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Claire Holleran: Writing History from Inscriptions, Tracing Population Movement in the Iberian Peninsula

Date and Time: 
Thursday, May 13, 2021. 11:00 AM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Data Scarcity in the Ancient Mediterranean
Meeting Description: 

The rich body of epigraphic material from Roman Iberia testifies to the population movement of hundreds of individuals, particularly in the first two centuries CE. The tombstone of Marcus Iulius Avitus, for example, which was erected in Pax Julia (modern Beja), records that he originally came from Olisipo (modern Lisbon), 135km away from where he presumably died and was commemorated (HEpOnl. 20424: M(arcus) Iulius / Avitus O/lisip(onensis) annor(um) / XXX h(ic) s(itus) e(st)). There are over 500 such examples from Roman Iberia, and these form the basis of Dr. Claire Holleran's current research project, Mapping Migration in Roman Iberia, which catalogues all these inscriptions and maps them in a new open-access interactive digital resource. This paper will explore the opportunities offered and the challenges raised by approaching epigraphic material in this way. It will consider whether we should consider this material to be ‘data’ at all, given that it was subject to the usual habits of epigraphic recording and survival. Was, for instance, population movement really at its greatest extent in the first two centuries CE, encouraged by a period of relative stability and prosperity, or does this just reflect a peak in the epigraphic habit? How should we interpret the noticeable dominance of Clunians in the data; were Clunians really more mobile than those from other places in Iberia, or were they just more likely to record their origins? What, if anything, do clusters of migrants represent when we are unable to securely date most of these inscriptions? Some of the particular complexities of the specific material used will be discussed, such as identifying and interpreting designations of origo on inscriptions, as well as some of the difficulties raised by the process of cataloguing and mapping. Despite all of these methodological problems, however, the paper will also demonstrate some of the exciting possibilities offered by visualising epigraphic data in a new way.

Claire Holleran is a senior lecturer in classics and ancient history at the University of Exeter in the UK. She is currently working on migration in Roman Iberia, on economic mobility, and on Roman labour. She is the author of Shopping in Ancient Rome: the Retail Trade in the Late Republic and the Principate (Oxford, 2012).

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