Premio Cultori di Roma for Christopher Smith

Christopher SmithCongratulations to Christopher Smith on the award of the 2017 Premio Cultori di Roma. The prize is awarded by the Istituto Nazionale di Studi Romani, representatives of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, the Comune di Roma, the Unione Accademica Nazionale and the Unione Internazionale degli Istituti di Archeologia, Storia e Storia dell’Arte in Roma.  It has been given only to three British scholars since the inauguration in 1955, Sir Ronald Syme and Sir Fergus Millar, both Camden Chairs of Roman History at Oxford, and J. B. Ward-Perkins, BSR Director from 1945 to 1974.  Christopher was presented with the prize on the Capitol on Rome’s 2770th birthday, 21 April.


Nineteenth Roman Military Equipment Conference (RoMEC XVIIII)

We would like to thank everyone involved with RoMEC XVIIII, hosted by the School of Classics in St Andrews, 6th-11th June, 2016.

The conference featured twelve panels of academic papers, with a total of 49 speakers. Ninety attendees came from 24 countries. Panels were divided between those which dealt with the conference theme, ‘Cavalry in the Roman World’, and those concerning other Roman military equipment issues, especially new finds. There was an opening reception in MUSA, a whisky-tasting in Swallowgate, and a closing reception and dinner in Upper and Lower College Hall. The latter event featured a pipe band display in the Quad, a tabletop wargame recreation of Mons Graupius, and a charity draw in support of the Gurkha Welfare Trust. The one-day coach excursion visited Roman museum collections in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Antonine Wall at Rough Castle, and The Kelpies (natural to the theme!). Two afternoon cavalry displays, by the re-enactment group Comitatus, exhibited reconstructions of long-reining; sword, spear and lance practice; and target-shooting at the gallop with javelins, darts and bows. This was all made possible by substantial financial sponsorship from museums, publishers, and generous individuals.

Quantifying Enfranchisement in the Roman Empire

Myles Lavan is using analytical techniques from the natural sciences to solve a long-standing problem in the history of the Roman empire.

Rome’s unusual generosity with its citizenship is often cited as a key factor in its success as an imperial power. The incorporation of outsiders figures prominently in the mythical histories that Romans wrote of their own early history, such as the famous story of ‘Romulus’ asylum’ on the Capitoline hill. The first new citizens were freed slaves (where other cities relegated ex-slaves to the status of resident aliens, the Romans made them citizens) and Italians, as the Romans enfranchised immigrants and annexed some conquered territory. But Roman citizens remained a minority of the Italian population up to the first century BCE, when a war between the Romans and their Italian allies – the so-called ‘Social War’ – convinced the Romans to extend citizenship to all of Italy south of the Po. The next step was the enfranchisement of the provinces. Increasing numbers of provincials became Roman citizens by serving in the Roman army, holding magistracies in their own communities or by a special imperial grant to themselves, their family or their city. This process reached its culmination in 212 CE when the otherwise infamous emperor Caracalla granted citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire.

How radical was Caracalla’s grant in 212? (photo: M.-L. Nguyen 2011
How radical was Caracalla’s grant in 212? (photo: M.-L. Nguyen 2011)

The problem is that we still have a very poor sense of the scale of enfranchisement before Caracalla’s grant. Research to date has focussed on identifying Roman and non-Roman names in inscriptions from the provinces. That is a useful way of getting some sense of local differences in the level of enfranchisement, but it has failed to produce a conclusive picture of the situation overall. Some scholars think citizenship was widespread by 212; others think it remained relatively rare; no one will commit to even an approximate percentage. Most probably think the level of enfranchisement is unknowable given the current evidence base and have resigned themselves to writing the social and political history of the empire without a firm understanding of this important process.

This project aims to break the deadlock by taking a new approach. It starts from the fact that we know the mechanisms by which enfranchisement worked, such as service in the Roman army. For each mechanism, we can identify the key parameters that will have governed the rate of enfranchisement. In the case of the army, for example, these include the size of the army, the average length of service and survival rates. It is then a relatively straightforward matter to build a mathematical model that will calculate the progress of enfranchisement based on any given set of values for those key parameters. The challenge is how to deal with the fact that many of the parameters are themselves highly uncertain. The sheer number of uncertain variables involved in calculating the overall level of enfranchisement might seem to doom the analysis.

Estimating the likelihood of different outcomes for the level of enfranchisement by simulating thousands of possible scenarios
Estimating the likelihood of different outcomes for the level of enfranchisement by simulating thousands of possible scenarios

The solution is to borrow a technique from other fields with more sophisticated methods for managing uncertainty. Traditional modelling techniques in ancient history are deterministic, i.e. they produce a single ‘best estimate’ for the unknown quantity based on inputted most likely values for all the component parameters. More sophisticated approaches to uncertainty rely on stochastic models which allow all the parameters to vary simultaneously. Both inputs and outputs are expressed as probability distributions rather than discrete values. This makes it possible to estimate the likelihood of all possible levels of enfranchisement based on what we know about the key parameters driving the spread of citizenship. Preliminary analysis suggests that the range of likely values will turn out to be usefully narrow, so the approach promises to produce the first robust quantification of the progress of enfranchisement up to Caracalla’s grant.

The project draws on quantitative skills acquired during a previous career in business and finance and is an example of how an interdisciplinary perspective can offer new and powerful insights into old problems.

This project is supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship.



Oral use of Greek and Latin: one step further

Flickr: liikennevalo

Classical languages are usually labelled “dead languages” in the sense that they are not the official language of any country and in the sense that they are not spoken nowadays. As you know, teaching classical languages is usually a combination of grammar, practising grammar, and translating a given piece of text. There is often no or little emphasis on speaking Greek or Latin.

Maybe we ourselves, those who teach them, have to bear part of the responsibility for the lack of orality: teachers do not speak Greek and Latin in the class room and they do not make students speak them either.

My interest in the matter of Greek and Latin as live languages has not ceased: it has rather increased. Some of you may have heard that this summer I was in Rome attending a course of spoken Latin; it was a pleasant experience which helped me to give a new push to my desire of improving the knowledge of these two languages by making also an oral use of them.

I also visited Vivarium Novum, the school in Rome in which only Latin (and also some Greek) is spoken, and I spent a whole day with them, attending their classes, a seminar in the afternoon, etc. (it is a residential school, so students live there).

In both places, it was a pleasure to see people communicating in Latin.

Since my return, I have been making, in my two elementary courses (LT 1001 and GK 1001), some oral use of the languages, obviously at a very reduced level, saying only what I know they can understand, but it is a start, and I really feel some improvement among students with respect to former years. The improvement is not only linguistic, but also in the sense of making them lose the fear which written Greek/Latin usually produces in them.

All of us know that there are symposiums, congresses, etc. around the world in which Latin is the used language, and that there are some eminent scholars who can take the microphone and start improvising in Latin / Greek with incredible ease. Of course, we know that Latin and Classical Greek will never have the main resource that makes the learning of the language much easier: a country in which the language is spoken.

I have found that some people use this as an excuse to avoid practising the orality of Greek and Latin (“It’s not spoken in any country, we just have the texts”). We know, but if (as I have witnessed) making an oral use of it helps students to learn it and to lose their fear of it, it is worth trying this technique. British universities have a large and excellent tradition for prose composition, both in Greek and Latin; why not go just one step further?

Dr Juan Coderch, Senior Language Tutor in Greek and Latin, University of St. Andrews
Grammar site:

City of Rome – a postgraduate experience

As part of my MLitt studies here in St Andrews, I spent a fantastic and thoroughly rewarding two months studying out at the British School at Rome on their annual ‘City of Rome Postgraduate Course’ led by Dr Robert Coates-Stephens.  The course was divided between working on individual research projects and going on site visits around Rome.  The site visits covered the ancient city in depth while our itinerary also reflected the different research projects of the group.  The composition of the course allowed us to revisit different areas of the city several times as we progressed in a broadly chronological manner from considering the Republican city through to the Late Antique period.  This structure provided a fantastic grounding from which to build a picture of the ancient city’s development across the centuries.  The course provided us with an unparalleled opportunity to access sites including the Tomb of the Scipios, the House of the Griffins on the Palatine Hill and the extraordinary Casa Bellezza discovered underneath a house on the Aventine Hill.   A visit to the British School’s ongoing work at Portus additionally allowed us to see an exciting ongoing excavation project.  These visits were supplemented by a seminar series hosted within the School through which we had a fantastic opportunity to hear and spend time with scholars with a variety of research interests.

(c) Ellen MacDougall
(c) Ellen MacDougall

My research project in Rome initially focussed upon a series of statues of the Vestal Virgins that were displayed in the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Forum.  Shadowy figures that are known predominantly from sparse ancient source references, the project considered what the composition of the statues might tell us about how the Vestal Virgins were viewed within Roman society.  Material viewed on our visits around Rome further encouraged me to expand my research considerations to compare these statues with depictions of the Vestals on monuments such as the Ara Pacis and Cancelleria Relief B.  I drew comparisons and contrasts between the representation of the Vestals as individuals in the House of the Vestal Virgins and as a collective on imperial monuments.

The course was an incredible and unique opportunity.  Feedback from Robert and from course mates through discussions and presenting research in progress seminars provided a really supportive environment through which to develop and shape the direction of my research.  Staying in the School alongside artists and scholars from many disciplines likewise provided a stimulating and enjoyable environment in which to live and work, with many helpful conversations taking place around the dinner table in the School.  The site visits stimulated the development of my research both within the scope of the course’s project and beyond and it was really inspiring to have the opportunity to undertake research ‘in the field’.  I found it a fantastic experience in preparation for beginning my PhD here in St Andrews and cannot thank Robert and the British School at Rome enough for a unique opportunity.

Ellen MacDougall, PhD student, University of St. Andrews