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CALL. 30.09.2019: Colloque Le IIIe siècle au XXIe siècle - Le Havre, Rouen (France)




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: Université Le Havre Normandie (Le Havre, France) ; Université de Rouen Normandie (Rouen, France)

ORGANIZADOR/ORGANIZER/ORGANIZZATORE: Jean-Noël Castorio ; Pierre Cosme ; Maxime Emion.



The history of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century A.D. – limited to the years 235-284, or set in a wider period from the last Antonines to the reign of Constantine I – remains an active field in contemporary historiography. The standard works of Michel Christol or Klaus-Peter Johne, Udo Hartmann and Thomas Gerhardt, have been published more than ten years ago, and deserve updates on several points. The traditional interpretative model of a “crisis” has been heavily criticised and discussed (e.g. in the volume edited by Marie-Henriette Quet in 2006), but the alternative model of a slower “transformation” of the Roman world has not completely succeeded in replacing it as a comprehensive framework for understanding this complicated period.

Moreover, scholars are faced with an important renewal of the available documentation. Most spectacularly, the recent discovery of several new fragments of Dexippus’ Scythica in a palimpsest manuscript of Vienna has shed a new light, with a contemporary testimony, on the central decades of the 3rd century. Archaeology has produced other noteworthy advances. Recent excavations in Bulgaria have uncovered the battlefield of Abrittus, where emperor Decius died. New inscriptions and new papyri regularly come to confirm, contradict or reexamine old hypotheses. In the light of these new sources, previously known documentation calls for new interpretation. The complex and often fragmentary literary tradition, deriving from Dexippus, the Anonymus Post-Dionem or the elusive Kaisergeschichte, is now better understood. One of the major works of this tradition, the Historia Augusta, continues to attract a lot of attention, though Latin abbreviators and Byzantine chronicles should not be neglected. This historiography has to be confronted with contemporary documentary evidence. Law, inscriptions, and imperial and provincial coinage demonstrate the many responses, in words and deeds, to the succession of crises. In order to better circumscribe the nature and impact of these crises, studies centred on specific reigns or events are still needed, along the lines of a renewed political history paying attention to every actor’s agency. As a consequence, traditional narratives are still to be deconstructed. One cannot oppose as radically as one once did “legitimate” emperors and “usurpers”. Rebels and coup leaders had real potentialities and offered alternatives which have to be taken into account. Barbarians – be it the Germanic federations or the Persian Empire – also have to be considered historical actors in their own terms, whose role was determined as much by their internal evolutions as by their confrontations with Rome.

Political history, though instrumental in the understanding of the 3rd century, should not overshadow social and cultural transformations. What does the literary and material evidence reveal of the provincial societies’ adaptation and resilience capacity? How did Roman society go through these times of hardship? Social structures progressively changed without radical upheaval. New philosophical and religious conceptions made it possible to overcome the moral crisis, as men and women sought the help of the gods in order to face problems beyond their comprehension. Kyle Harper’s recent work highlights climatic change and epidemics, especially the devastating “Cyprian’s plague” in the mid-3rd century, as major factors in the crisis. Focusing on these natural forces gives new ground to the expression “Weltkrise”, coined a long time ago by Andreas Alföldi to define the period. As a corollary, the place of the 3rd century between the High Empire and Late Antiquity should be examined anew.

The conference aims to debate these questions and to present current research on the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. Young researchers and long-established scholars are invited to submit papers that address, but are not limited to, the following themes:

- Ancient and modern historiography of the “crisis”; - Discussion of new evidence, or new take on already known documents; - Studies on specific reigns or events and their representations; - Local or regional case studies; - Impact of the “crisis” on societies; - Scale variation, from individual to global.

Paper proposals (1500-2500 characters) should be sent, along with a short CV, before September 30 to

Scientific committee: Jean-Noël Castorio, Pierre Cosme, Maxime Emion.

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