Speaker: Cam Grey, Associate Professor of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Title: "Locals, Leaders and the Reverberating Consequences of Disaster Intervention: Some Case Studies from the Late Roman World"
Abstract: Scholars working in contemporary contexts have noted the collections of small-scale disasters that characterize the daily existence of the disempowered, and explored the interactions between those everyday experiences of precarity and more widespread, momentary disasters. They have also emphasized the potentially conflictual relationship between the knowledge and voices of local stakeholders and the guidelines or impositions of external experts. This tension between “local” and “expert” perspectives provides a useful analytical frame for exploring interactions between local communities and powerful outsiders in the late Roman world. In such circumstances, any intervention will be an expression of power with unintended, reverberating consequences. This talk will explore these propositions, focusing upon some anecdotes from the period: the experiences of the inhabitants of Nicomedia following a catastrophic earthquake in 358 CE; the conflictual and mutually contradictory interventions of the fourth-century Caesar Gallus in a grain shortage at Antioch; the response of the third-century king Agbar to a devastating and unseasonable flood in his home city of Edessa.