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Ancient World Seminar: Rens Tacoma (Leiden) – Draining Resources. Theodoric, the Roman Senate, and the Pontine Marshes

When:Mo 19-12-2016 16:15 - 17:30
Where:Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (Oude Boteringestraat 38), room 130
Click to view a larger version. Poster design by Caroline van Toor.
Click to view a larger version. Poster design by Caroline van Toor.

It is one of the great paradoxes of the transmission of our sources that one of our best sources about Roman benefactions postdates the fall of the western Roman empire by more than a century. A small dossier consisting of two letters of king Theodoric (Cassiodorus, Variae 2.32-33) and three almost identical monumental inscriptions (C.I.L. 10.6850-6852) concern a project of draining the Pontine Marshes at the beginning of the 6th cent. AD. Remarkably, the letters and inscriptions contain contradictory statements about the question who took the initiative. The fact that the texts assigned the project to the other party raises in an acute form questions of authorship and agency. Rather than taking the contradictory assignments as a product of special circumstances, it will be argued that the ambiguities were a structural property of the way Roman benefactions worked. Ruler and benefactor were locked in mutual expectations about their behaviour. The lecture will discuss the implications for our understanding of Roman political culture.

Laurens Ernst (Rens) Tacoma is lecturer in Ancient History at Leiden University, working and teaching in the field of Roman social history. He has recently concluded a large research project devoted to Roman migration in the Principate, aiming to offer a comprehensive overview on the basis of a study of migration to and from the city of Rome in the first two centuries A.D. This has resulted in two co-edited volumes published by Brill Leiden and the monograph Moving Romans. Urbanisation, migration and labour in the Roman Principate (OUP 2016). He is currently working on a new book entitled The end of politics? Studies in Roman political culture from the 1st to the 6th cent A.D.