Professor Richard Alston

Personal profile

My research has been in four main areas: Roman imperialism, the Roman and Byzantine city, issues of indviduality in the early Roman empire, and the relationship between modern and ancient political ideologies. This work is united by an abiding interest in the relationship between political and economic structures and the individual. 

Early work focused on Egypt and the East in the Roman and late Roman periods. My interest was initially in the effect of Roman control on the socio-political systems of Egypt. But it became evident that traditional 'Romanization' was a wholly inadequate way of talking about the complexity of change that was underway. One basic conclusion of the consideration of the soldiery in Roman Egypt was that they were not particular important in the social transformations of the province. The second project was on cities and their development. This project was the start of an abiding interest in urban formations and their cultural and economic impact. The book on the cities and related articles argued from the transformative aspects of urbanism in Egypt in the Roman and late Roman periods, seeing urbanism as the key to economic development and social and cultural change. Work on the late antique countryside (Egypt and the Near East) argued that the settlement patterns developed in the Roman period were resilient, depending not on macro-political structures, but the continued economic health of urban centres. Consequently any decline in urbanism and the settlement system should be dated late into the Islamic period in the Near East, though perhaps a little earlier in Egypt.

The next stage of my research engagement took me away from Egypt and back to Italy and the political-social history of imperial times. This work has centred on political ideologies and notably the position of the indvidual in Roman imperial society and political networks. Work has tended to focus on literary texts, notably Tacitus, but with some nods to Lucan and Pliny the Younger. As a consequence, I have read these works against contemporary or near contemporary political writings, drawing on gepographical theoryand political philosophy. This interest in political theory and the understanding of the Roman world as a conversation between the two disciplines rather than as an application of a model, continues with an interest in Foucault. Augustan politics, and the disintegration of the Roman republic. 

More recent developments have continued an interest in the relations between material and ideological power. The focus here has been primarily on Italy and the early Roman Empire. I am interested in urbanism and livelihoods of the urban population, gender formation in the imperial system, family formation, and the workings of imperial power. There is an umbrella interest in the way in which political and social thinking was transformed in the imperial context.

The interest in theory and the city has led me into Classical reception studies. Here, my work has been in two areas: the reception of ideas of Classical urbanism and community in the modern city and in the influence of Roman political thinking on modern political philosophy.

These themes have led me to engage in a constructive dialogue with much modern political theory, in the areas of geography, sociology, politics, and the individual. In this engagement with theory I have come to see how our understanding of the Classical world depends on the ways in which we see our contemporary world and the differences between antiquity and modernity are often exaggerated. I argue that as a consequence of this, we can understand our contemporary world far better through a deeper understanding of the Classical past and its influences. For more information, see my research and teaching pages

Affiliations

Centre for the Reception of Greece and Rome

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