Last week, I was lucky enough to present at the biannual Roman Archaeology Conference, held at La Sapienza in Rome in conjunction with the annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference.
Greg Woolf, of the Institute of Classical Studies, had asked me to be part of an interdisciplinary panel on ‘Replication and Standardisation in the Roman World’.
The aim of this panel is to confront these issues of standardization, imitation, replications and mimesis acrosss range of phenomena not normally considered in parallel. Dr Van Oyen will consider the emergence and persistence of standardized forms of tableware, Professor Bevan the implications of the mass production of amphorae, Professor Trimble the appearance of standardized forms in statuary and Dr McDonald the impluses towards orthographic and epigraphic convergence in Latin and other Italian languages. All have already published important work in these area, but the cross-media encounter is genuinely new and one all participants are enthusiastic about. Greg Woolf will introduced the theme and our discussant and respondent will be Professor Alicia Jiménez whose work on hybridity and post-colonial approaches to Roman provincial culture has established a new benchmark for studies of this kind.
As Greg put it in his introduction at the conference, this was a way of getting away from the idea of ‘Romanisation’, and towards a more interesting and nuanced view of why, how and what people in Roman Italy standardised. My linguistic angle on this ended up being on the standardisation of alphabets and orthography in Italy from 500-100 BC – if you’re interested you can take a look at my slides over here.
Greg’s request for a paper on standardisation prompted new questions for me, particularly around whether it is ever possible to have enough evidence for standardisation in a fragmentary language. I also ended up considering whether the texts of ancient Italy have features that make them look ‘standardised’ or ‘consistent’ to us – is it a coincidence, for example, that the language with the least ‘consistent’ orthography to our eyes is Umbrian, which also gives us by far the longest epigraphic text from this period? I’m hoping to explore some of these issues in the coming term.