Too Much is Never Enough: Luxury and Decadence in the Ancient World

February 6-7, 2009 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor
A graduate student conference sponsored by the Department of Classical Studies, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology, and Interdepartmental Program in Greek and Roman History.

Wealth is one thing; displaying wealth is another. In the ancient world luxury encompassed a range of objects and modes of behavior that could be construed as desirable, decadent, corrupting, or captivating depending on the social context. How were displays of luxury created and exhibited in the ancient world, and how do we as scholars interpret them today?

How do concepts of luxury vary in relation to geographic, temporal, and social factors?
How can we separate the concepts of wealth and luxury? Can money buy class?
How did changes such as increased trade, economic pressures, colonization, and religious conversion affect a culture’s perception of luxury?
How does social status inform conceptions of luxury? How might these compete with one another?
How does luxury become a political issue? A moral issue? A gendered issue?
What traces of this discourse on luxury can we detect in the archaeological record?
How can material culture help to define and explain concepts of luxury?

The keynote address, “Portable Meanings”, will be given by Ann Kuttner, University of Pennsylvania, History of Art, whose interest in luxury arts as domestic and public display has led to a wide array of publications ranging from Posidippus’ Lithika to the public displays of Hellenistic kingdoms and the landscape of Roman villas.

We welcome papers from a variety of perspectives: literary, historical, archaeological, art historical and particularly those which adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the discussion of luxury in the ancient world.

Please send an abstract of up to 300 words, with your name, contact information, and institutional affiliation on a separate cover sheet, by October 15, 2008 to Karen Acton, klacton AT