TRAC 2015 Sessions Confirmed

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The Call for Sessions has now closed. We would like to thank all those who submitted proposals and to the Roman Finds Group and Association for Environmental Archaeology for sponsoring sessions.

In honour of our twenty fifth anniversary this years conference will feature three parallel sessions over both days.

The twelve sessions that will feature at TRAC 2015 are


Charmed, I’m sure: Roman magic – old theory, new approaches

Adam Parker, York Museums Trust

‘Magic’, in the Roman world, is a catch-all term used to describe all of the supernatural elements of daily life that are difficult or unsuitable to be discussed as ‘religion’. It has been studied alongside religion, both as a related phenomenon and as a standalone concept for a considerable amount of time, the legacy of this discussion is complex, varied and almost entirely focussed in its theoretical nature.

The potential evidence base for magic is huge, encompassing rings intending  to prevent stomach ache, phallic images hung around the home, malevolent curses, protective prayers,  physical acts to prevent the gaze of the evil eye, charms, rite, ritual and much more. The true extent of what we can consider ‘magical’ is unknown as no such conclusive arrangement of the material exists; this ideal is, in fact, a long way away.

Too little recent academic discussion has focussed on the application of the magical theory of the 80s and 90s; there is a long absence of academic discussion which looks empirically at the material casually termed ‘magical’. It is the fundamental intention of this session to offer up some new and original research and approaches into this area, with the explicit aim that the theoretical discussion of each incorporates significant empirical evidence into its very nature in order to push forward a long overdue research agenda.

The session will include perspectives from university academics and museum professionals offering multi-disciplinary approaches to aspects of art, religion, magic and apotropaism, personal belief, burial practices and practical archaeology. The resulting spatial, contextual, linguistic and material analyses of these objects will allow us to build a better picture of their use within the Roman world.


Contextualising coins, assembling contexts and interrogating agency

Adrian Chadwick & Adam Rogers, University of Leicester & Eleanor Ghey, British Museum

In recent decades archaeologists have developed more sophisticated theoretical and methodological approaches to Romano-British artefactual analyses. Material culture such as brooches and pottery has been used to examine topics such as gender and identity. To date, however, Roman coins and coin hoards have rarely been subject to such considered theoretical and contextual treatments, and where they have been studied in such terms this has still tended to be in isolation from other artefacts, as decontextualised and objectified items.

Recent theoretical ideas regarding deposition, assemblages and relational agency (e.g. Bennett 2010; deLanda 2006; Ingold 2011) offer the potential to develop more integrated approaches to Romano-British finds assemblages, where coins and other artefacts can be examined in relation to the landscape, depositional context, practice and to the other objects and materials associated with them. For example, traditional numismatic interpretation distinguishes between various types of assemblages – ‘site finds’, hoards, and material accumulated as a result of ritual activity. Contextual approaches to these assemblages may reveal more complex and overlapping practices behind their formation, challenging the integrity of these categories at the same times as enriching our interpretation of the material. Relational approaches derived from network and assemblage theory reveal how coins and other artefacts are themselves actants, caught up within complex, vibrant meshworks and flows of agencies and energies. This allows the many complex and dynamic connections between people, place and different objects and materials to be investigated. This session will explore such innovative methodological and theoretical approaches to coins and other artefacts.


Socks & sandals: historical fiction as archaeological technique?

Daan van Helden, University of Leicester & Rob Witcher, University of Durham

Roman antiquity continues to be a source of inspiration for fiction. The list of films, TV-series and novels is seemingly endless (Gladiator, HBO Rome, and Robert Harris’ Cicero trilogy spring to mind respectively as recent examples). A source of entertainment for many, including (some) academics, these narratives also have a significant impact on popular views of ancient Rome. This impact is undeniably greater than that of most academic research.

Whilst some of these influential writers and film-makers are acclaimed for their attention to historical detail, there is a tradition of academics taking issue with inaccuracies in the portrayal of Roman antiquity. Famously, at least one historical consultant for the film Gladiator resigned over deviations from historical fact. Some facts were deemed too unbelievable to be included in the film (such as the appropriate direction of the thumb in the execution order at gladiatorial games).

At the same time, artistic licence lends a certain realism to fictional Roman antiquity that is often lacking in academic writing. In place of the faceless ciphers tolerated by academics, these imagined pasts are populated with individuals for whom we might feel empathy—or antipathy. These people, and the worlds in which they are represented, are undoubtedly inauthentic, but they can serve as a reminder to scholars of ancient Rome that the accounts we produce leave—consciously or otherwise—large gaps which question the robustness and accuracy of our efforts. Did people wear socks in their sandals? Did this window have glass in it? What was the person in this grave like? These are questions with which film-makers, in particular, are more directly confronted than academic archaeologists (or even novelists). The cinematic mise-en-scene cannot be left incomplete for want of more or better data. To what extent, does the scholarly luxury of ignoring or glossing over incomplete or non-existent data restrict our academic thinking? And, in that sense, can fictional representations of ancient Rome be an aid to research into the Roman past, perhaps simply because of the need to ‘complete’ the scene?

This session aims to address such questions from diverse angles. Bringing together specialists from the creative fields with Roman archaeologists, a variety of perspectives will illuminate this interesting—and potentially productive—tension between fantasy and reality.


The Growth of Rome: Scale, Cost, and Extent

Matthew J. Mandich, University of Leicester & Saskia Stevens, Utrecht University
Chair: Andrew Wilson, University of Oxford

Despite the size and centrality of the city of Rome, it is often avoided in the current theoretical discourse in favour of more heterogeneous datasets, predominantly from provincial settings. This is likely due to the archaeological and historical complexity of the City’s evolution and its inextricable association with the Romanization paradigm. However, Rome’s expansion as a city and polity in central Italy was hardly uniform, and evidence for ‘glocalisation’ can be found both in the City and its hinterland, indicating much higher levels of settlement variability than previously hypothesized. Given recent publications on Rome’s early expansion and the results of ongoing fieldwork in the city and its environs, a return to Rome focused on current inclinations in archaeological theory is both warranted and needed. While Rome’s economy and demography remain fundamental for assessing growth, many avenues of debate on these polarizing yet integral topics have been explored and exhausted over the past decades. The goal of this session is then to give these debates fresh perspective by examining growth in conjunction with the latest theoretical proclivities, such as world-system analysis (WSA), scaling, and cost analysis. Key questions of the session will revolve around what types of economic, technological and physical growth occurred at Rome (when and why?); how this growth affected city, suburb and Empire; and the issues and implications surrounding Rome’s suburban extent.


Theorizing Space and Material Culture in Late Antiquity

Brittany Thomas, Denis Sami & Chantal Bielmann, University of Leicester

Late Antiquity is an area of study often forgotten in Roman studies in the recent past, especially in the theoretical realm of TRAC. Though a transitional period, peoples of the later Roman, and indeed early Byzantine, Empire still broadly termed themselves ‘Roman’ and continued in their various social and cultural traditions inherited from the Roman past. This gap between ‘Roman’ studies and ‘Late Antique’ studies could be due to the vagueness of the periodization itself, with date caps varying from the second to the eighth centuries, and the broadness of an Empire split two or more ways across Europe, Africa, and Asia Minor.

New and increasingly theoretical approaches to Late Antiquity have in recent years show a clear shift away from traditional topics on early Christian Europe and a shift toward such issues as urban visualisation and town planning, land and landscape use/reuse, post-Roman identities, and a rethinking of late antique ‘paganism’. Late Antiquity is arguably one of the current areas of Roman Archaeology most active in incorporating theory into practice and pushing at the boundary of traditional scholarship.

This session is intended to incorporate these broad topics under the umbrella of theoretical approaches to traditional archaeological themes. Papers are invited with a preferable focus on the abovementioned aspects of space (urban and rural, private and public, visualisation), land use or reuse, and objects or material culture related to rethinking our understanding of space and place. In the spirit of TRAC’s themes, presenters are invited to discuss the nature of ‘Late Antiquity’ as a part of Roman Archaeology (or not), and to interpret the broadness of the periodization as fits their particular area of research.


Nobilia Opera? Re-staging Greek Artworks in Roman Conexts. New Approaches and Perspectives

Gabriella Cirucci, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa/Getty Research Institute

Current scholarship has reached opposite conclusions on the role played by ancient Greek artworks in Roman society. Regardless of the fact that the reuse is explained in terms of art collection (Bounia 2004; Rutledge 2012) or–on the other hand–of a resemantization deprived of any aesthetic purpose (Hölscher 2006; Bravi 2012), most of the interpretations tend to be one-sided, and none of them can be considered fully satisfactory. The conventional approach to the topic has favoured a focus on specific categories of objects (Greek masterpieces of canonical artists), audience (élite viewers), or on specific historical periods, personalities, and settings. In this perspective, minor attention has been devoted to the material evidence, which consists mostly of anonymous and more ordinary sculptures and reliefs unearthed in Roman contexts of reuse. At the same time, transformation of both objects and display settings over time and space has consistently been overlooked.

This session aims to reverse this disinclination by adopting a more object-oriented, and a wider cultural historical perspective. Thanks to recent studies on the impact of non-Roman artifacts on the Roman material culture (Versluys 2002; Bricault et al. 2007), and theoretical reassessments of the scope of Roman eclecticism (Elsner 2006; Tronchin 2012), we intend to shed new light on the reuse of Greek artworks in Roman contexts. Both the original significance of the reused Greek artworks at the time of the first removal to Rome, and the later meaning(s) they assumed by change of ownership, audience, and settings will be explored in light of the mutual interaction between reused objects and contexts of reuse. We are particularly interested in papers discussing both theoretical approaches to the topic and case studies focusing on the transformation of reused Greek artifacts and Roman display settings over time. The main areas of research are late Republican and Imperial Rome and Italy, but we welcome papers dealing with other areas or periods in a comparative perspective.


Camp and the City: Defining Military/Civil Spheres in the Roman East

Guy Stiebel, Tel-Aviv University

In light of the growing number of recent excavations of Roman sites, strata and contexts in the Roman East, and the rejection of the notions of romanization and globalization of the Empire, it became ever more clearer that much of our knowledge regarding the interaction between military and civil spheres, based on the Roman West, is little relevant in the East and that a revision is required.

The problem is best demonstrated by the fact that despite vast historical and epigraphic data that established the existence of Legio X Fretensis’s camp in Jerusalem and after 125 years of excavations we are still unable to clearly identify the whereabouts of the camp. The question of definition intensify even more so in the East where the grand urban sphere comprised at times of both civil and military sub-spheres. This is true to architectural remains, material culture and even spiritual activity – a most provoking example of such a case is the 3rd century Christian praying hall found recently at Legio inside a building being used by Roman military personals outside the boundaries of the camp.

The question of how do we define military from civilian (and perhaps whether we should separate them from the first place) stands at the heart of the suggested session, in which we gathered excavators and scholars of these sites that not only deals with such issues but have access to raw and recently excavated archaeological material and data. The recent excavations of Aelia Capitolina (Roman Jerusalem) and Legio, as well as the advanced analytical work carried out in past decades in Dura Europos provide excellent test-cases and opportunity to tackle such themes. What tools should we use and what are the mechanisms involved in the varied environments, spheres and sites in the Roman East are some of the suggested perspectives that we hope to be able to discuss next March in Leicester.


Socio-corporeal practices in the province

Thomas Derrick & Giacomo Savani, University of Leicester

The provinces and the peripheries of the Roman Empire were dynamic places where the arrival of external material culture and social practices was interacted with in a complex and reciprocal way by multifarious local communities. This session aims to bring together studies from various loci on the fringes of Roman cultural influence, either beyond or in ‘frontier’ provinces, but also in more traditional provincial contexts with distinct indigenous traditions. By examining the evidence for the engagement in ‘Roman’ corporeal practices we can begin to engage and theorise more widely about the way in which external practices became adopted and adapted in various communities. Particularly welcome is material from outside Britain.

The way we treat and present our bodies is intrinsic to the way in which we hope to be perceived by those around us. This can be expressed through adornment through clothing, jewellery, perfumes and cosmetics but also through the way in which we treat our bodies, our health regimen, our diet, hygiene and ablution routines. It can also be the way in which the body can be temporarily altered such as in the alteration of head and body hair. The archaeological record provides material evidence, in some form or another, for all of these practices and this session brings together papers which focus specifically on the social context of these behaviours, the spaces in which they occurred and the broader cultural significance of these changes. We are concerned too with questions about the spread of socio-corporeal practices and the social and political vectors of change. It is hoped that this session will help nuance our understanding of attitudes to the body in provincial settings, far from the socio-cultural and political centre of Rome.


Interdisciplinary Approaches to Roman Artefacts Sponsored by the Roman Finds Group

Ellen Swift, University of Kent

The Roman Finds Group has an eclectic base comprising field archaeologists, materials scientists, museum curators and educators, experimental archaeologists, academics, and many others. As such we would like to promote an interdisciplinary approach to Roman artefact studies, drawing on the diverse range of knowledge and expertise that exists in material-based studies. The contribution of anthropology is long-standing in the interpretation of archaeological artefacts, however, many other disciplines also have a material focus. This session particularly encourages theoretically-informed contributions that consider the material of Roman artefacts from a wider perspective, e.g. that of art and design, museum studies, materials science, craft experience, or experimental reconstruction.


Integrating Environmental and Theoretical Roman Archaeology Sponsored by the Association for Environmental Archaeology

Lisa Lodwick, University of Oxford & James Morris, University of Central Lancashire

The field of Environmental Archaeology is often accused of being atheoretical, and previous contributions to TRAC utilising zooarchaeological, archaeobotanical, palynological and other environmental archaeological datasets are uncommon. Most recently, attention has been drawn by Pitts (2007) to the low use of zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical data in the study of identity. However, in recent years, some research has moved away from the traditional themes of agriculture, diet and trade, to draw on bodies of theory developed from research fields beyond archaeology, and has investigated areas such as human-animal relationships (Sykes 2012), the agency of farming (Bogaard et al. 2011) and the materiality of plants (Van der Veen 2014).

We welcome papers from the range of environmental archaeological sub-disciplines, examining any aspect of Roman archaeology, yet within a clear theoretically grounded framework. These may range from ‘small-scale’ investigations, such as studies of human-animal/plant relationships and identity, to ‘large-scale’ analyses of economic models.
General Session Open to theoretically informed papers that do not fit with the themes of other sessions

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