The Roman Empire was a Mediterranean-wide and multi-cultural society. Why did it fall apart? At the end of the ancient word the multi-cultural gave way to rival kingdoms which were held together by religious creeds and ethnic identities.
These changes took place from the second to the seventh century, but they have shaped the modern world. It is in these years that many of the ideals and values of the modern world first took shape: not only Christianity and Islam, but many of the still-powerful ethnic identities (including the Arab, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic ‘peoples’ or ‘nations’).
Our project studies the hidden side of life under Rome. What was life like, for example, for women and children? Or for religious minorities and the poor? Identity politics were important in this period, and they shaped the effects of Roman power ‘on the ground’. This is true for family life, for how individuals made use of the justice system and how they found themselves ‘managed’ by the officials of a far-away empire. Religious and ethnic identities allowed Romans both rich and poor to demand loyalty from one another, and sometimes to claim enhanced rights and privileges.
The ancient world has much to teach us about the present day, and we have found in our public engagement work that it can serve as a ‘safe space’ for seeing the tensions we face in modern society in a new light. Our changing Romans have something to tell us about the modern world, and at the same time, finding the connection to the world around us has helped us, as scholars, to see the Romans differently.