About the project

The reigns of Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian represent a fascinating and important period in Roman imperial history. The dynamics of imperial politics were transformed by Nerva’s unorthodox succession and the transition of power to his successor, Trajan; Hadrian’s attitude to the provinces had a lasting impact both on social dynamics and on cultural and political relations between Rome and the rest of the empire; and the period also witnessed the beginnings of the so-called Greek Second Sophistic and the reinvention of a number of Latin literary genres (notably, satire, epistolography and historiography). These various developments influenced each other; and yet the period still lacks the kind of study which brings political, social, cultural and literary strands together (compare Augustan, Neronian and Flavian Rome, all of which are well served by such cross-disciplinary studies). This project aims to address that gap; but it also has more specific agenda, focused around intertextuality and the sociology of literary production. It will capitalize not just on a recent upsurge of interest in the Roman authors of the period (witness the raft of recent publications on Pliny the Younger and Martial in particular) but also on an increased awareness amongst scholars of the cross-fertilisation between them and their Greek contemporaries.

Participants with a range of expertise (Latin and Greek, literary, archaeological, philosophical and historical) will explore the overlaps and interactions between a broad spectrum of works – by historians and biographers (Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch), satirists and epigrammatists (Juvenal, Martial), orators and philosophers (Pliny the Younger, Dio Chrysostom, Polemon of Smyrna, Favorinus), and military and administrative writers (Frontinus, Arrian, Aelianus Tacticus), among others. These authors not only engaged with each other; they were influenced by – and helped to shape – many of the social, cultural and political developments of the age, both individually and through the creative dialogues they entered into. A collaborative reappraisal of their works will result in new readings of individual texts (analysis of Frontinus’ interactions with Martial, Pliny, Plutarch, Tacitus and Aelian, for example, will offer fresh insights into each of these authors), as well as a fuller understanding of their shared concerns and of the intertextual dynamics of literary production at the time. A significant aspect of the project is the exploration of different models of ‘intertextuality’ (from allusion and citation to interdiscursivity, synchronic parallelism and ‘extratextuality’); and interactions between ‘literary’ and less ‘literary’ phenomena will also be examined. This will develop our understanding of literary culture in the Roman imperial period more generally (by exposing, inter alia, the variety of relationships between texts written in different traditions, and the collective power of their exchanges to shape Roman thought). It will also engage with broader issues – e.g., trends in the ways in which Romans and Greeks imagined the city of Rome, or explored the realities and rhetoric of Roman rule; and patterns and shifts in the ways in which men of different social and political status negotiated the past, presented political change and continuity, and addressed the changing role of the elite. In so doing, it will interrogate the interface between literary, social, cultural and political spheres of activity, and consider the ways in which the study of literary interactions can expand – and be informed by – the wider study of the period’s social, cultural and political history. The project will propose new methodological models (moving beyond some of the paradigms of intertextuality that the study of Augustan literature in particular has established as standard) at the same time as advancing our understanding of Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic literature and society specifically.

In this podcast, Alice König introduces the project and gives a flavour of what it hopes to achieve by sketching some literary interactions between the Roman author Frontinus and some of his contemporary writers.

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