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Dear colleagues,

Below you will find a Call for Chapters for a volume entitled "Constructing (an) imperial identity? Ritual and identity formation in the Roman world." As part of its research programme Social Rituals in the Roman World (see, the Roman Society Research Center (UGent, Free University of Brussels, University of Kent) aims to produce such a volume. Chapter proposals in the form of 500 word abstracts need to reach us by 1 April 2013. These will be included in a book proposal to a major university press. Draft versions of chapters should reach us about one year later, i.e. around April 2014, and will be presented by their authors and discussed among contributors at a conference to be organized in Ghent. We invite anyone interested in contributing a chapter to send an abstract to and/or 

With best wishes,

Arjan Zuiderhoek
Peter Van Nuffelen

Constructing (an) imperial identity? Ritual and identity formation in the Roman world


A call for chapters


We start with a provocation:


Rome was not a multicultural empire. The term ‘multicultural’ conjures up the wrong image in the mind of the modern reader, suggesting an equality of cultural traditions, a colourful pluriformity under the aegis of benign imperial overlords. Romans, however, were not politically correct. Culture, and the manipulation of various cultural traditions, did indeed play a crucial part in the way the Romans built up, and then for many centuries managed to maintain, their far-flung empire, but the result of this process did not resemble the modern metaphor of the ‘melting pot.’ Rather, what we see, with the onset of empire, is (1) among Romans and Italians, and then among provincial elites and middling and low status groups in the West (and to some extent in the East), a strong intensification of active engagement with Roman cultural forms and notions perceived as ‘traditionally Roman’, and (2), mainly among Rome’s Greek-speaking subjects, but also among Romans themselves, a similar process of intensification of active engagement with forms and elements regarded as ‘traditionally Greek.

Adaptation, reinterpretation and actual invention of tradition played an enormous part in these twin processes, which were simultaneously too complex to be simply labelled ‘romanisation’, but too visible and dominant to be neutralised under the heading of ‘multiculturalism.’  They were partly stimulated ‘from above’ (the so-called Augustan conservative revival), but mainly arose out of the constant interaction at all levels between countless individuals belonging to widely diverse groups, rulers and ruled, elites and masses, Romans, Greeks, and others, as people everywhere tried to discover and then maintain ways of being, producing, consuming, believing, worshipping, and understanding that fitted the (changing) realities of empire. The processes manifested themselves in virtually every cultural domain, from literature to architecture to dress, but first and foremost in action, in the active behaviour and strategies of individuals and groups trying to do things ‘the right way’, the Greco-Roman imperial way. Given this aspect of (implicit) ‘rules’, it would seem profitable to study such forms of ‘identity practices’ from the perspective of ritual, as ritualized behaviour consists of (repetitive, stereotyped) actions that suggest a deeper meaning, a higher goal that transcends the immediate implications or results of those actions.

The result of both processes, arguably, was the creation of a Greco-Roman identity template flexible enough to allow adoption and localized adaptation by individuals coming from various cultural traditions, but robust enough to provide a ‘way of being’, a form of cultural self-perception for millions of people, for many centuries, that crucially contributed to the long-term stability of empire. This template, or model, was of course subject to change and adaptation, as circumstances required. The severest challenges to it came from groups who, in response to the onset of empire, similarly fell back on (invented) traditions to fashion an identity for themselves, but one that contrasted radically with Greco-Roman notions. The eminent flexibility of the Greco-Roman identity template was however underscored by the successful incorporation and adaptation of its source of severest criticism, Christianity, producing a ‘reboot’ that generated a second era of efflorescence for the model during the later Empire.


The statement above might well be perceived as one-sided, naive, irrelevant, stating the obvious, or simply wrong. Perhaps some people will agree with parts of it, while others will dismiss it wholesale. But that is precisely the intention. We would like to invite scholars to take the above statement as a starting point in an analysis of rituals and ritualized behaviour in which collective memory and reference to tradition played an important part. It is the triangulation of ritual, social memory, and the creative development of tradition that interests us. Chronologically and spatially, the resulting volume aims at covering the Roman world in its widest possible extent from ca. 200 BC (beginnings of the ‘imperial Republic’) to ca. 400 AD. You may focus on the public sphere, i.e. religious (public cult), civic (manifestations, processions, political meetings etc. etc), state, or festive ritual, or on the private context broadly defined, i.e. ritualistic behaviour within associations, congregations, households and the like. However, we are open to other perspectives and foci. We suggest a loose definition of ritualized behaviour, focussing on the scripted or sequential nature, the repetitiveness, and the stereotypical character of the actions concerned, with an emphasis on doing things ‘the right way.’ Did rituals or ritualistic behaviour of the kind we wish to focus on contribute to or help maintain a Greco-Roman (or, for late antiquity, Greco-Roman-Christian) imperial identity and how did it contribute to shaping collective social memory? Whatever your view, we would like to hear from you, in the form of a well-argued chapter in which you take a certain type of ritual behaviour as a case study whilst addressing or at least drawing polemical inspiration from the above formulated ‘provocation.’



Chapters will be 7000 words. Submission of 500 word abstracts by 1 April 2013, which will be included in a book proposal for a major University Press. First versions of the chapters should reach us by April 2014, final versions by 1 January 2015. We plan to organize a workshop in Ghent at which draft versions of the chapters can be discussed.


Please send proposals for chapters and abstracts to Peter Van Nuffelen ( and/or Arjan Zuiderhoek (


This Call for Chapters is part of the research programme Social Rituals in the Roman world organised by the Roman Society Research Center (Ghent University, Free University of Brussels [VUB], University of Kent). See


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Pour quel cours voulez-vous des informations?`

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