Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.08.52

Roman Roth, Johannes Keller (ed.), Roman by Integration: Dimensions of Group Identity in Material Culture and Text. Journal of Roman Archaeology. Supplementary Series, 66.   Portsmouth, RI:  Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2007.  Pp. 103, figs. 10.  ISBN 978-1-887829-66-3.  $37.50.  

Reviewed by Danijel Dzino, University of Adelaide (
Word count: 1712 words

[Authors and titles of the essays are listed at the end of the review.]

The issues of Romanization and the different ways it has been negotiated throughout the ancient world, have defined the work and achievements of the last generation of Roman historians. The different approaches stemming from anthropology, cultural studies and post-colonial criticism, the notions of "hybridity", "creolisation", and the theory of globalisation have destroyed once and forever the earlier views (stemming as far as Mommsen and Haverfield) of Romanization as a top down "civilising" model and have opened numerous new avenues for exploration and re-assessment.1

This volume had its origin in a conference, Issues of identity in the Roman world, held in Cambridge in January 2003. All together, it is collection of seven fine scholarly papers dealing with the issues of group identity, integration into and resistance to Roman identity in material culture and text. The main emphasis on material culture is in the contributions of Herring, Roth, and Millett, the papers of Keller, Pfeilschifter and Flaig rely more on textual evidence, whilst Gardner implements both. The only problem this collection has is a slight lack of cohesiveness; it is difficult to see the relationship of Gardner's paper to the rest, as it deals with imperial Britain while all the others discuss identity issues in Republican Italy.

In the perhaps too brief introduction, Roth reviews the models of Romanization offered in recent time by Millett, Woolf and Mattingly.2 He states that the intention of the editors and contributors of this volume is to seek and explore ways in which the structure of empire contributed to the integration of groups outside, and sometimes far away from the centre (p. 9).

In his essay on the Greeks and the indigenous population of southeastern Italy, Herring presents an interesting exploration of identities before Roman political arrival in this part of Italy. His argument is that the Greek and indigenous communities started to feel uneasy with each other somewhere in the fourth century BC, after a long period of mainly peaceful acculturation. In that situation the indigenous population began to construct identities through militarily based ideology, and those identifying themselves as Greeks started to perceive their culture as being threatened by "barbarisation". Thus, both sides restructured their identities and sense of cultural belonging in opposition to the "other". This restructuring of identities, according to Herring, enabled these communities to maintain a strong sense of their cultural identities for a long time after the Roman conquest, and negotiate their construction of Romanness in specific ways.

The papers by Pfeilschifter and Keller explore the relationship between Rome and her Italian allies, relying mostly on primary written sources. They both attempt to carry further the argument of Mouritsen that there was no significant political integration of Italian allies in the Republic, and that they in fact had no interest in being assimilated into Republican power structures.3 Pfeilschifter explores the position of the allies in the Republican army. He argues that there was no wide-scale integration of the allies in the Roman army; they remained as separate cohorts and had no major contact with the Roman units of the army. Thus, according to Pfeilschifter, the army cannot be seen as an instrument of integration. The only exception to this might have been the elite corps of four cohorts of the extraordinarii, where stronger integration might occur (pp. 34-35). The author makes the argument that the competition between the Romans and the allies was healthy and productive for Roman successes, even though the allies were aware of their unequal status. This paper might raise some other questions in a comparative perspective, such as the role of the imperial army in the integration of ethnic auxiliary units in the later period.

Keller's paper deals with the elite interests of Romans and their allies in post-Hannibalic Italy. Differing interests of Romans and their allies enabled them, for a long time, to co-exist in equilibrium. The Roman elite were interested in glory, triumphs and the empire, while the Italian elite were interested in trade and regional domination. This equilibrium was shaken in the second century BC when the Roman elite were not able to expand the empire further, so they were compelled to empower the popular assemblies and the equites in order to retain their dominating position. The urban plebs in Rome felt no affection for the allies and the interests of the equites conflicted with the economic interests of the allies. Thus, the allies started to feel frustration and disappointment with their changed position, which ultimately led to the conflict between Rome and her allies. Keller's argument is elite-focused and a bit schematic--it sees "Romans" and "allies" as unified categories with unified interests, offering a single narrative of the events and disregards the complexity of Republican politics in this period. This paper also shows how Republican politics in Italy in some situations worked through informal channels of patronage, outside the formal Roman constitution.

Roth discusses the use of pottery in Republican Italy, drawing upon wider research in relation to pottery and Romanization recently published in his book Styling Romanisation: pottery and society in Central Italy (Cambridge 2007). In his words, this chapter is an invitation to archaeologists to use ceramic typologies in more self-reflective fashions, because typologies, as other more explicitly interpretative system, can easily lead one to reconstruct Roman world according to anachronistic classificatory paradigms (p. 59). The focus of analysis is on the typology of black glossed Italian wares from the Republican period developed by J.-P. Morel4 and its limitations for the study of Italian unification in the late Republic. The most important conclusions are that it is questionable whether typological uniformity in fact reflects shared identity or whether it can be used to analyse hybridity. The research fits nicely into the use of globalisation theory and especially the notion of "glocalisation" (local adaptations of global objects, practices and ideas) in more recent studies.5

Millett analyses the relationship between urban topography and social identity in the Tiber valley. This paper is part of a larger project that deals with Roman cities in the Tiber valley. Millett's enquiry is focused on the town of Falerii Novi. His argument is that Falerii Novi was designed to recreate aspects of the Falerii Veteres and in that way reassert the Faliscan identity. The city was constructed after the destruction of Falerii Veteres in 241 BC and at first sight represents an example of Roman planning. However, Millett notices that the course of the walls, the monumentalisation of the wall, and some other topographical features and urbanistic contexts taken together might suggest that the Faliscan identity was reasserted through the use of these elements. It is a cleverly crafted argument developed from a single case-study; however, it will need more comparative approaches, hopefully to be developed in the future.

Flaig makes an enquiry into the links between gladiatorial games and Roman identity. His contribution looks into the formal characteristics of the games through political semantics, ritual analysis and finally the influence of Greek agones on Roman munera. Flaig's conclusions are that the gladiatorial games showed and celebrated Roman virtues, the order defended against the enemies. Thus, victorious gladiators could be integrated into Roman society through a show of virtues and discipline, and the defeated gladiator might be spared if he displayed the very same values. The decision (missio) over life and death was part of the ritual of Roman politics. Finally, Flaig argues that that the Roman games were potentially challenged with Hellenistic influences in the late Republic and the early Empire, culminating in Nero's attempts to Hellenise the games, turning the ritual's semantics upside down and blurring the separation of participants and audience. Flaig's conclusion that "had the Hellenisers succeeded the ludi would have been turned into Greek agones, and Roman imperial culture would develop in completely different way" (p. 92) is a too far reaching generalisation, but the paper offers useful research in the context of gladiatorial games in Roman cultural and political discourse.

Gardner's paper tackles the social identities of soldiers in the later Roman world, focusing in particular on Britain. He analyses violence and potential for violence as markers for soldiers' identity inside their society. The argument that the use of violence was part of the ways military identity was established and negotiated in Roman society certainly should be taken into account as part of the complex and heterogeneous picture of Roman military identity (its "discrepant identities") that emerges from the most recent research. Gardner also argues that the interaction between provincial societies and Roman army units stationed in different provinces resulted in different constructions of military Romannesses throughout the later Empire, which does correspond with the views of some other scholars in the most recent scholarship.6

The book is finely constructed from a technical view point. I did not find many typos--Ando's book is wrongly dated 2001 and 2002 instead of 2000 (p. 10.); the word "pottery" is misspelled in the title of Roth's book (p. 69), and the chapters of Flaig and Gardner are wrongly numbered (p. 83 and 93). Also Figure 2 in Gardner's paper (p. 99) could be made clearer.

In conclusion, this is a very informative volume. It is unfortunate that it needed four years after the conference to be published, taking into account the significant volume of publication on this topic in this decade, but it still remains a worthy collection of works contributing to the wider picture of further understanding of the ways Roman identity was constructed in antiquity.

The list of essays:

R. Roth, Introduction: Roman culture between homogeneity and integration, pp. 7-10.
E. Herring, Identity crises in SE Italy in the 4th c. B.C.: Greek and native perceptions of the threat to their cultural identities, pp. 11-26.
R. Pfeilschifter, The allies in the Republican army and the Romanisation of Italy, pp. 27-42.
J. Keller, Rome and her Italian allies: conflicting interests and disintegration, pp. 43-58.
R. Roth, Ceramic integration? Typologies and the perception of identities in Republican Italy, pp. 59-70.
M. Millett, Urban topography and social identity in the Tiber Valley, pp. 71-82.
E. Flaig, Roman gladiatorial games: ritual and political consensus, pp. 83-92.
A. Gardner, The social identities of soldiers: boundaries and connections in the later Roman world, pp. 93-103.


1.   In addition to the works stated in n. 2: R. Hingley, Globalizing Roman Culture: Unity, Diversity and Empire, London, New York, 2005 and J. Webster, 'Creolizing the Roman provinces', American Journal of Archaeology 105/2 (2001) 209-225.
2.   M. Millett, The Romanization of Britain: an essay in archaeological interpretation, Cambridge, 1990; G. Woolf, Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilisation in Gaul, Cambridge, 1998; D. J. Mattingly, Britannia: an imperial possession, London 2006.
3.   H. Mouritsen, Italian unification: A study in ancient and modern historiography, London 1998.
4.   J.-P. Morel, Céramique campannienne: les formes (Rome 1981).
5.   Hingley (op. cit.) 111.
6.   E.g. S. James, "The community of the soldiers: a major identity and centre of power in the Roman empire", in P. Baker, C. Forcey, S. Jundi, and R. Witcher (eds), TRAC 98: Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Leicester (Oxford 1999) 14-25.

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