Session Three Abstracts

Single Panel – Orthodoxy and Dissent in the Roman borderlands

  • Jorge Elices Ocón, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid: Trauma, Dissent and White Lies: the rewrite the pre-Islamic history of the Iberian Peninsula and the articulation of Umayyad legitimacy in al-Andalus

Abstract: The ancient and classical past played a very significant role in how Umayyads saw their own authority in the Iberian Peninsula and how it was justified. One work reflects these aspects in a very significant way: Aḥmad al-Rāzī’s Ta’rīj fi ajbār mulūk al-Andalus (History of the Kings of Al-Andalus), in which the author traces all the pre-Islamic history of the Iberian Peninsula from its mythical origins related to Heracles to the Romans emperors, Visigothics kings and, finally, the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and the Umayyads rulers.

This paper will focus in this work and will take into consideration some of the ideas that have been developed in my Thesis which I am about to finish. We will insist on the author, a well-known cordoban historian linked to the Umayyad circle, as well as on the period in which the work was written, at the beginning of the tenth century, just after the dramatics dissent of the mayor part of al-Andalus against the Umayyad rule and that was just about to triumph, but finally failed with the rise of Abd al-Rahman III (912-961 a. D) and the setting of a new “golden age”, the second Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba. However, the highlight of the Ta’rīj fi ajbār mulūk al-Andalus is the use of ancient authors to write the pre-Islamic history of al-Andalus: Orosius (translated to the arabic in fact in this same moment, at the beginning of the tenth century), St., Isidorus of Sevilla, St., Jerome or Eutropius provided the structure and the details to the work of Aḥmad al-Rāzī.

Ta’rīj fi ajbār mulūk al-Andalus is therefore a unique work. It is well attached to the history and these sources and we can easily recognize in it different historical periods of dominion by Carthaginenses, Romans and Visigoths, and figures such us Heracles, Hannibal, Julius Caesar or Augustus. However, there is an episode in the work in which the author seems to lose the story: Aḥmad al-Rāzī mention Viriathus, the Lusitanian rebel who defeated Romans until his death, as lord of the city of Toledo. He relates his famous death, betrayed by his own men paid by Rome, as well as the election of his successor, a men called Antonius, who, and this is surprising, defeated Julius Caesar who has tried to conquer Toledo and who have to come back to Rome ashamed.

As we can see, this surprising episode refers also to historical figures and events (except in the case of Antonius for whom we have more doubts than evidences), but it is changed to the point of deforming the well-known figure of Julius Caesar. However, it is possible to evidence that this “false” episode of the pre-Islamic history of al-Andalus relies not on a simple mistake or confusion, but in a well-orchestrated story that reinforce the authority of Umayyad in al-Andalus and that refers us immediately to the conquer and final submission of the rebel city of Toledo to Abd al-Rahman III in 932 a. D.


  • Alan Montgomery, Birkbeck: ‘‘Beyond the Vallum”: The eighteenth-century problem of Roman Scotland

Abstract: Throughout the medieval age and into its Humanist renaissance, Scotland was a nation proud of its ancient rejection of Rome. Chronicled (or rather concocted) by John of Fordun in the fourteenth century, the nation’s brave defence of its liberty in the face of Roman invasion was to be celebrated in histories, poetry and patriotic rhetoric for centuries, representing a rare badge of honour for a country which often felt overshadowed by its richer, more populous southerly neighbour. For many Scots, this ancient defence of liberty became tied in with modern concepts of independence, particularly as union with England became a more realistic prospect. Things began to change, however, in the eighteenth century, a time when admiration of Rome was to become the norm amongst educated British elites. A small but dedicated band of antiquarians began to search for evidence that Scotland had, after all, been a Roman province, flying in the face of historiographical orthodoxies in attempts to establish classical credentials for the nation. The result was a century-long debate which pulled Scots into a cultural conundrum; was it better to stick to traditional beliefs in Caledonia’s courageous repulsion of Rome and thus accept ancient savages as your ancestors, or declare Caledonia a Roman province, and admit that those much-vaunted historical orthodoxies were nothing but fantasy? The appearance of fake sources, in particular the De Situ Britannia of Charles Bertram and the Ossianic poetry of James Macpherson, only served to confuse matters more. In my paper I will chart the changing, often contradictory attitudes towards Rome in eighteenth-century Scotland, and look at how the evidence was recorded, transmitted and manipulated by both sides to fit existing perceptions of both ‘Roman-ness’ and ‘Scottish-ness’.


  • Maria Iulia Florutau, University College London: Orthodoxy, methodology and the treatment of ancient sources in Transylvanian Enlightenment historiography

Abstract: The paper follows the development of enlightened historiography in Transylvania and the quest for origins that employed ancient sources, languages and materials among all four major ethnicities in the region. It uses as a case study the historical analysis of a Romanian Greek-Catholic scholar, Ion Budai-Deleanu. In his study, De Originibus Popularum Transylvaniae (written between 1780-1815, published in 1991), he challenges the previous politically charged model of historiography that each ethnic group practiced to protect or claim political right. At the same time, he utilizes German and Central European historiographical methodology to painstakingly trace not only each migratory wave, but also the origins of the world, a thoroughly un-orthodox practice both for the region and for Catholic Enlightenment. The paper, therefore, illustrates the height of Enlightenment in its classic form in the eastern-most province of the Catholic Habsburg Empire, as well as a new attitude towards ancient sources that will become representative for Central and Eastern European historiography in the nineteenth century.


  • Paul Edward Montgomery, University of York: Broadcasting Barbarians: Representation of ‘Barbarian’ Peoples at the End of Antiquity in Screen Media

Abstract: The subject of screen media is one not well discussed in the discipline of archaeology. As a field of study and interest, it has found significant attention on film and television, and yet the effect its presentation on screen has on audiences remains largely absent of academic research. With the ever increasing television viewing hours of populations and the current climate of programming about the past, this situation is unsustainable. This study examines paths to public archaeological engagement with screen media through the study of representation of ‘Barbarian’ people of Europe in Late Antiquity. As a traditionally misrepresented people, their presentation to the public offers an insight with which public archaeologists may navigate the strengths and weaknesses of the informational narratives of differing screen media formats.  My examination draws upon several of these, including separate styles of documentary. This discussion also offers a place for historic drama to function within the same conversation of representation as documentary, with the inclusion of television series as well as cinematic production.  Through this discussion, it will be demonstrated how public archaeologists and historians can find opportunity to re-present the past and cultures that have been marginalized by the historic record and ‘orthodox’ heritage narrative that is maintained.


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