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Romanization 2.0 and its alternatives

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2014


It would be churlish (as well as difficult), when my own work is treated so generously in this article, to object to its thrust too strongly. But agreement does not make for much of a dialogue! Let me state my agreements briefly, then.

  1. 1. Versluys has nailed the terminological impasse: ‘Romanization’ is far worse than Romanization, because it has all the sins of the former without its conviction. But I have less sympathy for those TRAC speakers ‘ordered’ not to use the concept by their supervisors. If they can answer the many criticisms made of the concept, and make it work for them on their material, let them demonstrate this. If not, they need to find something better.

  2. 2. Versluys also seems to me quite correct that some postcolonial approaches have often ended up in an unsatisfactory anti-colonialism. Yvon Thébert (1978) made a similar objection when he asked whether Bénabou (1976) had decolonized the history of Africa in the Roman period or simply turned it on its head. Denouncing ancient imperialism, colonialism and racial and sexual abuse might make us feel more comfortable, but it does not improve our analysis. I would add that it has also allowed British Romanists to return to a very traditional preoccupation: rewriting the Roman chapters of ‘our island's story’ in dialogue with contemporary imperial preoccupations.

  3. 3. Versluys argues that we should ‘focus on “cultural transformation taking place in the context of empire” rather than on “imperialism and colonialism”’ (p. 8). This too makes very good sense. But I wonder what the word ‘cultural’ adds to this programme? Does it operate to exclude the study of other kinds of change (economic? technological? agricultural?). I doubt that this is what Versluys advocates and cannot see the advantage of arbitrarily demarcating one sphere of life as ‘cultural’ and excluding discussion of other changes. And I doubt that it would be possible to do this in any case. How would we talk about bathing without aqueducts, engineering and hydrology, as well as euergetism, notions of the body and foodways? Or about wine without thinking about techniques of agriculture, exchange systems and so on. If the abundant recent literature on entanglement – along with Hodder (2012) I am thinking particularly of Thomas (1991), Dietler (2010) and Garrow and Gosden (2012) – has taught us nothing else, it is that we cannot easily separate ‘the cultural’ from the rest of life. Or does ‘cultural’ give holistic accounts of change a particular flavour? Or does it designate some particular Schwerpunkte for study? I have more sympathy with this position, but I suspect that it now obstructs more than it illuminates our projects. Now that ‘culture’ is no longer the final chapter of a book which has already dealt with conquest, administration, politics, the army, agriculture, manufacture and trade, town and country, and late antique decline (the traditional format of volumes in the genre ‘provincial history’), perhaps we no longer need to signal so strongly that culture is all-encompassing and can simply study together the whole set of changes with which we are concerned?

All the same, I am wary of signing up at once to Romanization 2.0. My commentary is an attempt to articulate my reasons for this reluctance.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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