ProjectUnrest in the Roman empire: a discursive history

Basic data

Unrest in the Roman empire: a discursive history
6/12/2019 to 6/15/2019
Abstract / short description:
Resistance and revolt in the Roman empire have long been a subject of scholarly interest. Most research on this problem has been conducted in the mode of social history, trying to analyse the social origins and political motivations of ancient revolts (e.g. Dyson 1971, 1975). Unlike in other periods of history, however, the sources for such histories are rarely legal and administrative records but narrative accounts of such revolts preserved in the ancient literary record, meaning that the elite authors of these ancient literary accounts were engaged in the same enterprise as social historians are today: they too were trying to explain why and how certain groups of people challenged the place in the social order that those in power envisaged for them, a fact that social historians of resistance and rebellion in the Roman empire often fail to acknowledge. While the distinctive nature of the evidence for resistance and revolt in the Roman empire raises an important methodological concern - how can social histories of of these phenomena avoid replicating the thought patterns of ancient texts’ elite authors? - it also offers a singular opportunity: to analyse how ancient elite authors and their audiences identified, categorised and narrated instances of resistance in the Roman empire.

Building on recent scholarship that has taken such a discursive approach (Woolf 2011, Lavan 2017, Eberle 2018), this conference explores the social theorizing that underpinned ancient accounts of revolt and resistance in the Roman empire from the Republic to Late Antiquity. As such, the conference provides social historical approaches to revolt and resistance in the Roman empire with new resources to tackle the problems of the evidence. More crucially, however, the conference aims to further current interpretations of the individual authors and their intellectual genealogies and also stands to uncover the social locations and historical trajectories of particular ways of comprehending revolt and resistance in the Roman empire, thus contributing to our understanding of political debate and practice in the empire at both local and imperial levels. Ultimately, the edited volume resulting from the conference will not only be of interest to historians of Classical Antiquity due to both the legacy of Roman concepts in later periods as well as the new discursive approach to resistance and revolt that it exemplifies.
antikes Rom

Involved staff


Institute of Ancient History
Department of History, Faculty of Humanities

Local organizational units

Institute of Ancient History
Department of History
Faculty of Humanities


Köln, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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