Mr Ellis Cuffe

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This project explores the micro-histories of rural, Romano-Egyptian households (ca. 30 BC – AD 400), applying ‘livelihood’ and ‘life-course’ approaches derived from anthropology and developmental economics.


My research offers historical and comparative perspectives on contemporary issues in development theory, livelihood research, and social economics. Sustainable economic development in vulnerable social-ecological systems (SES), for example, is crucial in the fight against climate change. Furthermore, micro-histories of under-represented communities embed subaltern and postcolonial narrative techniques, and have wider applicability in thinking about poverty reduction and international development.


Roman Egypt offers an unparalleled opportunity to study a range of coping strategies adopted by rural households to ensure annual and generational socio-economic reproduction in response to a dynamic and culturally diverse colonial environment. Shifting political and economic contexts (including urbanisation, agricultural commercialisation, and new taxation systems), unstable ecological landscapes, and changing cultural values (as manifested, for instance, within new religious systems) represented new structural risks, uncertainties, and opportunities. Survival required shrewd household management of mortality, reproduction, and agricultural risk in order to adapt to new norms.


The combination of a rich documentary record and abundant archaeological evidence from the villages of Roman Egypt permits a micro-historical approach focusing on internal household dynamics and social relation networks within and beyond villages. These generated concepts of ‘family’ and ‘community’, and contributed to community resilience.


This approach provides us with a unique insight into rural life and the structuring of rural communities in the Roman imperial period from the perspective of individual social interactions and gender and power relations. This approach has not been previously applied to material from Roman Egypt. In a time of climate change, threats to sustainable agricultural supply, urbanisation, and unstable legal foundations for interaction within and between states, this project contributes to addressing contemporary challenges in a rapidly changing environment.

ID: 39113651