Lecture Series



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During the late Republic and early Empire, Rome had a voracious appetite for importing luxury objects from around the Mediterranean: spices from the Arabian Peninsula, sculptures and bronzes from Greece, glassware from Egypt and the Levant, and textiles from India, to list a few examples. Some of these so-termed luxuries have been preserved in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, yet these objects only represent a small portion of the overall cargoes. By examining several Roman shipwrecks (ca 200 BCE – 200 CE) that were transporting such luxury objects, I discuss how these assemblages force us to re-evaluate static definitions of luxury and assess the impact of mobility upon shifting social importance in multi-scalar networks. In particular, through considering cargoes as assemblages, I discuss agents who were often overlooked in literary accounts, and I de-centralize Rome as the main consumer of luxuries by showing the transportation of these goods to the western Mediterranean.

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Shipwrecks and the Transport of Luxury in the Roman Mediterranean

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