Roman Identity

Emma Dench

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 Roman Identity

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‘Identity’ and ‘ethnicity’ are terms that overlap considerably in modern scholarship, as in the use of the phrase ‘ethnic identity’. It is perhaps the comfortable mixture of ‘authenticity’ and dispassionate sociological usage which has encouraged scholars of antiquity to believe that the concept of ethnicity is both precise and less subject to anachronistic overtones than a term such as ‘race’. The relative significance of blood (and occasionally blood purity), descent, language, and clothing is actively debated in the rich ancient discourses of what it was to be Roman, and the ‘meaning’ of the Roman citizenship itself expressed in such terms. From Greek perspectives, Romans could be very hard to place in the scheme of things: Polybius's assessment of Roman domination of ‘almost the entire world’ positions Romans' character with some subtlety between Greeks and barbarians. This article explores what Roman identity means and discusses the relationship between being ‘Roman’ and being ‘Athenian’, ‘Jewish’, or ‘Etruscan’.

Keywords: Romans; Greeks; identity; ethnicity; race; barbarians; citizenship

Article.  6288 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical History ; Ancient Roman History

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