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Thursday, May 10, 2007

REVIEW: Roger S. Bagnall, Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Variorum Collected Studies Series

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.05.16
Roger S. Bagnall, Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Variorum Collected Studies Series. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006. Pp. 352; figs. 6. ISBN 10: 0-7546-5906-2. ISBN 13: 978-0-7546-5906-8. $114.95.
Blurb at the publisher

Reviewed by Pablo Ubierna and Diego M. Santos, Medieval Research, CONICET Buenos Aires (pabloubierna@ciudad.com.ar and diegoaug@yahoo.com.ar)
Word count: 1551 words

Table of contents

Here we have a single volume of work by Roger Bagnall in which he has, for a second time, published a collection of articles in the Variorum Series.1 These two volumes, along with the collection of articles by Sir L. Kirwan (Studies on the History of Late Antique and Christian Nubia, edited by T. Hägg, L. Török, and D. A. Websley, 2002) and by L. S. B. MacCoull (Coptic Perspectives on Late Antiquity, 1993), are the most important texts about the Nile Valley in Roman Times published by Ashgate.

The Papyrological work done by Bagnall is one of the most valuable tools for the study of Eastern Mediterranean History in Late Antiquity. This group of most valuable articles, some of them already well known to and praised by scholars interested in Roman and Byzantine Egypt, is an excellent survey of research conducted in the field over the last three decades. In this book, Bagnall's central focus is devoted to theoretical models. In his previous book on papyrology for historians2 he insisted on the importance of working with models. Articles III, VI, VIII, XVII of the present collection are all concerned with models, and are, at the same time, the most important papers in the volume. In chapter III, for example ("Evidence and models for the economy of Roman Egypt", originally published in 2005), Bagnall provides a long critical introduction to the work of M. Finley before making invaluable comments about the possibility of working with models in order to interpret the economy of Roman Egypt. According to Bagnall, historians have not yet outlined a theoretical model to interpret the economy of Roman Egypt. In contrast to Ptolemaic or Byzantine Egypt, the characteristics of the documents, and their publication, have not yet allowed for (or led to) a synthetic work. The importance of working with a theoretical model was stated by Bagnall in his book Reading Papyri, Writing Ancient History (p. 3):

historians are undoubtedly more hostile to theories of the master-explanation type than any other and with reason. There is a cogent philosophical argument, which I accept, that such substantive philosophy of history is inherent "a misconceived activity", essentially because our "knowledge of the past is significantly limited by our ignorance of the future". This sort of theory will therefore largely be left out of account here. (...) these large-scale explanations do, to my mind, have some use if deployed only as models to stimulate thinking and as source of questions, but none at all when treated like historical laws.
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