Slow and Fast Violence in Late Antiquity

Society of Classical Studies 154th Annual Meeting, 5-8 January 2023, New Orleans

Call for Papers for Panel Sponsored by the Society for Late Antiquity: Slow and Fast Violence in Late Antiquity

Organized by Henry Gruber, Department of History, Harvard University

We invite papers that address violence — of all types — in the long Late Antiquity.

The period now known as Late Antiquity was originally defined by catastrophic military violence: Hordes of barbarians poured across the Roman frontiers, burning fields, plundering cities, and leaving destruction in their wake. In recent decades, catastrophist views of the period 250-750 CE have receded in scholarly discourses, replaced by a narrative that foregrounds transformation, accomodation, and cultural intermingling. While there have been some notable and controversial attempts (Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome, 2005) to recenter military violence as a primary — and destructive — historical agent in Late Antiquity, for the most part this latter approach seems to dominate.

Although military violence has receded from the foreground of late antique studies, violence has not. Rather, broader and more nuanced understandings of violence shape our understanding of the period (Drake, ed., Violence in Late Antiquity, 2016). Major recent works have focused on religious violence within and between faith communities (Gaddis, There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ, 2005; Sizgorich, Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity, 2009; Shaw, Sacred Violence, 2011; Kalleres, City of Demons, 2015); violence as a source of and form of social control (Cooper and Wood, Social Control in Late Antiquity, 2020), and the related violence of enslavement (Harper, Slavery in the Late Roman World, 2011; Rio, Slavery After Rome, 2017).

Many of these new types of violence can be understood to exemplify Slow Violence, a concept pioneered by Humanities and the Environment scholar Rob Nixon (Slow Violence, 2011) to encompass the ways in which violence—especially against the poor—can occur in ways that are not as immediately visible as the fast violence of military conflict. This slow violence, which feminist critics (Christian and Dowler, “Slow and Fast Violence: A Feminist Critique,” 2019) have also pointed out is often gendered feminine, shapes and structures contemporary society through pollution, workplace exploitation, and other long tendrils of the global supply chain. We hope to show how interrogating slow violence, as opposed to violence as necessarily fast and presumably military, reopens the question of the violence in Late Antiquity by expanding its definition to include the everyday violence of social domination in the city and the countryside.

In this session, we will ask about types of violence — fast and slow — in Late Antiquity. We welcome papers on religious violence, spiritual violence, and visions of violence; fast military violence like battles, sacks, and sieges, as well as the slow violence of recruitment, requisition, and taxation; enslavement and slavery; sexual violence and sexual labor, inside and outside of enslavement; judicial violence such as prisons and the slow violence of the Roman penal state; the mines; the gladiators; gender based violences; and the often-hidden role of women as both victims and purveyors of violence, which include domination and enslavement in the domestic sphere, sexual exploitation, and the violence inherent in Late Antique high politics.

Papers may last no longer than twenty minutes, and will be followed by five minutes for discussion. The session will conclude with an extended period of discussion between panelists and audience members. Please send questions and abstracts of no longer than 500 words by email to Henry Gruber (Harvard University) at by the extended deadline of 15 February 2022. Abstracts should be sent as an email attachment; please make sure they are anonymous. All submissions will be judged anonymously by two referees. Prospective panelists must be members in good standing of the SCS at the time of submission and must include their membership number in the cover letter accompanying their abstract. Please follow the guidelines for individual abstracts (see the SCS Guidelines for Authors of Abstracts). Acceptance decisions will be communicated to the authors of abstracts by April 1, 2022, with enough time that those whose abstracts are not chosen can participate in the individual abstract submission process for the upcoming SCS meeting.

Submitting an abstract represents a commitment to attend the 2023 meeting if the paper is accepted. No papers will be read in absentia, and the Society for Late Antiquity is unable to provide funding for travel to New Orleans.

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