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prosopography


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Is the study of individuals, and is derived from Gk. prosōpon, one meaning of which is ‘person’. Prosopography, as practised in ancient history, is a method which uses onomastic evidence (see names, personal, greek and roman) to establish (i) regional origins of individuals and (ii) family connections, esp. via marriage‐ties but also via adoption (which leaves traces on nomenclature), between individual and individual, and between group and group. (See genos and gens for the basic large kinship units.) Conclusions about the origins and family connections of individuals lead to inferences about their likely political sympathies and allegiances.

(i) regional origins of individuals and (ii) family connections, esp. via marriage‐ties but also via adoption (which leaves traces on nomenclature), between individual and individual, and between group and group.

Traditional prosopography can be criticized for undue attention to the doings of élites and exceptional individuals; but the paucity of evidence for low‐status groups and individuals is not a problem peculiar to prosopography but one which faces most attempts to investigate the ancient world. Roman republican history in its human and political complexity cannot be understood without proper attention to prosopographical detail. As for imperial Rome, prosopography, allied with epigraphy, has transformed understanding of the Roman governing class under the Principate. Prosopography has made less impact on Greek history, but it has shown e.g. that in Classical Athens there is little overlap between politics at deme level and at city level.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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