Cultural identity in the Roman Near East: An historiographical exercise
The central premise of this thesis is that the concepts of hellenisation and romanisation are no longer useful as interpretive models of the Graeco-Roman Near East. Through most of the twentieth century they did good service generating research questions and providing innovative explanations of both existing and new data. On the one hand the notion of hellenisation focused attention on the historical importance of cultural change in the Hellenistic period, while the concept of romanisation focused scholarly attention on life in the provinces rather than on the court life of the imperial city and highlighted the importance of epigraphy and archaeology as against the philological study of literary texts. But the underlying assumptions of both concepts — the superiority of Graeco-Roman culture, the 'civilising' role of the intrusive powers, the passivity of the indigenous peoples of the region, the notion that Greek, Roman and Semitic cultures are bounded entities — are now dated. In the first part of the thesis I deconstruct the concepts of hellenisation and romanisation in detail and then develop an alternative framework which is avowedly postmodern and interdisciplinary, eschews eurocentrism, and uses postcolonial concepts as well as insights from modern social theory. In the second part of the thesis I use the alternative framework to review the evidence relating to the provincial city of Gerasa in the Roman province of Arabia. Looked at through this alternative prism it has been possible to offer some different readings of the evidence not apparent in earlier interpretations. In particular, in using the concepts of resistant strategy and cultural imperialism to discuss the emergence of the Antonine period city plan, I challenge the traditional view of Hadrian's urbanisation policy.