Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Innovating objects

The impact of global connections and the formation of the Roman Empire (ca. 200-30 BC)

2016  -   2021
Miguel John Versluys
NWO funded VICI project (2016-2021) NWO funded VICI project (2016-2021)

Fundamental to the project are our partners for the archaeology of Samosata/Commagene (Forschungsstelle Asia Minor) and Alexandria (Centre d’Études Alexandrines).

Other close partners include the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome (KNIR); the Center for Archaeological Sciences in Leuven (CAS); the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory in Virginia; the Global Studies program at UCLA as well as the Gravitation program Anchoring Innovation.


What happens to societies when they get caught up in the dynamics of Globalisation? How do they deal with the new networks they become part of? How do they balance the need for identity with the opportunities for innovation? These questions matter greatly to our present-day world and have been equally crucial to the development of many societies in world-history. Providing a long-term, historical understanding of the impact of global connections is therefore essential.

This project will do so by studying a principal example of pre-modern Globalisation in world-history: the Roman Empire. Focussing on the formative phase of ca. 200-30 BC, it will investigate how Roman society was constructed from the outside in. It will approach this question from the innovative perspective of examining objects as instigators of change. The influx of new objects leads to new practices and configurations. New material flows shrink geographies and expand imaginations. Objects are crucial for understanding how Globalisation functions and has an impact on people.

Using an object-centred approach towards change in the second and first century BC Mediterranean will redefine the Roman world as a place where various (Eurasian) networks came together in a period characterised by an unprecedented acceleration of Globalisation processes. In applying a bottom-up approach, the project will study the material culture repertoire of two widely influential Hellenistic-Roman hotspots (Samosata and Alexandria) in an interdisciplinary manner and based on Material Culture Studies. It will identify and analyse the changes shaped by objects and their innovating effects as well as the consequences for other parts of Eurasia, especially Italy and the city of Rome itself.

The project will provide a new perspective on the formation of the Roman Empire as a crucial example of Globalisation in world-history. Simultaneously it will valorise much-endangered cultural heritage from two unique archaeological key sites.

Key objectives

The project works from small places to large issues. Its key objectives are:

  • To conduct an interdisciplinary, in-depth study of the material repertoire of three key archaeological sites (Samosata, Alexandria and Rome) in order to investigate how and why new objects function as possibilities for change and innovation through their affordances.
  • To provide a new interpretation of the formation of the Roman Empire from that perspective and against the background of a highly increased interdependency within Eurasia between ca. 200-30 BC.
  • To examine the (historical) relations between innovation, object-possibilities and Globalisation.


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