Living with Risk in the Late Roman World


ACLS Fellowship Program


Classical Studies


This project explores everyday interactions between human populations and the physical world in the period between the third and sixth centuries CE. Those interactions were characterized, above all, by uncertainty. Consequently, natural hazards and the disasters they precipitated are especially visible in late Roman textual sources, where they play significant roles in the culture wars of the period. Recent scholarship has sought confirmation of those rhetorical, subjective presentations in environmental, climatic, and geophysical data, engendering grand narratives of fundamental societal transformation. This project eschews those grand narratives and focuses instead upon late Roman cultures of risk: societal mechanisms for understanding and responding to uncertainty as both a potentially hazardous experience and an opportunity for advancement or enrichment. In doing so, it seeks to recapture the contingency, complexity, and contradictions of this world.