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Recent Dissertations (since 2021)


Irene Elias

Elitism and Identity at the Roman-Era Symposium

This dissertation approaches the symposium of the first and second centuries CE from a cultural historical standpoint. This iteration of the symposium has not been studied through such a lens, and this dissertation describes many of its unique aspects while analyzing its use as a tool for cultural and social identity formation among the symposiasts. The imperial context of this time creates a set of expectations and values absent from the more well-known classical symposium, spurring new tensions, anxieties, and customs within the traditional sympotic framework. These changes are analyzed using literature such as Plutarch’s Table Talk, Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae, and Lucian’s Symposium to allow an overarching analysis of the Roman-era symposium, revealing cross-imperial expectations for the institution regardless of local or personal variations. These texts are also analyzed as vehicles for the public image of the Greek elite, speaking to symposiasts as guidance and to others as a representation of Greek elite values. They are therefore read on multiple levels to nuance the analysis of Greek elite self-perception under the Roman Empire. The dissertation focuses its investigation on the various relational identities expressed and discussed in sympotic texts, analyzing the construction of the sympotic group and its positioning versus the non-elite, non-Greeks, Romans, and Greeks of the past. It argues that the Roman-era symposium prioritizes equality among guests while encouraging a limited sort of diversity to make conversation interesting, and that this bond of equal guests constantly reaffirms their position by situating themselves as superior to others through their intellect—but this illustration of superiority is subtle enough to avoid alienation of important non-Greeks, such as the Roman guests. Ultimately, this attitude extends even to the classical Greeks respected and constantly referenced by Roman-era symposiasts. While the symposium gains authority from its connection to a classical institution, it also freely departs from classical expectations, embracing an atmosphere of adaptation and relying on that openness to adaptation as proof for its participants that the Roman-era symposium is the most advanced form of the symposium up to that point.



Benjamin Abbott

Forging the Anchor: Antiochus I and the Creation of the Seleucid Empire

This dissertation investigates the co-reign and reign of the second king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus I Soter (ca. 294–261 BCE) and serves as the first extensive study of his reign. I argue that the reign of Antiochus I is the period of Seleucid history in which we can identify the first coherent formation of Seleucid imperial ideology and of a Seleucid dynastic identity. To make this argument, I draw on a wide range of evidentiary sources: literature, archaeology, numismatics, epigraphy, and other material sources. Antiochus implemented for the first time or in new ways many facets of Seleucid rule that would come to define the dynasty’s imperial approach for nearly all subsequent Seleucid kings. Among Antiochus’ innovations were the creation of the Seleucid Era, the elevated importance of Seleucid Syria, a defined ideology of Seleucid territory and its bounds, and the introduction of Apollo as a Seleucid dynastic ancestor. The reign of Antiochus has long been overlooked in modern scholarship, and many of these new policies have often been attributed to Antiochus’ father Seleucus. I argue that this retroactive understanding of these innovations was the intent of Antiochus’ ideological program. In the years after Seleucus’ death in 281 BCE, Antiochus created a dynastic identity, which was centered around a newly constructed history of Seleucus’ life and reign. In forging an imaginary history of Seleucus’ life and achievements, Antiochus solidified a coherent dynastic identity, which simultaneously strengthened and deemphasized his own reign by rooting it in a dynastic past and which could also be used as a tool to justify new imperial action. As Antiochus introduced his new Seleucid policies, he downplayed their novelty by inserting them into this new Seleucid past, presenting them as the continuation of things that had already been done and which already existed


Gavin Blasdel

Honors, Politics, and Community in Roman Athens

This dissertation is the first large-scale analysis of the honorific inscriptions of Roman Athens from the Sullan sack in 86 BCE until the Herulian attack in 267 CE. Traditionally, scholars have understood the proliferation of such inscriptions, which singled out and celebrated individual excellence, as evidence for the decline of the Greek cities of the Roman period, whose increasingly oligarchical and hierarchical character deprived the average citizen of a voice. This study challenges such perspectives by interpreting the Athenian honorific inscriptions as political and social artifacts. Specifically, this dissertation contends that, far from being empty gestures, the awarding of inscribed honorific monuments was a dynamic, integral component of civic life that made powerful statements about Athenian identity and values. To do so, it assembles a corpus of more than 1,000 honorific inscriptions set up in Athens and Attica, a number that by far outstrips that of any other Greek city in the Roman period. Chapter one studies the formal structure and conventions of Athenian honorific language and demonstrates that the Athenians adopted the nominative-accusative dedicatory formula, long the standard elsewhere in the Greek world, for their civic honorific inscriptions only in the aftermath of the Sullan destruction. Chapter two unpacks the significance of this development and employs an approach grounded in historical pragmatics to argue for the performative nature of these inscriptions, whose language forcefully presents the polis as a vigorous collective institution in action. Chapter three focuses on the civic and non-civic dedicators and shows how the honorific process depended upon the broad participation of the citizen body across the Athenian civic institutions, chiefly the Areopagos, the boule, and the ekklesia. Chapter four examines how the inscriptions both embed the honorands within traditional communitarian norms and frame their actions primarily in terms of service to the civic community. In emphasizing local context in contrast to the universalizing tendencies of scholarship, this dissertation argues for the specialness of an Athenian honorific language that reflects a specifically Athenian brand of euergetism.


Max Dietrich

Writing Roman Civil War: Greek Elites, Stasis, and Empire 

Most modern scholarship on the Roman civil wars of the 1st c. BCE focuses on the perspectives of contemporary Romans, or the more synthetic and deliberate narratives of later authors. In this dissertation, I analyze the works of four Greek authors contemporary to the Roman civil wars: Nicolaus of Damascus, Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Strabo. I argue that despite their different aims and life circumstances, these authors share a set of attitudes toward Roman civil war that are deserving of attention. These authors were not writing about civil war as a historical event; rather, I argue that they wrote civil war as a way of understanding their own present, and their works can be read through the lens of civil war. In his Bios Kaisaros, Nicolaus explores Roman rulership in civil war through the life of Octavian. Diodorus’ Bibliotheke presents a variety of episodes and anecdotes about the late Republic that speak to Diodorus’ ideas about ideal governance and its collapse. Dionysius uses early Roman history in the Roman Antiquities to demonstrate the importance of Roman history generally, including in the realm of civil war. Finally, Strabo’s Geography covers the Mediterranean-wide impacts of Roman civil war and the uneven distribution of damage. In addition to these divergent topics and aims, I argue that the early Greek authors share certain baseline dispositions towards the subject of the civil war, despite having little or no connection to each other, and their works therefore represent an emergent discourse about Roman civil war. 


Kyle West

Disability in the World of Cicero

Prior to this dissertation, scholars had been hesitant to apply disability as a lens for historical and literary analysis to the ancient world. A model of disability which minimized the body as well as individual agency in favor of heavy emphasis on social construction had left disability difficult to discern in the absence of modern social structures. By applying a multi-factorial “biopsychosocial” model of disability to the writings of Cicero, this problem is circumvented. It is found that, as reflected in Latin terminology, Cicero and his contemporaries did not operate with a clearly theorized “disabled/non-disabled” binary in mind. However, they were very concerned with the frailty of human bodies, which, whether actual (impairment) or potential

(vulnerability) could have significant psychological and social consequences. In rhetoric, disability could be used as a means to alienate political and personal enemies from the community, or to throw greater glory on the achievements of those Cicero already admired. In philosophy, disability represented a significant threat to the good life, which had to be met with virtue. Finally, in letters, Cicero makes use of disability as a metaphor to help him process heightened negative emotions. He has to tread carefully, however, as to appear too disabled by grief to his peers would violate social expectations of fortitude. The argument therefore confirms disability as a useful theoretical tool for ancient historical and literary analysis.




Timothy Warnock

Barba: A History of Facial Hair as Cultural Symbol in the Roman World

This dissertation is a cultural study of male facial hair in the Roman world. It approaches facial hair as a cultural symbol and employs an historical anthropological approach to access the various cultural meanings of this bodily feature. Additionally, by understanding facial hair to be a natural symbol, this dissertation also shows how facial hair played a role in the mediation between nature and culture, as well as between the body and society. At the root level, facial hair symbolized “wildness” or uncontrolled nature in Roman culture. As such, it was subject to varying degrees of control through cultus. This dissertation begins with a diachronic account of facial hair and its cultus. This reveals the role that facial hair played in expressions of masculinity and how facial hair and its maintenance were exemplary of the debate around masculine cultus – a debate which changed over time. Additionally, facial hair was viewed as a disguise, which might be put on or off and viewers could “unbeard” those whom they held to have false beards. It then explores the depositio barbae – the ritual first shave – and the role of facial hair in the transition between adolescence and adulthood. The depositio was both a vow for a long life and a symbolic first act of cultus which reigned in the uncontrolled nature of youth, a life stage symbolized by lanugo or downy facial hair. Next, it explores the role of facial hair in the mediation between the paradigms of human and animal, urban and rustic, and Roman and non-Roman. It then discusses the “mourning beard” as a symbol of voluntary and temporary withdrawal from society. Following this is an analysis of facial hair as a symbol of the temporal otherness of Rome’s male ancestors. Lastly, it evaluates facial hair as a symbol of divine otherness. By exploring facial hair as a cultural trope, this dissertation accesses meanings, but also how these meanings changed over time and how facial hair was polysemous. It also contributes to the understanding of masculine self-fashioning, as facial hair was an embodied symbol. 



Bryn Ford

Unstable Territory: Roman-Era Elites and the Production of the Italian Countryside 

The Italian peninsula has always been a complex and divided environment, broken by mountains and rivers into compact regions possessing a range of ecologies and productive models. After Rome united these varied regions into a single polity for the first time, however, a new cultural narrative began to emerge that stressed the geographic consistency of the Italian rural landscape, grounding the political unity of the peninsula in an imagined ecological unity. This dissertation explores how this idea was produced at the level of the Italian regions, where literary images of uniform agrarianism and productivity ran up against the realities of ecological and economic difference. It argues that the elites of individual regions, as they integrated themselves into the emerging pan-Italian aristocracy at the end of the republic and the beginning of the principate, found new ways of looking upon their distinct home landscapes that emphasized generically Italian features and overlooked elements that could highlight geographic and historic difference. After an introduction setting out a theoretical approach to ‘selective attention’ in historic landscapes, this process is illustrated through case studies of the central Apennines, the Cisalpine plains, and northern Campania. In each case study, a detailed reconstruction of the ancient physical landscape serves as a backdrop to a literary study that considers how particular environmental features were emphasized or overlooked in elite portrayals of the region, examining authors including Ovid, Virgil, Livy, and Catullus. It is concluded that the elites of each region developed different, and sometimes even mutually contradictory, ways of valuing and gazing upon their landscapes, in response to the particular threats that their geographic and historic circumstances posed to their participation in the pan-Italian cosmos. The dissertation contributes to our understanding of local agency in the Roman era unification of Italy, highlighting in particular the cultural and imaginative side of this process. More broadly, it demonstrates how new landscape images are generated from the raw material of the physical environment in periods of historic transition.


Jordan Rogers

Vicinitas in Urbe: Neighborliness and Urban Community in Midrepublican Rome

Vicinitas in Urbe: Neighborliness and Urban Community in Mid-Republican Rome is an analysis of the social and cultural strategies of urban neighboring at Rome during the mid-Republic, from approximately the end of the fourth century BCE to the end of the second century BCE. It adopts a dialectic framework of agency and structure in analyzing and interpreting the literary, archaeological, epigraphic, and numismatic sources for the creation and maintenance of urban neighborhood communities—vici— during the period in question and, in doing so, proposes novel ways of analyzing the interaction between Rome’s urban spaces and those dwelling within them. The dissertation argues that the social history of the mid-Republic must begin with the smallest communal unit of urban society, the vicus, to understand the norms that governed everyday life within the city of Rome. Further, it contends that a focus on these norms, and the strategies individuals employed to comply with, resist, or manipulate them, is fundamental for understanding major political events and upheavals in the middle and late Republic. In chapter one, I discuss the various ways in which the spaces of Rome, including its neighborhoods, were conceptually divided. Chapter two then treats how the formation, maintenance, and performance of collective memories through commemorative rituals was fundamental to local identities and social life. The dissertation then pivots towards a consideration of the social aspects of neighboring, first through an examination of neighborliness, vicinitas, in chapter three, in which I argue that claiming another as a neighbor (vicinus/a) was a claim designed to place an individual into a relationship of mutual obligation with oneself. Chapter four then treats how the exchange of information within the neighborhood, in the form of gossip, rumor, and reputation, underpinned every facet of urban life. The last chapter then sketches the various practices of public shaming designed to exert a communal control over individual behavior within neighborhoods. As a social history of urban community, Vicinitas in Urbe reasserts the role of Rome’s urban inhabitants in shaping both cultural discourse and the seminal events that have long defined Roman history in the middle Republic.