The Gordian Knot of Interpretation: Roman written sources, the idea of socio-cultural evolution and the concept of Romanization

  • Vladimir D. Mihajlović Department of History Faculty of Philosophy University of Novi Sad
Roman written sources, “humanity”, “barbarity”, socio-cultural evolution, the concept of Romanization


In the Roman Empire, under the Greek influences, authors shared the idea of “the degree of humanity”, according to which the Romans formed value judgements about the “barbarian” societies. The framework of reference was constituted by the Roman society itself, taken as superior and predestined as the centre of the known world. The criteria for comparison were based upon the natural and climatic environment, socio-political organization, economy, religion, ways of life, warfare, marital practices, certain kinds of material culture and cultural practices in general. According to this view, the Mediterranean societies were “the most human”, and the level of humanity declined in direct relation to the geographical remoteness and other differences as compared to the centre. Although these speculations were not organized into a unified interpretive framework, like the modern social theories, they nevertheless were implicit assumptions of the Roman elite. This „naive“ or “common-sense anthropology” has had a strong impact on the formation of the premises of the modern anthropological theories, due to the general role of the ancient written sources in the processes of knowledge formation in modern Europe. It is therefore possible to assume that the ancient ideas, along with the later ones, played an important role in the shaping of the postulates of the early theory of socio-cultural evolution – the implicit base of interpretation of human societies during the 19th century. Consequently, the written sources have played a double role in the processes of formation of the concept of Romanization – directly, as well as through socio-cultural evolution, onto which the concept itself relied. In this way, the prejudices stemming from the discourse of Romanization gained the air of scientific interpretations, verified by two seemingly independent reference systems.


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How to Cite
Mihajlović, Vladimir. 2011. “The Gordian Knot of Interpretation: Roman Written Sources, the Idea of Socio-Cultural Evolution and the Concept of Romanization”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 6 (3), 679-98.