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Just a quick heads up that the call for papers and panels for the next European Social Science History Conference, to be held at Queen’s Belfast in April 2018, has just been published. Full details for the Antiquity Network, which I co-chair, can be found over at the little-frequented Social Science Ancient History blog (https://socsciah.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/esshc-2018-belfast-call-for-proposals/), so I won’t go into detail here, except to say that this is always a great opportunity to meet not only fellow ancient historians working on topics in economic, social and cultural history, but also to engage with colleagues from all periods and geographical areas. If you have an idea for a panel – and don’t feel that you need to be a senior academic to put together a proposal – then Arjan and I would really like to hear from you; we have a few plans of our own for sessions focused on one or more of the really important books that have been published in our field in the last year or so, but it’s always the variety of themes and debates that makes this such a worthwhile and stimulating occasion, and that depends on you…

I’ve been making a few changes to the blog recently – adding the Twitter feed, reordering some of the widgets, expanding the biographical information and the like – as a result of an interesting conversation a few months ago with a couple of people on Twitter (@lizgloyn and @EllieMackin, as I recall; apologies if I’ve forgotten others) about online presence. My move to Exeter this summer brought it home to me that this blog, plus my Twitter feed, represents my professional activities online at least as much as any official institutional profile (especially when I’m still struggling with the publications database). I’ve never trusted academiadotedu, so felt smugly reassured when their commercial orientation became more obvious this year – but that does bring to mind the things that this blog currently doesn’t do, that might be useful for some visitors. Continue Reading »

I should say from the beginning that this is not the sort of defence of Arron Banks that’s likely to carry much weight with any hypothetical future popular tribunal considering charges of willful destruction of the prosperity and well-being of the British people. Further, my immediate reaction to his original “True the Roman Empire was effectively destroyed by immigration” tweet was a typical kneejerk academic one – something along the lines of “yes, why don’t we revive Tenney Frank’s ‘Race Mixture in the Roman Empire’ while we’re at it?” – followed by an attempt at getting #BanksHistory trending on Twitter, and I don’t think that was entirely wrong. At the same time, there is something about the way that the battlelines in Banks versus Beard ended up being neatly drawn between ‘ignorant right-wing billionaire combining memories of schoolboy history and Gladiator with current ideological prejudices’ and ‘heroic authoritative Professor just fighting for Truth’ that makes me feel a little uncomfortable.* Continue Reading »

When It Changed

How long was the Twentieth Century? If you spend most of your time studying classical antiquity, that may sound like a trick question, but since Eric Hobsbawm published Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century in 1994, the idea that the 19th Century persisted until the shattering of the European political order in 1914 (not a new idea, of course; it’s found in Stefan Zweig’s Die Welt von Gestern, for a start) and the 21st Century began in 1989 with the collapse of Soviet communism has been widely recognised as a useful discussion point, if not as a definitive reading. There’s been a flurry of debate on this issue in the last week, with blogs on the topic from Brad DeLong and Branko Milanovic, plus multi-faceted exchange on the Twitter.* Continue Reading »

Europa Delenda Est

In yesterday’s Grauniad, Martin Kettle turned to the Roman Republic for an anti-Brexit blueprint:

Those of us with only a smattering of knowledge about the ancient world know one thing about Cato the Elder. During Rome’s long wars against Hannibal, Cato ended every speech in the senate with the same words: “Carthage must be destroyed.”

“Brexit must be stopped” is unlikely to last as long as Cato’s catchphrase has managed to. But it focuses the mind. Those who think Brexit must be stopped are not the majority. But they have a case and a cause, and they are right. So how might stoppage be achieved?

Be clear whom you need to be talking to, play the long game and keep chipping away (“Remember Cato”); “the prize is immense – and Hannibal was not defeated in a day.”

Classical Allusion Fail Klaxon! Continue Reading »

Events, Events, Events

The legend of the great Fernand Braudel, one of my historiographical heroes, is that he completed his doctoral dissertation in his head while sitting in a prisoner-of-war camp in the Second World War, and that in the course of his captivity the core thesis was turned upside down: from a conventional study of the Mediterranean policy of Phillip II of Spain, to the now-familiar revolutionary vision of how the Mediterranean – its environment, its climate, its underlying structures – shaped and limited the reign of Phillip in ways of which he was barely conscious. Continue Reading »

Vicarious Virtue

The seminar text for my Roman History course over the last fortnight has been the opening of the third book of Varro’s Rerum Rusticarum, the convoluted argument about the nature of the ‘true’ villa and the disputed legitimacy of pastio villatica. It’s a great passage for opening up questions about the nature of the work – the unexpected use of dialogue in a supposedly practical handbook of agriculture, as a means of raising problematic ethical and political questions (ancient sock puppets!) without necessarily trying to resolve them – and about how Roman aristocrats thought about the world at the end of the first century BCE; in particular, how one negotiates tensions between inherited values (the ‘farmers are the best citizens and soldiers’ ideology offered by e.g. Cato, harking back to exemplary early Romans like Cincinnatus) and the realities of a globalised economy in which money pervades every area of society and politics. Pastio villatica – the raising of bees, birds, snails, dormice, game etc. in the vicinity of the villa – is good insofar as it’s productive (rather than the purely consumptive villas where the wealthy relax and show off their wealth), but it’s bad insofar as it’s intimately bound to the development of luxurious tastes in the city, founded on the corrupting influx of wealth from the acquisition of empire – and hence involves precisely the sort of risky pursuit of profit that Cato had condemned in merchants and money-lenders. Continue Reading »