The first (ever!) ancient history workshop to be held at Queen’s University Belfast was convened by Dr Laura Pfuntner on 24 May 2018 on the theme of warfare and peacemaking in the Roman provinces in the first century BC.
The workshop was a welcome opportunity to explore a familiar epoch in Roman history – the decline and fall of the Roman Republic – but from a perspective strikingly different from that of the Roman urban elite. In the face of the letters of Cicero and Plutarch’s biographies of the great men of the period, it is easy to forget that most of the victims of the civil wars are likely to have been living in the provinces governed by Rome.
A series of papers sought to bring attention to bear on the kinds of contexts in which the conflicts between upper class Romans manifested themselves. Alexander Thein (UCD) illuminated the local politics of Athens as Sulla intruded violently into the world of the Greeks, while examining the varied settlements of Sicily and Sextus Pompey’s task in locating himself there allowed Laura Pfuntner (QUB) to provide valuable insight into the perspective of the governed towns and villages of the island during the tumultuous years after Caesar’s death.
Carsten Hjort Lange (Aalborg) demonstrated that the very definition of ‘civil war’ was a highly contested concept that was itself an extension of the politics of the period and Peter Morton (Manchester) again questioned the notion of a ‘fixed narrative’ in looking at the way in which slave revolts were folded into the narrative of high politics, becoming themselves both cause and effect of the deterioration of social bonds.
With Manuel Fernández Götz (Edinburgh), discussions turned to archaeology and some startling insights into some contemporary work being conducted in central and northern France. The strangeness of the northern peoples as depicted by Caesar emerge from the archaeology as more settled, urbanised and sophisticated than hitherto appreciated – and made Caesar’s brutal subjugation even more destructive than many have suspected.
Hannah Cornwell (Birmingham) completed the day with an exploration of the imperial language of peace, a language that had to work in the provinces above all for Octavian/Augustus’ masterly navigation of the Roman commonwealth from the stormy waters of war to what would become Gibbon’s famous two centuries of greatest human happiness.
The day was a splendid success and Dr Pfuntner is to be congratulated not just on the conception of the workshop and its star line-up of scholars, but also on the highly successful format that welcomed speakers, students and even some history colleagues from Enlightenment Studies who were certainly enlightened on the rich sources for the late republic and also the vigour and stimulation of discussions between ancient historians.
We have not heard the last of the QUB ancient history workshop!
Dr John Curran