In the late 1970s, an archaeological paradigm of ‘Hellenization’ was firmly established to explain cultural change in the regions of Italy from about 200 BC to the early Imperial period. In this model, the diffusion of various forms and styles of material culture throughout the peninsula was understood as a process of acculturation, driven mainly by Rome and its senatorial élite and thus intrinsically linked to the contemporary wave of ‘Romanization.’ At the same time, the ‘romanizers’ themselves were seen as the weaker part in a second process of acculturation, in which they were ‘hellenized’ by the cultural superiority of the Greek East (as implied e.g. by Horace epist. 2, 1, 156f.).
However, over the last two decades this framework has been thoroughly challenged by a variety of new approaches, drawing largely from post-colonial thought and cultural theory. Stressing the importance of multiple identities, local innovation and resistance – all well-known from anthropology, globalization theory, and linguistics – the big narrative of acculturation was gradually deconstructed, introducing a much more dynamic but also heterogeneous image of Late Hellenistic Italy. In the foreground stood the much debated concepts of hybridization and hybridity, in which players from different cultures are actively negotiating in a cultural middle-ground. A slightly different approach was recently taken by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, who conceptualized the cultural formation of Late Hellenistic Rome and Italy as an example of bilingualism, stressing the importance of ‘deliberate code-switching.’ In his own words “the cultures do not fuse […], but enter into a vigorous and continuous process of dialogue with one another” (A. Wallace-Hadrill, Rome’s Cultural Revolution, Cambridge 2008, p. 23). However, the socio-political framework for this kind of ‘dialogue’ remains rather vague, causing a certain uneasiness with the undoubtedly attractive image of a stimulating multicultural society of code-switchers. Already Mikhail Bachtin, one of the founding fathers of ‘hybridity’ in literary studies, made a distinction between at least two different kinds of hybridization: First, as an intentional and politically motivated strategy; second, as an unconscious, much more organic process, whose results are much less obvious or clear-cut.
Against the backdrop of this caveat, this session tries to shed new light on the ways of modelling the process of cultural formation in the archaeology of Late Hellenistic Rome and Italy in a wider Mediterranean context. The key question is: to what extent did objects, buildings or texts carry and communicate values across time and space, transforming societies? Drawing from diverse fields of material evidence, such as art, architecture, inscriptions and objects of consumption, the positive qualities and effects of cultural exchange shall be set against factors like dominance, physical displacement and subjugation. By bringing together a variety of evidence the central role of the material world in the negotiation of different types of value and ideas will be highlighted. From this exploration, the session seeks to uncover the complex mechanisms of cultural construction and transformation. To what extent were political and cultural values embodied and communicated by objects, and to what extent did these objects themselves have agency, perpetuating and reinforcing these ideas? How were differing types of value transported or exchanged in the Late Hellenistic Mediterranean, and what impact did Roman hegemony have on existing patterns of exchange? Did ‘foreign’ objects and habits imported into 2nd and 1st century Italy transform Italic and Roman values? How were social and cultural systems reinforced or shattered through the acquisition and display of new prestige goods, languages and styles? These questions will form the core of the session, though all papers making new suggestions for the modelling of cultural change in Late Hellenistic Rome and Italy are most welcome.
This session is made up of six papers and one poster presentation.