Previous Years

In recent years, Ancient Societies has organized its discussions around the following themes:

2020-2021: “Disaster in Antiquity”

The word disaster itself is kaleidoscopic and can imply anything from a bitter military defeat to an earthquake that destroys whole cities. Within the myriad of experiences that one can label as a disaster, a common thread exists: they are all crucial points that can serve as a catalyst for the (re)negotiation of cultural norms, values, and social organization. In recent years, undoubtedly tied to current anxieties over large-scale climatic, ecological, epidemiological and demographic crises, abrupt upheavals or calamities in premodern societies have seen renewed academic interest, addressing ancient disasters in all their complexity rather than through a simplistic “catastrophist” lens.

These are fitting times to explore how ancient communities conceived and discussed disasters; how episodic reversals affected political, cultural, and economic structures; how modern scholars investigate disasters and to what prescriptive ends; and how our evidentiary categories limit or challenge studying calamitous “falls” of society.

2019-2020: “Identity in Crisis”

“Identity in Crisis” encouraged workshop participants to interrogate how individuals, groups, and institutions crafted identities under challenging conditions of political and social instability. From the recent interest in communities sidelined by wartime and conflict, to the revolutionary identities fomenting in periods of civil war, to the hybrid practices generated under contexts of empire, our theme aims to situate scholarly trends in topics like identity, ethnicity, and personhood towards the tensions between states and actors in the ancient world.

The questions at stake include: how were identities formed, maintained, or challenged within conditions of instability? How can scholars critically approach, through fragmentary evidence, shifts in cohesion or exclusion in periods of crisis? How was identification tied to anxieties over religion, statehood, or survival?

2017-18: “Political Economies”

In recent decades, burgeoning bodies of research have transformed our understanding of the dynamism and diversity of ancient economies. Empirical work – especially on the basis of documentary and archaeological evidence – has been combined with novel theoretical approaches to demonstrate, in unprecedented detail, the operation of long-distance mercantile networks, the comparative (in-)efficiency of regimes of taxation and redistribution, the scale of agrarian and proto-industrial production, and the centrality of environmental contexts. The goal of the workshop is to bring advances in economic history into conversation with social and political history, to debate the relationship between economic developments and the nature of the various political regimes of the ancient world, from the Mesopotamian city-states to the Roman Empire.

Among the questions the conveners intend to pose include: how did economic growth, or contraction, reshape political hierarchies? How did cultural frameworks and institutions influence economic phenomena? What role did supposedly extra-economic institutions – religious rituals, feasts, ceremonial gift-giving, warfare, inter alia – play in political economies? Can we measure the comparative equality and inequality of ancient societies in relation to their distinctive political economies?

2012-13: “Texts and Archaeology I

2011-12: “Law, Societies, and Economy

2010-11: “Representations: Myth, Religion, Image

For more information about previous years’ presentations and events, please see the corresponding category on this blog.