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On the afternoon of May 29, Phase II Classics Workshop of Xinya College hosted by Xinya College of Tsinghua University was held with great success. Scholars of classics and Roman historiography conducted in-depth discussions on the theme of "Power and Memory: Intellectual Elite and Writing of Imperial History in Rome". This activity was planned by Gan Yang and chaired by Xiong Chen from Xinya College. Keynote speakers included researcher Hu Yujuan and associate researcher Lyu Houliang of the Institute of World History of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS IWH), Wu Jingyuan, an assistant professor of the Center for Western Classics of the Department of History of Peking University, and Ni Tengda, an associate professor of the School of History of Beijing Normal University. Professor Zhang Xushan of the Department of History of Tsinghua University, Professor Peng Xiaoyu of the Department of History of Peking University, Professor Yan Shaoxiang of the School of History of Capital Normal University, and Associate Professor Peng Lei of the School of Liberal Arts of Renmin University of China, gave speeches and comments respectively. In the subsequent round-table discussion, they shared opinions on the domestic academic study of Roman history and the position of the intellectual elite in politics.

I. Speech

Gan Yang, the chief planner of the Second Classics Workshop of Xinya College, first delivered a speech. He thanked and welcomed all the attendees. He also expressed his regret that he could only meet with all the guests via video link and his hope for a reunion on campus in the future. Gan noted the imbalance between the studies of ancient Greece and ancient Rome in China and called for more attention to the study of Roman civilization from the academic circles. Through the introduction of Roman history study by experts during this activity, it was expected to make more people get to know the main topics of the current study of ancient Rome in China and attract more young people to study Roman civilization.

II. Reports and Comments

The following section of reports and comments was chaired by Xiong Chen. In the first session, Hu Yujuan gave a report titled "Monumentality in Roman Historiography".

Monumentality in Roman Historiography

Hu first pointed out two spiritual dimensions of Roman historiography from the two expressions of "history" in Latin. First is the well-known term "historia", which originates from Greek and follows the spirit of exploration and truth-seeking in Greek historiography; the other is "monumenta", which comes from Rome and embodies the principles and functions of demonstration, warning and education in Roman historical practice. "Monument" combines the characters of a tangible visual carrier like a stone tablet and a documentary carrier like the inscription engraved on it. In the writings of Roman historians in the late Roman Republic and Roman Empire, "erecting a monument" and "writing a biography", that is, historiography, complemented each other.

Hu then took the special historical memory of "monumenta" as a starting point to clarify the context and characteristics of Roman historiography. The monuments of the Roman Republic are often themed on war, diplomacy, politics, law, religion, and social welfare, which are the subjects of concern to Roman historians. Tombstones erected along the sidewalks were built to commemorate the dead, reminding the living that death would eventually come and serving as a historical memory medium linking the past, present and future. In Roman culture, in addition to tombstones and monumental buildings, monumenta also includes physical, textual, visual and auditory carriers made for the purpose of preserving memory.

The historical practice of "monumentality" in early Rome included two aspects: "making monuments" and "using monuments". "Monument" was a kind of valuable political capital and the object of power competition between patrician families in the Roman Republic. Early Roman monuments bore only the names of patricians. From the middle of the fourth century BC, rising dignitaries from the plebeian class competed with patricians for "monuments", and the names of plebeians appeared more frequently in the Fasti Consulares, Fasti Triumphales, and public buildings. The famous Scipio family placed considerable value on the compilation of history and was adept in making and using tombstones, epitaphs, statues, odes, etc. for personal publicity, but these "monuments" are not reliable historical materials. Take Scipio Barbatus, Roman consul in 298 BC, as an example. According to Titus Livius' research, he did not make military exploits as written on the epitaph, and the direction of his expedition was completely opposite to what the epitaph described. It can be seen that the historical practice of "monumentality" has the functions of factional struggle, political propaganda, moral education, and role model setting, and has the duality of creating "memory" and destroying "memory".

Hu further raised whether the pursuit of "honor" leads to the abuse of "monuments". In the competition for political honor, not only private monuments like epitaphs may be faked, but even public ones like Fasti Triumphales are also inaccurate. The historical materials written by ancient chroniclers are not necessarily reliable. To show honor and establish prestige, Roman historians falsified their victories in their records and deprived political opponents of their honor through "damnatio memoriae," known as the monumental rhetoric of historical narratives.

During the formation of Roman historiography, two practices of historiography, historia and monumenta, embodied the different understandings of the history of the Romans. These two ways of using history represent two different development paths of classical historiography: the "truth-seeking" path of historia and the "gloria-seeking" and "exemplum-seeking" path of monumenta. These two paths overlapped with each other in the works of Publius Cornelius Tacitus and in the inscription and autobiography crazes that arose in the first century AD.

When commenting on Hu's speech, Zhang affirmed her idea of studying the history from the perspective of etymology and supplemented it with details of Greek etymology. Zhang also stressed that in ancient China, the Han nationality and some ethnic minorities also had historical writings like "erecting a monument and writing a biography" that took the tablet inscription as a part of history. Its purpose was the same as that of Roman history, which was to emphasize the moral practice of punishing the evil and praising the good and to harness the educational function of history. Rather than making "monumenta" independent from "(exploratory) historia” in the study of Roman history, Zhang argued, it might be better to regard "visual history" like monuments as part of history itself.

Aelius Aristides and the Historical View of Greek Intellectual Elite in the Second Century AD

In the second session, Lyu Houliang gave a report titled "Aelius Aristides and the Historical View of Greek Intellectual Elite in the Second Century AD". Lyu first clarified the basis for the assertion that "the classical historiography in the fourth and fifth centuries AD underwent a mutation under the influence of Christian historiography", affirmed the significance of the "mutation theory" in case studies, and raised its existing problems. For example, it does not deeply study the connection between the early Christian historiography of the fourth and fifth centuries AD and the historical narrative system of polytheism from the second century AD onwards. It also does not strictly distinguish the different sources within early Christian historiography, namely Latin historiography represented by Saint Augustine and Paulus Orosius and Greek historiography represented by Eusebius of Caesarea. From these two aspects, it can be assumed that there are inheritance relations and similarities between the early Greek ecclesiastical history works and the historical narratives of the Greek intellectual elite from the second and third centuries AD. In this regard, two public orations by the second-century Greek orator Aelius Aristides, the Panathenaicus and To Rome, provide valuable clues that reflect some characteristics of the historical memory of the Greek intellectual elite in the second century AD.

Lyu further explained the historical value of Aristides' two political orations. In the history of classical studies, Isocrates, Aristotle and Aristides are hailed as the three orators or educators who had the greatest influence on Greek historiography. In Christianized Byzantine Empire, the Panathenaicus was long used as a standard textbook for grammar schools to teach the history of the Athenian polis. It is by virtue of the lofty prestige brought by this "historical textbook" that plenty of Aristides' works have been passed down to the present day. Therefore, the Panathenaicus and To Rome provide indirect historical materials for orthodox classical historiography, and the historical memory they carry is still worthy of attention by researchers of Greek historiography of the Roman Empire.

Next, Lyu gave a brief introduction to the content of the two political orations. In terms of the narrative time frame, the Panathenaicus is basically equivalent to the superposition of the eras described in Herodotus' The Histories and Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. Aristides frequently quoted the works of the two historians mentioned above, as well as the works of Plato, Isocrates and other classical writers in his oration. The unique viewpoint in the oration lies in the emphasis on the dominance of divine will, the introduction of the vision of "universal history", and the rewriting of the striking main line of the birth, growth and decline of democracy in the history of the traditional Athenian polis. Aristides held high the banner of panhellenism, claiming that all Greeks were blessed by the Athenians; the Athenian imperial laws protected the interests of all Greeks; Athenians had resisted the Persian invasion and maintained the solidarity and fraternity of all Greeks; they had saved the Greek world countless times; the achievements of Athenians were the common glory of all Greeks. Although these statements contain a tendency to justify the expansion of Athenian imperialism, this comment on Athenian cultural achievements reflects the broader vision of "universality" of the intellectual elite of the Hellenistic era. The To Rome also embodies the idea of predestination and universality, and suggests that this "universal" peace is a blessing bestowed by "the gods who look down from heaven". Aristides praised more than ten deities, including Zeus and Hera, for their kindness to Rome and the world in turn, and stressed that the establishment of the Roman Empire fulfilled the expectations of ancient poets, such as Homer and Hesiod, for the gods. At the end of his oration, Aristides once again appealed to the gods to bless the fortunes of the Roman Empire and the cause of the Roman Principate forever. This "universality" developed into a teleology of Roman imperialism at the end of the oration. The historical mission of the Roman Empire was to carry on the unfinished work of the Athenian Empire, establish everlasting peace and order, and support the Greek civilization that nurtured it.

In orations, the special carrier, a skillful orator will choose the historical memory shared by the intellectual elite and even ordinary people to persuade and impress the audience or readers. Therefore, the historical concept and memory are jointly shaped by the speaker (writer) and the audience (reader) in the interaction. The emphasis on "divine will" and "universality" in the two orations was based on the social fact that the historical narrative of the time, centered on the rise and fall of democratic republicanism, was gradually losing its appeal to the elite class. As Tacitus quipped, "How many men alive have ever seen a republic?" In the middle of the second century AD, when the Roman Empire enjoyed peace and prosperity, the best way of governing the Empire was clearly of more concern to writers and readers than the pros and cons of democracy and republicanism. But in addition, it was still hard for the Greek intellectual elite in the eastern part of the Roman Empire to accept the Empire's history and culture. The Greek intellectual elite, including Dio Chrysostom, Lucian, Plutarch and Aristides, felt the tension with the imperial regime on the one hand and tried to explain the connection between the classical Greece period and the history of Greece under the Roman rule on the other hand. It was also in this context that cumbersome, flattering and even contradictory binary expressions appeared in the historical writing of the second and third centuries AD. The reason for this is that the disadvantaged groups, whether they were the Greek intellectual elite or Christians, who had been oppressed by the Empire, were trying to establish a certain historical identity under the new circumstances of a turning point. Lyu concluded by saying that the study of classical history from the second to fourth centuries AD should avoid preconceptions and mechanical thinking and focus more on the similarities and interactions between Christian historiography and polytheistic cultural traditions.

Peng commented on Lyu Houliang's report. He first affirmed Lyu's detailed study of political thoughts in historical texts and noted that the tampering of the status of Athenian democracy and Roman republicanism by Roman historiographers objectively defended the legitimacy of the Roman emperor's rule, but did not necessarily mean that the tampering was caused by political coercion. Peng stressed that we should realize the particularity of the ancient Roman political system in human history, as it is the only case that turned from republicanism to monarchy with rich historical records. The two parts of Roman history are not separate from each other. The legitimacy of the Roman monarchy derived from the laws and regulations of the Roman Republic, and thus it differs from our formulaic thinking of an "absolute monarchy".

In addition, most of the Christian historiographers did not believe in eternal empires. They held that the empire in the world did not last indefinitely, and that decline was the normal course in human history. This historical view also had an impact on the historical practice of the intellectual elite of the Roman Empire. Under this framework, how to understand the "flattery" of Roman historiographers to the emperor when writing history is an important issue in the historical study of the early Roman Empire. Peng also mentioned that the current study on the ancient history of Assyria, Persia and ancient India is far from enough. A comparative study of the history of different political systems will greatly enrich our understanding of the polities of ancient empires.

Local Memory in Lucian's Works: Taking a Gladiatorial Game as an Example

In the third session, Wu Jingyuan gave a report titled "Local Memory in Lucian's Works: Taking a Gladiatorial Game as an Example". Wu first told a story from Lucian's Τόξαρις ἤ φιλία to dig into its local memory characteristics and potential as historical materials: the fourth story Toxaris tells (Luc. Tox. 57-62) is about his trip to Athens with a friend named Sisinnes from Scythia. After arriving at the port town of Amastris, they decided to spend the night before setting out the next day. After Toxaris and Sisinnes checked in an inn, they hung out. When Toxaris and Sisinnes got back, they found that some thieves had carried off all their belongings, including 400 darics. While Toxaris was weighed down, Sisinnes took a more cheerful view. For the moment, he took to carrying timber from the harbor to the market square, and returned with provisions bought with his wages. The next morning, he saw a procession of noble and beautiful youths in the market square. Toxaris spoke aside that when Sisinnes learned that they were enlisted as gladiators for pay, and were to perform three days later, he returned to the inn and exclaimed, "Consider your poverty at an end! In three days’ time, I will make a rich man of you." After three days, Sisinnes bade Toxaris prepare himself for all the novel delights of a Greek amphitheatre, and brought him there. The first thing they saw was wild beasts infuriated with darts and chased by dogs, and let loose upon bound men, whom they supposed to be criminals. Next, the gladiators made their appearance. The herald led forward a strapping young fellow, and announced that anyone who was prepared to stand up against him might step into the arena and take his reward of 10,000 drachmas. Sisinnes rose from his seat, jumped down into the arena, offered to fight, and asked for armor and weaponry. He received the prepaid money, and turned it over to Toxaris. Finally, Sisinnes, though gravely wounded, managed to kill his adversary with a sword. At the end of the story, Toxaris told Mnesippus that this did not take place in Machlyene, nor yet in Alania; there was no lack of witnesses to the truth of the story this time; many of the folk of the Amastris would remember the fight of Sisinnes.

Assuming that "a story told by its character is true", Lucian made the story create a considerable space for imagination. It is of little significance to simply believe that it is true or not, and it is not a historical issue to guess the intention of the novelist. It is of definite value to study the tale from the perspective that the society under the Roman Empire has no narrative history. Amastris (modern Amasra) is a port city that is located on the Black Sea coast. Lucian also mentioned in other writings the relatively advanced culture in the city. Moreover, his father migrated to the city from Samosata. It is likely that the story, even if fictional, bore some social and cultural information about the city. On the basis of the possibility, the following question needs to be answered. Was local information or even memories contained in the dialogue-style work by the Ancient Greek novelist Lucian?

Wu stated that the core reason for the case study of the story about gladiators lies in the three features of local memories that come as follows: First, some of the local details that Lucian described are consistent with the known local conditions and customs. Second, the author highlighted at the end of the story that many of the local folk knew the story, which was a common memory of the local community. Third, modern scholars tend to believe in the information contained in the story. Suppose that this story does fall into the category of local memory, it may be used as a portrayal of human activities with weak direct evidence in a specific time and space, or as a material for studying remote areas of the Roman Empire.

Subsequently, Yan Shaoxiang made a comment. At first, Yan spoke highly of Wu's familiarity with the culture of Black Sea region and his study on the cultural memory contained in the story by Lucian. He said that the stark contrast between the fictionality of Lucian's stories and his emphasis on writing "true" history makes it easy for researchers to focus on the truth of the stories, thus diminishing discussion of other topics. In the study of literary historical materials, the authenticity of accounts is not the only criterion to judge their value. What is reliable is the cultural background and even the local cultural memory as a whole concluded from literary narration. In the discussion of authenticity, the specific scope of the cultural context needs to be defined. Amastris alone or the whole East? In addition, Roman historians often decided which to use among a large number of materials. The arrangement of key and non-key events in the historical materials may shed some light on the interaction between the ruling culture of the Roman Empire and the local culture, as well as the vitality of the local cultural tradition.

A Study of Intellectual Elite in Roman Empire with Focus on Antonine Dynasty

In the fourth session, Ni Tengda gave a report titled "A Study of Intellectual Elite in Roman Empire with Focus on Antonine Dynasty". The Antonine Dynasty saw a gradual transition from principate to monarchy. With the increasing centralization of the supreme administrative power, the authority of the rulers extended from the political arena to the cultural field, which had a profound influence on the cultural life of the empire. The intellectual elite seized the opportunity and gained a high social status.

With a large number of cultural resources, they formed several cultural groups in the Roman Empire through common interest and participation in cultural activities in specific fields. The members of the three major groups, with Pliny the Younger, Fronto and Herodes Atticus at their core respectively, came from the Latin and Greek circles across the empire. As the vast majority of the intellectual elite was in the upper echelons of society, they paid attention to not the lower class, but the Roman rulers at the center of imperial power. Only a few "grassroots" intellectual elites, who had a close relationship with the civilian population, showed their concern over and analyzed the real life of the ordinary people and the chaos of the imperial society.

The intellectual elite's pursuit of cultural power was closely related to the evolution of the principate system. On the one hand, as the political and military power became more centralized in the hands of the rulers in the Antonine Dynasty, the intellectual elite exerted a declining political influence through the traditional ways of holding official and senatorial posts. On the other hand, as the republic elements were weakening and those of a monarchy growing, the behavior of the rulers played an increasingly decisive role in the fate of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the intellectual elite generally focused on the rulers outside the imperial bureaucracy and tried to have a greater say in politics by influencing the rulers.

In many ways, they guided the rulers of the empire to conform to the expected norms of behavior and to fulfill the social role of a ruler. A ruler represents the power and the person with power, and is also an identity and a social role. Social role refers to the behavior pattern or norm of those who occupy a specific position in the social structure, which is expected by others (often their contemporaries). This kind of exhortation is practical because it is hoped that the rulers will "play the role of" rather than truly becoming a philosopher or sage. Many of the intellectual elites engaged themselves in the enterprise. Written in the early years of Trajan's reign, Dio Chrysostom's Kingship Orations embodied his guidance and expectations for the emperor. Pliny himself mentioned in his letters the aim of Panegyricus, "I hoped in the first place to encourage our Emperor in his virtues by a sincere tribute, and, secondly, to show his successors what path to follow to win the same renown, not by offering instruction but by setting his example before them. To proffer advice on an emperor's duties might be a noble enterprise, but it would be a heavy responsibility verging on insolence, whereas to praise an excellent ruler and thereby shine a beacon on the path that posterity should follow would be equally effective without appearing presumptuous." Fronto, Plutarch and other scholars made similar efforts in this respect.

In addition, the intellectual elite set an example for the rulers or his successors with biographical writings, such as The Life of Numa by Plutarch, and The Life of Augustus and The Life of Titus by Suetonius. By recording the deeds of the rulers and depicting their profiles, those biographers demonstrated from various angles the characteristics they thought an emperor should have, and guided the authorities to follow suit, in order to help them play the role of an ideal ruler.

Another important approach is instruction. A series of letters between the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his teacher Fronto evidence how a member of the intellectual elite who was close to the royal family influenced the ruler, and to some extent the effect of the political influence that the intellectual elite had through cultural authority.

Moreover, the intellectual elite, by virtue of their own influence, made suggestions to the rulers on the specific government affairs of the empire, so as to have a greater say in politics. In addition to the above-mentioned participation in political practice, the intellectual elite developed a set of systematic political theories for the principate of the Roman Empire, which provided an important theoretical basis for its legitimacy and rationality in the Antonine Dynasty.

To sum up, the intellectual elite of the Antonine Dynasty had considerable accomplishment in classical culture and abundant cultural resources. With their cultural competitiveness in specific fields, the privileged groups made up of them gained the opportunity to participate in the development of the mainstream ideology of the empire, and thus had an effect on the imperial power. By proactively participating in social and political activities, the intellectual elite of the Antonine Dynasty continuously expanded the influence of their value criteria and influenced the development direction of the empire.

Peng Lei commented on Ni Tengda's report. Peng affirmed Ni's views and arguments. He added that different degrees of closeness were found within the cultural groups consisting of intellectual elite. For example, Plutarch acted on his own, not as a member of any cultural group. Besides, the intellectual elite offered instruction to not only the emperors but also outstanding youth of nobility and the common people.

III. Round-table Discussions

During the round-table discussions, Gan Yang first commented on the four reports and answered some questions put forward during them. Gan praised that the four teachers had carried out wonderful research, which was closely related to the theme. Back to the discussion about the fact that the academic circle in China pays more attention to Greece than Rome, Gan believed that it is of value to conduct further argument and comparative study between the intellectual elite and historical writing of the Roman Empire and the relationship between senior officials and imperial courts and the role of cultural elites in politics in the Qin and Han Dynasties of China.

Next, the four guest speakers successively answered the questions from the reviewers about their reports. Hu Yujuan and Zhang Xushan further discussed how to express the relationship of historia and monumenta in the title. Zhang proposed that "Monumental Writings in Roman History" may more appropriately describe the position of monumenta in historia and its role in moral education. In response to Peng Xiaoyu, Lyu Houliang said that the aim of Aelius Aristides' writing of the universal history was to send strong moral messages and reshape the martial virtues of the Roman people. Regarding the rise and fall of a regime in the universal history, he held that Roman historians defended the legitimacy of the Roman regime by asserting that it could last forever under the protection of the gods. In his opinion, influenced by the traditional self-centered historiography, Chinese scholars tend to compare China with the center of the West. More attention has been drawn to not Rome but Greece because the latter is more likely to be considered as the center of modern West than the former in terms of democracy and philosophical achievements.

In response to Yan Shaoxiang's proposal to limit the scope of argument and supplement historical materials, Wu Jingyuan said that further innovative research may focus on the fictionality and truth in the historical narration of Lucian, and historical study needs to pursue more precise expression while exploring boundaries. Ni Tengda replied to Peng Lei's comments. First, the intellectual elite in the Antonine Dynasty, including the prestigious scholars and the nobility who held an official post, formed groups that had cultural resources. Plutarch was closely associated with many of the Roman elites and nobility, and often mentioned his friends in high ranks. He was not a member of the aforementioned three major groups, but had his own cultural circle. Second, the intellectual elite played a multifaceted role. Through extensive association, they even helped each other in their career and cultural power. Third, the definition of the intellectual elite and the common people may help answer whether the former influenced the latter. Cultural resources and upper power structures were beyond the reach of ordinary people, and their literacy couldn't enable them to communicate with the intellectual elite. Only grass-root intellectual elites were concerned about them.

Group photo of participants taken online

Finally, Gan made a summary of this activity. The reports and discussions revealed many problems in the field of Roman history research, and also inspired the researchers of Xinya College. Gan wished all teachers more achievements and development in this field. He also hoped to meet the guests offline after the epidemic.

Next:The Minutes of Phase I Classics Workshop of Xinya College