The Leiden Ancient History section concentrates on the study of the economies, societies and cultures of the large empires of the Graeco-Roman world, starting with the empires of Alexander the Great and his successors. The appearance of these empires led to the development of an interaction network that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to Afghanistan in the East. Shortly afterwards, these Greek empires were incorporated into the Roman empire, the first (and last) pan-Mediterranean empire in world history.
Parallels in the modern world
These processes of expansion and interaction brought numerous transformations at local and regional levels. As a result, all parties involved, including the conquerors, were forced to find a new equilibrium in the political, social, economic, ideological and religious domains. Some of these developments have parallels in the modern world. The results of modern globalisation may well be new and unique, but the process as such can easily be compared with the integration and homogenisation processes taking place in the Greek and Roman world. Themes such as local particularism versus uniformity, the economic effects of the appearance of ‘world empires’ and the tensions between cultural imperialism and the resistance to it have direct counterparts in the modern era.
An Empire of 2000 Cities
In order to make the research programme outlined above more concrete, a number of research areas have been defined which will play a central role in future research. First of all, research will focus on the transformation of economic life, social structures and patterns of mobility in the Mediterranean region. A clear example is the NWO project ‘Moving Romans: migration and the labour market in Roman imperial Italy’, begun in 2009. A second important area for research focuses on urbanisation and the transformation of existing urban hierarchies and networks following the imposition of Roman rule. This is the central theme of the ERC project ‘An Empire of 2000 Cities’, begun in 2013, which aims to study the urban system, or systems, of the provinces of the Roman empire. A closely related topic is relationships between cities and the kings and emperors of the Hellenistic and Roman empires. Finally, attention will be given to processes of cultural interaction in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Within this huge field research will focus especially on the transformation of religious institutions and on unifying tendencies within religion. A concrete illustration is the emergence of so-called ‘universalist cults’ from the 4th century BC onwards. Attention will also be paid to the expansion of Christianity, a process which led to an unprecedented religious homogenisation of the Mediterranean Region in the course of the 4th century AD.
Inscriptions, papyri and legal texts
In implementing this programme the Leiden Ancient History section will be guided by a number of methodological and technical assumptions which have informed most of its recent research projects as well as most of its MA courses. One of these assumptions is that the study of ancient societies must to a large extent be based on the comparative method. Secondly, the Ancient History section aims to study the ‘unification of the Mediterranean Region’ by making extensive use of inscriptions, papyri and legal texts. The Leiden expertise in this area is unique from a national perspective, and very rare, to say the least, worldwide.