Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
The representation of foreign peoples with manifest ethnic or “racial” differences, such as unfamiliar physical traits or exotic dress, has been a longstanding and often visceral site for human artistic expression. The visual and material culture of the Roman Empire provides an abundant record of such encounters which render visible complex formulations of ethnicity, social hierarchies, and power—in short, of who was in and who was out. This lecture discusses how artists represented the peoples whom Romans referred to as Aethiopians (i.e., Sub-Saharan or “black” Africans) in different visual media, and explores issues related to the social functions, patronage, viewership, and interpretation of these works. The lecture discusses the formalized conventions, object types, and display contexts of their representations; examines the two critical axioms of their study, including their role in debates about Roman “proto-racism” (or the lack thereof); and maps out recent approaches to and future directions for their study.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
Bell, S.W. (2021) “Images and Interpretation of Africans in Roman Art and Social Practice.” In The Oxford Handbook of Roman Imagery and Iconography, edited by L. Cline and N.T. Elkins. Oxford: Oxford University Press.