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'Roman in the Provinces: Art on the Periphery of Empire' on view at the Yale University Art Gallery
Corinthian Column Capital, Eastern Mediterranean, 2nd–3rd century a.d. Marble, 10 9/16 x 9 13/16 x 7 1/2 in. (26.8 x 25 x 19 cm). Gift of Ruth Elizabeth White.

NEW HAVEN, CONN.- The Roman Empire was vast and diverse, but the inhabitants of even its most far-flung provinces—Britain, Gaul, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia— were all, to some degree, “Roman.” Roman in the Provinces: Art on the Periphery of Empire examines the interaction between local traditions and Roman imperial culture through works of art and artifacts reflecting daily life, politics, technology, and religion. The juxtaposition of mosaics, ceramics, sculpture, glass, textiles, coins, and jewelry presents a rich image of life in the Roman provinces. The exhibition features more than 150 objects from across the empire, including works from Yale University’s excavations at Gerasa and Dura-Europos, many of which have rarely or never before been on view.

The objects on display in the exhibition reveal the multitude of ethnicities, religions, and cultures found within the broad expanse of the Roman Empire. They demonstrate how many groups of people within Rome’s provinces sought to maintain their own local traditions and individuality while also representing themselves as Roman, especially in public contexts and in the sight of the emperor.

“Recent scholarship has shown a previously unrecognized complexity of provincial identities, which evolved over time as the culture and manners of the Roman conquerors fused with local traditions,” explains Lisa R. Brody, Associate Curator of Ancient Art, Yale University Art Gallery, and co-organizer of the exhibition. “This fusion happened quite differently in various corners of the empire and in diverse contexts. For example, inhabitants of a particular province might speak Latin and wear togas in public, especially when the Roman military or emperor came to town, while still worshipping local household gods and dining on traditional foods in the privacy of their homes.”

As Rome grew, the experiences of its new subjects were likely both positive and negative, generating widely different responses to the conquerors and their language, religion, art, and architecture. Roman in the Provinces steps away from the traditional “Rome-as-center” model of influence and instead seeks to classify the relationship between provincials and their conquerors as one of reciprocity. The peripheries of the Roman Empire were a crossroads of influences; the fusion and combination of cultural elements intensified through networks of trade and transport, religious practices, civic self- representation, and imperial decree.

With objects drawn from the Gallery’s collection of Roman and Byzantine art, complemented by important loans from the Princeton University Art Museum, the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Roman in the Provinces aims to explore what “being Roman” meant among different groups and across the expanse of the empire. Concepts of identity—and the ways in which provincials asserted those identities—are explored through coinage, household objects, military accoutrements, and religious iconography, with particular focus on the provinces of the Eastern Mediterranean during and after the height of the Imperial era (first to sixth century a.d.).

“People tend to envision the Roman Empire through the imperial portrait busts, toga-clad statues, and Latin tombstones that fill many museums, or through the brick and marble amphitheaters, arches, forums, and baths of famous ancient cities,” says Gail L. Hoffman, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at Boston College and co-curator of the exhibition. “Yet the range of material culture and languages used by inhabitants in this empire’s huge territorial expanse was much more varied. Archaeologists are only now beginning to explore fully the multicultural nature of its many provinces and to grapple with the numerous identities expressed through the objects that its millions of inhabitants used every day. Roman in the Provinces encourages visitors to expand their view of what it meant to be Roman and, in doing so, to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the accomplishments of this ancient society.”

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