ESSHC 2016: Networks and Relationships in Classical Antiquity

Speakers: Danielle Kellogg, Kees Klein Goldewijk, Ben Naylor

All three speakers were interested in understanding population dynamics, considering the effects of topography and ecology, roads and site patterns, economic needs and rural/urban splits. The speakers also returned to the issues around visualising these dynamics, as well as how to learn from the feedback loop between top-down models and specific examples.

Danielle is engaged in research concerning patterns of property ownership and mobility in the territories of ancient Athens, and how they intersected with various aspects of life in the ancient polis. By tracking the movements of individual Athenian citizens affiliated with particular locations in the Attic countryside, it becomes possible to discern patterns which reflect the effects of social networks, religious organizations, economic opportunities, and the political landscape of the polis on migratory decision-making. In addition, the physical landscape of Attica – both the built environment and the topographical features of the peninsula, including slope, carrying capacity, and access to natural resources – impacted the migration decisions of those individuals we are able to track. This project has the potential to provide insight into the operations of the Athenian polis outside the urban center, and how social, religious, economic, and political factors played out in the daily life of citizens.

Kees and his colleagues are interested how much food could be produced in the Mediterranean part of the Roman Empire. To produce food large amount of water is needed. Based on climate, soil, a crop model and spatially explicit estimates from the HYDE database of total population and land use they computed how much, and where food could be produced. By applying a ‘Virtual Water Trade Network’, places could be identified with a surplus or shortage of food. This made the Empire vulnerable to sustain relative high population numbers in relation to the carrying capacity and this ancient lesson might give us insights about sustainable use of resources for the future as well.

Ben is working on how sets of non-human actors shaped Republican Iberia. He discussed the scales of communities created by patterns in Iberian site distributions. He then suggested that different patterns of Iberian coin circulation trace activities focused on particular communities and not others. From the following discussion, the communities created by settlement patterns were seen as more convincing than the coin circulation and conversation focused on the difficulty of interpreting such distributions and whether delaying identification of monetary uses while examining monetary circulation was productive.

CFP: Dispute Resolution in Ancient Egypt

Family squabbles, fights over real estate, disputes over money transactions and assault cases were no less complex to resolve in Antiquity than they are in the modern world. The unique evidence from Egypt (more than 59,000 papyri and 44,000 ostraca, mostly from petitions, official correspondence and reports of court proceedings) shows a wide variety of mechanisms that could be used to settle interpersonal disputes and to maintain social order within the country. According to sociologists, however, the legal system represents only one side of the coin: attempts could also be made to settle disputes privately, with no involvement of officials, for instance by coercion, negotiation and mediation. Documents such as petitions, private letters, oracle questions and curse tablets nevertheless offer a rich data set for studying – at least partially – disputing processes that took place ‘in the shadow of the law’ and the institutions that underpinned and strengthened these processes (such as social norms, religion, family values, …).

An international conference at KU Leuven (29th June- 1st July) aims to bring together scholars working on dispute resolution from different angles and different fields in order to study the phenomenon of ‘social control’ in Egypt, with a particular focus on the transformation of the disputing process between the age of the Ptolemies and the Theodosians. For further information see here.

ESSHC 2016: Ancient Rulers in Baroque Opera

Like no other medium opera offered (and still offers) possibilities to create, transform and recycle common historical images and figures. This makes opera particularly suitable for investigating the reception and transformation processes of antique fabrics. In particular the comparison of the representation of female rulers of the western and eastern hemisphere on opera stages of the Baroque formed an auspicious starting point for this session. The section was consequently not about music history, or music theory studies, but rather about the question of how librettists, composers and stage in the Baroque period processed the ancient materials in order to present them on stage. Both gender aspects as well as typical Orient-topoi that stand out – in particular a magical, highly sexually charged image of ‘the Orient’ but also the proverbial wealth of the East – came up for discussion. Continue reading

Welcome to SocSciAH

Back in 2002, I attended the European Social Science History Conference for the first time, in The Hague. Despite discovering that, as an impecunious young scholar who had looked for the very cheapest accommodation available, I was booked into a run-down holiday camp several miles out of town with no restaurants anywhere nearby, I had an amazing time; it was a great opportunity to meet other ancient historians from Europe and the US with an interest in social and economic history, but also to attend sessions organised by historians of other periods, focusing on themes like historical theory, migration, gender, peasants and demography. I came away fired up with enthusiasm, and with the idea that we ought to set up an email list for ancient ec & soc historians to stay in touch with one another – but was talked down by a colleague, who suggested that such a thing really wasn’t necessary when we have the Classicists email list. Continue reading