Visiting Professors Fall Semester 2021

Prof. Michael Peachin


Michael Peachin

I began my career in ancient history at Indiana University, where I worked with Rufus Fears and Glanville Downey. This was followed by a year of study in Bonn, under the tutelage of Johannes Straub. The next stop was Columbia University, where I completed my graduate studies. My teachers there were Roger Bagnall (my dissertation advisor), Alan Cameron, William Harris, Morton Smith, and William Metcalf. The other person, who much influenced my own approach to Roman history, was Géza Alföldy, who was Professor of Roman History in Heidelberg, where I spent a fair amount of time in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
My first book project, which had been my dissertation, tackled imperial titulature and chronology during the third century AD. This project actually arose, via a circuitous route. It began, in fact, with Pliny’s insistence, in his Panegyric, about the importance of Trajan’s epithet optimus. In any case, one of the chief sources for the chronology of the third century is the Codex Justinianus, with its dated imperial rescripts. My engagement with this fascinating book quickly led to an interest in Roman law, though in particular, the ways in which law was implemented on a quotidian basis. Thus, a second book on the delegation of imperial jurisdiction, and the men, who carried out this function. Engagement with Roman administration and Roman law kept me constantly thinking about the men, who implemented both, and I began especially to wonder about the intersections of the literary interests of these men with their “professional” lives in the government. For clearly, both working as a member of the governing elite and writing were of crucial importance to these individuals. That led me to ask, in particular, why the Roman aristocrat seems to have had almost no interest whatsoever in writing (his chief leisurely occupation – otium) about administration (his chief ‘professional’ occupation – negotium). The one apparent exception, Frontinus, who wrote a booklet about the administrative functioning of Rome’s water supply, led to a third book project. Throughout all of this, I was repeatedly struck by the obvious effects of Roman social constructs on nearly everything they undertook. A concern with this aspect of the Roman world resulted in my editing a handbook on Roman social relations. Presently, I have three larger projects in mind. The first, toward which I’ve been collecting ideas and material for quite awhile now, would be a study of Roman abusive behaviors and practices. I have also come to think that we need an in-depth study of the changes in Rome’s legal culture, which came about during the years of Augustus’ rule. I’ve begun to write a bit about that, and am starting to collect materials for such a book. Finally, I have long owed a book on the early imperial period to Blackwells. This, too, is a project I hope in some near future to complete.
With respect to teaching, I generally approach classes from one of two angles. First, I like to try to engage my own research in the classroom. To that end, I have taught several iterations of a course on Roman law, each time tweaking the course, in accord with my own evolving interests in and knowledge of this field. Otherwise, I am often inclined to teach courses on matters, about which I would like to learn more. Thus, I recently offered a course on the Augustan period in the provinces. Or, for example, a few years back, I offered a course on Germanicus, and all of the complexities raised by his life and times.

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