Scholia Reviews 15 (2006) 13.


Richard Hingley, Globalizing Roman Culture: Unity, Diversity, and Empire. London and New York: Routledge, 2005. Pp. xiii + 208. ISBN 0-415-35176-6. UKĀ£16.99.

D. B. Saddington
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

In this extended essay Hingley, author of the acclaimed Roman Officers and English Gentlemen (London 2000), deals with the question whether the term `globalization' is more appropriate than the older `Romanization' for describing the extensive cultural changes that occurred, especially in material culture, in the Roman empire in the early Imperial period. The work is divided into six chapters with extensive notes and a lengthy bibliography. Most of the illustrations are drawings of archaeological sites.

Chapter 1, 'The Past in the Present' (pp. 1-13), is concerned with the way in which concepts in the modern world have interacted with and transformed our understanding of the character of Roman society. The evidence of literary texts has long been privileged above that of archaeology. In fact, before we approach the ancient world we must make our own world view explicit. Chapter 2, 'Changing Concepts of Roman Identity and Social Change' (pp. 14-48), addresses the history of the term 'Romanization', showing that it arose from a Eurocentric approach to history -- much of recent writing on Western imperialism consciously theorized about itself with reference to the Roman past. In particular, the influence of the geopolitics of their day on two great figures of the past, the German Mommsen and the Englishman Haverfield, is traced. But since the 1970s the native element in the Roman empire has been given attention, but mainly in a simplistic, dualistic, cultured/uncultured framework.

Chapter 3, 'Roman Imperialism and Culture' (pp. 49-71), defines Roman elite culture, especially as a standard by which barbarians were classified as outside the pale. Hingley finds little evidence of a Roman cultural imperialism attempting to educate those without. Chapter 4, 'The Material Elements of Elite Culture' (pp. 72-90), considers the evidence of archaeology more closely and analyses the physical conditions of life in the early empire.

Chapter 5, 'Fragmenting Identities' (pp. 91-116), looks at the adoption of the features of Roman culture below the level of the elite. There are interesting remarks on the spread of literacy among simple soldiers and ordinary traders. The crucial question is raised as to how far the use of Roman artifacts in material culture can be used as a gauge of Romanization. Was their spread due merely to larger-scale production and improved means of distribution, in fact, to a type of `globalization'? Chapter 6, '"Back to the Future"? Empire and Rome' (pp. 117-20), maintains that previous approaches are largely outdated and unacceptable. The Roman empire was effectively a global civilization which needs to be studied as such.

Hingley's work is not easy to read. He regularly refers to the views of modern theorists of empire and of contemporary sociologists and economists. But this is usually done briefly in a sentence or two, without demonstrating their applicability to the ancient evidence in detail, which is not particularly helpful. He is not entirely dismissive of the approaches of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars on the nature of Roman provincial culture and the question of Romanization, but again the positive aspects of their contribution need to be spelt out more clearly. His own opinions are rarely highlighted and are often difficult to ascertain in the welter of quotations of the views of others in which they occur. They are quite often advanced as questions or hedged as tentative suggestions, suggesting that they need greater development.

Is there room for advance? There is no doubt that the culture of Western Europe (the East is consciously excluded) changed dramatically in the first two centuries A.D. (or does one now use the abbreviation 1A, the International Age?).

The basic starting point is the fact that the Romans conceived of themselves essentially as a community of fellow citizens. The first approach to an understanding of Romanization would be a detailed study of the effect of the admission of non-Romans to citizenship. This needs to be done not only period by period, but region by region as well. The next defining feature of Roman citizenship was in its form of government -- what sorts of community -- coloniae, municipia, ciuitates, pagi, uici (even in uici in remote areas we have local administrators setting up inscriptions in Latin stating their office and role in the village as if they were Roman magistrates) -- were established, and that, where, when, and why. Not always a straightforward procedure; Cologne was founded because the empress wanted to have been born in a colonia.

The societal factor was of great significance. What effect did service in the Roman army, not only in the legions, but also in the auxilia and the fleets, have on soldiers, and on the families they left behind or established in new areas? Other groups which emigrated, like traders, need analysis. Even slaves -- what effect did service under a Roman master have on those who were fortunate enough to be manumitted and so able to start an independent life in the community?

Third, cultural factors. We hear of a school for the sons of noblemen in Autun and members of the provincial elite were having their sons educated at home or in provincial centres, like Marseilles, where Agricola went, or in Rome itself. How far did Roman education permeate, and by what mechanisms? (There is a tag of Virgil on a tablet in the camp of a Batavian regiment at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall in Britain.) Besides education, such fields as the law and legal procedure and interpretatio Romana in the area of religion need to be analysed with increasing sophistication.

It is also essential to approach the problem diachronistically rather than synchronistically. Not only those being measured but the yardstick itself was constantly changing. The Rome of Trajan was not the Rome of Augustus, and, as we are constantly reminded, Trajan did not come from Rome, but from Spain. (Perhaps one should even remember that Augustus himself had a small Italian-town background. So, too, authors like Quintilian and Martial were Spaniards, and the classic writers of the Augustan age were Italian -- Catullus, Virgil, Livy.) This may seem remote from the spade of the archaeologist, but it was archaeology which unearthed the tag of Virgil at Vindolanda.

Globalization is made to refer especially to the material culture revealed by archaeologists. It is indeed a useful insight to show how Roman road building and improved (and safe) facilities for transport led to an exponential spread of Roman-type merchandise across the empire. But how culturally neutral was it? Of course, the use of a terra sigillata dinner service by a provincial does not prove that he was adopting Roman dining habits. But technology has its effect upon life-style. There is a passage in the Mishnah where the sort of road to be made is specified; it has to be straight and paved. Obviously the model is Roman, as well as the name: starteot from the Latin strata. Were people in Judaea impressed by Roman technology although they remained largely hostile to Roman culture as such?

One of the great values of Hingley's work is his constant plea for the need to be aware of the enormous amount of cultural diversity evident in the Roman Empire: he valuably suggests the detailed study of micro-environments as the way forward.

It remains to be seen how profitable it will be to give up the old term 'Romanization' for 'globalization' with all the modern technological and ultra-sophisticated cultural implications it contains. But the author has raised many deep issues in this work: one can only hope that he will develop them at greater length elsewhere.