Presenter:  Jordan Rogers, PhD Candidate, Ancient History

Discussant: David Grazian, Professor of Sociology and Communication, Faculty Director of Urban Studies


How did urban communities in Republican Rome (ca. 5th - 1st centuries BCE) maintain social norms without a formal policing force? In this talk, I argue that the enforcement of communal norms in Rome's urban neighborhoods was the responsibility of each of a neighborhood's inhabitants. In other words, Rome's neighborhoods policed themselves, for all the good and bad that could come of it. One particularly powerful means of policing one's neighbors was to engage in acts of public humiliation, called flagitium, which sought to besmirch an individual's reputation within the community. Acts of public humiliation could range from the scrawling of graffiti on an individual's home to the composition and recitation of crass poetry in the streets for all to hear. I argue that these acts of flagitium, as claims of appropriate or inappropriate behavior, were fundamental to maintaining social cohesion in an urban environment with increasing economic and social inequalities. Further, I suggest that perceived acts of flagitium should be interpreted within a framework of claims-making and individual decision-making. While a flagitium could be, and often was, utilized to harm one of greater social status, it could also be invoked for oneself, thereby acting as a twofold claim that acknowledged one's failure to fulfill their social duties and simultaneously asserted their social status within the community."