Order of sessions and other events

Thursday pm

7.00 Keynote lecture. Professor Simon James, University of Leicester

Imperial Rome and the Trousers of Time: Civilians, Soldiers, Barbarians and the Forging of New Romes, 100BC to AD 300

Long, long ago (1980) there was a solid consensus on what imperial Rome was about: bringing order and/or civilization to myriad squabbling Old World peoples, through ‘Romanization’. Today, at TRAC, many conflicting views reflect wider recent intellectual trends, comprising post-colonial reappraisal, and post-modern cultural fragmentation. Acquisition of more and better data has also forced us to realise that the Roman world, if politically monolithic, was far from uniform, but characterised by local and regional diversity. We struggle to comprehend the nature and dynamics of this fascinating but immensely complex past world. If there is currently anything resembling a dominant discourse on how it worked, it is probably emphasis on success of the imperial regime in building a system of urbanised civil provinces through rapprochement with local landowning elites. These didn’t simply ‘become Roman’ themselves, building towns and villas: from Spain to Syria they also created new provincial definitions of what Rome was. However, on this view the outer ring of military frontier zones was figuratively as well as literally peripheral. I will argue that, on the contrary, there were parallel processes underway in those military regions which were themselves redefining the meaning of ‘Rome’, on a very different basis, but with equal importance for the history of the Roman world. All this can be explained in terms of trousers: real, textile garments, but also figurative ones, the Trousers of Virtus, and the Trousers of Time…

Friday am
Recent years have seen something of a revival of artefact based research amongst Romanists. However, there has not been an opportunity at TRAC in at least three years to discuss small finds specifically. Studying the past four Proccedings shows that Romanists frequently restrict themselves to theorising such objects only when they occur in a cemetery context. Limiting research to a single class of material or type of context can lead to academic compartmentalisation. Small finds made up the majority of the implements of Roman daily life, but many object types remain under-utilised and under-theorised. We hope that through addressing a range of artefacts this session will be able to highlight unusual approaches to kinds of object that are not a traditional focus for Romanists.It seems especially pressing that we highlight the creative potential of small finds in light of the fraught situation at many UK museums. Facing substantial funding cuts some museums and archives have controversially chosen to suspend enquiries or to charge for access to their collections. It seems pertinent to re-emphasise the importance of artefact-based research before we loose the facilities and skills needed to undertake it. To help to do so, our session will demonstrate the creative potential of theoretically informed small finds research.We will actively encourage speakers from outside the university sector to foster dialogues between all parties working with Roman material culture.

Session organisers:
Ian Marshman, University of Leicester
Anna Walas, University of Leicester

“Where’s the Theory?” A conversation about TRAC and the role of theory in Roman archaeology

This session brings together a range of contributors from TRACs past and present to engage in a conversation about TRAC, its past, present and future. Following on from the “retrospective” session at TRAC 2011 in Newcastle, the aim is to reinvigorate our commitment to theoretically-minded Roman archaeology and to suggest strategies for TRAC’s future vitality and relevance in the fields of Roman archaeology and the broader discourse of archaeological theory. We will challenge the—very different—notions that 1) TRAC papers should be primarily meta-theoretical and that 2) merely bracketing data between terms like “identity” and “agency” constitutes theory. We will also challenge the increasingly-common perception that TRAC is a “postgraduate conference,” or “RAC Junior” by underscoring the conference’s essential balance between fostering a welcoming and egalitarian forum for the exchanging of ideas, where distinguished professors and students alike are free to challenge us by the efficacy of their ideas rather than institutionalized structures of power, and the expectation that shared ideas will indeed be challenging and theoretically rigorous. Building on TRAC’s history, including portions of that history that were left out of the 2011 retrospective session, the session will offer a primarily prospective perspective, looking to the future of a TRAC that stays true to its roots by continuing to move forward through the development of innovative and challenging theories, as well as new modes of engagement and scholastic community.

Session organiser:
Darrell J. Rohl, Durham University

This session will address the impact of the growing influence of neoliberalism in world politics and university institutions on the study of the economic history of the Roman period (Harvey 2005; Howard and King 2008; Klein 2004). Subtle shifts and changes in approach over the last thirty years have resulted in a radically different agenda currently being adopted by ancient historians to that of the 1970s (Boldizzoni 2011; Hobson 2012). A range of modern economic concepts, once deemed inappropriate for application to the ancient world, have been implemented: firstly, those that tend to smooth over and ignore social inequalities: per capita income, per capita growth, GDP, and so on (Hopkins 1980, 1983, 2002); and secondly, those that have been adopted wholesale from the current brand of economic imperialism practised by international organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund: Human Development Indices (HDIs) being the most significant recent addition (Scheidel 2010a, b; Silver 2007).
Aligning itself with a recent brand of American economic history that evolved from the cliometrics revolution of the 1960s (The New Institutional Economics), the stated aim of the recent Cambridge Economic History of the Graeco-Roman World (Scheidel et al. 2007) is to compare the structure and performance of economies of different historical epochs. This has manifested itself in the use of the quantitative approaches just mentioned, as well as in an interest in finding possible proxies for economic growth: the number of shipwrecks recorded through time, or alterations in the quantity of pollution in the ice-core data, for example. Is it, therefore, possible to describe the current paradigm as neoliberal?
The session includes papers from scholars with a range of different viewpoints: Dr Matthew S. Hobson (University of Leicester), Dr Willem M. Jongman (University of Groningen) and Dr Koenraad Verboven (University of Ghent). Professor Andrew Wilson (University of Oxford) has kindly agreed to be a discussant. The intention is to encourage healthy debate and to drive the discipline forward in a positive new way.


BOLDIZZONI, F. 2011. The poverty of Clio: resurrecting economic history. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press.
HARVEY, D. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
HOBSON, M. S. 2012. The African Boom? Evaluating Economic Growth in the Roman Province of Africa Proconsularis. School of Archaeology and Ancient History, PhD Thesis. University of Leicester, Leicester. Available for download at
HOPKINS, K. 1980. ‘Taxes and trade in the Roman Empire (200 B.C.-A.D. 400).’ JRS 70: 101-125.
     1983. ‘Introduction.’ In P. Garnsey, K. Hopkins, and C. R. Whittaker (eds.), Trade in the Ancient Economy. London: Chatto and Windus.
     2002. ‘Rome, Taxes, Rents and Trade.’ In W. Scheidel and S. Von Reden (eds.), The Ancient Economy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: 190-230.
HOWARD, M. C. and KING, J. E. 2008. The Rise of Neoliberalism in Advanced Capitalist Economies: A Materialist Analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
KLEIN, N. 2004. The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism. London: Allen Lane.
SCHEIDEL, W. 2010a. ‘Human development and quality of life in the long run: the case of Greece. Version 1.0.’ Princeton\Stanford Working Papers in Classics: 1-10.
     2010b. ‘Physical wellbeing in the Roman world. Version 2.0.’ Princeton\Stanford Working Papers in Classics: 1-12.
SCHEIDEL, W., MORRIS, I., and SALLER, R. 2007. The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
SILVER, M. 2007. ‘Roman Economic Growth and Living Standards: Perceptions Versus Evidence.’ Ancient Society 37: 191-252.

Session organiser:
Dr Matthew S. Hobson, University of Leicester

Friday pm

In recent years Roman archaeology has benefited from the deconstruction of several deeply entrenched labels and concepts, from ‘Roman(isation)’ to ‘imperialism’ and ‘ethnicity’ etc. Whilst this has led to more sophisticated narratives on the formation of provincial cultures that draw upon contemporary theories of post-colonialism and globalisation, we argue that a significant gap remains in the empirical application of such new paradigms. In other words, in focusing on the ‘why’, the ‘how’ and even the ‘what’ have been neglected. This is most noticeable in the labelling of material culture itself, which for the most part risks perpetuating the very dichotomies and bounded categories that our theoretical models critique. This observation touches on the heart of archaeological artefact analysis, and concerns both the actual methods of processing objects, and the labels and classifications used to make sense of this processing. Could it be, for example, that classifications by technology, colour, fabric, form, function, etc., all set limits to the socio-cultural narratives they allow? Could it be that we still use some empirical tools whose basic principles contradict our interpretive paradigms? Can we imagine a ‘postcolonial’ or a ‘globalized’ toolbox for processing archaeological objects?

This session seeks papers that a) engage with empirical case-studies, b) critically explore the tension between interpretation and the labelling/processing of material culture, and c) suggest ways of dealing with the labelling of material culture in the context of producing new narratives and/or revising old ones.

Session organisers:
Martin Pitts, University of Exeter
Astrid Van Oyen, University of Cambridge

The early twenty-first century has seen a paradigm shift in our understanding of Roman glass production and has led to the development of new approaches to its study. Through compositional analysis of raw materials as well as manufactured products such as beads, vessels and windows, a clearer understanding of the complexities of the role of glass in the Roman world is emerging. We can now address all elements of the chaine operatoire from workshop practice and organisation through to issues including trade, transport, recycling and consumption. The study of assemblages has moved on from comparative typology to a more theoretically contextualised analysis. There is now a new confidence to develop models to explain individual assemblages and their significance in a broader context. This session will bring together established scholars in the archaeology of glass with younger researchers to explore the new methodologies being developed, their application and potential and to bring current glass research to the attention of a wider audience.

Ian Freestone, University College London

British Museum exhibition visit (additional fee payable) Pompeii and Herculaneum Life and Death
TRAC party

Saturday am

This panel explores expressions of identity in funerary monuments in ancient Italy. All the contributions are interdisciplinary in nature, taking into account text, location, imagery and other factors to come to significant new conclusions about the messages being expressed. Each paper shows that multiple viewpoints are needed to understand these kinds of objects fully, and that the bringing together of different fields can substantially alter our understanding of ancient Italy.

Katherine McDonald’s paper, ‘Oscan Funerary Monuments of Southern Italy’, explores the small number of funerary monuments with Oscan texts from ancient Lucania. She questions the level of Greek and Roman influence which has previously been assumed, as well as the identification of one of these texts as funerary.

Fiona Mowat, in a paper entitled ‘Freedmen and Family Identities in the Roman Empire’ examines the roles of familia and grief in a more precise epigraphic context. She focuses on the individuals who do not declare their status, but are frequently identified as freedmen; she calls for a reassessment of the freedman’s epigraphic habit, ultimately leading to a more complicated picture of Roman society.

Finally, Gabriela Ingle will speak on ‘Christian identity in the Vatican Necropolis? The case of the tomb of the Julii’. This paper re-investigates both Christian and pagan interpretations of the Christ-Sol mosaic in the Vatican. The Christian character of the tomb of the Julii has been emphasised by the Vatican authorities to confirm the religious settings for St. Peter’s grave. She suggests a new (more compromising) solution and a new identity for the tomb’s commissioners.

Katherine McDonald, University of Cambridge

Migration and social identity in the Roman Near East: from method to practice (200 BC – AD 700)

The recent publication of Mark Handley’s Dying on Foreign Shores: Travel and Mobility in the Late Antique West (2012) attests to the continued scholarly interest, after more than a century of debate, in the topic of travel and migration as illuminated by the epigraphic evidence. The emphasis given to inscriptions and literary sources to address questions of social identity, expatriate communities, migration, and cultural transmission, however, has favoured a focus on the élite, military expansion, or trade, whose interpretation tends to incorporate out-dated perspectives of cultural relativism and diffusion. Archaeologists working with material culture are faced with equally serious methodological problems when addressing migration. As Jane Waldbaum said about evidence of Greek presence in the Levant (Waldbaum 1997): ‘how many sherds make a Greek?’, i.e. the study of material culture can only tell us so much about the reasons for such migration, and certainly does not help us understand the identity of the migrants or their own perception of ‘self.’
This panel hopes to discuss both theoretical approaches to the study of migration and cultural transmission and case studies focusing on communities of migrants in the Roman provinces of the Near East and the Levant. We are particularly interested in exploring how the material evidence may be able to shed light on self-perception and representation within migrant communities.

Andrea Zerbini, Royal Holloway, University of London
Justin Yoo, King’s College London

Chair: Kevin Dicus


Presenter: Dr. Kevin Dicus

Institution: Case Western Reserve University

Presentation Title: Contrasting formational processes in Pompeian urban fills


Presenter: Laura Banducci

Institution: University of Michigan

Presentation Title: “Quantity and quality: cistern fills of an Etrusco-Roman town”


Presenter: Gina Tibbott

Institution: Temple University

Presentation Title: Fills of Invisible Function: Uncovering Curation in Roman Construction


Saturday pm

In our globalized academic world, constrained by the current economic climate and a growing lack of trust among European nations, researchers need to work beyond boundaries more than ever before. Thus, collaborative international work might become the main route to success in research in the very near future. The presentation of comparative regional studies is a way to articulate this collaborative approach.

Such is the aim of this session, to assess the distinct national approaches to the topic of Romano-Barbarian interactions, using a comparative approach. Through the presentation of different regional case studies, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of current national perspectives and views on different types of interaction (cultural, religious, diplomatic and military) that occurred between the Romans and the ‘Barbarian’/native population. This will be an attempt to produce a modern multinational collaboration about ancient multicultural and multiregional interaction.

Therefore, the content of this session spreads geographically, chronologically and thematically: from Denmark to Spain, from the Roman Iron Age to the Late Empire, from religious and cultural interactions between Celts, Germans and Romans in the Netherlands to the Vandals diplomatic affairs all along the Empire, from national identities to European frameworks. This variety lies within the very essence of the session and is a factor that makes it interesting.

Despite a recent interest in the influences reaching areas beyond the frontiers during the time of the Roman European dominion and the postcolonial approaches to the topic of cultural clash, the idea of interactions has been generally overseen in favour of a more attractive one-way influence South to North. However, the variety and spread of the Roman archaeological record, together with the consistency of its deposition beyond the imperial frontiers and several other factors such as an increasing recognition of native cultural survival in the Roman provinces or the lack of a global study of these interactions, are enough arguments to place this topic in the very heart of academic debates. Likewise, recent deconstruction of modern national archaeological discourses (e.g. Richard Hingleys’ deconstruction of the colonial background behind the 18th and 19th century archaeological and historical discourses) asks for the analysis of other national ideological and historical frameworks in which these have been created and for a reassessment of the material evidence available.

Sergio Gonzalez Sanchez University of Leicester

General session

Various papers on Roman archaeology with a theoretical component.

The TRAC committee:


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