Consuming Social Identity: A Case Study from Roman Galilee – Rick Bonnie (Leuven)

The debate around social identity in Roman archaeology has for a long time been focused on the production of identity in material culture, rather than on the question how people have consumed it. Through this, the recipient of the material has been given a rather passive voice. It has been the production of different (e.g. Roman or native) styles of material culture that has been studied to discuss changes in people’s lives, rather than the material composition of these people.

This paper tries to put it the other way around by concentrating on the changing material composition of people. Put differently, it studies the people’s consumption of a (through the incorporation into the Empire) produced surrounding. Thus it does not focus on the ‘grand strategy’ of Empire in the construction of identity (where too often the actor has been passive), but on the changes in people’s interaction with this changing surrounding.

The aim of the paper is to demonstrate this theoretical framework by a case study from the Roman region of Galilee (northern Israel). The archaeological material from this region has often not been studied in the manner as proposed above, but instead has relied heavily on a more traditional, static culture-historical approach. This case study, however, tries to show that the proposed theoretical framework is helpful in finding answers to questions as to why, how and when various changes occurred, in what kind of context, and their effect in a long-term regional and empire-wide process of development.

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