Pasts Imperfect (3.10.22)
Manumission, Support for Ukraine, and More
This week, Javal Coleman discusses the ancient history of manumission. Then, new AI projects fill in Greek inscriptions, the Iraq National Museum reopens, a look into the Inca use of quipu, a free lecture on Medusa, new ancient world journals from Colin McCaffrey, and more.
Analyzing Manumission (Javal Coleman)
The study of ancient manumission has been part of historical studies since at least Henri Wallon’s two volume study Histoire de l’esclavage dans l’antiquité was published in 1847. Henrik Mouritsen has recently pointed out that the image of the freedman and of the process of manumission has been largely negative in much scholarship on Rome. In his book The Freedman in the Roman World, Mouritsen discusses the fact that many scholars who hated the institution of slavery (Wallon was himself a staunch abolitionist) equally opposed manumission and the concept of the freedman, since it supposedly led to a pollution of the free class. This is most infamously articulated by Arnold M. Duff in his (unfortunately still widely cited) book Freedmen in the Early Roman Empire.
Mouritsen’s study is invaluable since it is a responsible study on the concept of the Roman freedman which challenges the stereotypes and stigmas of previous scholarship. This earlier scholarship frequently bought into the representation of manumission and freedpersons presented in ancient literary accounts. This work is also essential in that it seeks to answer an extremely important (but often dodged) question. What was life like for those manumitted? What did freedom mean to them and for them? In 2018, Rose MacLean published Freed Slaves and Roman Imperial Culture: Social Integration and the Transformation of Values, attempting to reconstruct the lived experience of freedmen and freedwomen.
Scholars have often examined manumission so cautiously as to not come off as apologists that they miss out an important aspect of ancient enslavement. Yes it was brutal! Yes many thousands of people were never freed and remained marginalized, but only emphasizing this aspect of enslavement underscores the experience and identities of those individuals who became free, and actively constructed what that freed identity looked like for themselves. Much work in American and Atlantic Slave studies have critically engaged with these issues, including Jessica Marie Johnson’s Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World and Adriana Chira’s Patchwork Freedoms: Afro-descendant Cubans, Law and Racial Identity in Cuba, 1791-1868 for instance.
As far as Greek manumission is concerned, there are only two monographs dedicated to the subject, Aristide Calderini’s La manomissione e la condizione dei liberti in Grecia published in 1908 and Rachel Zelnick-Abramovitz’ Not Wholly Free: The Concept of Manumission and the Status of Manumitted Slaves in the Ancient Greek World published in 2005. While Calderini’s study is primarily taxonomic it is still useful in that it collects the sources on different modes of manumission and classifies them largely based on the difference between ‘sacral’ and ‘secular’ modes of manumission. Zelnick-Abramovitz’ book is the first study in English that gathers all the relevant primary and secondary evidence concerning Greek manumission. Zelnick-Abramovitz’ study is also significant in that it tries to get at the reality of freedom for formerly enslaved people. It draws heavily on Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death. And while I ultimately disagree with her conclusion that enslaved people who were manumitted in Greece remained “not-wholly free” and were marked by a “stain of servility,” her work is essential in that it tries to move away from the perspective of the master-class and tries to engage with the factors that contributed to the lived experiences of formerly enslaved people.
Outside of book-length projects, much recent work has been done concerning ancient manumission. David Lewis for example has written much on manumission and freedom from a legal perspective. His book, Greek Slave Systems, published in 2018, is essential. Deborah Kamen has also published much work on manumission. She tries to get at the experiences of formerly enslaved people from both a social and legal perspective. Finally I would like to shout-out a recent article by Joshua Benjamins entitled “Slavery, Redemption, and Manumission as Structural Metaphors in Augustine’s Theology.” Published just last year, Benjamins places the metaphorical use of enslavement rightly in the context of slavery and manumission in the Late Roman Empire. There is much to glean from this article for a wide variety of readers and will become increasingly important as we try and further understand manumission and enslavement in its different shapes, forms, and contexts.
Public Scholarship on the Web
The discussion of Ukrainian cultural heritage and conflict zones continues. On Friday at 10:00 am ET, there will be a Twitter Spaces discussion led by Peter Campbell.
Additionally, over on the SCS blog, Christopher Stedman Parmenter has a piece on “You Will Never Visit Snake Island,” which discusses the ancient and modern history of the island shelled by the Russian Navy on February 25, 2022. And Mateusz Fafinski has written an article for Foreign Policy on the history of misleading maps, “In Putin’s War, the Map Is Not the Territory: Depictions of territory supposedly occupied by Russia are misleading.” A reminder that if you want to donate to help the people of Ukraine, Wired has a good starting list of aid foundations.
Epigrapher and digital humanist Charlotte Roueché has a new article out in Nature on “AI minds the gap and fills in missing Greek inscriptions.” The piece looks closer at the exciting findings of Yannis Assael and his Ithaca digital team on “Restoring and attributing ancient texts using deep neural networks.” As Roueché notes, “The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming many areas of research. A new AI tool helps to fill in missing text and estimate the timeframe and geographical origin of ancient inscriptions.” It is an exciting time to be an epigrapher!
After a three-year closure, Iraq’s National Museum reopened on Monday. Among the many ancient artifacts on display will be those purchased illegally by the Green family and their company Hobby Lobby for the Museum of the Bible:
Iraq has recovered more than 18,000 artifacts in the past year, the vast majority of them from the United States. In December, Iraqi authorities held a ceremony to celebrate the return of the prized Gilgamesh tablet, which is over 3,500 years old.
In ceramics news, Takehiro Miki has a new open access book, Pottery Making and Communities During the 5th Millennium BCE in Fars Province, Southwestern Iran. It is available both in print and open access epub (Printed ISBN 9781803270586. Epublication ISBN 9781803270593). As AWOL reports:
This book explores pottery making and communities during the Bakun period (c. 5000 – 4000 BCE) in the Kur River Basin, Fars province, southwestern Iran, through the analysis of ceramic materials collected at Tall-e Jari A, Tall-e Gap, and Tall-e Bakun A & B. Firstly, it reconsiders the stratigraphy and radiocarbon dates of the four sites by reviewing the descriptions of excavation trenches, then presents a new chronological relationship between the sites. The book sets out diachronic changes in the the Bakun pottery quantitatively, namely the increase of black-on-buff ware and the gradual shift of vessel forms. It also presents analyses of pottery-making techniques, painting skills, petrography, and geochemistry and clarifies minor changes in the chaînes opératoires and major changes in painting skill. Finally, the book discusses the organisation of pottery production from a relational perspective. It concludes that the more fixed community of pottery making imposed longer apprenticeship periods and that social inequality also increased.
Over at LitHub, Mycenaean philologist Silvia Ferrara discusses “How The Inca Used Knots To Tell Stories.” She discusses in particular the use of quipu, an apparatus used for accounting from about 2500 BCE to 1532 CE. As Ferrara notes, to understand quipu, we must begin to put aside preconceived notions about writing. The article is excerpted from her new book: The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts.
We scholars, too, like the Inca half a millennium before us, must come together as a group. Several digital catalogues have been created, which may one day lead to a breakthrough. Harvard’s Gary Urton, with his Khipu Database (KDB), seems to have pinpointed the name of a village, Puruchuco, represented by a sequence of three numbers, like a kind of zip code. We can’t rule out the possibility that this is a richly phonetic system, but we’re still a long way from proving it.
To fully understand quipu, we must shed our preconceived notions of what defines writing. And stop mistaking our lack of imagination, our bias toward the “already seen,” for the gaps in our knowledge of the civilization we’re studying.
Conferences, Lectures, and CFPs of Interest:
On March 16, 2022, Aimee Hinds Scott will be speaking on Black receptions of Medusa for the London Classicists of Colour group:
London Classicists of Colour @London_CoCModern reception paints Medusa as a feminist embodiment of rage – in this talk, Aimee Hinds Scott explores the Black reception of Medusa and how it differs – come join us on the 16th of March for our next talk! https://t.co/UntrkfzdQN https://t.co/l5Tvzd6aqq
The lineup of speakers for Res Difficiles: A Conference On Challenges and Pathways for Addressing Inequity In Classics, which will be held on May 20, 2022 (co-organized by Hannah Čulík-Baird and Joseph Romero), has been announced.
New Online Journal Issues @YaleClassicsLib
Gnomon Vol. 94, No. 2 (2022)
Rhetorica Vol. 40, No. 1 (2022)
Greece & Rome Vol. 69, Special No. 1 (2022) Curses in Context IV: Curse Tablets in the Wider Realms of Execrations, Commerce, Law, & Technology
Near Eastern Archaeology Vol. 85, No. 1 (2022) NB: Jennie Ebeling & William Caraher “The Case for Digital Site Reports”
Journal of Classics Teaching Vol. 23 , No. 45 (2022) #openaccess
Classical Journal Vol. 117, No. 3 (2022) NB: Samuel J. Huskey & Hugh Cayless “The Digital Critical Apparatus: Thoughts from the Field”
Hugoye Vol. 25, No. 1 (2022) #openaccess
New Testament Studies Vol.68, No. 2 (2022)
Aethiopica Vol. 24 (2021) #openaccess
The Public Books section "Antiquities" continues to take pitches for articles to be published in 2022. You can pitch to our “Pasts Imperfect” column at the LA Review of Books using this form and to the new JSTOR column here. Thanks for reading!
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