History Faculty Publications

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Book Review

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American Journal of Archaeology


The Material Life of Roman Slaves complements and enriches a growing body of scholarship on the physical conditions and material remains of Roman slavery, but it also represents a logical continuation of the research agenda of both authors. It is clearly informed by Joshel’s book about occupational titles in funerary inscriptions (Work, Identity, and Legal Status at Rome: A Study of the Occupational Inscriptions [1992]) and Petersen’s study on the visual culture of freedmen and its perception (The Freedman in Roman Art and Art History [2006]).

Their collaboration on the present book represents a model of scholarly teamwork that bridges disciplinary divides and reconciles discrete classes of evidence. The result is not simply a new study of Roman slaves in their ancient physical setting but a compelling proposal for reading strategies that overcome historical silence. The attempt to address the deficiencies of the available evidence pushes the main argument into controversial territory, but even so this book will undoubtedly become an obligatory point of reference for any future work on Roman slaves and other historically mute populations.

The book deviates from earlier treatments that trace material remains of identifiable slaves, and instead assumes their presence and focuses on the material world that constitutes a “context of servitude.” The analysis draws a fundamental distinction between “master strategies” that seek to inscribe dominance on the space to control dependents and “slave tactics” that operate within the dominant system and seek to take advantage of temporary “openings in the regime."



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Book citation information: Joshel, Sandra R., and Petersen, Lauren Hackworth. The Material Life of Roman Slaves. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.


Archaeological Institute of America





Peer Reviewed