Ancient History from Below
Subaltern Experiences and Actions in Context
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If Ancient history is particularly susceptible to a top-down approach, due to the nature of our evidence and its traditional exploitation by modern scholars, another ancient history — ‘from below’— is actually possible. This volume examines the possibilities and challenges involved in writing it.
Despite undeniable advances in recent decades, ‘our slowness to reconstruct plausible visions of almost any aspect of society beyond the top-most strata of wealth, power or status’ (as Nicholas Purcell has put it) remains a persistent feature of the field. Therefore, this book concerns a historical field and social groups that are still today neglected by modern scholarship. However, writing ancient history ‘from below’ means much more than taking into account the anonymous masses, the subaltern classes, the non-elites. Our task is also, in the felicitous expression coined by Walter Benjamin, ‘to brush history against the grain,’ to rescue the viewpoint of the subordinated, the traditions of the oppressed. In other words, we should understand the bulk of ancient populations in light of their own experience and their own reactions to that experience. But, how do we do such a history? What sources can we use? What methods and approaches can we employ? What concepts are required to this endeavour? The contributions mainly engage with questions of theory and methodology, but they also constitute inspiring case-studies in their own right, ranging from classical Greece to the late antique world.
This book is aimed not only at readers working on classical Greece, republican and imperial Rome and late antiquity, but to anyone interested in ‘bottom-up’ history, and social and population history in general. Although the book is primarily intended for scholars, it will also appeal to graduate and undergraduate students of history, archaeology, and classical studies.
Table of Contents
List of figures
List of contributors
Foreword: What is This History to Be?, Brent D. Shaw
Acknowledgements, Cyril Courrier and Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira
1. Ancient history from below: an introduction, Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira and Cyril Courrier
Part 1: Who is below? Subaltern conditions, languages and communities
2. Subaltern community formation in antiquity: some methodological reflections, Kostas Vlassopoulos
3. Southern Gaul from below: the limits and possibilities of epigraphic documentation, Cyril Courrier and Nicolas Tran
Part 2: Experiences of poverty, dependency and work
4. Poverty, debt, and dependent labour in the ancient Greek world: thinking through some issues in doing ancient history from below, Claire Taylor
5. Destitute, homeless and (almost) invisible: urban poverty and the rental market in the Roman world, Cristina Rosillo-López
6. Roman agriculture from above and below: words and things, Kim Bowes
Part 3: Gender, ethnicity and subalternity
7. Hellenicity from below: subalternity and ethnicity in classical Greece and beyond, Gabriel Zuchtriegel
8. Subaltern masculinities: Pompeian graffiti and excluded memories in the early Principate, Renata Senna Garraffoni
Part 4: Politics from below: subaltern agency and collective action
9. Metics, slaves and citizens in classical Athens: rethinking the polis from below, Fábio Augusto Morales
10. What is below? The case of the Athenian riot of 508/7 BC, Alex Gottesman
11. Slave agency in Livy’s history of Rome: between rebellion and counterconspiracy, Fábio Duarte Joly
12. The crowd in late antiquity: problems and possibilities of an inquiry, Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira
Agency, past, present and future, Pedro Paulo A. Funari
Cyril Courrier is Associate Professor in Roman History at the University of Aix-Marseille, France. He is the author of La pleÌbe de Rome et sa culture (fin du IIe s. av. J.-C.–fin du Ier s. ap. J.-C.) (2014) and co-editor (with Sandrine Agusta-Boularot) of the ninth volume of Inscriptions latines de Narbonnaise dedicated to the city of Narbonne (2021).
Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira is Professor of Ancient History at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He is the author of Potestas Populi: Participation Populaire et action collective dans les villes de l’Afrique romaine tardive (2012) and Sociedade e Cultura na África Romana (2020).