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Rubicon for research into Roman law: ‘We don’t know what wider society thought about law’

Expert in Classics Renske Janssen has been awarded a Rubicon grant. She will use the grant to conduct research at the University of Edinburgh into how Roman law was perceived by society at the time.

What is your research about?

‘Every society has an understanding of what kind of role the law plays in society: what exactly is its purpose, and who does it apply to? What values does the law represent exactly? These questions were no different in ancient times from what they are today. Current research on Roman law tends to focus on professional lawyers, and glosses over how broader Roman society thought about these kinds of questions. My research will therefore target the work of the Roman author Tacitus, who – as an administrator and historian – was very interested in law and reflected on it frequently, but who was by no means a professional lawyer. That’s why his work could tell us more about legal thinking among educated laymen from his time. The way Tacitus thought about the origins of the law, the different groups involved and the way it was applied says a lot about what kind of expectations he had of the law and the social values he thought it was supposed to conform to.’

Why do you want to do your research in Edinburgh?

‘My research is located at the intersection of several fields of study, namely Classical Languages, Ancient History and Legal History. In Edinburgh, these fields of study frequently work together and the position of law in ancient society gets reflected upon intensively from all these perspectives. This is ideal for interdisciplinary research such as mine.’

What are you looking forward to most in the coming years?

‘This grant is a fantastic opportunity in many different ways. I’m particularly looking forward to working together with all my colleagues in Edinburgh and to exchanging knowledge, experiences and ideas. Thanks to the Rubicon grant, I have the opportunity to spend a lot of time on my research and to really delve deep into the subject, and it’s fantastic to be able to do that in such a stimulating environment. Not only that, it's especially valuable to get the opportunity to work in a different academic culture for a while, and to see how we could learn from it.’

NWO's Rubicon programme makes it possible for talented scientists who have recently obtained their doctorates to gain experience for one or two years at a top institute abroad. This increases the chance that they will be able to continue working in science.

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