February 27, 2010

Resisting Rome

That's what I wanted to call this chapter, but I didn't find any conclusive evidence of it. With roughly 30% of the population of Imperial Rome composed of slaves, you'd think that there would be some kind of indication that slaves were unhappy with their lot. Archaeologically, it's quite difficult to find evidence of all the little ways that people resist their bosses or masters, to find evidence of changes that people refuse to make because they want to be defiant or because they just don't want to do anything differently. It's been argued by Stefan Burmeister (2000) that the best way to find evidence of immigrants is through an examination of cultural phenomena that are inscribed on the internal, private domain: internal household architecture, for example, expresses a learned, cultural conception of space; as does the proper way to prepare food and the proper foods to eat; and burial rituals surrounding marginal members of society (i.e., those for whom a public display is not needed). Finding evidence in the private domain that is starkly different from the public domain could indicate resistance or maintenance of past habitus. I don't have household information for my skeletons, but I do have dietary data and style of burial, so I thought I'd check it out.

The dietary data definitely indicate some sort of acculturation. Childhood diets of immigrants were significantly different than adult diets, the latter of which were in line with the local Roman range. I was able to test both the enamel (childhood) and the bone (time before death) of four immigrants: three of them had bone within the local Roman range, and one had bone that was quite close. This means that, after they came to Rome, they ate a local diet. Whether this was a voluntary choice or a necessity, though, remains unknown.

The burial data don't indicate much either. There were more locals buried in the cappuccina style and more nonlocals buried in amphorae, but in general there were more adults who were local and subadults who were nonlocal. Almost without exception, subadults are the only ones buried in amphorae - perhaps it's because the vessels don't necessarily accommodate the adult body or perhaps it's for a more ideological reason: pottery represents the home, the private domain, and children are domestic figures rather than public personages. At any rate, there was one burial of a 15-year-old teenager in an amphora, when all the other amphora burials were of kids aged 7 and under. In addition, this teenager was the clearest immigrant in the entire sample: his (or her, but probably his) strontium, oxygen, and carbon were all completely different from anyone else's - he was most likely from Africa, possibly central Egypt or Nubia. The anomalous burial is not, of course, conclusive evidence of anything - after all, he didn't bury himself. But it is possible that his burial is an indication of his nonlocal status; it is possible that someone commemorated him in a way that is in essence comparable to a Roman tradition but is in practice quite different because of his age.

So, unfortunately, I have nothing much in the way of people resisting Rome. I can't imagine, though, that there was no resistance, that there was no creolization. If we can find evidence of syncretic religions in Rome, surely there were other practices that were contrary to or a mishmash of Roman and Other. Or perhaps during the Empire, Roman culture was pervasive and largely homogeneous? The dietary differences would then simply indicate a difference in food resources at Rome compared with far-flung areas of the Empire, and the lack of differences in burial style would be unsurprising. As always, tons more research needs to be done, particularly in Roman bioarchaeology, so that we can pursue topics such as ethnicity, identity, and acculturation, topics that are woefully under-researched in Rome.


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