Networks: exile and tourism in the Roman Cyclades
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The overwhelming image of the Cycladic islands in the Roman period as purported by literary sources is one of isolation: accounts tell us of their uses as places of exile (of varying degrees of inaccessibility), their problems with piracy and their insularity. Altogether, such accreditations do not suggest promising investigations for modern scholars. On the other hand, even a brief glance at the archaeological material over a diachronic period indicates that the islands were in fact vibrant and varying and some may even have been important nodes in the Roman network society. For the Roman period, with the exception of work on individual sites (notably Delos) and the work of Mendoini and Zoumbaki (2008) which focused on the onomastic evidence, there has been little synthetic research undertaken on either the history or archaeology of the Cyclades in the Roman period. This is typified by the issue that scholars do not yet necessarily agree on which islands were part of which province and at what period. There is no doubt that the islands are difficult to elucidate as a cohesive group. The extent to which the islands saw themselves as a cultural unity is strongly debatable. Individual islands, particularly those such as Delos, Keos and Melos, have been the focus of important studies and form a major contribution to the role of some of the islands in the Roman Empire. These islands do not necessarily represent the whole Cyclades. In fact, scholars have yet to agree on precisely to what province the individual islands belonged and at what point but it is clear that different islands belonged to different provinces (Achaea and Asia) at different periods, only really becoming politically unified under a single province in CE 294, the provinica insularium under a praeses insularum. But even then, this was with the exception of Keos, Delos, Kythnos, Mykonos, Serifos and Syros which were part of Achaea. While some may have been used as places of exile more commonly in the early Imperial period, certainly not all of them were they consistently used throughout the period. Likewise, the problems of piracy seems to have been somewhat eradicated by the early Imperial period too. Although a common perception, the islands are unlikely to have been as insular as the lack of attention from historical sources suggests. Although they may not have had many imperial administrative or official posts on the islands nor did they tend to produce aristocratic families, eligible for roles in Rome, there is a host of Roman names connected with trade and economy known from the islands. As a recent study of Crete has shown, a key element of the rising importance of the island is likely to have been its use as an entrepôt and in particular as a re-distribution point for goods in from the southern ports and out of the northern ports, so it is possible that the Cyclades also played a part in this particular trade network. Many of the islands have evidence for multiculturalism and a lively society not particularly remarkable in the context of a host of other areas of the Roman provinces in the East. The aim of the paper is to apply Network society theory to a new synthetic study of the archaeological material of the islands in order to shed light on their roles in the Roman Empire. Furthermore, the work of some such as Broodbank (2000) will be drawn upon as their established theoretical approaches applicable to island archaeology which are as valid for the Roman period as they are for the Bronze Age. Evidence from research and rescue excavation reports will provide the most up to date contextualized study of the known Roman material (from inscriptions to buildings) from the islands. This should help establish the nature of the islands over a diachronic range and in turn will allow a focus on the evidence to assess the extent of trade and contact within and between the islands and other parts of the Empire. In particular, elements of material such as unexpected types or quantities of luxury items or new burial customs will be noted to establish evidence for social movement and other contact. Finally, all of this will then be contextualized, particularly with regards to Crete with a focus on the period of the latter half of the 1st century CE to see if the conclusions regarding Crete’s role in trade networks bear out in terms of its re-distribution of goods north through the Cyclades. Once this has been done, it will be possible to see how the individual islands can have different and changing roles over periods of time in the Roman network society over a period of 4 centuries. That the islands can be allowed to thrive as part of the Empire, without significant official intervention can be explicable in terms of the application of Network society and social movement theory. Instead of concluding that a lack of attention to the islands was a result of them being cultural wastelands, application of network analysis to the archaeological evidence allows a view of success to be purported: the islands did not require attention because they played a successful role in the network society. In order to sustain this, they must have adapted in accordance with the changes in the Empire so not at all the insular conservative places they are deemed to be by ancient and contemporary scholars. Altogether the Cyclades in the Roman period should allow for a novel study particularly given the variety on and between the islands in terms of residents, roles and even provinces.
Sweetman , R J 2016 , Networks: exile and tourism in the Roman Cyclades . in J F D Frakes , M Egri & S E Alcock (eds) , Beyond Boundaries : Connecting Visual Cultures in the Provinces of Ancient Rome . Getty Publications , LA , pp. 46-61 .
Originally published in Beyond Boundaries: Connecting Visual Cultures in the Provinces of Ancient Rome © 2015 J. Paul Getty Trust, www.getty.edu/publications