Obverse: Bust of Julian II. Reverse: Soldier Carrying a Trophy and Holding a Crouching Captive

Solidus Issued by Julian; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, FG 1843 (Antioche: 6,90)

15th Annual Leon Levy Lecture

At Arm’s Length: Barbarian Settlement, Law, and Ethnography in Roman Late Antiquity

Michael Maas

Rice University

This lecture will take place online; a Zoom link will be provided via email to registered participants.

Registration is required at THIS LINK

The Leon Levy Lecture is supported by the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation and the Leon Levy Foundation.

In this talk I consider how newcomers to the late antique Roman Empire (roughly 250-650) were ascribed “occupational” group identities that depended upon tasks the authorities required them to perform after settlement. Once within imperial administrative space, the outsiders switched from being “barbarians” to another category encoded in Roman law. The formal labels, which were applied fairly systematically, constituted an ethnographic discourse that delineated the extent of their participation in the empire. The terms of differentiation within it were not physical, moral, geographical, or above all ethnic, but rather had to do with military obligations, legal access, and land. The newcomers’ responsibilities put them under imperial control, but—and this is the red flag—at the same time deliberately kept them formally apart in some way from the broader provincial populations. The historical stakes implicit in this discursive system about law and inclusion were high. When Romans lost the power to ascribe identities—to label incoming peoples in terms of their service to the state—the newcomers and their descendants inevitably revised their own identities to form new communities independent of Rome.

Michael Maas received his BA in Classics and Anthropology at Cornell University and his PhD in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology at UC Berkeley. Currently he is the William Gaines Twyman Professor of History at Rice University, where he directs the Program in Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations. He has been the Director of Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks and the Head of the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome. He has been awarded fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Research Center; the National Humanities Center; Fulbright; American Academy in Rome; NEH; ACLS; APS; Institute for Advanced Studies, Jerusalem; and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris.  His most recent book, Empires and Exchanges in Eurasian Late Antiquity co-edited with Nicola Di Cosmo, was awarded a CHOICE Academic Book of the Year Award for 2018.  In April, 2022 at Rice, he will co-direct a conference, “Naming the Natives: Roman and Nineteenth Century American Perceptions of Indigenous Peoples”.

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