Emma Dench

Emma Dench teaches classics and history at Harvard. Her books include Romulus’ Asylum, about Roman identities.

The Bad Julias: Roman Children

Emma Dench, 9 May 2013

The Latin textbook we used at school in the mid-1970s was proud of its new approach. It introduced us to a Roman family whose lives were meant to look just as ours would have done if only we’d lived in a warmer climate without cars, televisions or plastic toys, and walked around dressed in sheets. Yet the children in the family, Marcus and Aemilia, seemed no less remote to us than the...

Scholars who have gone in search of Roman popular culture have focused on trying to recover the voices of ordinary Romans. Graffiti survive on the walls of Pompeii and other Roman towns, in arenas and at favourite destinations for ancient tourists, such as the miraculous ‘talking’ Colossi of Memnon and the Valley of the Kings. Romans boasted, named and shamed (‘Atimetus got...

We used to be told that Rome rose to imperial greatness through the native wit and lean frames of its farmer soldiers. And that if it wasn’t lead poisoning, orgies and overindulgence of every kind, it was race-mixing that brought about its fall, the descendants of Oriental slaves having weakened the native stock. As for Roman culture, that was a contradiction in terms: Roman art...

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