The Project and its Aims

A massive scientific literature survives from the Roman period. Composed in both Greek and Latin, it encompasses what are today regarded as many different genres of writing: miscellanistic, encyclopedic, biographical, philosophical, scientific, didactic, medical, technical and historical. A central preoccupation of the age was how best to order knowledge through text. This process (and the emergent intellectual disciplines and scientific practices which lay behind it) were influenced to some degree by the imperial structures through which the human and material world was governed, and the civic structures within which most scholars lived.

Imperial conquest brought back new information and specimens from the ends of the earth. The Empire created libraries and enabled a new intellectual cosmopolitanism. On the local level, rhetorical education, the agonistic competition of ancient elite members, and the all pervasive awareness of hierarchies and of genealogy marked civic life. This dynamic set of realities is written deep into these texts, and presents a rich field of investigation for the Imperial scholar, historian, or philosopher.

The history of science of more recent imperial periods has long been preoccupied by the interconnections between colonialism and intellectual acquisitiveness, between imperial order and the ordering of the natural world, and between social values and scientific practice. On the other hand, no large-scale or systematic study of these relationships has been offered for Imperial Roman science as a unified (albeit extremely diversified) intellectual phenomenon.

The project seeks to probe into a wide range of research methodologies, some afforded by disciplines such as the history of science, in order to show the enormous potential of Imperial Roman scientific texts for a broader cultural history. It will investigate the common techniques and tropes of knowledge-ordering which flow across the boundaries of different genres. In addition, it will highlight the great variety of ways in which the context and images of Empire marked these texts’ treatment of their organizational task. Finally, it will look into the institutional contexts facilitating the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge in the Roman Empire.

The Leverhulme Trust's grant makes possible a series of meetings and conferences, which will bring together scholars and researchers of international renown. The project will result in a number of first-rate scholarly publications.

Key Objectives