Provincial Cultures and the Roman Military: Great and Little Traditions in a Pre-Modern Empire

Name of applicant

Kristian Kanstrup Christensen


School of Classics, University of St. Andrews, UK


DKK 700,000



Type of grant

Internationalisation Fellowships


This project will determine the role of the military in the spread of Greco-Roman culture across the Roman Empire. The Roman state ruled a vast territory containing numerous languages and cultures. Many of these cultural differences persisted throughout the history of the empire. Yet the culture of Rome still penetrated the conquered territories. The Latin language became the language of elites, and Greco-Roman customs were entrenched from Syria to the Britain. How did this cultural dissemination happen? This question will be answered by investigating the institution that interacted most directly with the broader population: the military. It will investigate how recruits were exposed to Greco-Roman culture, and how they in turn brought this culture back to their local environments.


The study of the military has been a holdout for 'Romanization'. In the wider discipline of Roman studies, however, this paradigm has come under criticism in recent decades. This project will instead employ the anthropological model of the great and little tradition. The advantage of this model is that it does not reduce cultural interaction to a binary opposition of the cosmopolitan and the provincial. It can be used to show that agrarian societies remained culturally stratified while a cultural dialogue was nonetheless maintained between the strata. Applying this model to our data on the Roman army, the project will demonstrate that it is a more appropriate framework for understanding the cultural history of the Roman provinces than previous theoretical approaches.


The project will integrate both primary sources and existing research into its holistic view of the workings of the premodern imperial structure. As this is the first instance of the model of the great and little tradition being applied to this research field, this particular strategy for synthesizing individual studies into a broader understanding of the imperial Roman world as a whole has not been done before. The primary sources for the project include the Bu Njem ostraca from North Africa and the Vindolanda tablets from Britain, source corpora which grant unique vistas into the everyday lives of Roman garrisons. The project will be carried out at the School of Classics at the University of St. Andrews in the UK, which has a strong community of Roman scholars.

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