COLLOQUIUM: Noel Lenski, Yale, "Peasant and Slave in Late Antique North Africa, c. 100-600 CE"

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen HallĀ 

The question of agricultural labor is fundamental to our understanding of the economy and society of the Roman world. For this reason it has been the subject of debate for centuries. Through the late twentieth century, emphasis was placed on the growth of a new class of peasants referred to in modern sources as coloni, who were bound to the land on which they worked and were legally assimilated to slaves. More recent interventions have drawn into question the reification of the colonate as a coherent and ontologically identifiable thing. Moreover, recent work has also drawn attention to the ongoing importance of slavery in Late Antiquity and its crucial role in generating agricultural surplus for the Roman elite. This presentation will take a closer look at the problem using the relatively abundant material from North Africa. It will attempt to pull the argument back to a more traditional conception of the bound colonate as a labor structure that supplanted slavery as the primary mode of production in the late Roman world. Indeed, it will demonstrate that tenant laborers likely predominated in North African agriculture throughout the Roman period.