Unclassical Traditions: Alternatives to the Classical Past in Late Antiquity

A two-day conference to be held at the Faculty of Classics, University of
Cambridge - 16th/17th April, 2007

The persistence of the classical tradition in the later Roman empire
remains a topic of controversy. In recent decades, the period has come to
be seen not as one of decline and fall but of transformation, in which the
educated elite of the empire considered themselves to inhabit a
recognisably classical landscape in which they could employ their cultural
capital in a range of new contexts. However, this model is not without its
critics, and some scholars have preferred to emphasise the destruction of
the classical legacy, and with it 'the end of civilisation'.

The purpose of this conference is not to argue for the pre-eminence of
either model, nor to replace them with another monolithic explanation of
the period. The range of experiences and responses across the broad expanse
of the Roman empire instead enables us to recognise the enormous variety of
late-antique responses to the classical past. This topic was itself subject
to contemporary debate: alongside those who wished to defend and preserve
the dominance of classical culture were others who sought to provide the
world of late antiquity with alternative traditions.

This conference will therefore concentrate on the revival and the invention
of these unclassical traditions in all areas of late-antique culture.
Topics for discussion will include: the use of the biblical past in
Christian writing and controversy; alternatives to the Roman legal
tradition; departures from the classical models of social organisation and
interaction, as expressed through cultural commentary and through changes
in the management of public space; the negotiation of cultural norms
between representatives of the Roman empire and its neighbours; and the
construction of non-classical identities for particular social, cultural
and ethnic groupings throughout the Roman world. It is hoped that through
the recognition of these dissonant voices a broader and richer image will
emerge, providing a sense of the abundant possibilities available for the
negotiation and definition of a late-antique cultural identity. Speakers
will include Gillian Clark, Neil McLynn, Simon Corcoran, Claudia Rapp,
Peter Heather, Derek Krueger and Christopher Kelly.

Registration can be made by email to Richard Flower (raf33 AT cam.ac.uk). The
conference fee is £20, which includes lunches and refreshments on both
days. There will also be a three-course conference dinner on the Monday
night at a cost of £25 per head (wine included).