Friday, August 31, 2012

The production of shows in the cities of the Roman Empire: A study of the Latin epigraphic evidence

The "games"–scenic representations, chariot races, gladiatorial combats and athletic displays–played a fundamental role in the Roman world. A great deal has been said on the program and cost of such events, on their social function, on the role of the senatorial elite and emperors as providers of games. These issues, however, can be treated almost only with the city of Rome in view; there is very little in the sources that allows for a study along these lines at the level of the several thousands of cities of the Latin part of the Empire. 

The main reason for this is easy to identify: ancient authors show very little interest for municipal life and institutions. Our documentation on the production of games at the municipal level happens to be almost entirely composed of inscriptions written in a highly formalized language. This material can be deciphered only by bringing together and studying most or all relevant inscription on a given issue. 

So far, this has been done mostly according to categories of games; one team of scholars, for example, is presently republishing all inscriptions belonging to the world of the amphitheater: honorary inscriptions recording shows, gladiators' epitaphs, dedications of amphitheaters, & c. Though this approach is commendable in many respects, it has the disadvantage of concealing features shared by the games in general. Accordingly, this dissertation studies the games as displays of the benevolence of the wealthy towards their community. Two broad objectives are set forth: to improve our understanding of the language of the inscriptions so far as the games are concerned, and to determine under what circumstances a production of games is worthy of an epigraphic commemoration.