Associations in the Greco-Roman World, a Sourcebook

GRAI wanted to bring your attention to a book that may be of some interest to readers of this blog. It’s by a professor I’ve worked with at York, Philip Harland, and since I was hired as a research assistant on this project, I can personally vouch for its contents!

The book, Greco-Roman Associations: Texts, Translations and Commentary, is the second volume in a series (The first volume can be found here). It collects inscriptions from Asia Minor and the north coast of the Black Sea and is a valuable resource for those seeking to understand antiquity from the ground up. Topically, this volume focuses on associations, a broad category which includes religious groups, trade guilds, and funerary associations among others.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction on the topic of religion and associations:

While immigrant, occupational, and familial associations are sometimes easier for the social historian to identify, others are less so. In particular, with many groups, all we know is that numerous individuals joined together regularly to form a society, to honour a particular deity, or to be initiated into the mysteries of a deity. And in many of these cases no further information is available concerning how these individuals may have been connected before the formation of the association. This latter situation has often led to the rather unhelpful scholarly category of the “cultic association” or “religious association,” with, in some cases, scholars debating whether or not this or that group was “religious” enough to be called a “cultic association,” or whether a particular group was merely a “club,” or a “political association,” or what have you. Although it is true that a given group may have focussed more on honouring certain deities than some other group, these distinctions are, now, largely unrecoverable for the historian. We shall see that immigrant groups, occupational guilds, neighbourhood associations, and others were similarly concerned with honouring the gods, so virtually all groups discussed in this work had a cultic function and were, in some sense, “cultic associations.” (Harland, 3)

What I think is really valuable about this text is that this material is not the most easily accessed of ancient sources—the translations can be tricky and the source material is often partial, and they lack the “star power” that our regular sources, such as Livy or even (ugh) Tertullian, possess. It is this latter aspect that I think provides the most value to scholars in that these inscriptions offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of those living in the Hellenistic era and Roman Empire.

If this sounds like your thing, you can get the book at the DeGruyter website, though be warned it’s quite pricey.

This being my blog, I am going to take a moment to highlight my important work on this book: I indexed sections IX and X, as well as did a bit of proofreading. Perhaps one day I will also have my own book of translations, but until then I’ll content myself with a nice mention in the acknowledgements section.