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Apologists and Empire

The Christian Apologists of the second and third centuries offer a unique perspective on contemporary Roman society. As a body, this material represents a large and cohesive account of the world of the principate from a minority viewpoint. Yet theirs was not a world apart: they extensively engaged with Graeco-Roman literature and culture, riding the wider literary currents of the period.

That the Apologists can fruitfully be read against the backdrop of the Second Sophistic has been long realised. And yet, there remain significant barriers to successfully reading them as full participants in the literature of the high Roman empire. This is to the detriment of the field. The Apologists present a coherent body of work that seeks to understand and articulate the experience of a powerful and well-connected minority group in the Roman empire, using the same literary tools with which contemporary Graeco-Roman authors were working. Like the Greek speaking authors of the eastern empire who sought to grapple with their culturally privileged but politically emasculated position, the Apologists’ engagement with empire can be sarcastic and even playful. Like the Latin senatorial historical tradition, their approach to one-man-rule mixes optimism and cynicism, attempting to condition, rather than merely describe, the operation of power. And like all imperial subjects in this period, they tried to navigate the nexus between an ambiguously globalised Roman identity, and their own peculiar ethnic, status, and religious identities.

This conference will bring together scholars of varied specialisms interested in the literature of the principate in order to consider the strategies by which the Apologists negotiated their place amidst empire. Our definitions of both Apology and of Empire are broad, in order to capture the multiple ways in which power was negotiated, extended, and reproduced in the ancient Mediterranean.

The conference will be held online from the 16th – 18th of December. To sign up, please express your interest via email to ben.kolbeck@kcl.ac.uk, or through the contact form on this site.

The conference is organised by Ben Kolbeck (ben.kolbeck@kcl.ac.uk), a doctoral student in Classics at KCL, and Dr. James Corke-Webster (james.corke-webster@kcl.ac.uk), a senior lecturer in Roman history at KCL.

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