Department Colloquium: Simcha Gross (Penn) "Good Fences Make Bad Neighbors: Communities on the Roman-Sasanian Frontier"

Simcha Gross; Amida
Thursday, April 27, 2023 - 4:45pm to 6:15pm

402 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th St.

*4:15-4:45 pm: Coffee and cookies in Cohen Hall 2nd Floor Lounge. All are welcome.

Speaker: Simcha Gross, Assistant Professor, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania; currently a Member of the School of Historical Study at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Title: "Good Fences Make Bad Neighbors: Communities on the Roman-Sasanian Frontier"

Abstract: One of the principal theaters of imperial conflict in late antiquity was the frontier between the Roman and Sasanian Empires, an area that was home to diverse Christian and Jewish populations. The history of imperial competition over this territory has been told many times, but almost exclusively from the perspective of the empires. The little we hear of the communities for whom the frontier was home portrays them as collateral damage, victims of the whims of empires.
This paper demonstrates that, in fact, the region most often treated as the object of imperial desires and coercion was the one in which empires felt most reliant on inhabitants, and in which individuals and communities often possessed the most leverage and agency. The realities of the frontier necessitated close and formative ties between empires and frontier communities, ties which constituted a central preoccupation of all involved. The project centers on the formative relationship and ongoing social and cultural negotiation between empires and communities within this heavily contested region. It examines how empires sought to foster enduring bonds with frontier populations, combining threats and violence with benefaction and support. In turn, individuals and communities on the frontier learned to negotiate their circumstances, both to mitigate the adverse effects of war and imperial conflict, but also to benefit from their pivotal political positions. These communities exploited their positions to pursue personal enrichment and communal advancement through shifting alliances, and to intentionally provoke imperial anxieties against their various opponents when it benefited them.