Posts Tagged With: Seminars

The Name Game

In recent months my research has deviated somewhat from social networks to focus more on the processes of elections in Roman Pompeii – what has become a larger project on how the evidence of campaigning remaining from the electoral dipinti can be used to glean a greater understanding of voting in both theory and practice. As a result, I have been giving a series of papers on small parts of this research. Last week I gave a paper for the Roman Discussion Forum, an informal seminar series sponsored by the Institute of Archaeology here in Oxford, looking at Roman naming conventions and the way names are used in the programmata. Interestingly enough, (and with utmost thanks to a colleague, Maria Pretzler, who first told me about this), I found a truly stunning parallel to a number of the issues facing voters in the first century AD in a senatorial race in Alaska in the 21st century.

In 2010,the incumbent senator for the state of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, chose to run on a write-in campaign after she lost the Republican party primary to Joe Miller, a member of the Tea Party. When she won the election, the fellow Republican she defeated challenged the election results all the way to the state supreme court, attempting to get thousands of ballots thrown out because Murkowski’s name was misspelled. He refuted the idea that a phonetic rendering of Murkowski’s name should be counted as a legitimate vote. As the more than ninety thousand write-in ballots were counted, his representatives questioned them if there was a y for an i, maybe no w, maybe a c instead of a k. They might have seen a smear or just loopy cursive that might — might — be subject to interpretation. As the director of the Alaska Division of Elections said, ‘Not everyone writes perfectly.’ Miller’s claims were rejected, on the basis that Alaska statutes and case law do not require perfect spelling on write-in ballots if voter intent is clear.

Murkowski was well aware of the potential problems a write in campaign would bring regarding ballots themselves, as well as the spelling of her name. She used this in her advertisements which featured mnemonic devices and spelling aids. These not only included information about how to complete a write in ballot properly, but also  featured spelling clinics and a spelling bee with a school child correctly completing her name.

As spelling ended up being the primary component of Miller’s lawsuit, Murkowski’s attempt to forestall major problems in that area is understandable. One Alaskan newspaper went so far as to question whether Miller’s lawsuit was an attempt to enforce a literacy test on voters, something that has been illegal in the United States since 1965. It was suggested this move was particularly aimed at the Native Alaskan population, as some of the districts where more than 70% of the ballots cast were write ins are primarily comprised of native residents.

Many of the issues raised in Alaska six years ago are the same problems I keep running up against in examining the political processes of campaigning and voting in a Roman town in the first century AD. Names – how they are spelled or written and by whom, whether in dipinti or on a ballot itself, literacy levels of the voting population, ballot legibility, and awareness of who a name represented are fundamental issues surrounding the casting of a vote in the ancient world. A large part of this, is how names are presented, specifically in terms of what we might expect to find, what is actually useful to the voter or the vote counter, and the reality as evidenced in the electoral programmata of Pompeii.

The majority of the electoral programmata in Pompeii are posted for men who have adopted the full tria nomina that became the standard of naming conventions by the late first century BC. (There are a limited number that date to the earliest years of the colony that consist of only two names, using praenomen and nomen.) When using the tria nomina, as Dickey has pointed out, there are eight possible permutations for what name, or combination of names, one could chose to address a Roman man:

– all three names- praenomen + nomen
– praenomen + cognomen
– nomen + cognomen
– cognomen + nomen
– praenomen
– nomen
– cognomen

Ignoring for the moment the men who campaign for magisterial office in Pompeii using four names, thus increasing the number of possible combinations (think, for example, of Gaius Calventius Sittius Magnus or Marcus Lucretius Decidianus Rufus), the number of naming options is going to have an impact on how one is presented in the dipinti advertising one’s candidacy. This is clear in many of the examples found in the electoral programmata. Lucius Popidius Secundus, a candidate for aedile in AD 79, has dipiniti that present his name in four of the possible forms, and with additional abbreviations and shortenings. His name appears as:

Lucius Popidius Secundus
Popidius Secundus
Lucius Popidius
Lucius Popidius Secum
Lucius Popid Secundus
Lucius Pop Secund
Popidius Sec


This sort of list is possible for virtually every well-documented candidate. In addition, there are a large number of single name programmata which could be attributed to this man or a number of other candidates. There are more than a hundred dipinti naming a Popidius (46 in all) or a Secundus (94 texts). Interestingly, when going with the single name option, the cognomen appears, from this example, to be preferable to the nomen. In either case, the use of a single name may be seen as a way to capitalize on epigraphic material that is not your own. Why not let the voting populace assume that you are the same Popidius that ran for office a few years before, or the same Secundus who has already been successfully elected. This concept, of using another’s name or initials to your own ends in an election, is not unheard of in the ancient literature (or even modern elections – case in point – many Americans thought they were electing George Bush the father as president, not George W. Bush the son). A discussion by Cicero of one candidate trying to bypass a step on the cursus honorum all together by having the same initials as another magistrate is, in fact, used as evidence for voting by initials only. Regardless of the form of name or how it is abbreviated, what likely seems to be of the utmost importance in getting elected was that the intent was clear on the part of the voters, and that this could be transferred from the campaign to the voting booth, much like in an Alaskan senate race.

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Seminar Series: Networks in the Ancient World

I am pleased to present, in conjunction with the Corpus Christi College Centre for the Study of Greek and Roman Antiquity as part of my Leverhulme Trust ECF, a seminar series on networks in antiquity. Seminars are held on Wednesday at 5 pm. All are welcome to attend. Please contact me for further information. networks

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Cicero Recommends

One of the pivotal studies in developing network theory is Mark Granovetter’s 1973 essay ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, which posits the hypothesis that weak ties are more beneficial to an individual seeking employment than strong ties. This is in part because ‘those to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and thus will have access to information different from that which we receive.’ The weak tie acts as a bridge, connecting two individuals previously unknown to each other through a mutual friend or acquaintance. Using Granovetter’s example, if you select any two people at random, call them A and B, from a set of all the people who have ties to either or both of them, the stronger the tie between A and B, the larger the proportion of people in the set who will have ties to both of them. If the tie between A and B is weak, then they are less likely to have a significant amount of mutual links. If you add a third person to this example, C, who has a tie to A but not to B, the common ties between A and B and A and C will eventually bring B and C into contact, and a relationship will be generated. A acts as the bridge, and thus a weak tie is established between B and C.

In reading a series of letter’s written by Cicero for another purpose, it suddenly occurred to me that this concept might be applicable to the ancient world. Of the roughly thousand or so letters (plus fragments) written by Cicero that survive antiquity, about ten percent (of what I have surveyed thus far – I’m only about half way through the entire corpus of evidence) are litterae commendaticiae. These letters are written on behalf of a number of individuals (and on a few occasions, a municipium or other group), and sent to one of Cicero’s acquaintances in order to pave the way for the recommendee’s interests to be advanced. In essence, Cicero is recommending these men for a job, and is thus acting as the bridge, creating a weak tie between someone who requires assistance, and someone else who is in the position to grant such favour.

The letters are scattered throughout his collections, but Book 13 (in the pre-Shackleton Bailey edition) contains 79 letters, 78 of which are ‘commendatory’ letters regarding individuals or communities, and as such is the largest concentration of this form found in the literature of antiquity. (By contrast, similar letters found in the works of Pliny the Younger and Fronto are distributed fairly evenly throughout their books). The fact that so many letters are concentrated in one book has led some scholars to view Book 13 as a collection that was compiled and published by Cicero in his lifetime, thus illustrating that Cicero regarded these letters as a definite ‘type’. Whilst this idea cannot be proved, the fact that the letters contain certain features suggest there was a schema or formula to the letters, that this form of writing was an entrenched practice, using set phrases and conventional attitudes. As nearly half of the recommendations found in Book 13 can be dated to 46 BC, this lends further weight to the idea that this book was specifically compiled. It seems as if 46 was a particularly good year for Cicero – he had found favour with Caesar upon his return to Italy, was happily into his second marriage, and hadn’t yet been devastated by the death of his daughter Tullia. Because of his past legal and political career, he was seen as having great influence despite a current lack of power, and was probably one of the most widely known figures in the Roman world besides Caesar. Publishing his litterae commendaticiae from this time would thus serve to heighten appreciation of the influence he was still able to wield through social contacts and networks.

Letter writing in the Roman world was an essential part of political and social life, and that aspect goes some way to explain the nature of the letters of recommendation. Letters were meant to sustain or advance friendship and in the case of recommendations, were ineffective if there was no friendship between the author and addressee. Unlike more modern letters of recommendation, the emphasis in the letters of antiquity is not on the candidate himself, apart from identification, but the letter gets its force from the relationship between the recommender and the recipient. The letter was meant to invoke the obligations and responsibilities to each other which were born on an appeal to qualities of humanitas, liberalitas, voluntas, integritas, mansuetudo, clementia, stadium, and officium. Cicero not only makes note of his respect for the protocols of this obligation but also requests the benefactor to be aware of his deed, which illustrates Cicero’s desire to be seen as influential. These letters were more of a testimonial, recommending someone’s character, trustworthiness, honour, and staking the writer’s own reputation and integrity, as he provided surety for the recommended simply by writing the letter.

In a compelling essay, which at its essence is about social networks though the term is never utilised, Roger Rees refers to this as ‘The Amicitia Triangle,’ a moniker which evokes the earlier example of the links between individuals A, B and C that bridged a tie between the two figures unknown to each other. He argues, I think correctly, that a ‘more persuasive argument than the bald assertion of the relationship between the author and the subject, or between the author and the recipient, was the integration of all three parties.’  This ‘social triangulation’ makes fulfilling the request for assistance that much more attractive to the addressee, because rejecting it would not only refute Cicero’s amicitia but also deny the possibility of a new relationship. The assertion that the subject, by definition a friend of the author (whether or not this is in fact true), will prove to be deserving of the friendship of the recipient, creates a contract of reciprocal obligations, which forms the basis of social system found in the Roman world. In his 1929 Loeb translation of the letters, Williams suggests that the recommendations Cicero wrote show ‘impressive evidence of Cicero’s large-hearted bonhomie, and his unfailing readiness to do a friend, or even an acquaintance, a good turn; in short, of that humanitas which was one of his dominant characteristics.’ I’d argue this gives Cicero considerably more credit than is his due, as the letters are more often about the author than the beneficiary, and the sheer number of letters of this type that survive antiquity, by others in addition to Cicero, demonstrates that this was a standard, if not expected practice, and was an integral part of the patronage system and necessary to ensuring one’s rise up the political ladder. This is particularly clear in a substantial series of letters Cicero writes to a young protégé, Gaius Trebatius Testa.

Ad Fam. 27 (VII. 6)
‘Every letter I write to Caesar or to Balbus carries as a kind of statutory bonus a recommendation of yourself, and not the standard sort but phrased with some special indication of my regard for you.’

Ad Fam. 33 (VII.10)
‘How pressingly I have written to Caesar on your behalf, you know; how often, I know.’

Ad Fam. 29 (VII.8)
‘Caesar has written to me very civilly, regretting that he has so far been to busy to get to know you very well, but assuring me that this will come. I told him in my reply how greatly he would oblige me by conferring upon you all he could in the way of good will, friendly offices, and liberality.’

Fortunately, we also have one letter Cicero wrote to Caesar, so we know that the claim of his efforts on Trebatius’ behalf was true. In this letter, Cicero breaks from form, referencing positions to which Trebatius no doubt aspires, but he does so in a joking manner. I suspect the tone is meant to prevent Caesar taking any offense that Cicero should presume to tell him what to do.

Ad Fam. 26 (VII.5)
‘So observe my presumption: I now want Trebatius to look to you for everything he would have hoped for from me, and I have assured him of your friendly disposition in terms really no less ample than I had previously been wont to use respecting my own… In embracing his acquaintance with all your usual graciousness, my dear Caesar, I should wish you to confer upon his single person all the kindnesses which I could induce you to wish to confer upon my friends…. I do not ask on his behalf for a Tribunate of Prefecture or any other specific favour. It is your good will and generosity I bespeak; though if in addition you have a mind to decorate him with such ambitious trinkets, I say nothing to deter you. In fine, I put him altogether, as the phrase goes, out of my hand into yours – the hand of a great conqueror and a great gentleman, if I may become a trifle fulsome, though that’s hardly permissible with you. But you will let it pass, I see you will.’

There is further analysis to conduct with those letters I have catalogued so far, particularly in regards to the identity and connections between Cicero, the recommended individual, and the addressee of the letters. Deniaux’s prosopography of the letters should be particularly useful for this. From there, my intention is to go forward with the remainder of Cicero’s letters. I am most curious to see if he included recommendations in the correspondence he wrote to those we can undoubtedly view as Ciceros’s strongest ties – Atticus, Quintus, and to some extent, Brutus. Though the evidence certainly will never provide a completed network for any of the authors, the ability to build even a partial network for them should shed some light on how networks of patronage and advancement worked in the Roman world.

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Research Seminar: Cicero and Networks


Next week, on the 8th of October, I will be returning to my alma mater, the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, to kick off their Autumn Term seminar series. I am leaving Pompeii behind for the moment, and instead focusing on networks that are evident in the epistolary works of antiquity, specifically Cicero’s letters. He often wrote letters of recommendation for those seeking a position, and these letters can be used, in conjunction with Mark Granovetter’s landmark essay ‘The Strength of Weak Ties’, to examine the types of networks in play in ancient Italian politics and how strongly connected these networks were.

Anyone interested in attending can find more information here. Otherwise, look for some version of my paper to be posted on this blog in a few weeks.

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Pompeii: A City Through Writing


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The Present and Future of Vesuvian Research

During the last three months I have had the privilege of hosting a number of distinguished speakers in the Department of Classics at the University of Leeds for a seminar series dedicated to current and future scholarship in Pompeii and the Vesuvian region. I wish to thank Professor Peter Kruschwitz, Dr. Rick Jones, Dr. Richard Hobbs, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, and Dr. Anne-Marie Leander for giving their time and sharing their work with those of us in attendance, and for agreeing to share their papers more widely through this blog.

Prof. Peter Kruschwitz ‘Aufidius was here. (Really? Where exactly?)’

Dr. Rick Jones ‘Future oriented archaeology in Pompeii’

Dr. Richard Hobbs  ‘Coins and Mediterranean connections in early Pompeii’

Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill ‘Herculaneum: Can we save the sites?’


Dr. Anne-Marie Leander  ‘Focus on innovation in the study of insula V. 1 Pompeii’

Dr. Virginia L. Campbell ‘Sex degrees of separation’



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Pompeii Research Seminar Series: Dr. Virginia L. Campbell

I gave the final paper in the research seminar series Pompeii: The Present and Future of Vesuvian Research with a paper entitled ‘Sex degrees of Separation.’

I hold a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship for my project ‘Social Network Analysis in Pompeii.’ My work on the tombs of Pompeii led to an interest in the epigraphic evidence from Pompeii and how this can be examined to explore the connectedness of the community. This paper is the first presentation of this work.





Recorded on the 30th of April 2014 at the University of Leeds.

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Pompeii Research Seminar Series: Dr. Anne-Marie Leander

Dr. Anne-Marie Leander, Professor of Archaeology and Ancient History at Lund University, gave the penultimate paper in the research seminar series Pompeii: The Present and Future of Vesuvian Research with a paper entitled ‘Focus on  innovation in the study of insula V.1, Pompeii.’

Professor Leander is the project director for the Swedish Pompeii Project, which has spent more than a decade recording and analysing Regio V Insula I, originally excavated in the nineteenth century. Further development of this work includes the use of 3-D modelling and virtual reality tools to better record and understand the ancient architecture. In addition, Professor Leander has worked on some aspects of Classical Reception, including the view of Pompeii by Swedish artists, and the collection of Pirnaesi’s marbles in Stockholm.



Recorded on the 26th of March 2014 at the University of Leeds.

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Pompeii Research Seminar Series: Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill

Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill
, Professor of Roman Studies at the University of Cambridge, gave the fourth lecture in the research seminar series Pompeii: The Present and Future of Vesuvian Research with a paper entitled ‘Herculaneum: Can we save the sites?’

Professor Wallace-Hadrill is the director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project and former director of the British School at Rome. He is primarily a social and cultural historian who has published key texts on Rome – Rome’s Cultural Revolution, Cambridge University Press (2008) – and Pompeii and Herculaneum – Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Princeton University Press (1994) for which he won an award from the Archaeological Institute of America. His work with the Packard Humanities Institute in Herculaneum has focused on preservation and conservation of the site and serves as a model for future efforts in the Vesuvian area.

He began his paper with a discussion of the long history of the excavation of both Pompeii and Herculaneum,and many of the issues encountered by past archaeologists in dealing with the destruction of archaeology and need for conservation. Elucidating on many of these issues still felt today, Wallace-Hadrill illustrated his point with details of his own work with Professor Michael Fulford at the University of Reading in the House of Amarantus (I.9.12).

Turning to Herculaneum, the remainder of the paper focused on the work of the Herculaneum Conservation Project with support from the Packard Humanities Institute. The premise behind this work is that the way to save the Vesuvian sites from further decay is to combine the efforts of archaeologists, conservators, engineers, and other specialists working together in order to halt (or at least slow down) the degradation of the ruins. Some of their activities are relatively simple in concept – such as getting the city’s ancient drainage system working again – but more often their work involves looking at connected systems of prevention – such as solving the damp problem in the neighbouring house in order to save the mosaic in the House of Neptune. Wallace-Hadrill’s final example of the kind of collaborative work he espouses concerned the House of the Telephus Relief. The desire to protect marble embellishments on an upper storey of the house led to the discovery of the remains of the original timber roof, and its eventual reconstruction.

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The work in this house is a testament to the method’s adopted by the Herculaneum Conservation Project, Wallace-Hadrill, and the Packard Institute, and certainly provide a convincing argument for future work in the Vesuvian region.



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Pompeii Research Seminar Series: Dr. Richard Hobbs

Dr. Richard Hobbs, Curator of the Romano-British Collections at the British Museum, gave the third lecture in the research seminar series Pompeii: The Present and Future of Vesuvian Research with a paper entitled ‘Coins and Mediterranean connections in early Pompeii.’

Dr. Hobbs is an expert on Iron Age and Roman metalwork, including coins, jewellery and dining ware. He has written about the treasure of Mildenhall – ‘Platters in the Mildenhall Treasure’ Britannia (2010) – and metal deposits – Late Roman Precious metal deposits, AD200-700: changes over time and space, BAR Int Series (2006). He has overseen the study of the coins recovered by the Anglo-American Pompeii Project, recently publishing the results of this work: Currency and exchange in ancient Pompeii. Coins from the AAPP excavations at Region VI, Insula 1, Institute of Classical Studies, BICS Supp. (2013). A list of his further publications can be found here.

Recorded on the 5th of March 2014 at the University of Leeds.

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