.

As Darley and others have observed, the red pigment along with the characteristic double piercings (more common in Late Roman than earlier Roman coins), suggest that the coins were used decoratively, possibly sewn on fabric, likely as part of religious rituals.

This paper builds upon these observations and expands them to include the iconography. The Late Roman coins in India bear unmistakable similarities vis-à-vis the imperial portrait. Their obverses uniformly feature a Late Roman emperor facing frontally, in full military gear, and holding a spear. The perforations carefully bypass the head and are placed on either side of it. The iconographic characteristics of the coins as well as the way they were perforated, carefully preserving the head and the gear, imply a deliberate curation for a specific purpose, one that the imitations and copies also supported.

As this paper argues, that purpose can only be understood in conversation with the devotional traditions of sixth-century South India and one spear-bearing Hindu deity. In turn, the religious dimensions of the coins may throw light on the pattern of distribution of Late Roman coins. 

Barry, Jennifer (University of Mary Washington)

Red Shoes: Representations of the Virgin on the Walls of Kariye Camii

This paper will explore the depiction of red shoes in various scenes on the walls of Kariye Camii (of the Chora Church) in Turkey, taking the reader on an adventure through the life cycle of the Virgin. By examining the multiple meanings of the color red (κιννάβαρ or cinnabaris), in Roman footwear across the late ancient world, I intend to analyze how the color of her shoes might function in the Marian narrative represented at a later stage in Christian imagery. Despite much attention given to the colors associated with the Virgin, such as the blue cloak or white veil, her shoes have been frequently overlooked. This paper contributes to the larger discussion on dress in antiquity and intersects with conversations on material culture. While the primary focus is on the representations housed in Istanbul, the paper also considers the history of the use of red in mosaics and frescoes, as well as the depiction of the color red in the late ancient world.

Buchanan, Elizabeth (University of Findlay)

The Long (and perhaps not so Dead) Arm of Imperial Roman Law in European and Mediterranean Late Antiquity

Late antique Egypt left us with hundreds of papyri credit acknowledgments, each evidencing a specific credit arrangement with the terms and conditions thought important by the participants. These credit arrangements were almost entirely peer-to-peer credit. Neighbors, patrons, and business associates regularly made loans to each other. Banks existed in this period and wrote a few more complicated loans; however, almost all the documented credit arrangements in late antique Egypt were peer-to-peer credit, reflected in the credit acknowledgments prepared by public notaries. The basic formula for these credit acknowledgments was very stable from the fourth century into the early seventh century CE, although specific words or clauses were locally or temporally popular. These late antique Egyptian documents were generally written in Greek.

In the mid-to-late sixth century, however, a new formula began to be used alongside this long-standing formula. This new formula was considerably shorter and lacked the regnal clause, stipulation and kyria clauses, and other common legal clauses of the earlier formula. In fact, it was similar to the receipt formula, but it included not only an acknowledgment of receipt of a sum of money or produce but a promise to repay, and a few common clauses for the protection of creditors. It was also written in Greek. During this same period, credit acknowledgments began to appear written in Coptic, a written form of the local Egyptian language. These Coptic documents, which appear to have developed from the earlier Greek documents because of shared wording, also used this shorter formula. The shorter formula was not only used in Egypt by the sixth century, but it is also documented in Nessana (in modern Israel), and among the Blemmyes (independent desert groups south of Egypt). More significantly, the shorter formula is also found in the Marculf Formulary, Book II, numbers 25 and 26, which are credit acknowledgments. The Marculf Formulary was written around 700 CE in what was then Merovingian Gaul but is believed to use earlier formulas, perhaps from the late fifth or early sixth-century CE. Very little is known about the context or provenance of the formulas. The Marculf Formulary, written in Latin, is one of several Western European formulary books that have survived. The Marculf credit formulas are very similar to the Mediterranean shorter credit acknowledgment formulas. I will argue that the use of this shorter credit acknowledgment formula in Gaul, Egypt, and Nessana at roughly the same time indicates that it was probably an imperial Roman formula, perhaps created and distributed in troubled times. This would imply a much more connected world in late antiquity than is generally believed. Comparison of the formularies with extant papyri documents may also provide a method of learning more about the context and dating of the Merovingian formulas.

Caldwell, Craig (Appalachian State University) 

Send Them to Thrace’: Forced Immigration from Armenia to the Balkans

The migration of peoples from outside the Roman Empire into the Danubian region, the fulcrum between the western and eastern imperial centers, is a well-known focus of research. The usual point of entry to the topic is the wanderings or invasions of groups north of the Danube, but other “outsiders” also immigrated here, especially into Thrace in the eastern Balkans. Analyzing the resettlement of Armenians in Thrace reveals a different encounter with Romanness than the one illustrated by narratives of Goths, Avars, and Slavs in this region. Through the lens of immigration, this inquiry also permits us to evaluate what kind of “new world” the Romans encountered and attempted to define in the Danubian provinces.

Attempts to control or even eliminate the independence of Armenia in late antiquity were common. But the efforts of the emperors Justinian and Maurice to send Armenians to southeastern Europe were unusual for the continuity of Thrace as a destination, since earlier imperial policies had resettled Armenians in a variety of places, and because previous eastern immigration to the region had come from within the empire instead of the frontier. Within the broader context of relocating people by imperial decree, the plan to transfer tens of thousands of Armenians more than 800 miles (1300 km) is striking. According to the Armenian history of Sebeos, the Roman rationale for forced migration was to reduce the “disobedient” Armenians into a buffer for the empire in the Balkans, following the plan employed for the Goths and Kutrigurs. Unlike those other peoples, however, the Armenians had a recognized homeland and a rival patron in the Persian king, and their leaders (nobles or generals) could decline to serve Rome in Thrace and conspire or even fight to return to Armenia.

 The Armenian relocation efforts can also illuminate the Danubian region. Roger Batty proposed that the migration of outsiders into Thrace contributed to the retreat of Roman influence only because the Romans had never succeeded in organizing their inner hinterland: the rural majority was always physically, economically, and culturally distant from the Roman networks. The attempted settlement of Armenians calls Batty’s argument into question, however, because they were accustomed to those networks, including Roman urbanism and their own. In this case, the emperors either intended the Armenians to coordinate the geographic patchwork of the eastern Balkans, or to augment the cities that the Romans had established there, following the pattern of previous immigrants from Asia. Both possibilities expand our understanding of the nature of the late Roman Balkans.

Cases, Laurent (National Taiwan University) & Elizaveta Litovskaia (National Taiwan University)

Actualizing Ancient Literature: Social Media and Overcoming the Challenges of Teaching Classics in 21st Century Taiwan

A simple keyword search on “crisis of the humanities” yields more articles than can be managed on an abstract of even in a single article. Paul Jay, in 2014, could write, “hardly a week has gone by since I began research for this book in 2009 without an article […] about the declining prestige of the humanities.” Classics in particular has been singled out in recent years in American academe as being irrelevant, since its fulcrum balances aspects “whiteness” and “Western civilization.” Beyond the broader socio-political elements that came to a head in the second half of 2010’s, there has been a general issue of relatability: courses in classics become are irrelevant to most students. Teaching Ancient Literature at the National Taiwan University has compounds a lot of these issues. On the one hand, the university and various departments have been incredibly supportive of continuing education of the ancient world. This is seen place in hiring practices, as well as the unlocking of budget by the Taiwanese government to promote research in the Humanities in general and in Western Classical Literature in particular. On the other hand, feedback from the 120 or so students who take yearly the Introduction to Western Literature courses routinely find the texts hard and unrelatable, both in form (which they have never seen) and in content. Latin and Greek courses remain well-attended for first-year, with severe enrollment drops for Latin and Greek II. Those students that stay do so not because they find some inherent use in the class, but rather attend because the classes are notoriously difficult and thus poses a unique challenge.

Solutions to the problem of relatability have generally come from professors. Centering insights on the reception of classics in modern contexts, through movies (Chi-Raq by Spike Lee), music, or popular culture (Harry Potter). Yet, there is a need to move beyond the intertextual relationships that link classical literature to shared popular (Western) culture: showcasing Akira Kurosawa’s interest in Shakespeare is no longer sufficient for students. The idea of this paper is to expand the realm of classical experiences to the social media environment populated and consumed by the students. Indeed, social media becomes another way to interpret classics that is offered by the students themselves. A “Tik-Tok” account called Chaosonolympus has over 110k followers, to the 20k of Greatbooksprof. Similarly, historical Han, which covers ancient history has nearly 170k followers. It would seem that social media would allow teachers to achieve three distinct aims

1)  To address classical forms in social media;

2)  To discuss the classical aesthetics of and through social media discourse;

3)  To see how producers of social media content adopt and adapt classical ideas.

Considering social media would therefore provide both an entry point for teachers into sometimes complex and obscure material together with a justification which comes not from the professors whose generational concerns are their own, but rather from the people we are trying to instruct. This phenomenon will be illustrated with our own experiences teaching students.

Coutu, Ashley (Oxford University)

Zooming in on Ivory: How Scientific Methods are Shaping our Understanding of Global Late Antiquity

Archaeologists, historians, and biologists are working together to develop an exciting range of interdisciplinary methods which are shifting our understanding of material flows and inter-regional connections in late antiquity, one molecule at a time. Using an artefact biography approach which combines archival, archaeological and scientific data sets, it is becoming easier to source raw materials such as ivory ‘from tusk to town’. By tracing artefact journeys, we can map how materials move and are eventually crafted and valued in different cultural contexts to their origins. This paper will explore some of the key case studies and future potential of these methods with a focus on how African materials and networks were central to developing nodes of trans-regional routes along the Red Sea and across the Indian Ocean.

Crum, Matthew (University of California, San Diego)

Roman Sicily through the Eyes of the Arabs

In the summer of 827, the Aghlabid emir of north Africa sent a force to the island of Sicily at the invitation of a local Roman official who taken up a revolt against the Roman state. Rebellions such as these have reinforced the view that Sicily and its inhabitants viewed themselves as separate from the rest of Romanía and that they were held to be distinct by other Romans. The attempted rebellion would soon prove unsuccessful, but the Arab army that remained on Sicily was able establish a foothold in the important city of Palermo. From there, they would slowly and unevenly push eastward until, after several generations, they were able to accomplish a complete conquest of the island of Sicily that would last until the arrival of the Normans in the middle-part of the 11th century.

Roman sources are mostly silent concerning the period of Arab rule – only turning their attention toward the island to lament the loss of particularly important cities and the often-dramatic failures of the Roman expeditions sent to recover lost territories. The Arab historical tradition, however, records much of the long contest over Sicily between the Arabs and Romans, and it even includes some anecdotes about how the Arabs understood the history of the island and the people who inhabited it.

Arab onlookers of Sicily viewed the island and its inhabitants entirely through the lens of Romanness. They distinguished Roman-Sicilians from the island’s earlier Greek inhabitants and from the contemporary peoples of Italy. They recognized the rebellion in 827 not as an act of attempted separation but as an internal contest with the entirety of Romanía at stake. Well after the success of the Arab conquest, Arab historians continued to recognize Roman-Sicilians and the independence of semi-autonomous Roman enclaves. This all contrasts with the Roman historians writing in Constantinople who remained silent about and, in some instances, even dismissive of the existence of a Roman population of Sicily. Their Sicily becomes both the subject of Roman nostalgia of a more successful past and anxieties about the “barbarians” of the present.

In short, a survey of Arab accounts of Sicily can complement the extant Roman sources and, in several ways, provide an impression of the history of the island that is different than contemporary Roman narratives and modern scholarly ones. Arab sources place the island and its inhabitants at the center of Roman imperial concerns, and, even if they exaggerate the importance of Sicily to the court at Constantinople, they suggest that the island was more integral to Romanía than is often understood.

DeVore, David (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona)

Pretentious Greeks, Distant Romans: Oppositional Identities in the Roman Levant, ca. 100-350 CE

Polarization along regional lines has intensified in recent years. Whether it is the red and blue states of the United States, England in Europe, Scotland in the UK, Catalonia in Spain, or the Donbas in Ukraine, such regional movements share unifying identities that pit regional nations against the larger, diverse states of which they are part, identities that regional elites activate by evoking longstanding stereotypes about the larger states holding sovereignty over them. This paper attempts to identify comparable polarizing stereotypes prevalent in the Roman Levant. This region was home to several longstanding regional identities as Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, and Samaritans sustained their national distinctiveness amid Greek and Roman domination.

In the Roman Levant, authors from the second to the early fourth century shared overlapping disparaging stereotypes concerning Greeks, specifically intellectuals. Philo of Byblos, Oenomaus of Gadara, Lucian of Samosata, Tatian of Syria, Theophilus of Antioch, Numenius of Apamea, Eusebius of Caesarea, and even Porphyry of Tyre belittle Greeks as an upstart and derivative culture, deceitful, silver-tongued but vacuous, lovers of luxury, and disputatious. These stereotypes, recurrent across Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine among authors ignorant of one another’s writings, must have been prevalent in Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine. They suggest that centuries after the Hellenistic empires fell, Levantine elites valorized their own identities by disparaging the Second-Sophistic representatives of the dominant Greek culture of the eastern Mediterranean. 

Toward the Roman Empire, meanwhile, the same Levantine intellectuals usually stayed quiet. Most neglect Rome altogether; Lucian sometimes decries Romans as cruel but sometimes identifies with Rome; Tatian takes some sideswipes at Roman morality; Porphyry of Tyre praises individual Romans but also decries Roman violence; and Eusebius, his late praise for Constantine notwithstanding, sometimes praises Roman governance but sometimes cites Roman oppression. But all attitudes toward Rome are subdued since Rome appears peripherally and sporadically, a distant rather than central presence in surviving Levantine texts. 

Whereas some recent scholars (Nasrallah, Andrade, Johnson, Kaldellis, Nesselrath) have compared a handful of these authors, this paper’s broader, longer-term comparison suggests enduring antipathy against Greek culture above all that likely congealed in the Hellenistic era. By contrast, Rome left much less of an impression on Levantine authors, whether due to authors’ hesitation to criticize their current empire, to conceal their own complicity in Roman rule, or because Levantines adopted the Second-Sophistic habit of recreating the distant past rather than the present. Whatever the motivation, the contrasting treatment of Greeks and Romans suggests that enduring, regionally-polarized oppositional identities characterized late antiquity as much as they do the twenty-first century.

Estes, Laura (Pepperdine University)

Ephrem’s Hymns Against Julian: Constructing “Roman” and “Pagan” on the Roman-Persian Border

This paper considers how the fourth-century Syriac Christian poet Ephrem constructed Roman religious and imperial identity in the wake of the Roman emperor Julian’s reign and death. Composed shortly after his forced relocation across the newly drawn Roman-Persian border, Ephrem’s Hymns Against Julian consistently associated hanputha—a term most commonly translated “paganism”—with a particular cluster of institutions and practices: temple cult, sacrifice, astrology, and divination. Julian’s renewed imperial patronage of such practices made him the hanpa-in-chief, the villain who served as a foil to Christian Roman emperors past and future.

Intriguingly, in addition to naming him “the hanpa,” Ephrem consistently declined to call Julian the Roman king, preferring to name him the Greek king. Comparing this portrayal to Ephrem’s use and naming of biblical kings in his broader corpus, I argue that Ephrem’s terminology was carefully chosen as he envisioned a Roman identity that was necessarily Christian. In particular, this construction was aided by Ephrem’s portrayal of the Sassanian Persian emperor Shapur, whom he referred to as the magus rather than as the hanpa. I suggest that Ephrem triangulated identity in his poetry; Shapur became for Ephrem a third term whom he articulated and situated such that Shapur magnified the difference between Christian emperors like Constantine, who properly could be called Roman, and the hanpa Julian, whom he regarded as merely a Greek interloper. This triangulation echoed the ways Ephrem’s sermons employed and named non-Israelite kings to emphasize the difference between idolatrous and faithful Israelite kings.

Other scholars of the late Roman empire have recognized that “pagans” as a reified group were an invention of fourth century Christian authors (see Alan Cameron, Michele Salzman, Thomas Jürgasch). I therefore bring Ephrem’s Syriac poetry—composed on the eastern-most edges of the Roman Empire—into conversation with other projects of Roman identity construction at the heart of the empire, suggesting continuities and divergences in Syriac reification of hanputha when compared to the emerging Latin and Greek terms paganismus and Ἑλληνισμός.

Everest-Philips, Emily (New York University)

Echoes of Entanglement: Roman Afterlives in Medieval Central Asia

In his 2018 article entitled ‘Charismatic Goods’, Peter Brown notes two incidents, in 496 and 573 CE, when giraffes were transported all the way from their homelands in sub-Saharan Africa as diplomatic gifts to the Byzantine Emperor at Constantinople. Foregrounding the impact on those witnessing these events en route (even comparing them to modern UFO sightings!) he considers the wider reverberations these giraffes had on local imaginations, evidenced in subsequent textual and visual representations. He then goes on to ask: “what were the imaginative constellations that privileged the movement of certain goods and deployment as tokens of power and as evidence of contact with wider worlds?” Brown seems to propose that a slippery and yet potentially fruitful avenue of Eurasian exchanges in Late Antiquity would be to track such broader afterlives of exchanges – the imaginative repercussions that were engendered by the movement of exotica, images and texts, foreign peoples and ideas, beyond their necessarily intended destinations, and beyond their ‘original’ forms. Indeed, one productive way to reconsider normative frontiers of the Late Antique or late Roman world might be precisely this.

In this paper I explore what position Rome, Romans and Romanness might have held in the ‘imaginative constellations’ of medieval Central Asia focusing on case studies relating to communities of Sogdiana and Bactria/Tokharistan in the 6th-8th centuries CE. I therefore take Brown’s statement as a call to consider not only tracked physical movement and direct contact with late Roman people, objects and ideas (though this is attested, and will be assessed first), but to consider the wider, discursive and imaginative reverberations these might have had in the longer term. This paper seeks to move beyond simplistic paradigm of ‘influence’ and ‘reception’ to consider local meanings: why and how certain objects, visual styles and ideas were actively appropriated, adapted and transformed in medieval Central Asia. I also explore the question of limits. How much of what was appropriated was really understood to be ‘Roman’? Did it simply spell prestige? Particularly among the material cultures of Sogdian ‘silk road’ traders we perhaps see the creative and adaptive appropriation of ideas from all directions: from Iran, China, India, the steppe: within this context, what was ‘Roman’ mediated through? Were these elements in fact associated foremost with Christianity, for example? Did ‘Rome’ exist as a rather nebulous set of ideas already hybridised with impressions of other far-away worlds?

Bringing together intellectual, global micro- and mnemo-historical approaches, this paper therefore explores the ‘afterlives’ of aspects of Roman material culture, iconography, authority (and their limits), in a series of case studies, including the afterlives of Roman and Byzantine solidii and imitations, the appearance of mediated ‘Hellenistic’ or ‘Roman’ stories and iconographies in the art and material culture of Sogdiana and Bactria/Tokharistan, and the self-fashioning of elites based on ideas and material trappings associated with Roman authority and prestige.

Fournier, Eric (West Chester University)

From the Maccabees to Cyprian, to the Passion of the Seven Martyrs: Intertextuality in Vandal Martyrological Literature

For North African Christians who separated from Caecilian’s communion in the early 4th century CE, so-called Donatists, Constantine did not represent a fundamental change in the nature of their relationship with the Roman government. To the contrary, according to the Sermon on the passion of Donatus of Avioccala, Constantine was a persecutor, just as Diocletian before him. The role of martyrological literature therefore continued unabated in North Africa during the 4th to the 6th centuries as the “Donatist controversy” and then the Vandal period both pitted rival Christian communities. One fundamental characteristic of this literature is its intertextuality.

The present paper analyzes one such example: the influence of 2 and 4 Maccabees on martyrological texts of the Vandal period to convey the viewpoint that current events constituted repetitions of earlier persecutions, and here specifically of persecutions predicted by Scripture. The paper will argue that the Passion of the Seven Martyrs (BHL 4906; CPL 800), a text closely associated with Victor of Vita in its transmission history, drew its inspiration from the story of the Maccabean brothers. But the context of persecution in which Cyprian also wrote made him another ideal literary source for authors of martyrological texts during the Vandal period. Consequently, the paper will also argue that the author of the Passion probably found inspiration for this intertextual move in Cyprian’s work Ad Fortunatum (de exhortatione martyrii) (CPL 45), in which the bishop of Carthage used the story of the Maccabees as evidence that “it was formerly predicted that the world would hold us in hatred and would stir up persecutions against us […] and whatever happens to Christians is nothing new” (Ad Fort. 5.11; ET FC 36: 317-8).

Using insights from scholarship on cultural memory and trauma, the paper will emphasize how such texts contributed to the curation of social memory, and the creation and maintenance of group identity, by deploying a familiar polarizing framework depicting the world as dividing between “us” and “them.” Such a polarizing device created new memories cast within the mold fashioned by earlier persecutions and the texts that early Christian communities had produced about them, martyrological literature in particular. These memories in turn served to prepare the community for the cosmological battle they were engaged in. In the words of Cyprian: “since the weight of afflictions and persecutions lies heavy upon us […] I bring together from the sacred Scripture exhortations for the preparation and strengthening of the minds of the brethren, with which I might animate the soldiers of Christ for the spiritual and heavenly struggle” (Ad Fort. 1; ET FC 36: 313).  Through this intertextual case study, the paper ultimately illustrates a fundamental characteristic of Christian culture in Late Antiquity as a period profoundly engaged with the reception of Roman culture, during which its practitioners were reshaping the boundaries of belonging to that new “post-Roman” culture.

Giuliodoro, Tommaso (Princeton University)

Mauri and Romans in Late Antique North Africa: Beyond the Sixth Century

Right after Imperial troops succeeded in conquering the Vandal Kingdom (spring 534), Belisarius and Justinian realized, if they had not done so before, that North Africa was not only populated by the Vandals and their ex-Roman subjects. The territory of the new praetorian prefecture of North Africa was, in fact, surrounded, and in some cases permanently infiltrated, by several independent Moorish polities with whom, from the very beginning of its rule, the Roman authorities had to come to terms. The same, however, is true the other way around. Moorish groups whose territory was (directly or not) involved in the occupation of the province until the “antiqui limites” ordered by Justinian had to find a deal with the Eastern Roman administration or choose other adjustments, such as fighting or migrating. Given their relevance in characterizing the post-conquest North African society, the interactions that unfolded between Moors and Romans in the sixth century have been largely investigated. Thanks to the work of scholars like Fentress, Modéran and Conant (among others), our knowledge of this phenomenon has grown exponentially in recent years. However, the same cannot be said for the seventh century. This period rarely attracted scholars’ attention, and the relationships between the main social groups settled in and around the Roman provinces of North Africa have been considered even more sporadically. From this lacuna in our knowledge of North Africa’s history emerges thus this paper proposal, whose aim is to critically reconsider the interactions that connected (or separated) the Mauri to the Romans at the dawn of Late Antiquity. In order to do so, three specific moments of the seventh century will be considered. The first is the revolt of the Heraclii (608-610), marked by a conspicuous (and decisive) participation of diverse Moorish groups. The second is the battle of Sufetula, which opposed imperial troops to the Caliphate’s army (647) and which also saw the involvement of the acies Maurorum. Finally, the paper will address the conditions that led to the emergence of autochthonous leaders like Kasyla and Kahena, whose relationships with both the Empire and the Arabs represent a key feature of seventh-century North Africa, as well as their role in the conflict against the Arabs in the period 680-698. Being the three most documented moments in North Africa’s seventh-century history, their in-depth analysis will provide the opportunity to shed new light on what it meant for Moors and Romans to relate with each other’s structures and enemies, also bringing to the fore the role these interactions played in shaping the society and the destinies of both North Africa and the Eastern Roman Empire. 

Grasso, Valentina (Bard College)

Romans, quō vādis?: Trading Networks in Other Late Antique Mediterranean Seas

Late antique Romans inhabited a significantly vaster and more interconnected oecumene than that of their predecessors. This paper aims to examine the Roman Empire’s establishment of trading nodes and networks in other ‘Mediterraneans’, or Middle Seas, with a special focus on the Indian Ocean and its Red Sea inlet. In doing so, it will problematize the relation between “Roman-ness” and “Christian-ness” in the late antique period. Several literary sources that describe Roman-sponsored trading communities operating outside the borders of Romania are often identified as Christian. My discussion will verify this association by means of a comparative analysis of both literary and archaeological sources. Although it is a recurrent topos for late antique hagiographies and histories to ascribe the evangelization of a region to the arrival of an itinerant figure leading to the sudden conversion of an entire community, this trend was the cumulative result of underlying socio-economic networks and migrations, as the exchange of ideas followed that of resources.

Gordon, Jody Michael (Wentworth Institute of Technology) & Young Richard Kim (University of Illinois Chicago)

Déluge or Détente? Becoming (Late) Roman in Seventh Century Cyprus

The first Arab “invasion” of Cyprus in 649/50 (followed thereafter by another in either 650/51 or 653/54) marks the first time in centuries that the island’s denizens encountered a hostile force on their own shores. However, the motivation, the scale and severity, the response, and the immediate and long-term impact of these incursions remain contested among modern scholars. Older narratives, undergirded by a colonial mindset and the geopolitical realities of the day, framed the arrival of the Arabs as a catastrophic moment and a clash of civilizations that catalyzed the end of classical antiquity and ushered in a Middle Age. Even described as hyperbolically as a “holocaust,” the middle of the seventh century saw Cyprus transition from a hub of commercial exchange to a frontier zone, a borderland. Within the island, dated histories, often based on the scant literary evidence (namely the Greek and Syriac), painted a picture of squalor, decline of coastal urban centers, and an inward retreat. The material record of late Roman Cyprus, an oft neglected stratum in past archaeology, was often selectively deployed to reaffirm the decline and fall storyline.

Much has changed over the last decade in the historiography and archaeology of Cypriot Late Antiquity. A rethinking and redating of the material record, both monumental and mundane, has flipped the script to the possibility of persistence and continuity, even if at a modified scale. The Arab presence on the island, as well as the attitude of the caliphate toward it, has also been reimagined with hints of coexistence and commercial exchange. Greater access to Arabic sources has facilitated this as well. Thus, the status of Cyprus in the so-called Long Late Antiquity has become much “fuzzier,” and a scholarly conversation continues.

But even this modified narrative still centers Roman/Byzantine-ness, Christianity, Greek and Greekness, and a Mediterranean cohesion and koine, which ultimately cannot but construct the Arabs as “other,” as foreigner, as invader. What this paper proposes is a reexamination of this complex historical moment from the people who lived it on the ground, not modern historians. By drawing on both archaeological and textual evidence and problematizing the ideas of déluge and détente, we present an inclusive and polyvocal approach to understanding cultural change in seventh century Cyprus that integrates both Arab and Cypriot perspectives within an interconnected Late Antique Mediterranean world. We seek to explore how Late Antique culture can be negotiated in often murky and surprising ways that can cause us to think differently about this conference’s theme, a “Global Late Antiquity.”

Ladouceur, John (Princeton University)

Late Roman Scriptural Culture in the Aksumite Throne Inscriptions of Kaleb I

At some point after his invasion of the South Arabian Jewish kingdom of Himyar in 525 CE, the Aksumite king Kaleb I (r. ca. 510-540 CE) commissioned in Yemen a series of Ge’ez marble throne inscriptions recounting the narrative of his conquests and giving thanks to the Christian God for granting him these victories. In erecting such inscriptions, Kaleb was participating in a longstanding practice among Ethiopian monarchs upon the conclusion of a successful military campaign; however, the religious ideology expressed in his inscriptions is quite novel. While following the customary template by listing the peoples he subdued, the prisoners he took, and the spoils he acquired, Kaleb frames his activities in explicitly biblical terms, reading his crossing of the Red Sea in pursuit of and subsequent defeat of the Himyarite king Joseph dhu Nuwas’ forces typologically as YHWH’s annihilation of Pharaoh’s army in the Sea of Reeds and the Israelite conquest of Canaan, respectively. In the process of relating his account, Kaleb also quotes a number of passages from the Psalms, Isaiah, the Gospel of Matthew, and Genesis to interpret his own experiences.

Previous scholarship on Kaleb’s throne inscriptions has typically been interested in what their scriptural content might reveal about the causes of the conflict between the Christian Aksumite and Jewish Himyarite kingdoms and the extent to which it should be construed as religiously motivated. Kaleb’s use of biblical citations has also been evaluated in the context of debates about the dating of the earliest biblical translations in late antique Ethiopia. Yet aside from analyses of their content, very little has so far been asked concerning the ways in which scriptural citations function rhetorically and hermeneutically within the inscriptions, as well as what these functions imply about the relationship between scriptural exegesis and authority in 6th-century Aksumite society. This paper engages the conference’s theme of Romanness outside of the Empire’s Mediterranean center by situating Kaleb’s throne inscriptions within the context of scholarship on the formation, negotiation, and social dynamics of late antique Mediterranean scriptural communities. Drawing attention to Kaleb’s repeated declarations of his own act of exegesis through the use of formulaic phrases with a long precedent in Jewish and Christian exegetical culture, I argue that Kaleb utilizes well-established methods of asserting communal authority through scriptural mastery developed in late antique Mediterranean contexts.

The paper then turns to an examination of Kaleb’s use of the first-person in his account of his military ventures and orientation toward divine patronage. Whereas scholarship has portrayed this address as one of the most traditional features of the throne inscription template, I maintain that Kaleb’s combination of the royal ‘I’ with a typological interpretation of scripture both reflects and transforms a larger movement in late antique scriptural hermeneutics toward the personalization of typology and the development of what Micah Saxton calls the ‘scripture-self complex’.

The paper concludes with a consideration of Kaleb’s inscriptions alongside the corpus of late antique Christian Latin and Greek inscriptions featuring biblical citations. On the one hand, Kaleb quotes several of the most popular scriptural passages among these inscriptions, demonstrating a connectedness with broader trends in Mediterranean Christian epigraphic culture. On the other, Kaleb’s use of the epigraphic medium specifically to advance claims to personal exegetical authority is highly distinctive.

Laird, Andrew (Brown University)

The City of God in Mexico

The Christian literature of late antiquity was invoked throughout the history of colonial Latin America – from the tracts penned by Bartolomé de las Casas in the Caribbean to Jesuits’ accounts of their missions in California. In Mexico after the Spanish conquest of 1521, the reception of Saint Augustine and other authors assumed particular importance. As well as showing how missionaries, inspired by the patristic studies of humanists in sixteenth-century Europe, emulated the Church Fathers, this talk will highlight ways in which some indigenous Mexican writers and artists recalled late antique Christian authorities over the course of the 1500s.

Lenski, Noel (Yale University)

Persecuting Jews to Save the Enslaved: A Constantinian Law and its Afterlife in Medieval Spain and Spanish Colonial America

In 329 the emperor Constantine issued a law (CTh 16.9.2) banning Jews from holding enslaved persons who professed to be Christian, and in 335 he forbade Jews to circumcise slaves they purchased (CTh 16.9.1) and freeing anyone enslaved to a Jew who professed Christianity (Sirm. 4). Eusebius (VC 4.27.1) claims Constantine did so to protect ‘the saved’ from subjection to ‘the murderers of the Lord.’ Constantine’s rules thus had the double purpose of saving Christian souls and harrassing Jews.

This paper will survey the evidence for the grief Constantine’s laws created for Jews in the thirteen centuries that followed. It will focus on the spread of the laws westward across the Iberian Peninsula and from there to Spanish Colonial America.

The Torah (Gn 17.12-13; Ex 12.43-44) requires Jews to circmucise their slaves, and the Talmud upholds this rule (Bavli, Yebamot 45b-46a; Bava Metzia 71a). For Jews, then, adherence to Constantine’s rules meant violating their ritual norms. It was also tantamount to impoverishment in a world heavily dependent on enslaved persons as commodities and sources of labor. Knowing this, late antique Jews continued to find ways to hold persons in slavery and engage in human trafficking, yet their slaves were also regularly confiscated, and their trading operations shut down (Greg. Mag. Ep. 3.37; 7.21; 9.105).

With the rise of the Visigothic kingdom of Toledo in the sixth century, Constantine’s laws were absorbed into the Leges Visigothorum(12.2.12) and then elaborated as part of a broader anti-Jewish program. The LV’s brutal anti-Judaism transmits fifteen laws on Jewish slaveholding, including rules forbidding Jews to circumcize slaves, hold Christian slaves, manumit slaves, trade in slaves, work them on Sundays, or prevent them from seeking baptism (12.2.7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18; 12.3.1, 3, 6, 12, 13, 16, 18, 19).

Although the Visigothic kingdom collapsed with the arrival of Muslim rulers in 711, Visigothic law lived on in the centuries of Muslim rule and came to predominate with the Christian victories of the thirteenth century. After the promulgation in the early 1200s of the code that came to be known as the Siete Partidas, Constantine’s principles, and their elaboration by the Visigoths, were translated into Castilian (IV.21.8, VII.2.10) and enforced in legal practice across the Iberian Peninsula. Constantine’s preoccupations thus continued to disrupt Jewish slaveholding down to the rise of Spain’s colonial empire.

Nor did persecutions of Jews for slaveholding cease with the growth of Spanish rule in the Americas. Although Judaism was forbidden in Spain from 1492 onward, the Inquisition continued the brutal process of uncovering ‘judaizers’, some of whom it persecuted for their involvement in slaveholding and slavetrading. The last part of the paper will examine New World contexts where the same rules were applied, closing with the case of the surgeon Blas de Paz Pinto, who was arrested and tortured to death in Cartagena de Indias in 1637 for his involvement in the slave trade as a ship’s doctor (AGI, Santa Fe 56B, N73, f. 6-6v).

Luyster, Amanda (College of the Holy Cross)

King Arthur as a Roman Emperor? Roman and Byzantine Imperial Traditions in Medieval English Visual Culture

In this paper, I explore examples from the realm of visual culture — especially architectural decoration, textiles, and dress — in thirteenth-century England that allude to Roman and, often, Romano-Byzantine traditions.  

The thirteenth century was a pivotal period in English and indeed in British history.  As Henry III and the nobility in England came to terms with the loss of most of their lands in France, it became clear that they needed to focus on subduing and consolidating the island of Britain. That island contained not only the English but also other peoples: the Welsh and the Scottish. The thirteenth-century kings of England therefore sought to win overlordship, or high kingship, over Wales and Scotland.  Myths, visual propaganda, as well as military victories were needed to seal their overlordship over all three kingdoms.  The Romans were a foundational predecessor for the desired English unification of all three kingdoms on the island of Britain (or so medieval English historians claimed).  Therefore the thirteenth-century English generated visual and literary narratives associating English kings with the massive weight of Roman imperial rule.  

Medieval literature, titulature, and coinage constructed the English as heirs to Roman imperial traditions. So too, I suggest, did architectural decoration, textiles, dress, and representations of dress. However, many of these examples from visual realms have yet to be recognized, partly because the visual allusions they make are, to the eyes of contemporary art historians, more Byzantine than Roman.  For instance, Edward I constructed the castle of Caernarvon in Wales, near a Roman camp thought to have been the birthplace of the Roman empress Helena, with banded walls like the Theodosian walls of Constantinople. While art historians generally interpret this an allusion to the Byzantine empire, the distinction between the Roman and the Byzantine empire is a modern differentiation, not a medieval one.  Medieval Caernarvon needs to be understood within a Roman imperial context.   In addition, representations of textiles and dress and actual textiles were understood by the medieval English as manifesting not just Byzantine but also Roman allusions. For instance, King Arthur in the Chetham Flores Historiarum is painted wearing Romano-Byzantine imperial regalia, and a certain group of imported textiles, silks made in medieval Constantinople which contemporary scholars would call “Byzantine,” were explicitly identified as “imperial,” suggesting Roman, in medieval documents.  

The thirteenth-century English elite, then, made use of Roman as well as Byzantine and Byzantine-inspired visual traditions, and, in doing so, articulated an authority with imperial and historical resonance, drawing from traditions far beyond the island. 

Matarasso, Omri (Princeton University)

Remembering Rome and Sasanian Iran in Northern Mesopotamian Monasteries under Early Islam

Throughout Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, northern Mesopotamia was a cultural crossroad where empires fought, religious groups competed over hearts and minds, and cosmopolitan merchants traded goods originating from as far as the western Mediterranean and all the way to east Asia. The history of the cities and market towns that dotted the region’s riverbanks and valleys was deeply intertwined with the broader Middle Eastern history of conquest and occupation. However, the rural settlements of the hillsides and mountainous ridges, on which numerous monastic communities developed since the late fourth century, were able to flourish almost unperturbed and without significant disruptions due to the political changes in the surrounding world around them. Despite their relative isolation, or perhaps because of it, Mesopotamian monks produced a rich literary corpus of narratives that aimed to explain their monasteries’ origins and histories in relation to the broader history of Rome and Iran. Such literary activities and myth-building efforts seem to have taken off especially between the seventh century and the ninth, with the survival of several elaborate and even competing monastic origin narratives and histories. In this paper I will show how Mesopotamian origin narratives helped monks and ordinary believers to reflect on the changing religious landscape in their own days, as well as to participate actively in a wider history of connectivity of people and ideas in a global Late Antiquity.

My paper will open with situating monastic origin narratives in a broader late antique intellectual culture concerned with etiologies. In Syriac and Arabic literature, such scholarly interests have even developed into specialized genres (the ‘eltā genre in Syriac, and awā’il literature in Arabic). Next, I will focus on several case studies of monasteries of varying importance in the East and West Syrian traditions: the network of Ṭur ‘Abdin monasteries affiliated with the fourth-century Egyptian monk Mar Awgen, who is said to have introduced monasticism to Mesopotamia; The Saffron Monastery and its satellites around Mardin, whose surviving origins are confessionally contested, perhaps not surprisingly since the monastery was the seat of the West Syrian patriarch from the twelfth century and until World War I; the monasteries of Mount Maqlūb in northern Iraq, which trace their origins to the anti-Nicene persecution of Emperor Valens (r. 364-78); and Dayr Qoni, just south of al-Madāʾin, whose lineage traces to the first-century apostle Mar Mari and the fifth-century monastic reformer Mar ‘Abda. My attempt to contextualize narratives of monastic origins will demonstrate how supposedly secluded Mesopotamian monks actively participated in an expansive, cross confessional and -regional intellectual culture. My paper will also argue that Mesopotamian narratives of monastic origins complement modern scholarly reconstructions of Late Antiquity as a period that extended beyond both the familiar geographical boundaries of the Mediterranean world and the temporal boundaries framed by the decline of Rome and rise of Islam.

Mathisen, Ralph (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

All the Glitters is not Gold: The New Silver Economy Beyond Rome’s Northern Frontier

The important role played by gold in the late Roman world is well known. In the early fourth century, following on the collapse of the silver coinage system, the emperor Constantine began issuing great numbers of solidi and put the imperial economy on what often is referred to as the “gold standard”: tax collection on the one hand and imperial expenditures on the other placed a heavy emphasis on gold. The silver siliqua was but the poor country cousin of the mighty solidus. But not everyone in the late antique world fetishized gold in this way.

As early as the turn of the first century CE, Tacitus, in his Germania, suggested that Germans, and presumably other barbarians as well, “prefer silver to gold.”1 During Late Antiquity this would appear to have been the case, for Rome’s northern neighbors had a real affinity for silver. This is seen, for example, in the hoard evidence. Within the imperial frontiers, hoards containing siliquae are relatively infrequent. The “Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire” database lists only twelve well documented hoards containing twenty-five or more siliquae from the 340s to the 450s, and only two with over 200 siliquae. For northern barbaricum, however, twenty-seven such hoards are attested, some containing vast numbers, such as 1505 in the Coleraine (Ireland) hoard and 3500+ in the Caracal (Romania) hoard. Much of this silver seems to have come from service in the Roman army, for most of these siliquae were “VOTA” types that typically were distributed to soldiers as part of the regular imperial donatives. This is only consistent with a long tradition of Roman payments to barbarians, as also attested as early as Tacitus, who commented that the Germans “rarely are assisted with our arms, more often with money.”2 The presence of these silver coins in northern hoards suggests that many barbarian auxiliary soldiers, rather than settling down in the Roman Empire as often is assumed, in fact returned to the old home town, bringing Roman wealth along with them.

The flow of Roman silver to northern barbaricum was manifested in the creation of northern currency zone based not only on silver coinage, but also, and more strikingly, on the use of hacksilver, that is, pieces of silver of somewhat standardized weights created by hacking up Roman silver objects, ranging from silver dishes to silver spoons, of which a vast number were available.

This paper will shed new light on the economic world outside the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity. It will show how, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the long reach of Rome beyond the imperial frontiers, Rome’s northern neighbors were able to create an economic life of their own that suited their own needs and was propagated on into the Middle Ages.

Minets, Yuliya (The University of Alabama)

People with Accents: Romans and Others in Global Late Antiquity

The present-day linguistic sensitivities render one’s native tongue, accent, or speech peculiarities as important aspects of their identity. A native language of a displaced person, an accent of an emigrant, or a special manner of speech typical of a certain local or social background are often among the most eloquent and truthful testifiers of who the person is, where they came from, and what they have been through. Yet, in the past as well as in the present, speaking with a distinct accent may come at a price. Late antique writers could, and in certain cases did, turn one’s speech peculiarities (foreign accents, regional dialects, etc.) into social and ideological tools helping them to construct differences, to dominate, to discriminate, and otherwise to perform power and authority in the communicative domains of religion, military, and politics, as well as in social, economic, and professional relationships.

This paper will attempt to contextualize and analyze literary references to speakers of different languages with noticeable accents (foreign or dialectical) attested in works of late antique writers. The approach allows us to catch a glimpse of how language differences and language-related stereotypes were drawn into the process of constructing and negotiating intersectional racial, ethnic, social, religious, local, and confessional identities.

Through the analysis of:

  •  mutual language-based remarks made by writers representing different literary traditions of the late antique Mediterranean (Greek, Latin, Syriac),
  • their views on the way how people coming from lands far away from the Mediterranean speak (Berber, Subsaharan, Germanic, and Aramaic groups, Irish, Persians, early Slavs, Arabs, people from Central Asia and beyond),
  • their ideas about pronunciation of representatives of heterodox branches of Christianity, and, importantly, on the Jews,

I seek to reconstruct the cultural perception of otherness articulated through accents and language peculiarities in the late Roman and post-Roman world.  The concept of Global Late Antiquity with its assumption of the world’s interconnectedness provides a useful framework to discuss these issues. I will also touch upon the problem of ancient race-thinking that, as has been argued in recent scholarship, may have been anchored not in color, but in other – cultural – factors. One of them may be a language. In other words, important was how people “sounded,” not how they “looked.” Although the categories and differences that modern sensibilities would register as “racial” are often, but not always, based on color, even today the “Latinx” is a quasi-racial category, based primarily on language (though color often intersects). As many Latinx people today would confirm, language-based quasi-racial prejudices are a form of racism, nonetheless. There are reasons to believe that, for Late Antiquity, this way of thinking about races and diversity of human populations was at least as important as any other, being yet another manifestation of the age-old topos of onomatopoetic “barbarians” inherent in classical culture.

Nechaeva, Ekaterina (University of Lille)

Swapping prisoners of war and defectors: International ‘matchmaking’ in Late Antique Rome and Iran

Interconnected worlds shaped the Late Antique epoch. This edition of Shifting Frontiers will bring many more proofs to this thesis.

Throughout Late Antiquity, the Roman and the Sasanian Empires were rivals and peers, enemies, and partners.

Linked by intense communication, they elaborated mutually acknowledged and even shared elements of political culture. The circulation of people and horizontal interactions between communities, groups, and individuals could transcend state borders.

Both states were regularly engaged in military conflicts and fierce diplomatic competition for power (both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’).

In this “globalized” world each part of which experienced a series of internal crises and controversies (political, social, or religious), deserters and fugitives/refugees constantly moved between the states and were often welcome and protected by the receiving side (be it Rome or Iran). Awareness of another state, possible connections with it, and relative permeability of frontiers facilitated such voluntary and ‘constrained’ mobility.

Wars and their consequences generated forced displacements, notably: captivity.

This paper will focus on high-profile defectors and captives and their traffic between Rome and Iran in Late Antiquity.

Though the two categories of outgoing mobility – captivity and defection – are obviously different, some significant parallels can be drawn between them. Cases of defection and captivity among the representatives of the imperial elites, primarily the military ones, follow special patterns, often different from those of the ‘common’ population.

Qualified, experienced, and knowledgeable migrants were valued in both Rome and Iran. They could hold important appointments and build strong careers. As far as such high-profile and high-valued specialists were concerned, the type of migration (voluntary or forced) and circumstances of expatriation could be of secondary importance. Captives were often treated in the same way as voluntary/constrained defectors.

For war captives, in particular the high-ranking ones, captivity often was only a temporary state. They could be released for ransom or exchanged for prisoners taken by adversaries. Armistices, truces, and peace treaties almost universally included the conditions of release or exchange of captives.

Defectors of different types could also be demanded for extradition during diplomatic negotiations and/or a condition of concluding agreement. In these situations, migrants had little agency and mostly depended on the will of the receiving side to protect them and on concrete political and international circumstances.

In the talk will scrutinize practices of exchange of high-status individual war prisoners between Late Roman and Sasanian empires. I will also argue that in some cases captives could be exchanged not only for captives but also for defectors whose extradition was requested in the course of diplomatic negotiations.

I will aim to establish:

  • how the sides established individual pairs or groups of captives to be exchanged / defectors to be extradited;
  • what criteria (of status, rank, position etc.) could be used to decide whom to offer or demand in exchange for whom;
  • what was perceived as a balance in these situations (military, diplomatically, politically etc.);
  • if such rules or patterns existed on a general level.

Shepardson, Christine (The University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Doctrines without Borders: John of Tella between Rome and Persia

While legal and military jurisdictions may stop at a border, people and their ideas and belongings often do not. Bishop John of Tella (d. 538) spent his life navigating the intricately tied borders of Roman and Christian identity as he skipped back and forth across the empire’s eastern border on behalf of a miaphysite church that Constantinople’s leaders had rejected as outside the bounds of imperial orthodoxy. John (Yuḥanon bar Qursus) was born in 482 in Callinicus (modern Raqqa, Syria) in the Roman province of Osrhoene, and knew both Syriac and Greek. When he was twenty-five, he joined a monastery near his hometown where he stayed until he was ordained as the bishop of Tella by the seventy-year old scholar and poet Jacob of Serugh and his colleagues. John briefly lived in residence as bishop of Tella from 519-521/2, when like his compatriots he was exiled under the emperor Justin I with other anti-Chalcedonian bishops who refused to sign the pro-Chalcedon libellus of Pope Hormisdas. It was in exile, though, which he spent primarily in the border region with the Sasanian Empire, that John solidified his unique place in history with the incredible number of ordinations he performed, bringing countless lay people and monks into the miaphysite diaconate and priesthood in an effort to help the anti-Chalcedonian church not only survive but flourish. While John thus benefited from the porosity of these imperial borders, border crossing was available to others as well. By 536 Justinian’s military forces actively pursued John, and in 537 Sasanian forces captured him in the borderland mountains and handed him over to the Roman military, who imprisoned him in Antioch under its staunchly Chalcedonian bishop Ephraim. John died early in 538 in Ephraim’s custody and is commemorated by John of Ephesus as a martyr for the Syriac miaphysite church. Among John of Tella’s extant writings is a series of Questions and Answers that address what clergy should do when material objects like portable altars and even the Eucharist (qurbānā) arrived in their church “from the Persian (pārsāye) heretics.” John of Tella thus left behind a complex legacy of his own border-crossing efforts to thwart Constantinople’s imperial definition of Christian orthodoxy while still claiming a Christian identity that he saw as distinctly Roman. This paper will demonstrate what it meant for John of Tella to identify Christian orthodoxy with Romanness even as he eluded Roman authorities in an effort to preserve miaphysite Christianity on the empire’s eastern frontier.

St. Marie, Madeleine (Community College of Denver)

“Pandemic: Fall of Rome:” Romanness, Corruption, and the Popular Imaginary

In the western popular imaginary, the late Roman Empire was marked by catastrophe. While scholars have variously argued for or against narratives of decline and fall for understanding the last centuries of the western Empire, Edward Gibbon’s assertion that the Roman Empire fell in a violent, tangible, and visible way is still the most pervasive interpretation in popular media. Modern material culture and media constitute sources of public historical education relatively unmediated by scholarship. As lay audiences often passively learn about the past through the media they consume, how the late Empire is received and deployed in popular culture presents an important site of inquiry.

In 2018, Z-Man Games, the manufacturers of the popular board game “Pandemic” (2007), released a new version of the game called “Pandemic: Fall of Rome.” In the original game, players work together to mitigate and ultimately cure a global pandemic. In “Fall of Rome,” the game is modified to reflect the supposed realities of late Roman life. Rather than dealing with the spread of a highly infectious disease, players must instead fight against the invasion of five barbarian tribes: the Ostrogoths, the Huns, the Visigoths, the combined forces of the Anglo-Saxons and Franks, and the Vandals. The players lose if they fail to defend the city of Rome, her territory, or run out of resources to do so.

The description of the game contrasts the fifth century to the halcyon days of the High Empire, where Rome is understood to be a font of technological and cultural innovation. Such admirable qualities withered as the Empire grew older, and in the “beginning of the 5th century, decades of political corruption, economic crisis, and an overburdened military had exacted a severe toll on the stability of the Empire. This paved the way for severe incursions from aggressive barbarian tribes, leading to a decline from which Rome would not recover.” The developers clearly intended the game to have a basis in history, as they include a “Historical Notes” section in the game’s rulebook. And while the developers admit that the Roman Empire fell “apart for a thousand nuanced reasons, which historians continually debate to this day,” their idea of compelling gameplay in a late Roman setting relies heavily on the narrative of decline and fall.

My paper seeks to argue that western lay audiences engage with Romanness, and in particular late Romanness, as a signifier of decline and corruption. To do so, I examine the ways in which narratives about the decline and fall of the late Roman empire have infiltrated and influenced western popular imagination, broadly construed, through the lens of a board game. By investigating the narrative structure and game mechanics of “Pandemic: Fall of Rome,” I will demonstrate late Roman life is constructed and perpetuated for its players: marked by violence and predicated on western Roman evidence.

Swist, Jeremy (Miami University)

From Argentoratum to Argentina: Heavy Metal, Decolonialism, and the World’s First Concept Album on the Emperor Julian

Since its inception over half a century ago, heavy metal has been by and large the popular music genre most engaged with historical themes, especially those of the ancient Mediterranean. While not as popular in the genre as the classical Spartans, Alexander the Great, or the Julio-Claudians, figures and events from late antiquity are nevertheless familiar and represented by several dozen artists in the general catalog of thousands of antiquity-based songs—including scores of concept albums—by hundreds of bands on every habitable continent. What draws metal bands to late antiquity most is the notion of a clash of paradigms between the “old ways” of pagan Rome and the new ways of Christianity. As metal is generally transgressive, anti-establishment, and critical of modern religion, and often romanticizes the premodern and prechristian past, these bands naturally view late antiquity with a pro-pagan and anti-Christian bias, exemplified in numerous songs both critical of Constantine and that glorify his “apostate” nephew Julian for making a valiant last stand on behalf of the “old ways” (Swist). Thus, metal bands that focus on late antiquity demonstrate most vividly how the genre’s general reception of the antiquity and premodernity of any culture can be a form of decolonial discourse, with Christianity identified as the colonizing force that had overwritten a pristine pagan heritage.

Decolonial discourse is especially evident in the reception and revival of precolonial heritage by metal bands in the so-called New World, be it the indigenous cultures of North America, the Aztecs and Maya of Central America, or the Inca and other civilizations of South America (Varas-Díaz et al.). This phenomenon is reflected in the Argentinian metal scene, which has evolved directly in parallel with, and reaction to, local political movements and events (Scaricaciottoli). Within this scene, in Buenos Aires, sprang the band Tersivel, who combine conventional metal with native and European folk music and instrumentation, reflecting their mixed heritage as Argentinians descended from European immigrants (Väinämöinen). Thus their decolonialism is only partial as they embrace a sort of mestizo identity while at the same time rejecting the religious legacies of Spanish imperialism (cf. Pérez-Pelayo).

Tersivel’s original lyrical concepts created narratives of resistance to Christian oppression by a fictional pagan society that worshiped the Sun (Väinämöinen). Their interest in these themes led them to discover the emperor Julian, finding his presentation as a tragic military hero in Ammianus Marcellinus’ narrative of him most germane to metal music’s core themes of power, masculinity, and rebellion. While their 2017 album Worship of the Gods shows familiarity with Julian’s own philosophical and even poetic writings, Tersivel largely follows Ammianus (and arguably Julian himself) in crafting his identity as a genuine Roman (Ross). After establishing these contexts, the remainder of my presentation will discuss the results of an interview that I will have conducted with Tersivel’s founding guitarist and vocalist Leandro Gerbino, who agreed to discuss his inspirations and creative process of transforming Julian into a heavy metal hero.

Tannous, Jack B. (Princeton University)

“Rome” and “Romans” viewed from the East

In this lecture, I will attempt to survey some of the meanings that “Rome” and “Romans” had for people who wrote in Syriac in the late antique and medieval period, making use of Christian Arabic material as well. There was no unitary meaning for either of these terms, I will suggest, and it was Rome’s association with Christianity and the history of Christianity that was the most important factor in determining what “Rome” and “Romans” meant to Middle Eastern Christians in this period.

Tavolieri, Claudia (Tor Vergata University of Rome)

Trade Routes in the Syriac sources from the 5th to the 7th centuries. The Importance of the Acts of the Nestorian Synods

Evidence of Roman trade in southern Arabia is found in Syriac texts. These texts have come down to us partly through the Universal Chronicles (Michael the Syrian) and the Ecclesiastical History (John of Ephesus) of the Bishops and Patriarchs, and partly through the testimony offered by the Acts of the Nestorian Synods.

Overall, this literature was almost exclusively intended to portray the spread of Christianity in the East; however, if analysed carefully, it can help us understand those historical and anthropological aspects of a world in which the dynamics of trade were intertwined with religious expansion.

The manuscript tradition is complex, but careful analysis of the texts consolidates their validity as historiographical documents. These texts must be supplemented with archaeological evidence, although this is scarce and inconsistent with the written transmission.

Confusion may arise from the geographical knowledge of the Syriac authors, who follow the Greek tradition: they do not distinguish between Indians, Ethiopians, and the peoples of southern Arabia, in accordance with the topographical maps of the time.

For instance, because of this interpretation of the Arab regions, it is rather difficult to grasp the real extent of Bet Qatraye – separate from Bet Mazunye – and to distinguish which parts of southern Arabia were included in these two regions by analysing Syriac documents that reveal how Christianity was spreading in that region.

Significant and relevant literary sources in Syriac come in small part from the controversial apostolic tradition on the mission of St. Thomas (Acta Tomae).

Starting from these considerations, and considering the status quaestionis of the proposed topic, I will carefully analyse some specific Syriac sources that may improve our knowledge of this phenomenon: The Acts of the Nestorian Synods or Nestorian Canons.

They provide us with further information on the convergence of strategically functional sites for commercial purposes and religious sites where the cults of the time flourished.

The analysis of some canons such as Nestorian Canons of catholicos Iso’yabb III, will help us understand that the Syrian-Eastern Church spread, like the merchant cities, in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea up to the Indian Ocean, thus intertwining with the exponents of the different polytheisms and monotheisms. In their writings, his apostles often used powerful metaphors borrowed from the world of commerce and its characters.

Finally, until we have further concrete evidence, the Syriac sources on this subject, in particular the canons, – albeit complex – if carefully filtered agree with the most important archaeological investigations conducted through the ports of the southern Arabian coast. They testify to the vitality of those sites, and therefore their importance from a political and commercial point of view, at least until the fifth century, and perhaps even beyond.

Ulishney, Paul (University of Oxford)

An Eastern Roman in the Umayyad Caliphate: Anastasius of Sinai and Roman Identity in Marwānid Egypt

The qualities which sine qua non determined Romanness in the late ancient Eastern empire included an identification with the political framework of the empire itself, focused above all on the personage of the emperor, and adherence to the Christian faith. The 628 CE dispatch of emperor Heraclius, sent from the field after the Eastern Romans had defeated the Sasanian Empire in the so-called “Last Great War of Antiquity” and read out in the ambo of Hagia Sophia, encapsulates this framework perfectly: he hails decisive Roman military victory over the Persians and their shahansha, the “opponent of God” Khusrau II, thanks to the collaboration of “God and our Lady Mother of God,” which itself constituted a demonstration of the truths of Christianity over against the pagan “enemies of God.”

Yet this victory was short-lived. Within a decade, the emergent Islamic armies swept over the empire’s provinces in the Near East and North Africa, consolidating control over Syria, Palestine, and Egypt by 642. In the wake of the second Islamic raid on Cyprus that followed (c. 650), a twenty-year old Eastern Roman priest from its coastal village of Amathus, known to posterity as Anastasius of Sinai (c. 630-701 CE), embarked on a journey from Cyprus to Filastin—i.e., the jund (military province) organized under the first Islamic Caliphate—to venerate the loca sancta in what had been, only decades before, Roman Palestine. To him, however, this was merely an Eastern Roman province lost temporarily due to Heraclius’s embarrassing endorsement of monotheletism. He would go on to base himself at Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai for a career spent polemicizing against Muslims and non-Chalcedonian Christians under the Umayyads. Anastasius thus lived between two worlds: the Eastern Roman and the early Islamic. While his extant writings (all in Greek) offer tremendous insights into the nature of early Islam, they are also a treasure trove for learning how Eastern Romans who remained behind after the conquests understood their own Roman identity and connection to the Empire in the wake of the Christian empire’s defeat.This paper gathers evidence scattered throughout Anastasius’s Hodegos, Questions and Answers, Edifying Tales, and Sermones into one place to analyze what they can tell us about Roman identity in Egypt after the conquests. Most precious is the evidence from the Questions and Answers, for they preserve, indirectly, the voices of the Chalcedonian laity who witnessed the fall of Roman and rise of Islamic rule, and bear witness to the process of ideological reorientation initiated by the appearance of a new and rival imperial monotheism. I argue that although Anastasius still considered himself fundamentally Eastern Roman, such complete military defeat required a new way of articulating this identity in the caliphate. This identity was founded upon a vision of a collective Roman community that transcended space and time, aggregating around dyothelete Chalcedonianism, the historical memory of “orthodox” emperors (e.g. Maurice and Constantine IV), and control of the loca sancta in Palestine, especially as Muslims laid claim to the Temple Mount at the same time.

Viezure, Juliana (Georgia Institute of Technology)

Roman Asylum ad statuas in Ostrogothic Italy: A Pope’s Verdict

This paper brings into focus the eventful fourteen-month trip to Rome undertaken by a group of monks of Thracian origin (from the province of Scythia Minor) in 519-520. In the course of their trip, the monks succeeded, at least initially, in gaining the protection of Pope Hormisdas (despite their persistent lobbying for a rather controversial doctrinal formula), as well as in building for themselves a sturdy network of clerical and senatorial support, and in garnering sympathy among the population of Rome. In spite of this initial success, the monks’ trip ended with a whiff of public scandal. Dissatisfied with the pope’s response to their doctrinal demands, and having exhausted their lobbying options among the senatorial and clerical elites, the monks made an unusual final attempt either to establish their doctrinal orthodoxy in Rome – or, more likely, to defend themselves against growing papal hostility: they tried to made use of an old form of Roman refugee protection – asylum near imperial statues (confugere ad statuas).

The protections conferred by confugere ad statuas are well attested in legal texts from the imperial period. Closest to the sixth century, these protections were encapsulated in an imperial constitution issued in the names of Valentinian II, Theodosius I, and Arcadius in 386 (Codex Theodosianus 9.44.1; repeated in the Codex Justinianus 1.25), and included a ten-day period in which the supplicants could demonstrate the justice of their appeal without fear of persecution (in Rome this appeal should have been presented before the praefectus urbi). 

And yet the Scythian monks were not afforded the protections of asylum, and appear to have been threatened with violence and expelled immediately from Rome by defensores ecclesiae upon the direct orders of Pope Hormisdas. The traditional Roman legal protections (with which these Scythian monks, native Latin speakers, seem to have been thoroughly familiar) failed them – and so did the traditional networks of support which they had carefully cultivated in Rome over their fourteen-month stay. What accounts for this failure? This paper argues that the Scythian monks’ failure to benefit from traditional Roman legal protections reflects to some degree their inability to understand and navigate successfully the new power structures which were slowly emerging to regulate public life in Old Rome. In the city it was the papacy, not the Ostrogothic king, who had taken over roles previously controlled by imperial authorities, including granting or denying validity to asylum cases. This paper contextualizes the episode involving the Scythian monks within the flurry of contemporary papal initiatives (ranging from crystalizing theories of apostolic succession and uninterrupted doctrinal orthodoxy of the Roman see, to history writing that emphasized the power of the papacy, and to intensified building activity in the city of Rome), from which a clear pattern emerges: in the power vacuum left by the overthrow of Western Roman imperial rule, popes of the sixth century sought to enhance their own power, and even take over some imperial prerogatives. To the degree that they stood in the way of this papal ambition (or, worse, could have boosted the power of the Ostrogothic king), old Roman legal protections for asylum seekers ad statuas were put to rest.

Waldron, Byron (University of Sydney)

Investigations towards a non-Roman History of Rome and Persia

Every modern reconstruction of the Romano-Persian wars has built upon Romanocentric narratives. This is because, in many cases, the Graeco-Roman sources convey more detail, but it is also because much of the scholarship has failed to engage in detail with non-Graeco-Roman sources, including Iranian, Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic and Indian texts. Romanists have rarely explored these sources due to a lack of familiarity with the languages of these texts and the debates surrounding their historical traditions.

This paper considers three case studies:

1. Modern reconstructions of Gordian III’s war with Shapur I (241-244) have failed to take account of the Persian perspective, including the death of the founder of the Persian Sasanian dynasty, Ardashir I, and the instability that followed his death. This is because Romanists have neglected the Iranian-Syriac Chronicle of Arbela. In 1967 J. -M. Fiey argued that this text was a forgery, but Syriac scholars have long since demonstrated its authenticity, with much Roman scholarship failing to notice. The paper applies the evidence of the Chronicle to Gordian’s war, and uses Iranian sources to propose a new date for Ardashir’s death. The analysis fundamentally changes many aspects of the modern reconstruction including the reasons for war.

2. Modern reconstructions of Galerius’ war with Narseh (296-299) roundly ignore or overlook the Iranian claim that Galerius attacked the city of Gundeshapur, evidenced in the work of Eutychius, the Patriarch of Alexandria who wrote an Arabic chronicle. Although writing long after the events in question, Quellenkritik points to Eutychius’ reliability. Eutychius, and the testimony of al-Tabari, greatly help to explain Galerius’ invasion of the Persian Empire, the aims and course of which have long been shrouded in uncertainty.

3. Between 307/8-311, Maximinus adopted the title Persicus. Since 1976 scholars have been unable to locate a reason for this adoption in the Graeco-Roman sources. However, Iranian, Syriac and Arabic historical traditions provide the context and demonstrate that Rome and Persia were fighting proxy wars in Arabia, centuries before better-attested examples of this practice.

The paper will highlight these case studies, to point the way for future research. The history of Rome and Persia was written by many peoples across Afro-Eurasia, and archaeological testimony also abounds. Few other subjects are so well suited to a globalizing approach to antiquity. The proposed project would transcend the barriers of discipline, space, language and postcolonial master narratives to produce the methodological framework of a multicentric, multilingual history of Rome and Persia.

Ward, Walter (University of Alabama at Birmingham)

Roman Red Sea ports and cultural contact in Late Antiquity

While the Roman ports on the Red Sea during the Pax Romana have been extensively studied, the ports of late antiquity have been less well researched. Three of the ports have been excavated; though only one was adequately published. To this data can be added literary sources and archaeological information from sites in Egypt’s eastern desert and the southern Transjordan. This paper will focus on these ports as locations of and facilitators of cultural and economic exchange in late antiquity.

Two ports, Berenike and Clysma (Suez, Egypt), were located on the western side of the Red Sea. Berenike, which was utilized until the late fifth or early sixth century, was excavated (1994-2003) and extensively published. It is the southernmost and most intensively studied port, with entire docks and warehouses discovered. Clysma was excavated prior to World War II, but unfortunately, much of the archaeological finds were disturbed during the war, so the publication is of limited value. Piecing together the archaeological and literary sources, it is clear that Clysma flourished into the Islamic period and played a pivotal role supplying the Sinai Monasteries and, later, Mecca.

Another two ports were located on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. Aila (Aqaba, Jordan) was extensively excavated from 1994-2002. Unfortunately, the excavations were not published before the sudden death of the led excavator, S. Thomas Parker. Having worked on the site and in Parker’s archaeology lab at NC State, I am able to present some unpublished material in this paper to supplement the interim published reports. For example, imported amphorae sherds exploded by a factor of ten beginning in the fourth century, indicating a massive increase in trade at the site.

Iotabe is the lone port that has not been excavated; in fact, it has never been conclusively located. It appears in literary sources for a brief period from 451 and 536; however, these sources indicate that it was an important location of cultural contact as control of the island swung between imperial and Arab control (under the leader Amorkesos). Sources also suggest that Jewish merchants lived at the site.  

There is extensive evidence of economic connections at these ports. Berenike produced hundreds of examples of imported goods – ranging from kilograms of pepper to pottery made by the Eastern Desert Dwellers. At Aila, sherds of Axumite and Indian origin were discovered. In addition, a unique amphorae type was produced at Aila, which was exported to the Red Sea. These vessels were discovered in large quantities in Axum, in the Black Assarca shipwreck, and in the Arabian Peninsula.

Each of these ports served as a zone of contact between the eastern Empire and the peoples outside the empire, whether they were Arabs, Blemmyes, Troglodytes, Ichthyophagoi, Axumites, Himyarites, Indians, or Eastern Desert Dwellers. My paper will examine the evidence from literary and archaeological sources to argue that these four ports facilitated cultural transmission as a result of economic exchange.

Watson, Tim William (California State University, Northridge)

Electra from Athens to L.A.: Luis Alfaro’s Electricidad in the HSI Classroom

This talk will reflect on the early stages of a project to create a student reader for an introductory Greek and Latin literature course that will facilitate comparative analysis of classical Athenian tragedy and the Greek trilogy of Luis Alfaro—Electricidad, Oedipus El Rey, and Mojada—which are all set in the 21 st -century barrios of Central and East Los Angeles. Receiving initial support from the CSUN College of Humanities “Humanities for the People” initiative, this project aims more broadly to foster the accessibility of Classics to an increasingly diverse student body, especially at Hispanic-Serving Institutions like CSUN. Alfaro’s Griego plays align perfectly with this goal—as their recent editor, Rosa Andújar, has noted—appealing to Anglo-American theater audiences through their reimagining of canonical Greek texts, while simultaneously canonizing the experiences of underrepresented Chicanx and Latinx viewers. In the process, both audiences learn about the other.

For the first phase of this project, I have chosen to focus on the Electra tradition, comparing Alfaro’s Electricidad with not only Sophocles’ Electra but Euripides’ tragedy of the same name and Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers as well. To cultivate the habit of close reading, I first selected a series of passages from the Greek tragedies that most closely paralleled scenes and aspects of Alfaro’s play. During the fall and spring semesters of the 2022-23 academic year, students read these passages and answered a series of short essay questions designed to draw out the similarities and differences between each representation of the Electra myth. After repeating this process with a script of Electricidad, they composed a comparative analysis essay based on two of the ancient versions and Alfaro’s modern rendition. These essays and their final reflection essays will be the focus of my talk and serve as a guide to possible future directions.

Willard, Hope (University of Lincoln)

Herman Melville and the Barbarians

While the work of scholars such as Ian Wood and Edward James has explored the historiography of the the barbarians and how their stories have been used in European literature and art, the place of the barbarians in American literature remains to be fully explored. One would not expect to find the Merovingians in Herman Melville’s White-Jacket or the World in a Man of War (1850), a rambling, lightly fictionalized account of the author’s fourteen months of service in the US Navy. The book was written to spur public indignation against the use of flogging as a method of corporal punishment for sailors, yet it is also a rich source of information regarding nineteenth century attitudes towards dress, appearance, and masculinity. In one long passage, Melville describes the results of some sailors’ decision not to shave their beards or cut their hair for the duration of the voyage:

“What with long whiskers and venerable beards, then, of every variety and cut–Charles the Fifth’s and Aurelian’s–and endless goatees and imperials; and what with abounding locks, our crew seemed a company of Merovingians or Long-haired kings, mixed with savage Lombards or Longobardi, so called from their lengthy beards.” (335)

Melville neatly defined who the Merovingians and Lombards were for unfamiliar readers, but how did he himself know who they were?  Bill Gladhill’s recent work has discussed the author’s interest in the process of translation and reception as seen through the books Melville read and owned. This paper aims to carry the investigation of Melville’s engagement with the classical tradition in a different direction. Firstly, by focusing on his engagement with the late antiquity and early medieval past, I will shed new light on what it meant for a nineteenth century American author to engage with Romans and Romaness in his work, by focusing on a time period not traditionally considered with reception studies. Secondly, I hope to investigate the ways in which Melville used references to the physical appearance of barbarian men—specifically, their distinctive hairstyles—as a way to alternately reinforce and subvert notions of proper masculine appearance prevalent in his own day. By considering the reception of images of barbarians in a time and place far distant from them, this paper aims to consider the legacy of late antique ideas of ‘the Other’, and how these were communicated to readers of fiction in the nineteenth century and beyond.

Wolpo, Peninah (University of New Mexico–Los Alamos)

Eliciting Rome: Enriching the Student Experience in Classics Courses within a General Education Program

Is there a way to help students from non-traditional backgrounds feel enough belonging that they might consider a Classics, or an Ancient History major? How can we promote these courses as useful to the non-major, particularly as these courses are often within the general education requirements for humanities? How can we keep our introductory courses from becoming only general electives?  This presentation will share findings from Classics courses being taught at a community college level as best practices for inclusivity and cultural responsive teaching were integrated into course design. Courses redesigned included Roman Civilization, Greek Civilization, and Greek Mythology. Best practices were considered from both in-person and online modalities, and were heavily informed by the Quality Matters program and the Student Experience Project. The overall goal of the instructor was to integrate skill-building assignments with their content, and to use assessment informed planning to make changes to course design in order to promote student retention and success while also still including the content desired and promoting the study of Classics and History.