Topic for Year 38 (2000-2001):
"The Wild Wild West: Religious and Societal Transformations on the North African Frontier"

Chairs: William Gruen and Shira Lander (University of Pennsylvania)

Recent scholars of the Roman Empire have emphasized the benefit of understanding its geographical and demographic peripheries as a way to gain new insight into the diversity of the whole. The study of Judaism and even, to some extent, Greco-Roman religions and Christianity in Roman North Africa has received less attention than other remote areas of the Empire such as the Roman Near East. The origins of both North African Judaism and Christianity are still debated, and foundational work is currently being produced. Detailed explorations of Roman North African religion have focused on Carthage. More remote areas, like the rest of Africa Proconsularis, Numidia, Tripolitana, Mauretania, and Libya, await similar thorough treatments.

Roman North Africa presents a fascinating case study of the role of religion in colonization and the extent to which indigenous religious practices were both adapted and integrated into Roman cultic worship. The dynamic of adaptation and integration can be observed in the physical transformation of the landscape of cities, highways, and villas, as well as in religious practices themselves. The persistence of the Punic language into the fourth century suggests that the degree of Latinization varied between different locales, and that Roman culture had not achieved hegemony throughout the entire region. Despite North Africa's ties to Rome, the varieties of Christianity which predominated up to the end of the fourth century were "non-orthodox." Religious conflicts embedded class strife, reflecting the changing social landscape of a vast and disparate region ranging from the Roman twin-city of Carthage to the more remote towns of Bagai, Tingi, and Altava.