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Mapping out the poetic landscape(s) of the Roman empire: Ethnic and regional variations, socio-cultural diversity, and cross-cultural transformations

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MAPPOLA (Mapping out the poetic landscape(s) of the Roman empire: Ethnic and regional variations, socio-cultural diversity, and cross-cultural transformations)

Reporting period: 2021-04-01 to 2022-09-30

Poetry was the most affordable art form in the Roman world: all it required were words, and someone with a talent to arrange them in a meaningful, aesthetically convincing way. Yet, the study of Latin poetry has traditionally almost exclusively focused on a small, judiciously transmitted canon of texts – a segment of Rome’s artistic production that favours the poetry that was produced, enjoyed, and controlled, by a political, social, and financial urban elite, reinforcing their claim to cultural superiority.

Focusing on a body of over 4,000 Latin verse inscriptions that have survived from the third century B. C. to Late Antiquity and cover the Roman empire in its entirety, representing ancient Rome’s middle and lower social strata in particular, MAPPOLA is an unprecedented effort to democratise our understanding of Roman poetry.

A fundamentally multidisciplinary project that will make use of recent methodological advances in linguistic, historical, and archaeological scholarship, MAPPOLA’s prime aim is fundamentally to reassess the verse inscriptions as evidence for poetry as a ubiquitous, inclusive cultural practice of the people of ancient Rome beyond the palaces of its urban aristocracy. It will provide answers to the following questions: How is the empire’s considerable regional and ethnic diversity reflected in the engagement with inscribed verse? How and where did poetic landscapes emerge, and what inspired them? What was the cultural and social significance of inscribed Latin verse? How did subcultures and poetic subversion take shape? How did inscribed poetry transcend and transgress artificially imposed boundaries and abstractions?

Over five years, organised into five integrated Work Packages and firmly rooted in the PI’s long-term vision, MAPPOLA unlocks a new area of empirical and quantitative research, alongside traditional qualititative approaches, into Latin poetry and its European legacy.
Since its inception, Team MAPPOLA has embarked on an ambitious trajectory of research. The PI, together with two postdoctoral researchers (all of whom also pursue individual research as part of the project), has started to investigate the role of poetry along Rome's wet borders of the Rhine and Danube as well as the role of highly mobile groups (most notably the Roman army). Three doctoral researchers explore the relevance of inscribed verse (a) in the Greek-speaking communities of the City of Rome, (b) female agency and authorship in Roman folk poetry, and (c) the emergence and identity formation of early Christian communities in Roman North Africa as is evidenced by the Roman verse inscriptions. All team members contribute to the creation of a database infrastructure to explore and visualise the dynamics of Roman folk poetry across time and space. Extensive collaboration and effective fieldwork has commenced especially in the Danubian provinces of the Roman empire, and will continue to be carried out, the pandemic permitting. Two international workshops have been organised and completed. 10+ items of OA research have already been published and disseminated, and further ones – in addition to monograph projects of the PhD researchers – are in the pipeline. This is accompanied by extensive efforts in the "third mission" sector.
- Significantly increased understanding of the "locality" and "mobility" of poetry as Roman folk art across time and space

- Substantially improved notion of multilingual communities, radically questioning established narratives of a "Latin west" and a "Greek east"

- Substantially increased understanding of the role of poetry and verbal art in migrant/marginalised communities
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