Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Three by Bryen on Law in the Roman Empire

Ari Z Bryen, West Virginia University, has posted three articles from his backlist.  The first, coauthored with Andrzej Wypustek, University of Wroclaw, is Gemellus' Evil Eyes (P.Mich. Vi 423-424), which appeared in Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 49 (2009): 535-555:
In A.D. 197 a Roman and Antinoite citizen named Gemellus Horion, a landholder in Karanis, filed a series of petitions in which he describes a strange sequence of events: his neighbors Iulius and Sotas, he claims, had come onto his land and attempted to repossess it, since, he says, “they looked down on me because of my weak vision.” In response to this behavior Gemellus sent a petition to the prefect, Quintus Aemilius Saturninus, who authorized Gemellus to approach the epistrategos (P.Mich. VI 422). In the intervening time, perhaps a few weeks, Sotas died, and Iulius, along with his wife and a man named Zenas, came onto his land carrying a brephos--a fetus--so that they could “encircle (his tenant farmer) with phthonos (malicious envy).” After frightening Gemellus’ tenant farmer they stole the crops that he had been harvesting. When Gemellus and two village officials approached Iulius about the incident, Iulius threw the brephos at Gemellus in the presence of the officials, since, according to Gemellus, they also wanted to encircle him with phthonos. Iulius retrieved the brephos and took the remainder of the crops. Concerning this second incident Gemellus sent a petition to the strategos, Hierax, asking him to make an official record of the incident so that he could report it at his upcoming hearing with the epistrategos. This request dates to May 197, and is preserved in two copies, P.Mich. 423 and 424. All three of these papyri are private copies, and were found in a group of documents from a house and courtyard in Karanis. In content these two documents are unlike other petitions, which largely record less puzzling and more quotidian offenses, primarily theft and assault. Most scholars have shared the conclusion of the initial editors, that these papyri reflect an instance of a public assault by magic. If this is the case, then these papyri document a type of conflict that is otherwise unparalleled in the papyrological record, despite the Roman legal system’s willingness to entertain such charges.
The second is Visibility and Violence in Petitions from Roman Egypt, originally published in
Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 48 (2008): 181-200:
The study of violence and violent behavior is of special sociological import. At moments of conflict, as anthropologist Anton Blok has noted, core values are disputed and interpreted; status and position, which on a daily basis are often tacitly assumed and unarticulated, can be highlighted and reified into positive rights and duties--such as the ability to be free from insult, the duty of others to respect one’s personal territory, or the right to bring offenders to justice and have them punished. When disputes turn violent the stakes are raised: personal integrity can be threatened, challenged, or violated, and one’s position within a community can be endangered. From Roman Egypt--defined for the purpose of this paper as the period from Augustus to Justinian--we have numerous accounts of violent behavior, especially in the form of petitions for redress by legal authorities.
The third is Judging Empire: Courts and Culture in Rome's Eastern Provinces, which originally appeared in Law and History Review 30 (August 2012): 771-811:
This paper contributes to the recent debate on the interrelationship between law and imperialism by presenting a new model for understanding courtroom interactions. Specifically, I argue that courtroom interactions should be understood as ritualized spaces in which the realities of day-to-day power-relations in empires are temporarily suspended and potentially renegotiated. The adoption of legal vocabularies by provincial populations is neither assimilation nor resistance, but rather an attempt to engage in a dialogue with imperial powers on terms that favor the provincials themselves. Drawing on papyri, monumental inscriptions, and literary texts, I argue that in Rome’s eastern provinces the government had no monopoly over legal texts or knowledge, a condition which provincials exploited through a process of selectively invoking and monumentalizing select legal texts, and forgetting others. Through a case study of how provincial populations generate and adopt ideas of the rule of law and how they deploy these concepts to influence and control Roman governors, this paper concludes that an approach to law as a ritual practice opens up new avenues for understanding the power dynamics of empires.

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