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date: 25 July 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This article introduces the social relations of Romans in the ancient Roman Empire. It notes that the most basic driving force in these social relations involved a strong desire to rank people socially and to establish constantly finely tuned hierarchies. Scholars have proposed that this habit is present at all social levels of the Roman community. The article also notes that Romans needed to establish their social auctoritas—their authority, esteem, prestige, influence, and ascendancy—in order to relate to others in the Roman social fashion.

Keywords: social relations, driving force, social rank, hierarchy, social levels, social auctoritas, social fashion

The Study of Ancient Roman Society

In prefacing the first edition of his monumental Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, M. Rostovtzeff lamented, “We have not, however, a single book or monograph treating of the social and economic life of the Roman Empire as a whole and tracing the main lines of its evolution” (Rostovtzeff 1926: vii). The volume thus introduced served precisely to launch the study of ancient Roman society.1 Two premises underlay Rostovtzeff's approach: (a) that Roman society was necessarily to be understood as an historical phenomenon, in other words, was to be investigated over the course of time, as it passed through a series of wrenching evolutions; and (b) that society and economy were intimately woven together, so that neither could individually be grasped without meticulous attention to the other. Rostovtzeff's story, then, was the following.

The mighty landlords and businessmen who had long dominated Republican Rome were swept from their perches of power by Augustus. The first emperor thereupon initiated a policy of nurturing his realm's urban centers, which led to an era of great prosperity for the metropolitan populations. Neglected, however, were the peasants, who languished miserably in the countryside. Thus, come the third century AD, the armies, which had always sought their recruits precisely among the rural folk, revolted against those who had for so long oppressed them, and the Roman world was tumbled into crisis. Fifty-odd years of social and economic uproar could lead, in the end, only to an absolutist military monarchy. Soon thereafter, collapse.

(p. 4) While Rostovtzeff's overarching exposition was immediately controversial, and was in fact neither then nor now generally accepted in its main outlines, the book was yet so prodigious in its learning that it has long exerted a justified influence.2 Indeed, the Social and Economic History arguably worked in a sort of dual fashion: on the one hand, it spurred scholarly curiosity about Roman society; at the same time, though, by virtue of its very monumentality, it may well have forestalled subsequent development of the enterprise. The real blooming of Roman social history would not get underway until about the 1970s.

Just as Rostovtzeff wrote, however, another avenue of scholarship concerned with the Roman world was also being opened up—one important to keep in mind when considering the manner in which research on the social history of Rome progressed. Two German academics, in roughly the decade just prior to publication of Rostovtzeff's Social and Economic History, had begun to apply a type of historical inquiry known as prosopography to the study of ancient Rome (Gelzer 1912; Münzer 1920). This vein of scholarship held, to put the matter in blunt terms, that among Rome's ruling elite, personal relationships of various kinds very largely determined the functioning of government, hence, of the empire altogether.3 Thus, in order to understand Roman history—especially political, governmental, or administrative, for these were the areas in which prosopography was usually applied—one would (p. 5) have to understand certain aspects of what were effectively the social interactions of the elite. This approach was becoming influential in the study of ancient Rome just at the moment Rostovtzeff wrote, and it would hold sway over historians of Rome for some time thereafter.

Now, while the kind of investigation that marks this scholarship is most properly classified as political history, it must be said that there was always, nonetheless, a very strong social element at least implicitly involved in the prosopographic approach. Indeed, among the significant results of all the efforts in and around prosopography was the demonstration that Roman political history must be understood as being intimately entangled with the social history of that civilization—or in any case, of its elites.4 Nevertheless, this social element remained to a great extent under-argued, and was never the prime interest of those who used the prosopographic method.5 And so it was that Roman history was in the main pursued with an eye to its (most strictly speaking) political aspects into the 1970s.6

But as scholarship on ancient Rome was taking this singular path, social history was growing to be a dominant force in the world of historical studies overall.7 One might argue that the seeds are to be detected in the German periodical Vierteljahresschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, which began to appear in (p. 6) 1903, along with the French Revue d'Histoire des Doctrines économiques et sociales, whose inception dates to 1908. The real push came, though, when the French scholars Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre began a journal, and an entire school of historical work, at Strasbourg in 1929. The journal was the Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, and the school of historical study that quickly arose was the Annales School. Scholars working in this intellectual vein sought to bring the advances made in other disciplines (e.g., sociology, or geography, or anthropology) directly to bear upon the understanding of historical processes, and they wanted especially to investigate particular societal, or historical, or cultural phenomena over large periods of time, thinking and writing in terms of the so-called longue durée.8 Moreover, the upper echelons of a given society, and that group's political activities, were of considerably less interest and importance to historians working in this mode than were the undertakings of the lower sectors of the community. History, for the adherents of this school, was often history from below. These directions fixed by the Annales School have proved to be some of the most essential and enduring tenets of social history altogether, and eventually came to exert significant and sustained influence in Roman studies.9

Right on the heels of this development came publication of a compendious overview of the social sciences (Seligman 1930–35), which provided impetus and support for those who desired to engage such scholarship in any historical project.10 And while the havoc of the Second World War slowed the progress of scholarship, by the 1950s a move toward social history had taken off in earnest. In Germany another school of social historical work and thought was founded in the mid-1950s, and various journals devoted to the field of social history began to be published in both Europe and the United States.11 And, by the 1960s, path-breaking works of social history were appearing in English (just two examples, the latter quite important for (p. 7) Roman history: Thompson 1963; Hobsbawm 1969). In any case, the ultimate point is that, by the late 1960s, social history had come to be an established and influential movement in the world of historical scholarship altogether.12

Historians of Rome had not much participated in this development. They were delayed, as has been suggested above, perhaps by Rostovtzeff's colossal and intimidating Social and Economic History; perhaps, too, by the great influence of political history and the authoritative practitioners of prosopography. In any case, as historians of ancient Rome did begin to think and write earnestly about social issues, they initially built mainly upon the work of Rostovtzeff, or other traditionally minded historians of Rome.13 Perhaps, then, it was the social ferment of the 1960s and early 1970s, more than scholarly trends in the wider field of history, that caused Roman historians to turn toward society as an object of study. Be that as it may, the 1970s witnessed an explosion of interest in social-historical issues concerning the Roman world, and ever since, Roman society has been a focal point for vibrant research. So as to provide at least a rough sketch of the way the social history of ancient Rome grew, we might first consider several books that aimed, in one sense or another, to produce some kind of synthetic picture of Roman society, and then move on to a selection of more specialized, though nonetheless particularly influential works.

In 1974, Moses Finley brought out a collection of essays by a variety of authors, all previously published in the journal Past and Present. While the book, Studies in Ancient Society, had no overarching theme, its editor averred that his contributors would each pretty certainly accept “… the view that neither institutions nor their transformations (past or present) can be understood except in their role within the social structure of their day, in the network of interrelationships that make up any complex society—and it is sometimes necessary to insist that these societies were complex” (Finley 1974: ix).14 Such a vision of Roman history was now beginning (p. 8) to gain sway; indeed, the year before, Finley had put theory into practice with his monograph, The Ancient Economy (Finley 1973).15 For present purposes, the point is that Finley there argued ancient economic activity to have been very largely conditioned by social realities. Thus, for example, he asks about the Romans of Cicero's day, “… whether, by law or convention, men were still being pressed towards certain sources of wealth according to status”; and his answer would be that “… a model of economic choices, an investment model, in antiquity would give considerable weight to this factor of status” (Finley 1973: 52 and 60, respectively). In short, whereas Rostovtzeff had preferred to conceive of society and economy dancing intimately and pretty well coterminously through time, Finley suggested that we see the former as having preponderantly determined the steps: on his model, certain dictates of a social nature very largely shaped what was, at best, a rudimentary economy (on Finley's approach, cf. Scheidel, Morris, and Saller 2007: 2–4).

Just as Finley was delivering the Sather Lectures at Berkeley (winter 1972)—for these are what is published in his The Ancient Economy—Ramsay MacMullen was finalizing a book-length essay, Roman Social Relations, that aimed “… to get at the feelings that governed the behavior of broad social groups or conditions” (MacMullen 1974a: vii).16 He discovered a miserably destitute rural population (not, n.b., unlike Rostovtzeff's), who squinted at the world through lenses fogged by superstition, suspicion, and, most characteristically, acute conservatism (MacMullen 1974a: 27). In conjunction with this reigned the “almost incredible snobbery” of the urban gentleman (MacMullen 1974a: 58). Ultimately, MacMullen's Roman world was utterly dominated by an extreme social verticality, this reinforced over and over again by numerous varieties of abusive—or at the very least, blatantly class-conscious—behavior.17

Meanwhile, Géza Alföldy was likewise putting the finishing touches to his Römische Sozialgeschichte. This was a different creature altogether. The idea of the book was to provide, insofar as this was possible, a comprehensive structural and historical account (p. 9) of Roman society.18 In order to achieve that goal, Alföldy divided his subject matter into seven different epochs, and then examined the structures of Roman society during each of these periods, looking for what had changed, how the transformations came about, and seeking the causes of those mutations. Aside from this diachronic structural approach, which itself provided a useful framework for subsequent work on Roman society, one particular aspect of the book has tended to stick in the minds of many: the pyramid-like model of high-imperial society that Alföldy proposed (Alföldy 1988: 146).19 All in all, Alföldy's depiction served forcefully to press home the innate, potent, and widely institutionalized hierarchic character of Roman society.20

Aside from these attempts at comprehensive or synthetic views of Roman society, the same period witnessed the appearance of more specialized studies. A pressing question, right from the start, involved the relationships between elite and non-elite members of the community. Thus, as student revolts and social unrest shook Europe, the United States, and beyond, Zvi Yavetz asked about the potential power of ancient Rome's impoverished urban crowd (Yavetz 1969, quote at p. viii): “Could the shouts of the populace really shake the throne, or were the various outbursts in circuses and theatres initiated, controlled, or perhaps even organized from above?” His answer (Yavetz 1969: 132, 134; and cf. Horsfall 2003: 41):

While the political influence of the individual Roman citizen was not great, when crowds gathered together in the circuses or at the theatres they expressed their feelings as a collective body; and to such manifestations no ruler dared to remain indifferent.… Thus, in brief, the emperors took account of the opinion of the masses and took great pains to organize it.

The core of Yavetz's research was, of course, more political than strictly social; nonetheless, the view was from below, and the repercussions for an understanding of Roman society were significant (cf. Coleman and Pina Polo in this volume). Relations between those in power and those not were again on display a year later, when Peter Garnsey demonstrated that “[i]n law, as in other aspects of Roman society, the principal benefits and rewards were available to those groups most (p. 10) advantageously placed in the stratification system by reason of their greater property, power, and prestige” (Garnsey 1970: 280). Garnsey had been anticipated in some basic ways by John Crook, who pointed out that, “… Roman society was very oligarchical. It perpetuated enormous differences in wealth and social power, and the upper class which determined its legal rules enshrined in them a code of values relevant to itself which cannot automatically be assumed to have been equally relevant to the lives and habits of the mass of people” (1967: 10). The repercussions of findings such as those reached by Crook and Garnsey traveled well beyond the confines of the law and legal history (cf. Kehoe in this volume). The elite was again front and center just a few years later in a book by Paul Veyne (1976). This was an extremely wide-ranging demonstration of how members of both the Greek and the Roman upper crust thought themselves so vastly superior to their lesser contemporaries as to be obligated to undertake numerous works of public benefaction, for which they were accordingly (in multifarious ways) praised and honored.

All of this raises the obvious question as to how non-elite persons were classified as such to begin with. And that, given especially the modern experience, causes the matter of race relations to become compelling. In another important book, Frank Snowden came to the conclusion (Snowden 1970, quote at p. 216) that for the Greeks and Romans, “… race is of no consequence in judging man's worth.” Instead, factors that we would broadly classify as cultural made the ancient individual. Recently, however, Benjamin Isaac has argued that we must allow for at least a “proto-racism” in the ancient Roman world.21 As things presently stand, we probably would do best to factor in both Isaac's proto-racist tendencies, as well as (in line with Snowden) various social, cultural, and legal elements in our understanding of how personal social status could be calculated in the Roman world.

Also in the mid-1970s, the topic of women in the Roman world—indeed, in the classical world altogether—was treated by Sarah Pomeroy.22 This book largely animated the study of women in antiquity; furthermore, it would be influential in giving rise to a keen interest in family history among the Romans, which has meanwhile become one of the central aspects of Roman social history altogether. The work of (p. 11) Christopher Jones on several individual Roman authors, studying their perspectives on Roman society, was likewise of great interest.23 Extremely influential also was the work of Keith Hopkins. He explicitly set out “… to experiment with methods borrowed from sociology in order to gain new insights into changes in Roman society” (Hopkins 1978: x). Under this lens was placed, in his book Conquerors and Slaves, an arguably odd mix of topics, namely, the various historical consequences of a world that depended utterly on the availability of slaves, that eventually would allow court eunuchs astonishing levels of power, and that chose to worship its emperors as deities. But regardless of the topics chosen for investigation, most important here, as in his scholarship that would follow, was Hopkins' insistence on looking at the ancient world with the aid of modern scholarly (and preponderantly sociological) tools.

Lastly, two books published in the early 1980s deserve, I think, particular mention. John D'Arms asked about the juncture of economics and society by examining the ways in which social attitudes affected commerce. In particular, he was able to demonstrate that, despite the blatant contempt habitually professed by the Roman senatorial elite for moneymaking in any guise, these men simply conducted their business dealings at second hand, so as not to sully themselves palpably with such a vulgar occupation (D'Arms 1981).24 Once again, economic and social concerns marched in tandem; and also, again, it was possible to conceive of the social as taking a certain precedence. Then, in 1982, Richard Saller's book on personal patronage during the early imperial period was published. What he managed to demonstrate was that this fundamentally social relationship was vital to the workings of many aspects of Roman life, though most important, for his study, to the functioning of the government. This book forged the explicit social link, so to speak, between prosopography and political history.

From this point on, Roman social history fairly exploded. Indeed, it ramified so extensively from the late 1970s to the early 1990s that a very large proportion of the scholarly effort of Roman historians altogether came to be concentrated upon matters that could be labeled social: women, the family, slaves and freedmen, patronage, law and society, urbanism, leisure and entertainment, and so forth. The tale of this scholarship cannot be traced here even in outline. However, there are excellent bibliographies (though we now want updates) that can guide anyone interested in gaining an acquaintance with the range of work in this field (Krause 1992; Krause, Mylonopoulos, and Cengia 1998); and a fairly recent book by Susan Treggiari provides a very nice introduction to the field (Treggiari 2002).25

(p. 12) Most recently, during the 1990s and over the course of the present decade, there has occurred a broad shift in the interests of historians dealing with the society of ancient Rome, a shift toward what is called cultural history.26 In particular, a great deal of concern has arisen about two far-reaching issues: identity and collective memory. With regard to the first, scholars have been engaged in a lot of hard thinking about the rather astonishing cohesive capacity of an empire that was so thoroughly multi-ethnic, or multicultural, and that remained so over the long course of its political survival. It has therefore seemed urgent to ask: What did being Roman actually mean? How did one become a Roman? Why was it so attractive to be Roman? How did one display one's standing as a Roman? What happened to the many local cultures as they were subsumed by Roman (at least political) hegemony? In short, the matter of identity formation and its wide implications for the harmony of an extremely far-flung realm have recently been issues of paramount interest to historians working on what is, ultimately, the fabric of Roman society.27 Second, the related matter of collective memory has been of very great interest. For it has become clear that an essential component of Roman culture (and hence, society) involved a continual engagement with the project of forming the present on the basis of a past which was persistently reconfigured in accord with the experiences of that evolving present. In short, the shape of the Roman community at any given moment in time depended very heavily upon the ways in which that community chose to construct remembrances of its past, and then to communicate those memories.28

Finally, the past two decades have also witnessed a significant revival of interest in two other areas intimately related to the social history of Rome: economics and (p. 13) demography. Both of these fields have recently been conveniently and thoroughly surveyed (Scheidel, Morris, and Saller 2007).29

The Present Volume

We now have a sketch of the evolving scholarly engagement with Roman society; and the book in your hands tackles an essential component of that Roman social history—perhaps the essential component.When an editor at the Oxford University Press first approached me with the idea for an ‘Oxford Handbook of Roman Social Relations,’ I took the last word in the projected title very seriously, and set out to design a book with it in mind—that is to say, to assemble a volume about the various ways people in the ancient Roman world related to each other.30 What we want to impart here is a sense of the arguably most basic or characteristic sorts of interpersonal interaction engaged in by the Romans. We want something like the primary colors, from which all the other shades of Roman social relations were mixed—an emblematic picture, as it were. The matter of the choice of topics for this volume, such as would create this kind of portrait, will be taken up momentarily.

But first, what does it mean to be Roman?31 How, that is, are we to recognize Roman social relations? What we are dealing with here, it must be realized, is a culturally determined phenomenon; being ‘Roman’ in a thoroughgoing sense—and thus, interacting with others in a ‘Roman’ way—is not a simple matter of, for example, possessing Roman (p. 14) citizenship, or of speaking Latin, or of living within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. It is, rather, a matter of self-identity, of feeling Roman, of being able to make a strong claim to such status among those who likewise feel themselves to be Roman; and it is very much a question of being treated as a Roman by those others.

Now, members of the senatorial or equestrian orders will obviously have been able to stake the most powerful claim in this regard; hence, what they have transmitted regarding Roman social relations (which represents, of course, the lion's share of what we now have) will deserve our full attention. The minute we go beyond these two categories of people, however, the situation becomes murkier—and in more ways than one. The members of the multifarious governing elites in the empire's many urban centers will likewise gradually have come to possess some discernable title to a position as cultural insider, and thus to varying degrees of ‘Romanness.’32 And, of course, once we drop below the level of the urban upper classes and enter the realm of the common citizens of such places, or if we move beyond the more urbanized settlements and out to the villages and the countryside, then we truly enter less well known territory (indeed, both in terms of the available source materials and as to the business of interpreting the evidence we do possess).

In the end, we are largely constrained by the situation that has always prevailed. We possess many discrete pieces of evidence that were created by many different ancient individuals, though preponderantly by various members of various sectors of the upper classes. We can do little more than to take that evidence, examine it with sensitivity for the complexities involved in the formation of identities, and hope thereby to come away with the sociocultural attitudes of ‘the Romans.’ The picture we extract, whether we like it or not, is unavoidably going to be heavily upper crust (and almost entirely urban) in its outlook and preferences. That notwithstanding, it is always essential to peer further down the social scale, and when (p. 15) possible, beyond the city walls, and to try, there too, to isolate attitudes about social conditions. We should be hunting, ultimately, for consistencies of attitude—up and down the social scale, and across the wide geographical expanses of the empire. From all of this, for better or for worse, we can then construct a vision of ‘Roman’ social relations.33

The contributors to this volume have not been asked to adopt any particular methodological stance. Each has worked on his or her own, guided by his or her own view of how to establish what ‘Roman social relations’ were. Nonetheless, I think most of the authors here would consider themselves to have been engaging in an approach to ‘Roman social relations’ not far afield from that just laid out. So, let us turn to what actually resides in the following pages.

Under the emperor Augustus, the Roman world was thoroughly transformed. Given that, and given also that the chronological boundaries of this book are such as to encompass, albeit rather loosely, large periods on both sides of this pivotal epoch (i.e., from roughly the middle republic down to about the time of Constantine the Great, or somewhat later), it seemed best to provide a sense of the complexities brought on by the institutional shift from republic to empire. To that end, a second introductory essay on that topic follows the present one.

The book proper begins (section II: Mechanisms of Socialization) with the proposition that little Romans did not spring to life, ready-made to consort in all the appropriate ways with their peers. So as to be capable of Roman social relations, would-be Romans wanted education and socialization—they had to be shaped as properly functioning members of their community. The initial section, then, attempts to show some of the principal ways in which self-avowed (and mainly elite) Romans set out to ensure that they would be reproduced as social beings. The underlying thought is that the processes of how incipient Romans were brought to comprehend the matter of being Roman will reveal much about the actual nature of that particular state of being. And this, of course, will in turn betray very much about the complexion of interacting with others in a Roman way.

Another assumption follows (section III: Mechanisms of Communication and Interaction), namely, that if there are to be relations and interactions, social or otherwise, there must be communication—and, again, that such communication will exert pressure on social relations. Study of Rome, though, takes us to a pre-industrial world, where the available tools for communication were, relatively speaking, limited in both their variety and their capabilities. This means that the technologies to hand will have determined the parameters of the possible, and will thus have had an effect on the shape of Roman social relations. This section of this (p. 16) book, then, attempts to portray some of the more prominent media a Roman might have employed to connect with another Roman (or, potentially, a non-Roman), and to see how communication via these media functioned.34

We next tackle communal contexts for communication and interaction (section IV: Communal Contexts for Social Interaction). Three such contexts are set out first; in all three (elite self-representation, public speaking at Rome, the Second Sophistic) those who belonged to the crème de la crème strove to preen before their compatriots, one result of which was that their own primacy in the community was cemented. We can observe here some of the ways in which the social hierarchies referred to above were actually woven into the society's collective fabric by (and principally for) the gentry—though, of course, with the intimate participation of the rest. We then turn to three venues where the entire society, including slaves, might actually commingle, sometimes with even some vague aura of equality. To observe the Romans together in the law courts, in the theaters and arenas, and at the baths is to get a fairly immediate and a most revealing glimpse of the whole community with its social hair let down—yet, simultaneously done up to perfection. Here too, the members of the elite hardly forgot to express their ascendency, and to demand the prerogatives that ascendency conveyed.

From the communal, we take a turn in the direction of the private, and consider several modes of (often) more intimate interpersonal relations (section V: Modes of Interpersonal Relations). Honor (and dishonor) and friendship lay at the very core of the Romans' efforts to relate with one another on a personal basis. These two modes of interaction are crucial for understanding pretty well any other kind of social interaction; and, in particular, it was via these two types of intercourse that the Romans could most effectively set about constructing the hierarchic grids to which they were so devoted. The stage upon which individuals might most intimately put these (as well as other mechanisms of socializing) into play was the home. Welcoming guests into one's household altogether, but especially at dinner parties, provides us with a revealing vista of the ways a Roman might forge his or her more cherished contacts. But, despite all the politesse enveloping friendship, honor, dinners, guest friendship, and beyond, there yet was another side of the coin. The Romans often enough gravitated to distressingly violent behavior. Here is their darker side.

Another aspect of the ways in which Romans fraternized entails their predilection for joining together in smaller organizations—micro-communities, as it (p. 17) were (section VI: Societies within the Roman Community). These took a variety of forms, and served a variety of purposes (professional, military, religious, drinking, etc.). To observe Romans in these more intimate social constellations is revealing. The ways in which they quite consciously and formally structured these purpose-oriented mini-societies, and then related to one another in such contexts, can tell us very much about the influences of society at large over the perceptions held by the members of these smaller communities as to how a human conglomerate could or should function. In particular, we here are often treated to a quite revealing vista of the social proclivities of the non-elite members of that world. We have also included essays on two rather idiosyncratic societies that functioned within the larger community—one Jewish, the other Christian. The historical importance of these two communities is patent; and how they did or did not integrate with the rest of Roman society casts an interesting light on the matter of group interactions. Also, the status of the members of these groups as at once insider and outsider moves us in the direction of the last section of this book.

Finally, the outsiders (section VII: Marginalized Persons). Any society will have its pariahs. We have attempted to gather the most obvious types of person marginalized in the Roman world (Jews and Christians having already been considered). The point is to try to assess how and why such individuals were pushed away from the community's notional core; but we also want to know how, why, and to what extent these figures remained, nonetheless, crucial to the society. In short, to grasp the outsider is very often to grasp some quite essential things about the insider—who she or he is, how she or he perceives her or himself, and then, how such individuals will be likely to relate to others.

Now, there are three areas of research that are relevant to many of the essays in this volume, and that are raised repeatedly over the course of the volume. Given the prevalence of these matters in this book, I have thought it best to draw the reader's attention to these topics at this point. In question are: non-verbal communicative strategies; the difficulties of knowing much about the social lives of the non-elite; and the history of emotions.

The present volume concentrates heavily upon verbal and/or literate communications, and how these served to shape social relations.35 That notwithstanding, the Romans disposed of a large and potent repertoire of non-verbal communicative (p. 18) strategies. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind the fact that many a Roman social interaction did not depend upon either the spoken or the written word.

First of all, there existed for the Roman a copious and powerful semantic world that involved the body—its innate appearance, how it was clothed, how it was positioned and moved, and so forth. The point is that a Roman, by effecting a presence with (say) a particular hairstyle, outfit, stance, movements, or non-verbal exclamations, could establish many things about his or her relationship to those with whom he or she was interacting. We now have a fair amount of literature on all of this.36

There also existed an entire cosmos of artistic and architectural representations (or, one might say, of representations in material culture), which spoke volumes to the ancient Roman—and, again, did so without the intervention of a single articulated word. A statue, a painting, a piece of pottery, a building, a physical space (for example, the composite impression generated by an imperial forum): all these things and many more were designed so as to converse with the person contemplating them. Again here, there is now a rich literature.37

(p. 19) A plaint that at times feels nearly like the theme song of Roman social history, which is sounded repeatedly in this volume, and which must be squarely faced, concerns the difficulty of getting at the society of Roman-era have-nots—and especially those who resided beyond the large urban centers.38 The matter is nicely put by Lin Foxhall in a dictionary article on peasants in the ancient world: “Peasants are like postholes: it is much easier to see where they ought to have been in the classical world than where they actually were” (Foxhall 2003: 1130). This is important—if for no other reason than that a significantly large proportion of the population of the Roman world lived out life beyond the confines of urban centers.39 But despite all the difficulties, we are now beginning to have a decent literature that examines life—and to some degree, even social life, as opposed to economic conditions—in the ancient countryside. One particularly interesting aspect of the recent work involves the periodic markets and fairs, where the lesser folk, on a regular basis, shopped, socialized, and were entertained. So, although we will never know well the quotidian lifestyle of the rural populations, the state of our knowledge has lately improved.40

Finally, an area of research that has become quite fruitful in recent years, and is closely linked to the whole matter of social relations, involves the history of emotions. Emotions come into play in various of the essays that follow. However, the reader may find it convenient to have some of the important bibliography on this topic drawn together in one place.41

(p. 20) A View of Roman Social Relations

From all of the scholarship on Roman society to date there have emerged several overarching points that individually will make repeated appearances in the following essays. It is important, on the one hand, to isolate and draw attention to these matters right from the start, for each, in its own way, corresponds to an absolutely vital element of the composite that was Roman society. But even more important is the realization that these individual aspects of the Roman social cosmos were in fact interrelated, that they operated sympathetically, and that together they stand behind any and every examination of Roman society.

First, social concerns among the Romans exerted significant influence upon economic affairs, politics, law, religion, and more—and indeed, did so in a manner that can appear quite extreme as compared with many another society.42 Second, the structural elements of Roman society, which were many and highly valued, as well as the roles they played in the community, tended to be meticulously formalized, or insitutionalized.43 Third, when social conditions were not explicitly arranged by formal regulations of some kind, they could quite effectively be reined in by a wide assortment of conventional, or traditional, or ritualized actions and modes of behavior—and of course, when and where there were statutory acts constraining social matters, such tacit conventions presumably stood behind the laws.44 In short: (p. 21) (a) nearly every aspect of life was, for a Roman, somehow social; (b) there was a very strong impulse among the Romans to structure their society fastidiously; and (c) the social structures thus created tended toward a notably rigid formalization.

Now, in the present volume the influence of social considerations upon other areas of life (say, economics or politics), along with the structural aspects of Roman society (that is, the groupings of people into social orders, the legal definitions of various persons' rights, matters of social class, and so forth) are issues that will fade largely into the background.45 We will be more interested in the mechanics, as it were, of Roman society—the matrix of interpersonal relationships and behaviors that characterized daily existence for a Roman. This book seeks to provide an emblematic picture of these interactions; in other words, something approaching an etiquette of Roman social behavior. We are engaged in what might be labeled a cultural approach to Roman social relations. As we shall see, the workings of social interaction, just like the basic structures of Roman society, tended to a high degree of formalization. That said, we are still left with two important questions, which must be confronted before progressing to our narrative.

First, can we suggest what it is that makes the social relations we are about to portray peculiarly or particularly Roman? Can we, in other words, isolate something like a defining characteristic of Roman social relations? Such an undertaking will entail an obvious hazard of reductionism, but the suggestions that follow may be useful enough to think with that they justify the risk of oversimplification.

Second, if we can plausibly single out such a characteristic, then how universally accepted and applied was it? Given that the great majority of our evidence was produced by and about the elite, we must ask to what extent that evidence represents life as it was lived and perceived by the have-nots. Can we, in other words, safely use the evidence we have to move back and forth between elite and non-elite realms of social interaction? In short, ought we to be thinking of distinct realms of social relations, or was this a world fairly united in its social dispositions?46

(p. 22) Let us tackle the first matter first. I think an argument can indeed be made that one particular mode of behavior, or thinking, underlies pretty well all of what will follow in this volume—and hence, Roman social relations overall—that there is a particular something that makes the Roman world of social relations coherent. This something emerges clearly from the survey of scholarship offered above, and has always been plain to Roman historians: it is effectively a truism (cf. Harris 1988: 598). But the very fact that we are dealing with a truism serves to indicate that we are confronting a matter possessed of great explanatory force. One of the more doggedly salient results of all the work on Roman society to date is that the Roman community, in all of its vastness and variety, was fundamentally characterized by a striking predilection for establishing acute social hierarchies. One simply sees this everywhere in ancient Rome and, hence, everywhere in this volume.

What much of the scholarship in recent years has attempted to do, however—and precisely this is also reflected in the present volume—is to examine the ways in which various culturally ingrained ideas and attitudes molded behavior, social and otherwise. This approach has tended to move us away from looking at the structural modes of stratification so characteristic of Roman society (again, for example, the establishment of legally defined social orders), and toward the insistent, quotidian mechanisms of creating or reinforcing individualized pecking orders via particular modes of personal interaction. In other words, to know how to relate in a proper Roman way, one had to know what to do and say at dinner, at the baths, in the courtroom, and so forth. Each and every daily scenario had its protocol. But in all of these situations, there occurred, in an utterly fundamental fashion, a continual ranking and re-ranking of people. Pretty well everything one said and did in any given Roman social interaction, served ultimately to position one in a hierarchy with respect to one's interlocutor.47 Thus, knowing how to negotiate this punctiliously graded universe with aplomb made you, at some very essential level, Roman, and simultaneously served to establish your proper place in the stratified maze that was ancient Roman society.

This brings us to our second question. If we grant what has just been suggested about hierarchic thinking and acting, then can it also be supposed that everyone functioned like this? It is perfectly clear that the senatorial elite operated just exactly this way—both with regard to those below them socially and with respect to members of their own social group. To provide but one example of the latter (for all senators were not equal): senator A could establish his social position relative to senator B by deciding whether to write a letter to B in his own handwriting, or to have the missive set to paper by a slave scribe. The first choice would communicate A's social parity with B; the second option would announce the social superiority of A to his senatorial colleague (McDonnell 1996: 474–75). If we next think of such a Roman, now either senator A or senator B, peering down at the classes of people beneath him, then we can rely on Pliny the Younger to put things succinctly: nothing could (p. 23) possibly be more distressingly inequitable than unflinching equality for all (Plin. Ep. 9. 5. 3). Moreover, we can be confident that attitudes of this sort were common not just among senators, but also elsewhere among the upper class. But is this kind of attitude confined to the elite, or did people of lesser social caliber also grapple among themselves for social position? Did the relatively comfortable shoemaker, like the grandees of Rome's senate, incline to loathe and revile those beneath him who could not claw their way higher—and to display those feelings whenever it suited him?

Before going any farther, one thing needs to be stressed. What must have worked very largely to shape all of this type of thinking and doing, at least at the society's top, was another salient characteristic of the Roman elite world, namely, an unabated drive to compete—socially, politically, and otherwise—with a level of ferocity that is nearly incredible. This dog-eat-dog condition of life among the haves is mentioned repeatedly below (see, e.g., Connolly, Lendon, Leppin, Meyer, Milnor, or Schmitz in this volume), and has gained significant attention from scholars in recent years.48 But again, what we want to know right now is whether the have-nots tussled with each other in a similar fashion. In short, did those of the lower class believe in and value that disposition for establishing social rank—something that often strikes the modern observer as an incredible snobbery—to which we so plainly see the elite clinging?

Various things point generally toward an affirmative answer to this question. First, one might expect significant displeasure with the existing social order, if there was such, to have resulted in some notable outward manifestation of a desire for change. We encounter really nothing of the sort. There was, especially during the Hellenistic period, a vogue of writing on utopian societies, which were often imagined as being egalitarian in their social structures; this (n.b.) elite-produced literature may even have been popular among the less well-to-do segments of the society. However, this kind of writing appears largely to have faded away by the later Roman republican period, and seems never to have occasioned, at least so far as we can tell, any pragmatic results.49 There were slave revolts, serious ones, yet these did not mean to alter society; the goals were much more immediate.50 Nor does it seem at all likely (p. 24) that we can point to something like class struggle at any point in the period here under consideration.51 Nor would we be soundly advised to envision a welling up of popular unrest in the form of social banditry.52 And while there was serious opposition to Roman rule at several points in time, this involved groups that desired to be rid of an outside hegemony, either for political or ethnic or religious reasons, not people who sought some socially oriented reform of the world.53 In short, it is all but impossible to isolate any significant hope on the part of the non-elites of the Roman world to change society such as they knew it. The corollary would be, of course, that they ultimately held (even if with a large dose of cynicism) attitudes regarding society that resembled those known to us from elite-produced source materials.

Indeed, Géza Alföldy has proposed specifically that the masses moved generally in lockstep with the aristocrats (Alföldy 1991: 315–16; Alföldy 2004: 144). Several extended studies of some aspects of non-elite culture have likewise tended to reflect an overall conformity with elite attitudes.54 J. E. Lendon has revealed various lower-class “communities of honor,” which closely mimicked the social institutions of those from above (Lendon 1997: 95–103; also his essay in this volume). And again, this is a theme that surfaces repeatedly in the pages that will follow here.55 Not only, then, did the non-elites decline to revolt against any possibly perceived oppression, (p. 25) but they also appear generally to have internalized societal forms that are known to us principally from above.

Even so, we still want to know (with as much precision as our evidence will allow), whether persons of lower social levels actually competed with one another on a daily basis for social distinction. In other words, we can frequently observe intra-class struggles among (say) the members of the senatorial order over relative social rank. But did the same kind of thing go on in the taverns of Pompeii, or out in country villages? While one might incline to suppose that such things must have occurred there too, all of this has yet to be studied properly. And of course, it could well be that we would find slightly differing versions of the same basic phenomenon as we look for its manifestations within different social classes. Be that as it may, the essays in this volume will push us toward assuming a very widespread taste within any given social class for a quotidian wrangling over social preeminence. In short, it would seem that pretty well everyone in the Roman world felt a need constantly to jostle for social position, and did so via a complicated, wide-ranging, and highly formalized or ritualized series of mechanisms. For now, though, let me provide merely two epigraphic texts, to illustrate at least roughly this phenomenon, and in particular, to show the kinds of evidence we have (they are meager), and how that evidence might be squeezed for information (with a large measure of conjecture).

In 7 BC, four assistants (ministri) in the administration of a country district (pagus) just outside Pompeii set up a dedicatory inscription (CIL X 924 = ILS 6381). All four were slaves. But one of these men, his name was Dama (thus, he was of Greek origins), was listed first. Why? Apparently because he belonged to the emperor Augustus' grandson, Agrippa Postumus. That will have brought Dama significant social cachet among his fellow slaves. Next, we read in the rules and regulations of a club (collegium) that operated at Lanuvium that if anyone were to insult another club member at one of the association's dinner parties, the offender would have to pay a fine of twelve sestertii. If the person offended, however, happened to be the quinquennalis (the club's chief official), then the fine would be twenty sestertii (CIL XIV 2112 = ILS 7212, lines 26–28).

Obviously, this kind of evidence offers us nothing like the detail that (say) Pliny's correspondence does. However, with Pliny and his kind in the background, perhaps material such as these two stones can indeed reveal something about the social attitudes of their creators. The points to be made might then go like this. These more humble individuals, when functioning among themselves, rather than inventing and implementing a world where equality would reign, apparently preferred to arrange themselves into socially determined hierarchies. Their mini-communities, in other words, were constructed socially in a fashion quite similar to the larger universe in which they revolved. A group of slaves does not seek parity within its little circle; rather, its members gravitate to a hierarchical ordering of themselves. Or, in an aggregation such as a collegium, the established mini-hierarchy might function in determining, for example, the punishment of misdeeds—and not at all dissimilarly to the way in which such things were done in the broader commonwealth. That is to say, some members of the collegium were obviously better (p. 26) than others, despite the fact that they all will have belonged to roughly the same social class. Further, there was clearly a competitive streak to the social interactions of these lesser persons. That emerges in the kind of one-upmanship indicated by the Lanuvian association's attempt to regulate insulting behavior at its dinner parties. It was precisely such abusive behavior that often served to establish the pecking order at an elite banquet (see D'Arms 1990, followed by Peachin 2001). So, this club apparently hoped to establish a less combative tone at its dinner parties. Was the intent also to create a more egalitarian atmosphere? And did that succeed? We cannot know (cf. Dunbabin and Slater in this volume; also Perry). However, we can be confident that the kind of competitive and abusive behavior we are familiar with from elite dinner parties was not foreign to the soirees of these lesser individuals. And finally, the evidence from the countryside beyond the walls of Pompeii shows that we should not be surprised to find what we know from many an urban context cropping up in more rustic settings.

In short, once we begin carefully to observe the world of the Roman have-nots, we find not only that these people lapped up some portion of (say) the elite's literary and/or artistic confections, but that they also apparently had internalized the kind of social mores to which the haves were so plainly devoted. When left to themselves, the Roman underdogs seemingly opted for something along the lines of the dog-eat-dog communal ethos celebrated by Pliny. Thus, it would begin to appear that where the operational principles of social relations are concerned, the Roman world was, from social top to social bottom, and in both town and country, fairly unified in its preferences. Indeed, it might be argued that to internalize the sundry nuances of this taste for an eternal ranking of people was a chief hallmark of being Roman.

One last suggestion is perhaps worth making. It may well be that we should avoid the temptation to presume—despite an understandable inclination to do so, given the preponderance, the intellectual and aesthetic allure, and the unflinchingly assertive tone of our extant elite-produced source materials—that this manner of structuring interpersonal relations was inevitably and entirely devised at the top and imposed from above. It is probably better to accept that the societal dispositions that we suspect colored the entire Roman cosmos may well have been generated in a roughly discursive manner that involved degrees of creativity at both the top and the bottom of the social scale.56 In short, the formation of the preferences for interpersonal relations that would characterize Roman society is perhaps not to be imagined as an inexorably one-way, top-to-bottom process.57

(p. 27) Let us sum up. We have seen that attempts to define ‘society’ often suggest that the element most basic to the formation of any such grouping can be understood as involving primarily the interpersonal relations among those who belong to the community. In this book, we examine a variety of interactions that occurred in the ancient these Roman community. It is to be hoped that the interactions we have chosen will be broadly representative of Roman social relations writ large. It has now also been argued in this introduction that the most basic driving force in the world of these Roman social relations involved an intense appetite for ranking people socially, for constantly establishing finely tuned hierarchies. It has furthermore been proposed that this habit infected all the social levels of the Roman community. To the extent that this all holds, then we ought to be very close to the bottom line of Roman society altogether. In other words, to be socially a Roman, and to relate to others in the Roman social fashion, should have involved most essentially a perpetual attempt to establish, as it were, one's social auctoritas (influence, authority, prestige, ascendancy, esteem); and for doing that there were particular mechanisms, which could ultimately be comprehended as Roman. Let us now proceed to observe a social world thoroughly informed by this kind of thinking and doing.


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(1.) One piece of scholarship that might perhaps be considered a proper forerunner to Rostovtzeff—and it is still an invaluable mine of information, well worth consulting—is Friedlaender 1922. Cf. also Marquardt 1886, or Warde Fowler 1926.

(2.) There was quickly a German (1931), and then an Italian (1933) edition. These were followed by a second English-language edition (1957). There has also appeared a French edition (1988), which offers much information about Rostovtzeff himself, and now a new Italian rendering (2003). Indeed, this last is only the latest Italian version of the book; there was a 1965 edition, and another in 1976. As to scholarly acceptance (or not) of Rostovtzeff's picture of Roman social history, note Shaw 1992: 219–20: “… one could still hold that the theoretical frameworks of his great works were neither convincing nor very important.… But he himself recognized the problems with the theory, and gradually came to abandon it of his own accord.” Cf. also the critical, though sympathetic, judgment of Momigliano 1994 (orig. 1954): 40–43, and the similar assessment by Horden and Purcell 2000: 31–32. The initial reviews of, e.g., Hugh Last (1926) and Tenney Frank (1926) tell the tale. Nonetheless, for an intriguing tour of the life of one Egyptian town, done precisely in Rostovtzeff's terms, see MacLennan 1968.

(3.) Throughout this introduction (and beyond), there will be much talk of the ‘elite,’ or of the ‘haves,’ or the ‘upper classes’—and of those who did not belong to this stratum. It is thus desirable to have some sense of the people intended. That is not at all a simple matter; nor, for the purposes of the discussion that follows, can there be one simple group that is always intended. That said, one way of getting at this dilemma is to consider levels of income, and the proportion of the total population disposing of a given income level. Scheidel and Friesen (2009: 75–91) calculate with an elite (the senatorial, equestrian, and decurional orders, along with other particularly wealthy persons) comprising about 3% of the total population (mid-second century AD). One might also profitably think in the terms suggested by Harris (1988: 603): “Those people who drew most of their livelihood from the work done by the strictly controlled labour of others, as was true of practically all members of the Roman elite, may be thought of as having for that reason a common identity and as forming a social class, even if within that class there were steep gradations of snobbery.” If we combine Harris' suggestion with the calculations made by Scheidel and Friesen, then we ought probably to envisage a slightly larger economic upper class. But as will be noticed in the pages to follow, factors beyond wealth, such as cultural or intellectual attainments, must be added to the mix that made the haves. For another recent attempt, depending much on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, to define the elite (in Roman Macedonia), cf. Bartels 2008. Also, regarding use of the term ‘class,’ see n. 45 below.

(4.) Some of the most important work informed by the prosopographic method was: Syme 1939; Pflaum 1950, 1960; Broughton 1951–86; Nicolet 1966–74; Bowersock 1969; Eck 1970; Wiseman 1971; Alföldy 1977. Also worth mention here is Syme 1999 (originally completed in 1935 or 1936, but then laid aside). Cf. now Cameron 2003.

(5.) Syme (1964: 17 n. 3), for example, talks of the “social basis of Roman political life,” referring his readers to Gelzer and Münzer. Still, what he was interested in, ultimately, was that political life. The connection between the prosopographic method and social history is put explicitly by Eck 1993: v–vi (and see various articles in the volume). For a sense of the way in which the workings of elite society itself can indeed be got at via prosopography, see Jones 1971: 39–64.

(6.) There were exceptions. An important book, published well before what is generally perceived as the heyday of Roman social history, and which is perhaps most often viewed as tackling problems of a more political nature, was nonetheless in many ways a treatment of what now would surely be considered social-historical (or perhaps cultural-historical) questions: Sherwin-White 1939. In particular, Sherwin-White's chapters on the attitude of the provincials to the empire (pp. 397–468) already confronted head-on various problems of identity, allegiance, and loyalty that have quite recently ignited much scholarly interest. Two other pioneering works that might be mentioned here involve urban history: Jones 1940 provided a wide-ranging study of the Hellenic city-state in the ancient world; and, though it came much closer to the ‘beginning’ of Roman social history, Downey 1961 offered a panoramic study of the urban texture of Antioch, one of the Roman world's most important metropolises.

(7.) For a convenient overview, see Burke 2005: 13–20.

(8.) Two monuments of this school were Braudel 1966 and Ariès 1977. Braudel's model of Mediterranean history must now be read against that of Horden and Purcell 2000. On this book, see the important review article by Brent Shaw (2001), as well as what is effectively a companion volume overseen by William Harris (2005).

(9.) It is perhaps worth noting that, in the field of American history, the work of Frederick Turner (e.g., Turner 1920) or Charles and Mary Beard (e.g., Beard and Beard 1927) had begun to bring socioeconomic concerns to the forefront of the historical project just when the Annales School was forming. But such efforts in the sphere of American history seem never to have influenced Roman historians in quite the way that the Annales School—or indeed, European social history generally—has. The split between the old world and the new, in its full ensemble (both historical and historiographic), is surely at work here. Cf. Potter 2006: 3, concerning Beard's lack of reception in Europe.

(10.) A successor to this encyclopedia appeared in 1968 (Sills 1968), and there have been further such projects since. Note also Brunner, Conze, and Koselleck 1972–97.

(11.) The ‘Arbeitskreis für moderne Sozialgeschichte’ (Working Group for Modern Social History) was created in 1957 by Werner Conze (Heidelberg University) and Otto Brunner (Hamburg University); see the preceding footnote for one result of that group's efforts. Furthermore, when the University of Bielefeld was opened (roughly a decade later, in 1969), another highly influential German movement in social history was brought to life by two of the professors newly appointed there: Hans-Ulrich Wehler and Jürgen Kocka. In the United Kingdom, the Social History Society was created somewhat later, in 1976. As for periodicals, an extremely influential journal, Past and Present, began to be issued in 1952. Its mission was (and continues to be) to publish articles detailing historical, social, and cultural change. Eric Hobsbawm (1997: 73) nonetheless suggests that the first English-language journal to specialize in social history might be considered to have been the Comparative Studies in Society and History, founded in 1958. In any case, various other major journals for social history would soon appear in both the United Kingdom and the United States; to name but one example, The Journal of Social History (founded in 1967).

(12.) For thought-provoking comments on the nature of social history, see Hobsbawm 1997 (the text of a lecture originally delivered in 1970, and first published in 1972), or more recently Cartledge 2002.

(13.) One example is an important article on the living conditions of Rome's urban plebs, published by Zvi Yavetz in 1958. He did not locate his arguments in the context of (say) Annales-style social history. Rather, the scholarly forerunners Yavetz mentions are (e.g.) Beloch, Rice Holmes, Friedlaender, or Carcopino.

(14.) Some of the (Roman) topics covered in the volume were elite mobility (Keith Hopkins); the Roman mob (P. A. Brunt); freedmen and social mobility (P. R. C. Weaver); legal privilege (Peter Garnsey); persecution of Christians (G. E. M. de Ste. Croix and A. N. Sherwin-White); and peasant revolts in later antiquity (E. A. Thompson).

(15.) Note also, most recently, the updated edition published by the University of California Press in 1999, with a foreword by Ian Morris.

(16.) It is worth remarking that MacMullen's view of the Roman economy was quite similar to Finley's (MacMullen 1974a: 126): “What could have induced the Romans to be so blind? Surely they saw that, in their gathering of wealth by conquest, they gathered a giant market. Surely someone realized that the great swelling of cities in later Republican Italy offered perfectly extraordinary economic opportunities, especially in luxury goods, services, trades, and crafts. But no; with unteachable conservatism, rich Romans turned to the land, and even those of relatively modest means could not lower themselves to the running of an arms factory or a fuller's mill.” Interpretation of the ancient economy generally, however, has in the meanwhile shifted significantly. See Scheidel, Morris, and Saller 2007: 1–7 and passim.

(17.) Appendix B in the book comprises, for example, a three-page “lexicon of snobbery,” a list of words and phrases that “indicate the range of prejudice felt by the literate upper classes for the lower” (MacMullen 1974a: 138–41). Note also the various expressions of disgust applied by the haves to Rome's less-well-off urban population (Yavetz 1969: 141–42), or the nasty vocabulary used to refer to slaves (Hopkins 1993: 23 n. 37).

(18.) The book was published in a first German edition in 1975, which was superseded by a second (1979) and then a third (1984) edition in that language. It is best to consult this work, however, in its most recent English version, which made yet further emendations to the second and third German editions: Alföldy 1988.

(19.) Regarding the influence of Alföldy's model, see Winterling 2001: 101. Cf. also Shaw 2001b: 389, who uses a diagram of seating arrangements in the theater (which were regulated by law; see below, n. 43) to map Rome's ideal social world.

(20.) See what is said, for example, at Alföldy 1988: 106–15. Though it was never so influential a book as Alföldy's (which has been translated into eight different languages), another synthetic overview of Roman society was that of Henry Boren (1977). Furthermore, Helmuth Schneider produced, at roughly the same time, two important volumes: Schneider 1976; Schneider 1981. Though it is not a book of primarily social history, for the Roman Republic one should also be aware of Nicolet 1976. And for the late imperial period, Jones 1964, though again, not merely a social history, is still fundamental.

(21.) See Isaac 2004. The book has been somewhat controversial; but, for a balanced view of it, principally accepting Isaac's arguments, see Shaw 2005. For some comments on tensions between soldiers and local populations apparently brought on by racist (or, let us say, ethnically driven) attitudes, see Potter in this volume.

(22.) Pomeroy 1975. She notes in her introduction (p. xii) that Rostovtzeff, for example, had paid effectively no attention to women whatsoever. Pomeroy had been preceded in the study of Roman women by Balsdon 1962, though his was a more antiquarian examination of the topic, and had nothing like the impact of Pomeroy's book. One might note also Hobsbawm 1997: 71, talking of the initial publication (in 1972) of his article “From Social History to the History of Society”: “The author cannot but note with embarrassed astonishment that it contained no reference at all to women's history. Admittedly this field had scarcely begun to develop before the end of the 1960s, but neither I nor any of the other contributors to the volume, among the most distinguished in the profession—all males—appears to have been aware of the gap.”

(23.) See Jones 1971 (Plutarch), Jones 1978 (Dio Chrysostom), and Jones 1986 (Lucian). A most revealing article, in a roughly similar vein, but on Apuleius, is Millar 1981.

(24.) Shaw (2001a: 442 n. 86) argues that D'Arms was not aggressive enough in staking out this position.

(25.) For an interesting sense of the slightly differing ways in which Roman social history can be conceived, note the content headings from two sourcebooks on this field. Also reflected here are some of the developments of the field in recent years. Shelton 1998 includes chapters on: the structure of Roman society; families; marriage; housing and city life; domestic and personal concerns; education; occupations; slaves; freedmen and freedwomen; government and politics; the army; the provinces; women; leisure and entertainment; religion and philosophy. Parkin and Pomeroy 2007 is divided thus: social classes; demography; family; education; slavery; poverty; economy; legal system and courts; games.

(26.) For an account of cultural history, see Burke 2008. While a precise definition of this type of history is quite difficult, Burke's suggestion (2008: 3) is useful: “The common ground of cultural historians might be described as a concern with the symbolic and its interpretation.”

(27.) To begin to get a sense of the range of complexities involved in this whole matter of Roman identity formation (rather less in favor now is the term ‘Romanization’—e.g., Mattingly 2002: 537–38), see Millett 1990; Gruen 1992; Laurence and Berry 1998; Woolf 1998; MacMullen 2000; Mattingly 2004; Alföldy 2005; Dench 2005; Hingley 2005; Farney 2007; Roth 2007; van Dommelen and Terrenato 2007; Wallace-Hadrill 2008: esp. 3–37; Revell 2009.

(28.) The most substantial treatment of collective memory in the Roman world is now Stein-Hölkeskamp and Hölkeskamp 2006 (with earlier bibliography). See also, however, Hölkeskamp 2006a. Other important contributions are: Flower 1996; Hedrick 2000; Gowing 2005; Flower 2006. Cf. also Meyer in this volume. Lobur 2008: 170 talks of the Romans' “indigenous sense of the past in the present” (he offers, in this chapter of this book, a nice overview of the force of exemplarity, an absolutely crucial factor in the matter of Roman memory, both collective and individual). Furthermore, Karl Galinsky is presently embarking on a major effort to investigate this aspect of the Roman world; see the website The essays in Bell and Hansen 2008 nicely draw together the issues of exemplarity, identity, and memory.

(29.) For a sense of the ways in which demography (here, of death) might be “of considerable relevance to appraisals of family formation, social structure, political activity and the preservation of civic memory in the capital (Rome),” see Scheidel 2003. Scheidel, Morris, and Saller (2007: 7) also make the crucially important point that “[t]he cultural achievements of classical Mediterranean civilization rested on a remarkable economic efflorescence.”

(30.) Note, for example, Scupin and DeCorse 1992: 46: “Society refers to a particular group of people within a specific territory. In particular it refers to the patterns of relationships among people within a definite territory.” Or Calhoun 2000: 453 (‘society’): “Used to describe both the general phenomenon of social life and the specific units into which social life is organized. Thus, all human beings live in society—their lives are social and involve relationships to others.” See also the “second idea of ‘society’” described by Morley 2004: 72: “… the arena of social relationships and the institutions that govern them.… This then offers a way of understanding human behaviour, or at least of those aspects of human behaviour with a ‘social character,’ above all those involving interaction between individuals.” (The emphasis in each of the preceding quotations is mine.) Or, on the absolute centrality to social history of “social roles,” i.e., “patterns or norms of behaviour expected from the occupant of a particular position in the social structure,” see Burke 2005: 47–50. In short, social relations, in the sense of interactions between members of the community in question, can be argued to be the very basis of society. More fully on all of this: Mayhew 1968.

(31.) See the literature cited above, n. 27. John Crook was long ago similarly troubled (1967: 10–11): “One more question arises: what are we going to mean by ‘Roman’ law and ‘Roman’ society? The dominions of Rome embraced many culturally very un-Roman people: Greeks, Egyptians, Semites, Celts and so on. Rome did not (or only in a sense that will be briefly discussed at the very end of this book) impose a unitary system of legal institutions like a giant dishcover upon all these diverse sets of people.… Can one, then, obtain only so vague, partial and distorted a reflection of Rome in its heyday, by looking through the eyes of the law, as to make the entire undertaking worthless? One or two considerations, at least, can be set on the other side of the scale, and how far they help to tip it the reader will judge by results.” See also the recent comments of Richard Brilliant (2007) on the great difficulty of delimiting a body of art that could confidently be called Roman.

(32.) There were, n.b., local varieties of Roman identity: cf. Hingley 2005: 49–71; also Revell 2009. One might think here about the problems conjured by a figure such as Apuleius, the second-century AD African-born author of several works in Latin that are considered central to Roman literature (cf. von Albrecht 1997: 1449–50). For a lucid treatment of the question “Is Apuleius a Roman?” by Carlos Noreña, see Noreña's conclusion is this: “Apuleius was, to be sure, a Roman citizen, and he also admitted to being half Numidian, half Gaetulian, but if he were asked to define himself, he probably would have answered, simply, ‘I am a disciple of Plato.’”

(33.) It is, of course, both possible and often highly desirable to adduce the results of work in (say) sociology, or anthropology, or to make historical comparisons with other premodern societies, in our attempts to take the measure of the Roman social world. Cf. the comments of Morley 2004: 74–76, arguing for the necessity of a more theoretical approach. In the context of the present volume, this is done in an ad hoc fashion. See, as one example, the essay by Riess.

(34.) One must be aware that there has appeared, especially in the last decade or two, much literature (very largely from continental Europe) on communications just generally in the ancient world. Although matters other than those of direct concern here are often the subjects dealt with (e.g., military, administrative, or religious communications, the communicative practices of ancient civilizations other than Rome's), nonetheless it seems worth at least indicating what this literature is. See, for example, Achard 1991; Kolb 2000; Andreau and Virlouvet 2002; Donati 2002; Capdetrey and Nelis-Clément 2006; Peter and Seidlmayer 2006; Angeli Bertinelli and Donati 2008; Schörner and Sterbenc Erker 2008; Osgood 2009. See also Ando 2000: 73–130.

(35.) Given this concentration, something should be said at this point, if only very briefly, about the matter of literacy. There is now a sophisticated literature on the subject, with Harris 1989 being the seminal examination. That book generated a very wide-ranging discussion, especially because Harris was quite pessimistic about the overall levels of literacy. On the whole, Harris' arguments stand firm, though we must always keep in mind that various mechanisms (e.g., reading out loud to those who could not read themselves—which was not, n.b., at all ignored by Harris) could mitigate the effects of widespread illiteracy. The discussion regarding ancient literacy can be followed up in (e.g.): Humphrey 1991; Cooley 2002; Johnson and Parker 2009. Cf. also Thomas 1992. With regard to the cultural pursuits of non-elite persons, and the matter of literacy among such persons, see Horsfall 2003: 30, 72–74. He puts the matter succinctly (p. 72): “It was not a text-based culture, and rested upon memory rather than active literacy.” For cautionary observations regarding the extent of non-elite textually based engagement with literature, see also Hedrick in this volume. Cf. also Jördens in this volume, though, on the wide use of written communications of all sorts by individuals from all walks of life.

(36.) There existed an entire category of ancient literature treating physiognomy, i.e., personal physical appearance and its meaning. Access to this realm may be found via Barton 1994: 95–131 and Swain and Boys-Stones 2007. On dress and personal styling, Sebesta and Bonfante 1994 was pioneering. That book has now been complemented by (esp.): Cleland, Davies, and Llewellyn-Jones 2007; Colburn and Heyn 2008; Edmondson and Keith 2008; Olson 2008; Wallace-Hadrill 2008: 38–57. There is also much good material on dress and society/culture/communication in (e.g.): Gleason 1995; Dench 2005; Sumi 2005. For an exploration of the affinities between Julius Caesar's style of personal grooming, on the one hand, and his manner of literary composition, on the other, see Kraus 2005. Her arguments are particularly interesting in the present context, since she demonstrates how Caesar's literary style and manner of bodily adornment could be discussed in precisely the same terms, and could likewise be perceived to communicate, each in its own right, exactly the same picture of the man. Cf. also Fagan in this volume on dress, and nudity, at the baths. As for gesture, and the positioning of the body generally, one may consult the pioneering work of Brilliant (1963), and more recently: Bremmer and Roodenburg 1991; Aldrete 1999; Gunderson 2000; Newbold 2000; Corbeill 2003; Flaig 2003; Cairns 2005; Roller 2006. See also the remarks of Connolly in this volume. For gestures replacing words in pantomime performances, see Jory 2008: 162–67. Then, there were various types of non-verbal communication that involved sounds of all kinds. See, for example, Klauser 1950: 221 (clapping, whistling, hissing); Purcell 1995: 17–18 (snorting). Further on acclamations (many involving just a few ritualized words): Roueché 1984; Potter 1996; and cf. Horsfall 2003: 37–42.

(37.) What is listed can be only very broadly indicative: Brilliant 1984; Hölscher 1984; Hölscher 1987; Zanker 1990; Wallace-Hadrill 1994; Elsner 1996; Hales 2003; Stewart 2003; Leach 2004; Clarke 2007; Diefenbach 2007; Elsner 2007; Roth 2007; Thomas 2007; Wallace-Hadrill 2008: 73–210. For an interesting debate on the potential for a social interpretation of domestic wall painting, see Tybout 2001, with the attendant comments of Bettina Bergmann and Christopher Hallett. Pina Polo, in this volume, draws attention to the ways in which the spaces of public meetings were able to communicate meaning. Note also Dunbabin and Slater, in this volume, on the semantics of the architecture of dining spaces. And Bablitz's essay on the law courts moves in this direction as well.

(38.) We must be very careful, let it be said, about making too sharp a divide between the rural and urban spheres—for it is increasingly clear that there was a great deal of interplay (of every conceivable kind) between town and countryside. See Witcher 2005, with earlier literature on this matter.

(39.) Cf. the comments of Harris 2005: 29–34, concerning the importance of rural areas to the history of the Mediterranean. Scheidel (in Scheidel, Morris, and Saller 2007: 79) suggests that perhaps one‐eighth or one‐ninth of the total population under the early Roman Empire lived in urban centers; though as he notes, there will certainly have been regional variation.

(40.) As for the markets and fairs, it should be noted that the chief focus of the scholarship has still been economic. Again, this is largely a function of the available evidence. Nonetheless, see MacMullen 1970; Shaw 1981; de Ligt 1993; Frayn 1993; Morley 1996: 166–74. Generally on rural social (as opposed to, again especially, economic) conditions, see MacMullen 1974a: 1–27. For a lucid sense of the rhythms of rural life in one area of the Roman Empire (Anatolia), see Mitchell 1993: 165–97. A glimpse into the rural society of central Anatolia is also offered by Gordon 2004. Or for Egypt, cf. Lewis 1983: 65–83. Generally on the rural folk in the Roman world: MacMullen 1974b; Evans 1980; Garnsey 1988: 44–48. Note also the useful bibliographic essay in Horden and Purcell 2000: 590–92, and cf. Dyson 2003.

(41.) See now: Kneppe 1994; Konstan 1997; Harris 2001; Konstan 2001; Braund and Most 2003; MacMullen 2003; Marincola 2003; Kaster 2005.

(42.) To provide but one example, Brent Shaw (2001a: 430) argues that if we want to investigate economic rationalism in Roman agriculture, then we must correlate this to “the nature of the social system of which the cycles of production, distribution, and consumption were part.” He then says, regarding the Roman agricultural economy, “At its leading edges, the extremes of surplus wealth seem to be invested in efforts ‘to trump nature’ that were ‘artistic’ or ‘architectural’ in type: qualitative in form, quantitative in effect. In this sense, compared to the leading sectors of 17th‐c. capitalism, this earlier social order appears to be an exotic Fabergé Welt.”

(43.) A few salient examples of this would be that: the elite was largely grouped into so‐called orders, senators and equestrians at Rome, decurions in the provincial municipalities, and each of these estates had formal requirements for membership and various attendant marks of privilege (Alföldy 1988); the legal position of the so‐called honestiores (the better people) was, by the second century AD, statutorily mandated as superior to that of the rest in several ways (Garnsey 1970); legislation of the emperor Augustus fixed theater seating according to the principles of social rank (Rawson 1987; also Coleman in this volume).

(44.) Seating arrangements, in various contexts, make for a nice example here. Again, in the theater, one's seat was fixed by (an Augustan) law according to social rank (see the preceding note). At banquets put on by collegia (private associations), the club's rules might work similarly. Yet at dinner parties in private homes—which were likewise occasions of great social moment, which might not have an all‐so‐private atmosphere to them, and where seating arrangements therefore mattered hugely—tacit social conventions, along with the finesse of the host, regulated things (cf. Peachin 2001: 138; also Dunbabin and Slater in this volume). Seating at publicly sponsored banquets was again tightly controlled, though not specifically by law (cf. Donahue 2004: 22–23). And for the spectrum of intricate conventions about the way one sat at dinners, see Roller 2006. In short, how and where one sat, in various contexts, was meticulously arranged—perhaps by law, perhaps ‘only’ by insistent social conventions. But the rules, in either case, were powerful, and were always carefully calculated to display and to reinforce accepted social hierarchies.

(45.) It should be noted that the use of ‘class,’ as an interpretative device in the study of Roman society, has often been rejected. Harris 1988, though, makes a very strong case for its applicability and usefulness in certain ways, while pointing out that a Marxist sense of the word is not at all binding upon us, and can simply be ignored. Uses of ‘class’ in this introduction, then, follow the guidelines laid out by Harris. On the whole problem of establishing a model for Roman imperial society that could gain universal consent, see Winterling 2001: 99–106. He relates the paradoxes of the Roman imperial social structure to the paradoxical political situation—i.e., an absolute monarchy parading as a democratic republic—that so influenced everything in the Roman world during the early imperial period.

(46.) Morely 2004: 75, for example, seems generally quite pessimistic about the ability of our source tradition, precisely because of its largely elite bias, to reveal much about social conditions toward the bottom of Roman society. As will be argued here, though, there may well be reason for a bit more optimism.

(47.) On this matter of a continual ranking and re‐ranking of people in nearly any and every situation, see Rillinger 1985, with the comments of Winterling 2001: 104–6.

(48.) Harris 1979: 17–34 (esp.) some time ago dealt with the drive of Roman aristocrats of the middle republic to distinguish themselves in warfare, showing how this very largely served to determine the shape of Rome's imperial project. Aristocratic competition, not merely social (n.b.), but also political, in the military, and altogether is handled by (e.g.): Rosenstein 1990; Flaig 1995; Flower 1996; Bleckmann 2002; Hölkeskamp 2006b; Farney 2007. The writing of literature, too, was an arena for aristocratic competition: cf. Scholz 2003: 186–90. On competitive behavior in the Roman military, affecting elite and non‐elite soldiers alike, see Lendon 2005: 163–315. Ultimately, the whole matter of elite self‐representation, which Harriet Flower describes in this volume, was determined by, and is arguably one of our best reflections of, this deep‐seated drive to compete.

(49.) See Ferguson 1975: 122–29 and Gabba 1981: (esp.) 58–59. On unrealistically egalitarian utopias in the writings of Lucian, see Carsana 2008.

(50.) See Bradley 1989. As Harris 1988: 605 points out, class antagonism is not needed to make sense of these slave wars. Also now Urbainczyk 2008: 75–80.

(51.) Alföldy 1988: 152–56 argues that there were no serious outbreaks of any such thing. Harris 1988: 602 is not persuaded by De Ste. Croix 1981 and the idea of class struggle in the Graeco‐Roman world. E. A. Thompson indeed saw in the turmoil caused by the so‐called Bagaudae, during the late third century AD and beyond, a persistent manifestation of class warfare (Thompson 1952), and this was argued more extensively by León 1996. See, however, the cautionary remarks of Drinkwater 1999.

(52.) Shaw 1984: 51: “As for the bandits themselves, the argument tends to indicate that they could not have been social rebels and, more important, that the phenomenon of banditry per se is not a type of social protest. Rather, it is a form of political anachoresis, leading from its smallest beginnings, over an unbroken trajectory, to its final form: the formation of another state patterned on an existing type.” (I have added the emphasis.) In any case, no desire here for a substantively different order of things. Cf. also Riess in this volume.

(53.) Cf. Schwartz, in this volume, on the Jewish revolts. Generally on resistance to Roman rule, see Fuchs 1938; Bowersock 1965: 101–11; Bowersock 1987; Gutsfeld 1989; Elsner 2007: 225–88; and cf. Riess in this volume for characterizations of violent malcontents as ‘bandits’ (latrones). Cf. also Daube 1972.

(54.) See, e.g., Horsfall 2003; Clarke 2003; Petersen 2006; Roller 2006: 22–80; Morgan 2007. Cf. also Rawson 2003: 3–4, Laes 2007: 36, or Noreña forthcoming: chpt. 6. On the contributions to this area made by finds of papyri and other written documents from sub‐elite contexts, see Jördens in this volume; and with regard to the non‐elites as audience for the messages on coins, cf. Noreña in this volume. Note also Meyer in this volume (n. 61). For a fascinating picture of the way in which elites and non‐elites could come together socioculturally (albeit in an often grudging manner) via dicing, see Purcell 1995: esp. 28–37.

(55.) See, in this volume, the chapters by Ando; Fagan (Baths); Fagan (Violence); Flower; Hahn; Horster; Kehoe; Leppin; Meyer; Noreña; Perry; Schmitz. And on the hierarchy of slave society imitating quite closely that of the larger community, see the concluding remarks by Schumacher in this volume.

(56.) I borrow from Keith Hopkins (1993: 138 n. 40), describing the basic thesis of Giddens 1984: “… actors are not simply the passive victims of external pressures, but themselves repeatedly reinterpret conventional social values and mores, and so by their actions reproduce the social order.” Cf. also Wallace‐Hadrill 2008: 12–13.

(57.) For a fascinating parallel from the world of literature, where there is exchange back and forth between elite and non‐elite realms (and where, n.b., non‐elite participants can indeed express some displeasure about their betters), see Ruffell 2003, arguing that (quote at p. 61) “… the tradition of popular verse is a promiscuous, public, uncontrolled, and anti‐hierarchical literary form, which both feeds into and draws on contemporary elite poetry.”