session 29

REPLICATION AND STANDARDIZATION IN THE ROMAN WORLD

Organised by: Greg Woolf

One of the most obvious features of Roman material culture is the way in which so many artefact types conform to very particular stylistic criteria. That phenomenon is not without parallel. One of the distinguishing features of the early Mesopotamian civilization is the emergence of the first ‘mass produced’ object, including ceramic types, writing tablets and seal stones, and David Wengrow has drawn attention to how unusual this is in a world in which mechanical replication was rare. The successive dominances of particular ceramic and artistic styles comprise the central narrative for Classical Archaeology: technical developments are much discussed, taste less often. Functional factors are occasionally invoked by more often recourse is made to concepts such as Hellenization or Romanization, terms that describe but do not explain broad processes.  For the Roman period the phenomenon has generally been dealt with under the sign of ‘Romanization’ and vague connections made between political conformity, cultural convergence and standardized production of material objects. Thirty years of critiques of Romanization have made most of those connections implausible, but without offering a new global explanation. Symbolic approaches fail when they attempt to make standardized objects simple ‘carriers’ of some cultural message about conformity: what message? directed from whom to whom? Economic and technological factors also explain too little about the diversity of standardized sizes, weights and shapes. Most are specific to one medium or another. Attention has shifted recently towards ‘hybridity’ with interesting results especially about cultural action on contact zones and in colonial situations, but as the most recent conference (at Brown) concluded, the very notion of hybrid forms implies the existence of their opposite, pure (or standard) repertoires. The aim of this panel is to confront these issues of standardization, imitation, replications and mimesis across range of phenomena not normally considered in parallel.