One of the most important theoretical traditions in archaeology is the suite of approaches derived from the writings of Marx and Engels, and their followers. In Anglophone archaeology, various forms of Marxist thought were influential throughout the mid-late 20th century, from the pioneering work of Gordon Childe, through a more covert alignment with some of the aims of processual archaeology, to the more openly neo-Marxist aspects of post-processualism. While the application of ideas about economic structure, ideology, and social change derived from Marxism has been limited in Anglophone Roman archaeology, there is massive potential for such approaches to be explored, particularly as Marxist thought is enjoying a renaissance of relevance in the early 21st century. Moreover, such approaches provide a promising avenue for theoretical engagement between the Anglophone and Italian traditions in Roman studies, because a Marxist perspective has of course been a significant feature of later 20th century Roman archaeology in Italy. This session is therefore intended both to promote such an engagement between national traditions, and also to explore at the theoretical and applied levels the relevance of Marxist approaches to understanding either the economic and social dynamics of the Roman world or the historiography of Roman archaeology.
This session is made up of seven papers.
“Finding the marginalised? Being the marginalised?”
Steve Roskams (University of York)
My response to this session, initially, was to ask ‘ What Marxist approaches to Roman archaeology?’ Any review would thus be quite brief! I do, however, welcome this chance to discuss the Anglophone application of Historical Materialism, especially for the opportunity it presents to engage with our Italian colleagues. I also appreciate the recent broadening of debate on Marxist perspectives, now that talk of a living in a post-socialist world; of having reached, with Fukuyama, “The End of History”; and of post-processualist perspectives in archaeology as being intellectually fulfilling have all been exposed as questionable or vacuous.
My plan is to focus selectively on the historiography of Roman studies. This must take place both within and beyond archaeology, as some of the more important perspectives come from outside our discipline. What I see as the relative lack of advance in this sphere may seem surprising, given that Marx himself was deeply interested in Antiquity, finding a direct link between his early research into Democritus and Epicurus, via Leibnitz, to Hegel’ s dialectics, which he utilised then transformed. Part of the explanation is that Marxism still has to rid itself entirely of stagist notions derived from the machinations of Stalinism. Yet I believe that progress has also stalled due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the notion of a mode of production, and thus of what we mean by the slave mode of production. I will try to show that this has important implications for how we might interpret a range of archaeological evidence.
Some time ago, Randall McGuire, in A Marxist Archaeology, proposed that “Marxism (is) a philosophy, a tradition of thought, a mode of theoretical production”. Compare this with Trotsky: “Marxism is, above all, a method of analysis – not analysis of texts, but analysis of social relations”. It will become clear that I am very much with Trotsky on this one.
“Divorcing theory from politics: Marxist thought in Eastern European Roman archaeology”
Emily Hanscam (Durham University)
How does Roman scholarship in countries like Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Serbia currently differ? What role, if any, does Marxist theory play in this divergence? Is there a noticeably different attitude towards Marxist thought in formerly communist countries? Given the history of communism in this area, is it possible to separate the connotation of Marxism (with all its political baggage) from the key points of theoretical Marxism? For Romania especially the Roman past is vital to their national identity and heritage, more intimately tied to the contemporary perceptions of the state than in the West. This relationship determined the historiographical development of Roman archaeology, to the extent that the success of the discipline depended on the current political climate. It appears, however, that if there is a Marxist tradition in Romania it is in spite of the communist era. Dragoman describes the use of Marxism in this period as “assertions mechanically added at the beginning or end of some absolutely traditional (positivist-empiricist) archaeological works” (2009: 2). To understand the history of Marxism in Romania and the rest of Eastern Europe, we must consider the employment of the theory (or lip-service to the theory) in restricted academic climates as well as the use of tenets central to the theory as genuine methodological developments. This paper will attempt to separate one from the other, in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the means by which Roman scholarship developed in 20th century Eastern Europe. It will also consider the circumstances in which a discipline can be seen as progressing theoretically despite the change being politically motivated.
Reference: Dragoman, A. 2009. Ideology and politics in researching the (E) Neolithic in Romania. Dacia LIII, p.167–189.
“Crisis, Marxism and Reconstructions of Time”
Paul Pasieka (German Archaeological Institute, Rome)
In my paper I will explore the relationship between Marxist conceptions of crisis and their impact on archaeological research of the Roman Empire after World War II. The term of crisis and its conceptualization occupies a central position in Marxism. Two different uses of crisis can be differentiated in broad terms: on the one hand, cyclical, short-term crises form an essential part of the economy in a capitalistic and industrialized society; on the other hand, crisis is used to describe the transitional process between different historical formations of society. The first type of crisis is a phenomenon firmly rooted in modern day industrial societies and therefore cannot be found in other historical periods. This model gained far-reaching influence on the conception of the constitution of the modern economy and diffused broadly into every day knowledge. The latter type of crisis, in contrast, form part of Marx’ s philosophy of history. They are used to construct the conversion between different historical formations of society as a process of ever increasing socio-economic tensions. These tensions are solved either through evolution or through revolution. This paper poses the question whether one or both of these Marxist conceptions of crisis were incorporated in archaeological research and methodology, how they were incorporated and which influence they exerted on our thinking and perception of time and its inherent dynamics. This last point highlights the conscious and unconscious implications of a normatively loaded term like crisis and its relationship to historical and archaeological sources and their own temporal and chronological qualities. I want to compare individual, selected examples of Marxist traditions in archaeological research in England, Italy and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to emphasize similarities and differences in their approaches to Marxist interpretations. Moreover, the paper aims to show the international connections between Marxist actors, potential interdependences in the works of the major scholars in light of their different social and political backgrounds, and the dynamics of different European ‘ Marxisms’ in archaeology.
“Worshipping the Roman emperor: uneven and combined developments?”
Dies van der Linde (Koç University, İstanbul)
The main attraction of currently dominant theoretical approaches in Roman Archaeology such as globalisation and ‘identity’ studies lies – in contrast to the master narrative of “Romanisation”– in their ability to account for heterogeneity, diversity and localities. However, the fundamental problem with these approaches is their tendency to describe diversity rather than to explain it. Leon Trotsky’ s law of ‘uneven and combined development’, first outlined in his treatise The History of the Russian Revolution (1930), does have this explanatory power and has experienced a resurgence in recent social theory-debates. This paper aims to explore the possibilities and shortcomings of the law of ‘uneven and combined development’ in studying social change during the Roman Imperial Period, with particular reference to the development of emperor worship in Roman Asia Minor. Referring to emperor worship and local religious traditions in Roman Asia Minor, the late Simon Price in his influential account Rituals and power: the Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor (1984: 234) already recognised that “the accommodation of external authority within local traditions is a widespread phenomenon.” Moving beyond the recognition of heterogeneity in the spread of emperor worship, we should ask: how can we account for the fact that these processes of accommodation, of incorporation, differed from city to city? And why did these developments occur in particular and distinct ways? By means of a selection of case studies in Asia Minor – e.g. Ephesos and Adada – this paper discusses the incorporation of emperor worship in different cities and the various strategies of incorporation. By adopting the law of ‘uneven and combined development’ the paper provides an attempt to explain this variety with reference to ‘the advantage of backwardness’.
“Marxist dialectic vs. the predominant notion of local identities: the study of cult centres in the Hauran (southern Syria) (100BC–AD300)”
Francesca Mazzilli (University of Cambridge)
Sanctuaries in the Hauran have been subject of scholarly interest for almost over two centuries. Inscriptions were at first documented in the second half of the nineteenth century. Temples’ ruins were recorded from the late nineteenth century. A categorisation of deities worshipped in the region goes back to the 1950s. More recently, in the last forty years scholars have argued the predominance of a local identity in the Hauran. Steinsapair has attempted a one-off phenomenological interpretation of the ritual landscape in 2005. In view that these scholarly findings on the subject partially reflect how archaeological approaches have developed and changed over time, this paper points out to the necessity to seek a more contemporary perspective on this topic. It investigates to what extent and how a Marxist dialectic can help move away from the scholarly monolithic idea on the predominance of the local identity in the Hauran. Through the study of rural cult centres and historical sources we can trace complex political, social and economic dynamics in this area. The Hauran was inhabited by a local rural population connected with and influenced by other cultures and it was a territory of conflicts between local monarchies before its integration into the Roman Empire. These conflictual historical events, including the annexation of the region to the Roman Empire, and different political and cultural entities embedded in the local political structure determined social dynamics and change. A Marxist dialectic offers us the tools to re-evaluate the society of the Hauran not as an inexistent isolated oasis but as a complex interconnected web, of an entity defined by its relationship to other entities. This paper aims to consider the society of the Hauran as an ‘ onion’, using Patterson’s image, with different layers that scholars can and ought to peel and unravel.
“Dynamics of power: an architectural reading of concentration of power (Ullastret, northern Iberia, IV-III century BC)”
David Cebrian (Independent researcher)
This paper will discuss the role of domestic architecture in the construction of narratives of power and its importance as a key feature to determine and analyse both the economic system, the social change and the prevailing model of family in the 4th-3rd century BC. On the one hand, scrutiny of domestic architecture is a fruitful way by which to draw out a deeper insight with respect to social organisation, as well as being an indicator of ideology. On the other hand, social change is frequently reflected in the household in the same way as it is in settlement structure.
Ullastret is located in north-east Catalonia. The size of the settlement and the urban layout, along with its impressive defensive system, make this site one of the most relevant settlements of both Catalonia and the western Mediterranean. A domestic architecture has recently been excavated: the so-called zone 14 which has shed light on Iberian urbanism and relationships of power. After taking into account the empirical analysis, this paper contributes by determining that power can be concentrated for a number of reasons. These relational reasons are addressed within this presentation through the architectural inquiry of some of the most relevant features of this household, such as its intimate linkage to the rampart and the gateway, and its interrelation with the landscape and the management of the natural resources.
The core idea of this paper draws on my interpretation of Marx’s concept of structure and superstructure, wherein social organization determines the economic model, and therefore, by applying the dialectical method, the control of production determines social organization. It is within this theoretical framework that my interpretation of the Iberic site of Ullastret articulates.
“Welcome-back Marx! The rise, the fall and the rebirth of a thought. Marxist perspective for Roman Archaeology at the end of the Post-Modern Era”
Edoardo Vanni (University of Siena)
In this paper I will try to draw briefly the theoretical agenda concerning the role of Marxist tradition as a real place for synthesis of several typologies of oppositions (theoretical, material, ideological and so on) by taking into account its different penetration in Anglo -American and Italian Archaeology from a philosophical point of view (historicism vs empiricism? Hegel vs Kant?). The theoretical debate in archaeology has been dominated by the well-known diatribe between processual and post-processual archaeology, particularly fervid in the Anglo-American academia. These challenges to the hegemony of New archaeological theory manifest the appearance of oppositional theory groups in other parts of the world, engaged in a dialogue with the processual archaeologists. In this process the Marxist thought has played a key role.
The three postprocessual archaeologies discernible are conceptually distinct but related, with areas of overlap and divergence. One claims the English philosopher Robin Collingwood as an intellectual ancestor. A second strand resonates more consciously wit h phenomenology and poststructuralism and employs the insights of French thinkers, Gadamer, Giddens, as well as critical theorists like Benjamin or Habermas. The third postprocessual archaeology acknowledges the importance of Althusser’ s insights on ideology as well as those of Lukacs, Ricoeur and the Frankfurt School.
The three postprocessual archaeologies take different elements from Marxist social thought and from the European Archeological tradition, without resolving the tension among structural Marxism, humanist Marxism, and Marxist phenomenology.
After the failure of great narratives, we are now seeing a rise (or a need?) of strong theoretical back-grounds, that recall (new)-materialism. We have to rethink the role of Marxist thought in the wider context of different academic traditions, especially for the Theoretical Roman Archaeological Agenda, at the end of Post-Modern Era.