CIEGL XIII: Plenary Session 3, ‘Epigraphy and the Ancient Population’

The two lectures of this session dealt with (mostly Roman) demography and identity (mostly of rural Asia Minor).

Walter Scheidel (Stanford), “Epigraphy and Demography: Birth, marriage, family and death”, presented an overview of the advances in demographic studies, mostly on the Roman empire. Although no useable information on fertility is provided by epigraphy, inscriptions allow us to affirm that there is a spike in the number of births in January, just as in the premodern Mediterranean. They also allow an analysis of the age of marriage. They confirm that the nuclear family is, by far, the key social bond in urban environments, although more extended families are attested in the countryside. The sex ratio of inscriptions (the attested number of men per 100 attested women) is often exceptionally high in the epigraphic data, due to epigraphic habits rather than demographic realities. Mortality rates, contrary to the older consensus, cannot be deduced by the dates recorded in epitaphs. There are, however, data on seasonal mortality: the late summer / early autumn was a dangerous period of the year in Rome, while comparison with some other major cities, where no observable pattern in seasonal mortality is observed, allows the assumption that they were healthier places to live in than the capital of the empire.

Scheidel’s working paper can be found here (pdf).

Christoph Schuler (Kommission für Alte Geschichte und Epigraphik, Munich), “Inscriptions and the identity of population groups: case studies from the countryside”, studied the connection between epigraphy and the identity of rural population in Roman Asia Minor. Taking the middle road between two opposite views (the countryside as a world apart – the countryside as an integral part of the city), the speaker used a variety of evidence ­–dedications to local manifestations of weather gods, archaeological evidence from rural sanctuaries, atonement inscriptions– in a convincing attempt to show how epigraphy and the rural sense of identity are interrelated; how pride in the local cult is portrayed through epigraphy, thus further reinforcing the sense of distinct identity.

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