Constraints and Tradition. Roman power in changing societies (50 BC – AD 565)

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Constraints and Tradition. Roman power in changing societies (50 BC – AD 565)

Traditions influence ways in which new systems of rule are communicated, contested and accepted in changing societies. How this process functions is a major historical question, with implications for analysing representation of power in past and present. Current scholarship assumes too heavily politicised modes of formulating power, creating the need for a new, multidimensional approach to counter this one-sided focus.

Constraints and Tradition. Roman power in changing societies (50 BC – AD 565)

This project develops a new approach that combines longitudinal historical analysis with an innovative interdisciplinary theoretical framework to show how traditions formed constraints in presenting Roman rule. This will make it possible to recognise the multidimensional framework within which Roman rulership took shape. The project covers the period from 50BC to AD565, thus including the beginning of imperial power, major transformations, and the last attempt to Roman re-unification. It is an excellent test case for analysing the formulation of power in a society that was dominated by tradition, but politically and culturally in flux. Findings will be analysed through notions of ‘shared field of experience’ and ‘anchoring’, adapted from communication theory and social psychology. By doing so, the modes in which changing systems of rule were formulated and understood through evocations of traditional concepts can be brought forward. The main hypothesis is that both rulers and ruled aimed to anchor situations of major change in known contexts, identifying rather than inventing tradition to understand the situation. Systems of rule that were most easily anchored in (changing) traditions will have been most successful.

The project builds on the applicant’s recent research by tracing developments in ancient ‘media’ over an extended period. The outcome of the project will provide new insights in the political and societal structures of power in an important historical period, and can be used as a blueprint for analysing systems of rule in other changing societies.

For more information see the project's website.