The Seventh IEMA Visiting Scholar Conference
Inequality in Antiquity: Tracing the Archaeological Record
April 5-6, 2014
Greiner Hall, Ground Level
North Campus, University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14261
Conference Organizer: Dr. Orlando Cerasuolo
The social and political division of communities was a common and complex feature of past civilizations around the world. In many ancient cultures there were several discrimination strategies: free people versus slaves, age- and gender-based categories, economic concentration and exclusion. As archaeologists, we have to ask how visible such structures of inequality are in the material record of the past. Where they are visible, how do we interpret their meaning for the marginalized communities that they document? So far, no symposium has addressed these diverse aspects of in equality in a single venue. A wider, interdisciplinary archaeology based approach to these issues should prove especially productive.
The main aim of the symposium is to present methodologies developed in the analysis of ancient inequalities and to offer a comprehensive range of case studies. We know that in ancient times there were men and women, freemen and slaves, locals and immigrants. We can observe some material residues of their existence in the archaeological record. The central methodological problem is how we can extract fuller meaning from the surviving archaeological residues and relate those meanings to issues of gender, legal and ethnic status, and other categories of potential inequality.
This conference will apply two relatively novel approaches. While studies of slavery, gender, and ethnicity are relatively common, the IEMA conference will explore them as intersecting areas of study within the larger framework of inequality. It will also attempt to bring together prehistorians, specialists in classical archaeology, and students of Late Antiquity, as well as physical anthropologists; epigraphers; and statisticians.
Many issues should arise from the perspective envisaged for this symposium. Is it possible to develop a general theory of inequality in antiquity? Is it possible to define wide-ranging strategies for the archaeological analysis of that inequality? To what degree are the inequalities and social boundaries culture specific and how does their emergence relate to growing complexity? To what degree can archaeologists identify and analyze different patterns of inequality?
Inequalities. Sociological theory recognizes a valuable distinction between ascribed status and achieved status of people. The first is constituted by attributes over which we have no control, i.e. age, gender and ethnicity. We are dealing with the social differences of age classes (from infant to elderly); the division between male, female and potential hybrid sexuality roles; and finally, ethnic components and cultural mixing, ultimately leading to the formation of new identities (a phenomenon sometimes labeled as 'creolization').
The second is the position attained in life through education and personal advancement, whether achieved in egalitarian context or through heredity. Economical divisions between the rich and the poor, with all the nuances between, become a fundamental aspect; but also the social roles of ruling and ruled people (considering also the other classes of officers, merchants, craftsmen, etc.) and the political division between citizens and non-citizens, that is to say different degrees of freedom and slavery.
Different cultures in time and space. The general and methodological approach of the symposium will be implemented using the widest available evidence. Perspectives of social inequality frequently insisted on a rigid dichotomy between egalitarian and hierarchical, but a combined approach could reveal very useful. The participants should address different time periods of antiquity, while the geographical framework will focus mainly on the Mediterranean area.
Archaeological Sources. The symposium will discuss social organization mainly focusing on the archaeological record. Preference will be given to material culture studies, ritual and burial practices, analysis and forensic research on anthropological remains. There are features of material cultures that clearly denote the political and social conditions of people, e.g. the shackles of forced workers found in the Athenian silver quarries and in the rest of Europe. There are humble potsherds of plain cooking ware and architectural remains that can be associated to foreign people living in a specific working area, whether free workers, prisoners or slaves. In such cases, strategies of spatial segregation can sometimes be defined, whether self-generated or forced. Burial practices seem quite revealing in defining hierarchy and social boundaries, as well as the potential existence of foreigners inside the ancient communities. Sometimes, human sacrifices in graves contexts might indicate the final purpose of prisoners and slaves or the fate of relatives of the dead people. Another archaeological source providing important answers is epigraphy, whether related to engraved pottery, clay tablets or marble stones; in this case very clear indications will come from the onomastic analysis of large amounts of data, that can enlighten about the status, kinship, foreign origin or freedman nature of the people.
Call for Posters
The Organizing Committee of the 7th IEMA Conference invites all scholars and students from Anthropology and Classics to submit proposals for posters on the theme: Inequality in Antiquity: Tracing the Archaeological Record.
Posters may contain information on research findings, program implementation and results, or innovative approaches. Selected posters will be displayed for the whole period of the conference and will constitute an informal sessions (simultaneous to the main paper sessions) to provide an opportunity for discussion between the poster presenter(s) and the conference attendees, and obtain valuable feedback.
No registration fee is required. Attendance at the conference is not essential, but poster authors must participate at the online discussion.
Poster proposals should be submitted by January 26th, 2014.
Titles and Abstracts
The Emergence of Social Inequality
T. Douglas Price
(University of Wisconsin – Madison) - USA
Social inequality is slowly being recognized as one of the major problems in modern American society. The rich and powerful become more so at the expense of the rest of the population. Such a situation benefits only the rich and powerful — the rest of us lose ground as social, political, and economic structures weaken and falter.
In this context, the origin and rise of social inequality in human society is a question of substantial interest in archaeology. It is also a very thorny question that remains unresolved. One of the reasons for that, I believe, is that the archaeologists who consider the problem do so through the lenses of their own focus and experience with the past. Thus, the emergence of inequality seems to take place in almost every major time period from the Paleolithic to the Iron Age. I believe we can be more specific about the emergence of inequality if we consider several corollary issues such as the rise of hunter-gatherers and the emergence of equality, the visibility of inequality, and the role of inequality in human society.
I will consider these issues within the framework of Old World archaeology and argue that the beginnings of social inequality lie within the changes associated with the origins and spread of agriculture, beginning around 10,000 BC. One of the caveats associated with such an exercise is that the beginnings of almost anything in the past are clouded by time, the limited survival of information, and the subtle hints that evidence changes in social organization. Thus my essay will be largely speculative, but the argument hopefully will be clear.
Theorizing complexity. The case of Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe
(Göteborgs Universitet) – SWEDEN
During most of prehistory inequality increased with mounting social complexity; however, it is not a linear or one to one relationship. To illustrate this I propose that a major move towards sustained, institutionalized inequality took place with the advent of the Bronze Age. By contrasting Neolithic and Bronze Age complexity, I wish to highlight the nature of this social transformation. Despite many similarities in settlement structure in some periods of the Neolithic and Bronze Age, these similarities were embedded in very different political economies, and therefore had different effects on the nature of inequality.
Transegalitarian societies on the Northwest Plateau: Social dynamics and cultural/technological changes
Brian D. Hayden
(Simon Fraser University) – CANADA
While great attention has been focused on the complex hunting/gathering/fishing cultures of the Northwest Coast, relatively little recognition has been accorded to the relatively complex cultures of the Northwest Interior. These cultures are often portrayed as egalitarian; however, both ethnographically and archaeologically, major centers on the Plateau exhibited pronounced wealth, sedentism, large communities, inequalities, and large corporate groups. Currently, there are two contending theoretical models that attempt to explain the timing and associated cultural-environmental changes that occurred on the Plateau. Both models employ cultural ecological variables, but interpret them differently. Key considerations involve environmental variables in relation to: land and aquatic food resources (especially salmon, ungulates, and roots), the size of settlements; the degree of investment in structures; formation of corporate groups, the production of prestige items of copper, bone, stone, and shell; long distance exchanges of prestige items; the breeding and domestication of dogs; large-scale storage; and the emergence of ritual societies.
Bioarchaeology of the enslaved, impoverished, and marginalized: evidence of structural violence in the skeletal archive
Jennifer Lynn Muller
(Ithaca College) – USA
The understanding of the complexities of structural violence operating within past populations requires a multidisciplinary lens. Bioarchaeology contributes to inequality research by interpreting the skeletal archive as a product of the interplay between global and local cultural factors and local biologies. This includes recognizing health disparities as a possible biological impact of compounding axes of discrimination.
The elastic and plastic properties of living skeletal tissue allow for the recording of events and stresses experienced by individuals. Extrinsic cultural factors contribute significantly to the differential expression of stress in skeletal remains. Socially sanctioned discrimination against specific groups within a population affects both group and individual agency. The accompanying marginalization, and its impact on resource availability, may decrease the adaptive repertoire of the individual. This, in turn, may serve to challenge and/or to motivate aspects of individual and group agency. The impact of discrimination is variable within marginalized groups based on compounding categorization, i.e. age, gender, nativity, sexual orientation. Health disparities, as evidenced in patterns of trauma and pathology and the resulting morbidity and mortality, are the literal embodiment of political and economic stratification.
Scientific evidence, from both clinical and bioarchaeological research, suggests that the biological impact of structural violence is cultural-specific, and therefore also temporally and spatially specific. This paper draws upon the author’s research on the skeletal remains from African Diasporic populations and the institutionalized poor, including individuals from the Newburgh Colored Burial Ground, the W. Montague Cobb Human Archive, and infant remains from the Erie County Poorhouse, Buffalo, NY. Although individuals from these groups share the similar status of poor and marginalized, differences in their patterns of morbidity and mortality are substantial. This suggests that the complex variables of history, global and local cultural factors, local biologies, and individual/group agency contribute to differential skeletal archives.
The Emergence of Social Inequality in Southeastern Europe: A Long-Term Perspective
William A. Parkinson
(The Field Museum Chicago) – USA
Many recent models of the emergence of institutionalized hereditary inequality emphasize the role of individuals who were capable through various means (e.g., long-distance travel and trade) of transforming their social environment from a basically egalitarian or ‘tribal’ system to one predicated upon inherent social inequalities and ascribed ranking. Such models, which tend to privilege the role of human agency over that of social structure, do not deal well with those instances when incipient complexity began to emerge but did not ‘catch on.’ An examination of these cultural ‘false starts’ suggests that some forms of social organization are more amenable to the emergence of social inequality over the long-term.
Leadership, Inequality and Social Status in the Late Prehistoric Eurasian Steppes: Event, Historicity, and the Longue Durée
(University of Pittsburgh) – USA
Scholars have long recognized that the transition to the Early Iron Age in the Eurasian steppes (ca. 1200 – 700 BCE) reflects an incredibly vibrant transformation in social leadership, inequality and status. These changes within societies were accompanied by new forms of warfare technology, strategy and innovative attitudes towards death and burial as seen through prominent funerary monument construction. This paper critically examines current conventional models for understanding social, political and economic change through a discussion of more detailed, recent archaeological evidence.
Emphasis will be placed on understanding more effectively long-term diachronic change as a composite of episodic transitions and significant events that reflect historical social and material conditions. Detailed bioarchaeological data combined with excavations of large-scale funerary monument constructions provide an important representation of the emergence of a new social order linked to individual identity, power, and the construction of conspicuous monuments within the landscape. These developments will be examined cross-culturally across the Eurasian steppes from Mongolia to Ukraine and discussed through analysis of patterns of materiality, monumentality and social memory. As such, the emergence and institutionalization of social inequality will be contextualized both from the point of view of change over the longue durée as well as evidence of specific events and their contribution to new social institutions.
Inequality during the Iron Age in France. Tracing the Archeological Record
(Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) – FRANCE
Research in comparative primatology has shown that from chimpanzees to humans, all societies are segmented into groups based on age and sex and that adult males are generally dominant. From the emergence of Homo Sapiens onwards, we can detect more arbitrary groups, socially constructed from ethnicity, nationality, caste, class, religion, etc., with differences in social positions (political authority, power, wealth, status privileges, main material resources, better conditions for education and health). In arbitrary groups, hierarchical position is more responsive to changing circumstances and context. The primary cause of the presence of an arbitrary group system would appear to be the opportunity to generate an economic surplus facilitating differentiation of social roles and leading to the formation of a monopolistic political authority (professional army, police, administration, etc.), that is to say the State according to Weber’s definition : the monopoly of legitimate violence.
The Iron Age (730-125 BC) in France is of particular interest for examining the issue of inequality because societies evolved during these seven centuries through a process of non-linear complexity, from simple chiefdoms to archaic states. These are politically autonomous entities which marked quite strong social distinctions through the wealth of funerary deposits and more or less monumental tombs. As we know that burial practices are not a true reflection of social organization, we have to include the evidence for settlement hierarchy. Spectacular results have been achieved over the last thirty years due to extensive fieldwork, at last enabling the proper study of large settlements of this period, from simple farms to urban areas.
These archaeological data complement the information provided by Greek and Latin textual sources for various discrimination strategies: social elites, ordinary free people and slaves, age-and gender-based categories in different groups, accumulation of economic surplus and exclusion. I describe in detail how we can interpret the archaeological record in terms of social status and try to identify the perspectives emerging from the application of new biological, physico-chemical and electromagnetic methods of investigation.
I intend to finish with some ideas for a theory of the growth of inequality before and during the emergence of the State. My basis for this is not only the development of organizational complexity, but also the political regimes that we are beginning to perceive better in the archaeological evidence.
Tracing the Etruscan Serf Class
(Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei) – ITALY
In the last fifty years the peculiar social system of the Etruscans has been investigated several times; scholars like J. Heurgon, W.V. Harris, E. Lepore and H. Rix have proposed their views mostly founding their research on the rather scanty literary sources on the subject. These sources allow a reconstruction of the structure of Etruscan serfdom with several points unsolved, mainly regarding the civil rights of these serfs and the different moments and ways of the dissolution of the system. Besides this literary approach, which remains fundamental for the reconstruction of the serfdom, the paper will analyze archaeological evidence, very frequently in conjunction with epigraphic sources, to add more fixed points to the controversial dossier. Beginning with the development of a class system during the 8th century BCE, the archaeological evidence from the cemeteries preserve clear signs of a complex social stratification, manly in the major cities of Southern Etruria from the 7th century BCE on. Particular attention will be paid to the presence of serfs (and slaves) in mercantile activities, exploring the evidence of the sanctuary of Gravisca, the harbor of Tarquinii, in manufacture processes, as attested at Populonii, and in craftsmanship, witnessed by signatures of potters. I will conclude with a short discussion of the current views on the chronology and the forms of the dissolution of the Etruscan serfdom, starting from the arguments put forward half a century ago by Helmuth Rix and challenged recently by Enrico Benelli (La società chiusina tra la guerra annibalica e l'età di Augusto. Osservazioni archeologiche ed epigrafiche, in "Ostraka" 18, 2, 2009, 303-322).
Etruscan women and social polarity: two case studies for approaching inequality
Giovanna Bagnasco Gianni
(Università degli Studi di Milano) – ITALY
The invisible aspects of women's role in Etruscan society have always been present in the literary review as the focus of a clashing juxtaposition between archaeological and literary sources. This contribution discusses the possibility to read inequality as complementarity between men’s and women’s skills in Etruscan society.
Two case studies belonging to the Orientalizing and Late Archaic - Classical periods are considered. The first study includes a group of inscribed weaving and spinning instruments, consisting of female funerary equipment of the Orientalizing period, and in female goddesses' sanctuaries of the 7th century BCE (Tarquinia, Veio, Satricum). They seem to support the idea that the activity of weaving is not “the job of women” but that it was considered a skill that could go beyond the production of textiles, making it possible to connect things that are originally separated. The above mentioned concept could have been the reason why women had a prominent position in the dissemination of the alphabetical knowledge in Etruscan society because they were aware of the need of conceptual tools to bring together what is separated in origin. In other words the pragmatic content of letters and threads challenges the ability to bring them to the condition of being a text(ile).
The second case study belongs to the Late Archaic - Classical periods and approaches material evidence in Etruscan mirrors by means of iconography. It focuses on the recurrence of sets of object that have to do with divination. Such material evidence is used here to approach the idea that Etruscan mirrors are multifunctional tools both satisfying cosmetic and divination purposes. Since both activities are shared by women, it is possible to enlighten the function of mirrors as status-symbol for women who were complementary to men who were, on their turn, holding other corresponding signs such as the lituus.
The second case study belongs to the Late Archaic - Classic periods and approaches material evidence in Etruscan mirrors by means of iconography. It focuses on the recurrence of sets of object that have to do with divination. Such material evidence is used here to approach the idea that Etruscan mirrors are multifunctional tools both satisfying cosmesis and divination purposes. Since both activities are shared by women, it is possible to enlighten the function of mirrors as status-symbol for women who were complementary to men who were, on their turn, holding other corresponding signs such as the lituus.
Mapping Inequality in Ancient Greece
(Tel-Aviv University) - ISRAEL
In representations of non-citizens in ancient Greek visual arts (vase painting, reliefs and statues) it is often difficult to differentiate slaves and free non-citizens from citizens. Despite some markers usually taken to indicate low or servile status, and although they are mostly depicted alongside citizens – so that the contrast should be obvious – such characters might well be interpreted to represent free persons. Slaves are also often depicted as an integral part of the life of the polis – sometimes even heroized. Conversely, literary and epigraphic sources make a clear distinction between statuses. Habitually slaves and free non-citizens are identified and presented as distinct groups in relation to citizens. Therefore, the status of a person mentioned in written texts can hardly be mistaken: we recognize inequality because it is opposed to the dominant group.
This paper tries to “map” inequality in ancient Greece by tracing the situations where categories of non-citizens would be, and are mentioned, and the boundaries delineated thereby between statuses. This will be conducted by looking at allusions to non-citizens (slaves and free non-citizens) within literary and epigraphic sources and comparing the emerging picture from this inspection with images of non-citizens (especially slaves) in vase-painting and sculpture.
Detecting Inequality in Classical-Hellenistic Houses
(Cardiff University) – UK
From the fifth to the first century BC, there is a striking increase in the range of variation in Greek housing: the gap between the largest houses and the smallest becomes wider, and there is a greater spectrum of elaboration, represented by features such as columns, architecturally specialized spaces (e.g. dining-rooms, bathrooms), and decoration (especially wall painting, stuccowork, mosaics, and sculpture). This paper explores how these developments might relate to inequality, both between and within households. Comparison of the range of housing in different periods and regions suggests that the relationship between variation in houses and social hierarchy is not a simple one, but may be complicated by social instability, which tends to encourage material displays of status, and by differences in the contexts in which status was achieved and displayed. Recognizing the architectural and material traces of inequality within the household is more challenging. In the Classical period, there appears to be little specific architectural provision for marking distinctions of gender and status between household members, apart from a general increase in the complexity of house-plans, which would have made differentiation easier. In some Hellenistic houses, there is a greater potential for spatial differentiation between free and slave; once again, however, this may be evidence not so much of greater inequality, but as a more pressing need to mark social differences.
Early Iron Age Female Burials in Attica: Ladies and Maidens, Wealthy and Deprived
(Université libre de Bruxelles, CreA-Patrimoine) – BELGIUM
The best area to study inequality in Early Iron Age Greece is by far the necropolis and especially those of Attica. In this paper a case study is taken up on the Attic female burials focusing on the use and function of certain classes of material and especially of pottery. The intended placement or complete absence of certain pots seems conspicuous enough to suggest a manipulation of artifacts by social groups. The special symbolism of those artifacts will be put forward in order to better describe their selective and unequal distribution as portrayed in the funerary record.
Particular emphasis will be placed on the limited use of a specific clay vessel, the large and elaborate pitcher; this vessel, which enters the Attic repertory around the middle of the 8th century BC and becomes quite popular among grave offerings, reaches in some cases almost a meter high and is selectively placed with female burials. Nonetheless, not all female burials receive such luxurious and distinctive gifts. On the other hand, those pitchers may be assigned to some of the most well-known artistic hands and workshops of the same period, such as the Dipylon Painter, demonstrating an intended commission and production of those vessels.
A comparison with concurrent burials in Athens and Attica is expected to clarify their function, whether as funeral gifts or ritual utensils and help us better define the circumstances of their selection and placement within the burials. Furthermore, my intention is to explore the significance and special meaning of such distinctive artifacts and thus better understand their function within Attic funerary rites.
Diversities and Inequality: the Male Burials in Early Iron Age Athens
Anna Maria D'Onofrio
(Università di Napoli “L'Orientale”) - ITALY
How can the archaeology of death shed light on a social value such as inequality? How can the funerary package be used as an indicator for discrimination in the access to the (material and/or non-material) resources? The archaeology of the burial practices has developed the research about engendering, class of age, ranking, ethnicity and the mechanism of plotting of the burials. In spite of the positive results obtained in the explanation of the archaeological funerary record in terms of synchronicity, it remains more difficult to produce an equally valid explanation in terms of diachronic change.
The highly selective series of the Athenian Early Iron Age burials with weapons offers a good matter to test an historical perspective on a well-defined archeological matter. Due to the low rate of male burials containing weapons in each phase of the Protogeometric and Geometric period, one is forced to compare burials which pertain to different chronological level and to elaborate a generational model which turns out fairly appropriate to interpreting the evidence. On the other hand, the analysis conducted on the so-called “warrior graves” and on the male burials as a whole can lead us to discover which kind of diversities are allowed in a same system of values and which are not.
Warfare, gender and the social dimension of burial in the above mentioned context will be investigated in order to determine the strategies of discrimination and distinction enacted and to test their continuity or transition.
Rome: Social Complexity and the Archaeologies of Inequality
(University at Buffalo, SUNY) – USA
Rome, rural, patriarchal, plutocratic, and oligarchic, was a society of major, built-in inequalities. It was also a large, diverse, and dynamic system. Each social category in the Roman world had its own complexities and contradictions. In the countryside free citizen-soldiers (not peasants) competed with slaves, and in the cities flexible manumission created an important freedman class. In the household, women had their subordinations but also exceptional rights. A complex economy created challenges and opportunities at all social levels.
Such a complex world requires an archaeology of fluidity and ambiguity, as much as an archaeology of inequality. The survey archaeologist may reconstruct a world of emerging slave estates. The aerial photographer highlights a landscape shaped by the political strength of the free soldier-farmer. Non-elite women and slaves have restricted roles in elite iconography. In arte popolare other strata of society and a high level of mobility become visible.
This paper will explore this distinctive nature of the Roman archaeology of inequality through selected case studies and set a framework for topics explored in other papers in the session
Roman Imperial Estates and their Role in Creating and Perpetuating Social Inequality in the Italian Countryside: An Examination of the Archaeological Evidence
(Saint Mary's University, Halifax) - CANADA
Imperial properties were an important element of the countryside of Roman Italy, yet such properties have not often been the object of archaeological analysis. In part, this is due to the difficulty of identifying imperial praedia on the basis of archaeological remains, and only occasionally are we fortunate enough to have epigraphic or literary evidence allowing a positive identification. Among archaeologists working within the Italian peninsula there has been a singular focus on private villa estates of the late Republic and early Empire, with some concomitant interest in luxurious, residential imperial properties that were the backdrop to documented historical events (i.e.: villas at Sperlonga, Tivoli, and Capri). These properties, however, must be seen as atypical of imperial landholdings insofar as they were places of occasional residence of the princeps himself. More common, perhaps, are the remains of an imperial estate at San Felice/Vagnari and its associated necropolis in the modern region of Puglia. It is likely that at sites such as this one rural inhabitants of statuses variously defined established relationships with the imperial administration, albeit rather indirectly and at some distance. Regardless, through the archaeological remains of imperial estates of all types in Italy, a range evidence for inequality—architectural, artifactual, environmental—is available to the archaeologist, complementary to the textual evidence, that may help us to understand better inequality associated with the imperial presence in rural Italy. In particular, is there evidence that imperial estates may have encoded a unique, well-structured system of inequality onto the Italian countryside, one that was potentially in opposition to that seen in the territoria of urban centers?
Demographic trends and composition of society in the Roman world
Luuk de Ligt
(Universiteit Leiden) – THE NEDERLANDS
During the past fifty years or so the relationship between ancient history and archaeology has been marked by fruitful collaboration, but also by unease. Starting with the ‘New Archaeology’ of the 1960s, archaeologists began to emphasize the ‘scientific’ nature of their discipline, partly in an understandable attempt to distance themselves from templates derived from the written record. This had an immediate impact on the field of Roman demography. While the literary tradition paints a picture of inexorable population decline in late-republican Italy, various field walking campaigns carried out in central Italy detected evidence for a ‘population explosion’ in exactly the same period. There was therefore a strong temptation to brush aside the historical sources as hopelessly distorted by political, ideological and literary considerations.
During the past couple of decades archaeologist have become acutely aware of the distortions and biases affecting the archaeological record. While some archeologists may regret this loss of innocence, it creates fresh opportunities for a new dialogue between ancient history and archaeology.
From the (limited) perspective of ancient history the central problem of Roman demography is whether the Augustan census figures should be interpreted as referring exclusively to adult male citizens or as referring to all people of citizen status, including women and children. In the census of 28 BC about 4 million citizens were registered. If these were adult men, Roman Italy would have had about 15 million inhabitants, if slaves and foreigners are included. If all people of citizen status were registered, this figure drops to about 6 million.
The majority view is that the latter interpretation is far more likely to be correct. Accepting it has major implications for our view of long-term demographic trends. If Italy had about 6 million inhabitants in the time of Augustus, the population of the Roman Empire as a whole is unlikely to have exceeded 50 million. According to this view, there was ample scope for further population growth, not only in the provinces but also in Italy itself. If, on the other hand, Roman Italy had as many as 15 million inhabitants in 28 BC, the Italian population must have peaked under Augustus, leaving almost no scope for further expansion.
What can the archaeological evidence, especially the evidence collected in survey campaigns, tell us about demographic trends? As we have seen, at least some archaeologists working in the New Archeology tradition were inclined to translate site number into population trends. Subsequent research has undermined many of their assumptions and conclusions. When methods for dating Roman republican pottery were refined, it appeared that most of the republican ceramics that had been detected on rural sites dated to the third and early second centuries BC. Only 20 % of the material could be assigned to the second or first centuries BC. As a direct result of this, the theory of a late-republican ‘population explosion’ disappeared from the literature. Another important development was the realization that patterns revealed by survey archaeology may tell us more about supply patterns or culturally driven changes in consumption than about demographic trends.
While all these methodological refinements are important, there is also a danger that the baby will be thrown out with the bath water. After everything has been said it remains the case that in almost every part of Italy rural sites which are datable to the first or second centuries AD are more numerous than republican sites. Centuriation grids provide evidence for land clearance during the last two centuries BC, and to judge from the survey evidence settlement patterns became denser during the Empire. Simultaneously, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence for urban expansion during the late Republic and early Empire. So it remains difficult to avoid the impression that the period between the end of the Hannibalic war and the arrival of the Antonine Plague in the 160s AD witnessed vigorous population growth in most parts of Roman Italy.
During the same period we find strong evidence for increasing social inequality. According to the literary traditions, elite Romans lived simple lives until the conquests of the second century BC, when traditional frugality, as well as standards of decency, started to go into fast decline. These are obviously ideological statements. Nonetheless there can be no doubt that during the final centuries of the Republic the rural villas and town houses of the elite became much larger than those of earlier centuries. The same development is reflected in a new discourse about the best way to spend newly won wealth. It must be stressed that many ordinary Romans also benefited from imperial conquest. It has even been argued that this was a period of per capita growth for large sections of the free Italian population. The bill was footed by exploited provincials and by imported slaves.
One way of tracing the economic effects of imperial conquest and population growth is to look at changes in average body height. More than 10 years ago the Canadian ancient historian Geoffrey Kron started collecting skeletal evidence from Roman sites in Italy. His main finding was that Italians became progressively taller in republican and early-imperial times. It seemed to follow from this that the increase in elite wealth, which undoubtedly took place, did not erode levels of per capita income and consumption for the majority of the population. Unfortunately for Kron, subsequent research of larger samples showed these inferences to be untenable. In reality, Italians of the Roman period became a bit shorter than their Iron Age predecessors. The social and economic implications of this development are still under debate. Are we dealing with a Malthusian process in which population growth eroded per capita income? Or are there other explanations?
One topic that must be examined more closely is the spread of urban and agricultural slavery. Slavery had been a feature of Roman society from very early times, but there can be no doubt that the number of unfree workers expanded dramatically during the last two centuries BC. It has even been argued (in an article written by Peter Garnsey and me) that the fast urban expansion of late republican times was largely slave-driven. According to our calculations slaves might account for about 40% of the populations of small and medium-sized cities. The archaeological correlate of this development is the elite houses, which account for a very large proportion of the built-up areas of cities such as Pompeii. The city of Rome, where free people of citizen status made of the majority of the population, does not fit this pattern, but there are strong reasons to think that the social composition of the population of the capital city was anomalous.
Approaches to socio-economic inequality among and between non-elite Roman urbanites.|
Steven J.R. Ellis
(University of Cincinnati) – USA
Studies of Roman socio-economic networks often focus on the sharp, binary divisions between rich and poor, and almost always from a top-down perspective. The resulting distinctions are of course as real as they are enormous, and can be rather easily charted in the qualitative measures of the archaeological record (read: rich people have bigger, better, and more things than poorer people). But to focus on the inequality between the urban elite and the urban pleb risks becoming buried under a landslide of banality. In this paper I hope to make a different kind of contribution to the study of urban socio-economic inequality, one that takes aim at the middling groups who were neither fabulously rich nor achingly poor. How can we measure the socio-economic conditions of non-elites and, more interestingly still, the inequality among and between this vast group of people?
This paper looks at a number of ways in which inequality can be measured in the socio-economic networks of Roman cities. Case studies are drawn from the latest results of the University of Cincinnati’s excavations at Pompeii (The Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia), under the direction of the author; here we have excavated a large neighborhood (insulae VIII.7, I.1, and the Porta Stabia) comprising no less than 10 independent, non-elite properties with close to 20 shop-fronts. The paper also benefits from the author’s recent field surveys of non-elite landscapes in cities throughout the Roman world. Beyond the unprecedented range of archaeological data on non-elite urbanites, an interdisciplinary approach to the textual, epigraphic, and visual sources, as well as some engagement with social network theories, leads us towards a more reasoned understanding of the complex, inequitable relationships between urban social classes. The specific case studies of this paper will target the texture of non-elite standards of living, from diet and consumption habits to urban production and retail investment, the economic portfolios of which demonstrate tighter social networks than typically imagined.
High Meets Low: Social Binaries and Spectatorship within the Baths of Caracalla
Maryl B. Gensheimer
(University of Maryland) – USA
Although baths were among the most popular and longest-lived institutions for leisure in the Roman world, Roman bathing has garnered focused attention only in the last several decades. Following the hackneyed complaints of Stoics and Christian moralists – who argued that these spaces undermined gender distinctions; that they were sites of lascivious behavior; and that they weakened the moral resolve of the Roman populace – many modern authors highlight the ways in which baths could serve as flashpoints for profound cultural anxieties. As a related aspect, numerous studies also address issues of social (in)equality, suggesting that Roman baths and their attendant nudity facilitated the creation and expression of new social identities, thus leveling or at least minimizing the social distinctions that were so obvious – and rigidly maintained – elsewhere in the Roman public sphere.
This paper departs from the literary and epigraphical sources fundamental to previous scholarship and provides a novel interpretive strategy with which to consider issues of patronage, infrastructure, and resultant daily life and class interaction in ancient Rome. The social integration fundamental to the quotidian use of a grandiose public space – the well-preserved Baths of Caracalla (inaugurated 216 CE) – will be brought into dialogue with the original appearance of the monument itself. Structures of inequality, questions of social inclusion, and superficial binaries between rich and poor are revealed in the archaeological and art historical record of the baths’ original decorative program.
The case studies of architectural and freestanding sculpture addressed herein demonstrate that choices of decoration were purposeful decisions made by the emperor. Analysis of the subtext of this masterfully staged display unveils the visual experience of the baths for a broad audience. Thousands of people each day would have followed the visual cues embedded in the baths’ polychrome decoration to explore and interpret these spaces. Even while a shared day’s recreation collapsed social binaries between high and low, the unified decorative program – and the messages of imperial power implanted therein – confirmed traditional social distinctions between the assembled spectators and the eponymous imperial patron.
Barracks for Slaves: housing dependent workers in Roman Italy
(International Association of Classical Archaeology) – ITALY
The excavations at the imperial villa of Villa Magna revealed a barrack-like structure that we have interpreted as housing for slaves. This moves from the evidence for the life of the slave that can be gleaned from this building to other proposed slave housing in Italian villas. I examine a number of old and new identifications to examine whether there is any change in slave housing over time. Contrary to Marzano’s recent view that it is difficult if not impossible to identify such buildings, I argue that they are a fairly standard component of agricultural villas in some, though not all, areas of Italy.
Countering Inequality through Organized Collective Burial in Imperial Rome
(University of Dayton) – USA
The Roman class system presented persistent stumbling blocks to social mobility and hinged on an ideology that justified asymmetrical power relations. The question taken up in this paper is how outsiders in such a system addressed the exclusion and disrespect they faced, especially if such treatment contradicted their own ambitions and achievements. Ancient responses to social inequality left traces in literary culture, for example in the laudationes of influential freedmen, but also in the material record, for example in the assertive demeanor of marginal social agents in portraits or inscriptions. My argument is that collective action could (and still can) counterbalance social exclusion, because it pooled limited resources and established an environment of solidarity.
The most widespread form of collective action in the Roman world was organized collective burial, which presented numerous opportunities for interaction, such as funerals, commemorative rituals, and other regular meetings. The unifying potential of collective burial is illustrated by columbarium tombs, which typically accommodated slaves and freedmen from one of the aristocratic households of early Imperial Rome. Columbarium architecture is visually homogeneous and treats every occupant equally, suggesting that group cohesion outweighed internal hierarchies in importance. Likewise, the language of associated epitaphs emphasizes aspects that all members of the burial community have in common. Burying and commemorating as a group not only helped participants to sidestep discrimination, but it also ensured access to a decent funeral. Organized collective burial parallels other ancient and modern responses to inequality that did not outright reject the established social order and its associated ideology and culture, but instead addressed contradictory social experiences.