Judging Empire: Courts and Culture in Rome's Eastern Provinces
Law and History Review, Volume 30, Issue 3, August 2012, pp 771 811
42 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2015
Date Written: September 10, 2012
This paper contributes to the recent debate on the interrelationship between law and imperialism by presenting a new model for understanding courtroom interactions. Specifically, I argue that courtroom interactions should be understood as ritualized spaces in which the realities of day-to-day power-relations in empires are temporarily suspended and potentially renegotiated. The adoption of legal vocabularies by provincial populations is neither assimilation nor resistance, but rather an attempt to engage in a dialogue with imperial powers on terms that favor the provincials themselves. Drawing on papyri, monumental inscriptions, and literary texts, I argue that in Rome’s eastern provinces the government had no monopoly over legal texts or knowledge, a condition which provincials exploited through a process of selectively invoking and monumentalizing select legal texts, and forgetting others. Through a case study of how provincial populations generate and adopt ideas of the rule of law and how they deploy these concepts to influence and control Roman governors, this paper concludes that an approach to law as a ritual practice opens up new avenues for understanding the power dynamics of empires.
Keywords: Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Law, Roman Provinces, History
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