Presentation on theme: "Intro to Ancient History Week 3: Use of Evidence."— Presentation transcript:
Intro to Ancient History Week 3: Use of Evidence
Interpreting Evidence The key to interpreting evidence is making connections: to other pieces of evidence, to other things we know about the ancient world or the world at large. Usually, we re not looking at evidence in isolation and wondering what it can tell us, but looking for evidence that can help answer a particular question.
How many slaves were there? What ancient evidence is there? Roman census doesn t include slaves, and no one else bothers to count. Mention of the numbers of slaves in individual households – typical? Estimates of the ratio of slave to free. Estimates of the ratio of villas to farms.
Slaves in the City of Rome According to the medical writer Galen, in the second century CE, there were two free men to every slave in the city of Pergamum. If the total population of Rome was one million, there must have been about 300,000 slaves: true or false?
Slaves in the Later Roman Empire In the year 404, the noble Roman lady Melania finally persuaded her equally noble husband to shed their worldly goods and live a saintly Christian life … Of her slaves, furthermore, she manumitted 8000, according to the contemporary bishop Palladius. That number included only those who were willing to accept freedom; she had countless more: her Latin biographer says that one domain near Rome alone included 60 hamlets, each with about 400 slaves engaged in agriculture, a total of some 24,000. 1 1 The data have to be assembled from the Greek and Latin lives of Melania and from Palladius, Lausiac History.
Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology It is conventional to begin the analysis by what I have repeatedly called the numbers game. I shall not join in, both because it has long been clear that the evidence does not permit genuine quantification and because most of the players start from the false assumption that they must either produce astronomical figures in order to justify the label slave society or, in opposition, that they must somehow eliminate a slave society by demolishing the extreme figures (p.80)
Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves Over a long period, many more than two million peasants from the conquered provinces became war captives and then slaves in Italy. 14 (pp.7-8) 14 There is no clear evidence on the number of slaves in Italy, and the best we can do is guess. Beloch (1886: 418) thought that there were less than two million slaves in Italy at the end of the first century BC; Brunt (1971: 124) thought that there were three million. The discrepancy serves as an index of the plausible margin of error.
Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves Actors often do not know the long-term consequences of their actions. Therefore I cannot properly follow the conventional practice of citing quotations from an ancient source in order to authenticate each step in the argument. The ancient source, if we are lucky, tells us only what an ancient author thought was happening and how he felt about it, or how he thought others felt about it. That is obviously important, but partial. In the face of this difficulty, we have to look out for other methods by which we can validate analyses. (p.x)
Conclusion An extreme example? Can establish orders of magnitude with some degree of plausibility, but no more. But other arguments have similar underlying problems. How many source citations would be enough to prove that the emperor acted in a particular way because of a specified motive?