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This essay grows out of an ongoing interest in the first autobiographies written in Latin, the remains of which date to the early first century BC.2 We have only small surviving fragments of the memoirs composed by four leading Roman senators in the 90s, 80s, and 70s BC. They are Quintus Lutatius Catulus (cos. 102), Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (cos. 115), Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (cos. 88, 80), and Publius Rutilius Rufus (cos. 105).3 These men seem to have been the first Romans to write about their own lives in the first-person singular.4 Their writings were circulated either in their own lifetimes or immediately after their deaths. They knew each other and were linked by complex networks of competition, mutual influence, and enmities sharpened by a harsh environment of political disintegration and civil war. In other words, this little group represents an intellectual milieu of sorts, operating at a rather specific time of political and military crisis.
The inspiration for this volume comes from the work of its dedicatee, Brent D. Shaw, who is one of the most original and wide-ranging historians of the ancient world of the last half-century and continues to open up exciting new fields for exploration. Each of the distinguished contributors has produced a cutting-edge exploration of a topic in the history and culture of the Roman Empire dealing with a subject on which Professor Shaw has contributed valuable work. Three major themes extend across the volume as a whole. First, the ways in which the Roman world represented an intricate web of connections even while many people's lives remained fragmented and local. Second, the ways in which the peculiar Roman space promoted religious competition in a sophisticated marketplace for practices and beliefs, with Christianity being a major benefactor. Finally, the varying forms of violence which were endemic within and between communities.
The Introduction traces the main themes of the volume: boundaries and networks, religious innovation, and violence as an agent of societal change. It offers a tribute to the inspirational scholarship and intellectual influence of Brent Shaw. An analysis of the Demna mosaic from Cap Bon in North Africa is used as an example of the types of overlapping topics that inspired Brent Shaw and this volume.