to emerge from these individual readings. This introduction attempts a
preliminary answer to that question.
The idea of an interrelation between knowledge and empire in the mod-
ern world is not new.2 Edward Said has shown how imperial ideologies
shaped and were shaped by the rhetoric of modern European ethnogra-
phy, and how they seeped into many other areas of discourse.3 There are
countless studies, many of them drawing on Saidā™s work, which show how
European scientiļ¬c knowledge, and the knowledge of colonised cultures
within European empires, developed step by step with the institutions and
assumptions of empire.4 Those enquiries have illuminated, amongst other
things, the role of science as a tool of empire; the inļ¬‚uence of European
science on conquered populations; the ways in which local knowledge
(1999), Nicolet (ed.) (1995). All of those volumes share the aim of comparing and juxtaposing a range
of different technical authors; many of them bring out vividly the way in which these at-ļ¬rst-sight
purely functional texts manipulate shared tropes of structuration and authorial self-representation,
often with a high degree of ingenuity (e.g., see Formisano (2001), esp. 27ā“31, on recurrent use of the
rhetoric of utilitas, sollertia, diligentia and dissimulatio in late-antique technical writing).
2 See Flemming (2003) for an attempt to relate work on modern empires to Hellenistic knowledge.
3 Said (1978) and (1993).
4 See, amongst many others, Stafford (1989), Macleod (1993), Bayly (1996), Miller and Reill (eds.)
(1996), Washbrook (1999), Drayton (2000).
Ordering knowledge 5
inļ¬‚uenced metropolitan scientiļ¬c practice; the ways in which increased
knowledge of the globe opened up new areas for scientiļ¬c study; and the
ways in which ideals of scientiļ¬c progress and ambition were intertwined
with metropolitan justiļ¬cations of imperial domination.
Moreover, modern practices of scientiļ¬c writing have been signiļ¬cantly
shaped by ancient models of objective and exhaustive compilation of knowl-
edge within textual form ā“ although this volume for the most part leaves
to one side the question of the reception of ancient knowledge-ordering
in the post-classical world.5 The structures of post-classical knowledge-
ordering ā“ in the Arabic, medieval and Renaissance worlds and beyond ā“
are indebted to ancient models.6 Modern encyclopedism follows the ency-
clopedic projects of Pliny and others, despite the great differences between
modern and ancient conceptions of what an ā˜encyclopediaā™ comprises.7
One might therefore expect to see similar links between knowledge-
ordering texts and imperial ambitions in both the ancient and modern
worlds. And yet when we read the knowledge-bearing texts of the Roman
Empire, it is often difļ¬cult ā“ more difļ¬cult than for much of the scientiļ¬c
writing of the British Empire, for example ā“ to ground their relation with
the imperial project in detailed analysis. Some ancient authors shun the
impression of being implicated in the realities of imperial power. Many
avoid the appearance of radical innovation, advertising instead their close
relationship with the accumulated knowledge of the past. That difļ¬culty
can be partly explained by the tendency for imperialist rhetoric to con-
ceal itself beneath the mask of objectivity or aesthetic elevation (as Said
and others have shown). This point is crucial for ancient and modern
empires alike. But that explanation is not on its own enough. We also
need to acknowledge that the Roman Empire poses its own very particu-
lar problems of analysis ā“ that the mutually parasitic relationship between
ancient empire and knowledge arose from rhetorical traditions and institu-
tional structures very different from anything familiar in the experience of
modern European empires. Most obviously, the cultural impositions and
interventionist strategies of administration that have characterised many
5 Equally we leave to one side any attempt at comparative approaches of the kind Geoffrey Lloyd has
pioneered in juxtaposing Chinese science, and its context of empire, with Greek science and society:
see esp. Lloyd (1996).
6 See, e.g., Koerner (1999) on the inļ¬‚uence of ancient knowledge-ordering texts on Linnaeus.
7 See Collison (1964); McArthur (1986), esp. 38ā“56, who traces the development of compilatory writing
from Aristotle and Pliny, through Christian compilers like Cassiodorus and Isidore of Seville, to the
scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and beyond; Arnar (1990); Yeo (2001) 5ā“12 on the descent of modern
encyclopedism from ancient precedents, and passim on development of conceptions of encyclopedism
in eighteenth-century Europe; also Murphy (2004) 11ā“12.
6 j a son k onig a nd ti m w h i tm a rs h
of those empires ļ¬nd almost their inverse in the relatively light touch, in
cultural terms, of Roman rule. What we need, then, is a set of questions
sensitive to that speciļ¬city. That is the task of this introduction.
knowled ge a n d power
The links between knowledge and power more generally ā“ putting aside for
now the speciļ¬c context of empire ā“ have of course been much theorised.
For Michel Foucault, most inļ¬‚uentially, power is not simply a commodity,
possessed by governments and inļ¬‚uential individuals and exercised by them
from above. Rather it is a complex network of relationships constantly being
acted out and reshaped within even the smallest encounters of everyday
life. Moreover, knowledge and its ā˜will to truthā™ are central to Foucauldian
power. Epistemology cannot be divorced from particular social relations
and situations. It is not some abstract activity, practised from a position of
detachment; rather it is enacted within all institutions of social encounter.
Each society, Foucault argues, has its own conditions for truth:
that is, the type of discourse it harbours and causes to function as true; the mech-
anisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements,
the way in which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures which are
valorised for obtaining the truth; the status of those who are charged with saying
what counts as true.8
Those who have access to the knowledge that holds a social and political
system together necessarily control the distribution of power within that
system. And yet truth is never stable and monolithic. Rather it is something
open to debate and renegotiation, shaped and enacted through and within
the workings of power. The systems of thought identifying individuals
with certain roles do so not bluntly and coercively, but rather with the
collusion of those individuals ā“ through the creation of desire for particular
subject positions. Negotiation of truth and power are thus ingrained in the
textures of everyday life. When people act out particular roles, as parents and
children, teachers and students, doctors and patients, they are constantly
negotiating ā˜questions of power, authority, and the control of deļ¬nitions of
realityā™.9 Knowledge-bearing institutions and bodies of thought ā“ medicine,
hospitals, prisons, asylums ā“ are embedded in and founded upon these
relationships of power; and knowledge-bearing texts, often the texts that
8 Quotation from an interview with Foucault published in Gordon (1980) 131.
9 Dirks, Eley and Ortner (1994) 4, part of a good brief discussion, setting Foucaultā™s work in the context
of wider developments in anthropology, history and the social sciences; see also McNay (1994) 48ā“132.
Ordering knowledge 7
provide theoretical backing for those institutions, are profoundly marked
by them, able to reveal beneath their dispassionate surfaces something of
what it is possible to say or to think within the societies and disciplines
from which they arise.
The broad relevance of those points will be clear. The world of knowl-
edge ā“ comprising both the institutions deļ¬ning it and the texts embodying
it ā“ is never neutral, detached, objective. The assumption that the textual
compilation of knowledge is a practice distinct from political power will
not stand. All of the texts examined in this volume are embedded both
within the overarching hierarchies and patterns of thought of Roman-
empire society and within the power relations and power struggles of spe-
ciļ¬c intellectual disciplines (more on that below)10 ā“ although here again we
should acknowledge how far our own experiences differ from those of the
ancient world, where ofļ¬cial institutionalisation of knowledge production
was in general more localised and circumscribed. Similar conclusions ā“
both inspired by Foucaultā™s work and developed in parallel to it ā“ have
increasingly preoccupied a whole range of modern academic disciplines.
Feminist scholarship has revealed the gendered assumptions deeply rooted
within centuries of male-produced and male-centred discourse.11 Anthro-
pology has shown how the structuring hierarchies and thought patterns of
a society may be ingrained even ā“ or perhaps especially ā“ within its most
frivolous and abstract habits of cultural activity.12
Foucaultā™s challenging work is not without its difļ¬culties, of course ā“ in
fact Foucault himself constantly struggled to revise and update his models
during the course of his career.13 Most importantly for this volume, Fou-
caultā™s model of the functioning of power and knowledge on some readings
leaves little or no room for the agency of individuals. Foucaultā™s insistence
that resistance to power is always bound up in and reproductive of the sys-
tems it challenges has been thought to have pessimistic implications for the
possibility of resistance to social injustice.14 Many of the essays in this vol-
ume address that problem, particularly through questioning the degree to
which encyclopedic styles of composition allow and provoke varied reader
response to the patterns of thought they showcase. How far, in other words,
does knowledge imply subjection to historically determined forces? How
do individuals carve out their own spaces within the overarching structures
10 Pp. 24ā“7; cf. Barton (1994b) on the scientiļ¬c writing of the Roman Empire.
11 12 E.g., see Geertz (1973).
See, e.g., Dirks, Eley and Ortner (1994) 32ā“6.
13 See McNay (1994) 66ā“9 on Foucaultā™s attempts in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972) to nuance
his rather monolithic concept of the ā˜epistemeā™ in The Order of Things (1970).
14 See McNay (1994) 100ā“102.
8 j a son k onig a nd ti m w h i tm a rs h
which they are formed by? And what role does textual presentation of
knowledge play within those processes?
Examination of the Roman Empire as a speciļ¬c context for knowledge
production also has relevance for Foucaultā™s conceptions of chronological
change. Does Foucaultā™s model of ā˜epistemic shiftsā™ between different peri-
ods with different systems of logic15 offer insight into the post-Augustan
world, where the rhetoric of a ā˜new startā™ was paraded so widely? Or does
that model play into the hands of a naĀØve historicism, resting on simplistic
modern periodisations of the ancient world? Should we be looking instead
for a model that accounts for change in conceptions of knowledge as a grad-
ual and painstaking evolution impelled by the pressures and innovations
of competitive elite self-assertion?
hellenis tic /repu bl ic a n kn ow l edg e
One way of assessing the cultural and historical speciļ¬city of knowledge-
systems of the Roman Empire is to view its relation with what had come
before it. Certainly, they did not emerge e nihilo. Aristotleā™s project of
systematising knowledge across an enormous range of different subjects
lies behind all of the texts we discuss in later chapters. Equally inļ¬‚uen-
tial was the culture of Hellenistic Alexandria, which both inherited and
developed Aristotelian scholarly practice. Here we see uniquely concrete
links between the projects of political organisation and cultural systemati-
sation. The Alexandrian library (later imitated in Pergamum and elsewhere)
brought the whole world into a single city, broadcasting the glory of the
Ptolemaic rule that had provided the conditions for its possibility. And a
whole range of scholars imitated and inļ¬‚uenced that totalising gesture in
their individual works, covering a range of subjects inconceivable within the
hyper-specialised world of modern academic writing: Zenodotus, for exam-
ple, Homeric editor and lexicographer and ļ¬rst head of the Library; Calli-
machus, whose poetry ļ¬‚aunts its own dazzling generic ļ¬‚exibility, in combi-
nation with designedly abstruse bibliographical and historical knowledge;
and most prodigiously of all, Eratosthenes, whose work covers mathemati-
cal, chronographical, geographical, philosophical and literary scholarship.16
Others outside Alexandria followed similar paths: Theophrastus, the suc-
cessor of Aristotle in the Athenian Lyceum; Aratus, the poet-scholar based
15 See McNay (1994) 64ā“6.
16 See Pfeiffer (1968), and now Erskine (ed.) (2003) (especially the chapters by Hunter (2003) and
Flemming (2003)); for Eratosthenes, see the rich account of Geus (2002).
Ordering knowledge 9
in Pergamum; and Posidonius, the extraordinary polymath of the second to
ļ¬rst centuries bce, who prospered in Rome. Many Imperial Greek writers
depended heavily on their Hellenistic predecessors for both form and con-
tent. Similarly, their Latin counterparts often drew heavily from Hellenistic
Greek work, while also following the agendas laid out by great Republi-
can systematisers like Cicero and especially Varro, whose work covered
history, grammar, geography, agriculture, law, philosophy, medicine and
On that evidence, modern scholars of ancient science have sometimes
concluded that Imperial compilers of knowledge were merely derivative.18
That approach, however, drastically underestimates the potential for inno-
vativeness in compilatory styles of composition, as well as failing to exam-
ine the key questions of synchronic cultural analysis which this volume
For one thing, it mistakes the rhetoric of conservatism often paraded by
ancient scientiļ¬c discourse for the real thing. The importance of rhetorical
self-promotion within ancient science and medicine encouraged a degree
of originality; but also paradoxically suppressed excessive inventiveness,
as speakers and writers went out of their way to avoid the impression of
showy innovation.19 It also ignores the opportunities for inventive reshaping
embedded within the techniques of editing and compiling ā“ inventiveness
which several of the following chapters explore. And it fails to consider
the ways in which even texts following broadly Hellenistic or Republican
structures or styles of composition so often bring out the tension between
older and newer conļ¬gurations of knowledge. That is clear, for example,
in works where the concept of geographical scope is an important structur-
ing principle.20 Straboā™s geographical history,21 for instance, or Pausaniasā™
Periegesis,22 work with fundamentally Hellenistic conceptions of space, but
are also acutely aware of the way in which Roman rule has reconļ¬gured
the geography of the Greek east. Plinyā™s Natural history draws into itself the
accumulated erudition of the Greek and Roman past, but in doing so it
17 On the late-Republican intellectual scene see esp. Rawson (1985).
18 On modern scholarshipā™s deprecation of Imperial literature on the grounds of derivativeness, see
Whitmarsh (2001) 41ā“5.
19 See Lloyd (1996) 74ā“92 (esp. 90ā“92) on medical writers. On the ambiguities of innovation in
rhetorical theory, see Whitmarsh (2005a) 54ā“6.
20 21 See Clarke (1999), esp. 193ā“244.
For the general point, see Momigliano (1974) 27ā“49.
22 See Cohen (2001) for the argument that Pausaniasā™ worldview is more ā˜Hellenisticā™ than, for example,
Straboā™s, less comfortably integrated with Roman imperial geography; see, however, Elsner (1992)
and (1994), and (from a different perspective) Arafat (1996) for Pausaniasā™ engagement with the
realities of the Roman present.
10 j a son k onig a nd ti m w h i tm a rs h
repeatedly invites us to compare this accumulation with patterns of Roman
A number of scholars have also suggested causal links between the polit-
ical and cultural conditions which framed the transition from Republic
to Empire and the emergence of distinctive knowledge-ordering genres.
Claudia Moatti has argued that the drive to assemble disparate strands of
knowledge was a response to the fragmentation of late-Republican soci-
ety and political culture.24 Andrew Wallace-Hadrill has linked the move
towards specialised knowledge under Augustus with shifting ideas of polit-
ical authority.25 Trevor Murphy has pointed out that the ā˜encyclopediaā™ is a
Roman invention, but also a product of the Roman encounter with Greek
ideals of all-embracing education (enkyklios paideia) ā“ the alienness of this
concept for Romans drove them to attempt a ļ¬xed, textual version of it, as
opposed to the more ļ¬‚uid version which was enshrined within centuries of
Greek educational tradition ā“ and dependent on the territorial and intel-
lectual ambitions of a uniļ¬ed empire. In the process he shows how Plinyā™s
encyclopedic project in particular is adapted for the context of the Roman
Empire, drawing, for example, on the rhetoric of imperial conquest and
the emperorā™s authority (more on that below).26
loca l kn owle d g e
One of the most distinctive features of Roman Imperial conceptions of
geographical space was its insistence on the co-existence of overarching
identities with local ones, in line with both the inclusive ideology of Roman
rule and Panhellenic visions of the world, where civic individuality is com-
patible with, even necessary for, the perpetuation of shared Greek identity.
How far can we see those tensions reļ¬‚ected in Imperial textualisations of
knowledge? And how far should we distinguish between different contexts
for local knowledge within the melting-pot of Roman culture?
There are some signs of regional clusters of specialisms. For example,
Athens, Alexandria, Tarsus, Aegae and Pergamum were all thriving centres
of rhetorical and philosophical education.27 And yet those concentrations
23 See French (1994) 207ā“18; Murphy (2003) and (2004); Carey (2003), esp. 32ā“40.
24 25 See Wallace-Hadrill (1997), discussed further below, p. 21.
Moatti (1988), (1991) and (1997).
26 See pp. 20ā“2, and Murphy (2004), esp. 13ā“14 and 194ā“6 on the origins of Roman encyclopedism;
cf. McEwen (2003) on the way in which Vitruviusā™ project links itself with its political context by
appropriating the metaphor of the empire as a uniļ¬ed body in order to apply that to the discipline
27 See Natali (2000) 210.
Ordering knowledge 11
leave very few textual traces. Roman Empire writing tends to emphasise
(variably conceived) intellectual cosmopolitanism ahead of provincial speci-
ļ¬city28 . There are some exceptions, where an insistence on cosmopolitanism
leads paradoxically to a strong sense of place, focused on iconic cultural
centres like Rome and Athens. Galen, who is reticent about his medical
training in Pergamum but conjures up a vivid portrait of the medical and
philosophical scene in Rome,29 is a case in point ā“ although even he is often
vague about the precise setting of the medical debates he describes, con-
juring up an imagined, utopian landscape of shared intellectual endeavour,
which also stretches back over the centuries, allowing him to enter into
dialogue with his medical predecessors. Aulus Gellius, similarly, implies a
cosmopolitan but speciļ¬cally Athenian setting for the miscellaneous col-
lection of conversations and reminiscences in his Attic nights. Plutarch does
much the same with Delphi in his Delphic dialogues. But Athens and Delphi
and Rome were unusual cases.
Where Imperial writers do grant speciļ¬c forms of local knowledge to
provincial contexts, it is usually to tease them for their failure to match
normal Panhellenic standards, as in Dio Chrysostomā™s comical portrait of
the cultural backwaters of Borysthenes and Euboea (although for the Cynic
moralist, such places also offer positive lessons for his Prusan audience).30
There is evidence for the continuing importance of local history, but with
the near-total loss of this genre, and few signs of its lateral impact on other
literature, it is hard to press any strong claims on its behalf.31
That relative invisibility of local context does at least have some resonance
with the increasing emphasis within anthropology and modern history
on the importance of seeing ā˜local knowledgesā™ not as self-contained and
inward-looking ways of seeing the world, but rather as bodies of thought
which engage with and contribute to universal knowledge.32 But it may well
make us uncomfortable even so, trained as we are to insist on the potentially
disruptive power of local, marginal voices within the homogenising textures
28 29 See Nutton (1972). 30 Trapp (1995).
See pp. 18ā“20 below.
31 See Bowie (1974) 184ā“8. Others local historians dated by Jacoby to the Imperial period might be
added to Bowieā™s list: e.g., Lyceas of Argos, Ā¾ tĆ¤n Ā–picwrĀ©wn Ā–xhghtĀv (Paus. 1.13.8 = FGrH 312);
Posidonius of Olbia, author of Attic histories (FGrH 335 = 279 T1); Glaucippus, author of a tract on
the religion of Athens (FGrH 363); Telephanes, author of On the city (FGrH 371); Menelaus of Aegae,
author of a work on Boeotia (FGrH 384); Callippus of Corinth, author of a history of Orchomenoi
(FGrH 384); Timagenes or Timogenes of Miletus, author of On Heracleia in Pontus (FGrH 435);
Theseus, author of Corinthian matters (FGrH 453); Crito, author of Sicilian matters, Foundations of
Syracuse and a Tour of Syracuse (FGrH 277 T1); Phlegon of Tralles, author of a description of Sicily
(FGrH 257 T1).
32 See, e.g., Moore (1996).
12 j a son k onig a nd ti m w h i tm a rs h
of global and imperial culture. Are all the textual traces of knowledge found
across the Empire invariably in collusion with the globalising ideals of
the centre? Were there other bodies of local knowledge separate from the
Empireā™s literate, intellectual culture, which are simply too faint for us to
bring back to life?
Even here, of course, there are exceptions, texts that take on the cos-
mopolitan tropes of elite culture and twist them in order to speak from
resistant corners of the Mediterranean world. Lucianā™s satirical insight into
Greco-Roman elite culture is founded on his pose of being a Syrian outsider
to the cultural centres of the Empire33 . But such cases, far from representing
indigenous tradition countering imperial superimposition, clearly demon-
strate that they are always already imperialised. The concept of the local
only becomes operative when globalisation is already at work.
There is also a different order of issue, focused on the relationship
between textual and ritual knowledge. Jack Goody has inļ¬‚uentially empha-
sised the role of listing as a literate technique, a technology that produces
habits of thought connected speciļ¬cally with literature cultures.34 And yet
in the ancient world listing and cataloguing have strong links with orality
(from Homerā™s catalogue of ships onwards) and with ritual (for example,
with the kinds of enumeration which guided and memorialised processional
activity). We should perhaps give more weight to the ritual overtones of
listing even within the apparently functional pages of the Roman Empireā™s
scientiļ¬c and miscellanistic writing. For example, Plutarchā™s Sympotic ques-
tions (as Jason KĀØ nig argues further in his chapter) records philosophical
conversations set in speciļ¬c Greek cities, often at festival banquets. Plutarch
thus aligns his own compilatory work with the rhythms of festival life, cast-
ing it as a performance of cultural memory to match the habits of cultural
memorialisation which were ingrained in local life. Thomas Habinekā™s
chapter shows how Manilius uses the image of sacriļ¬cial ritual both for his
astrological knowledge and for his own activity as a vates, a poet-prophet
ļ¬gure. Ovidā™s poetic exposition of the Roman calendar in the Fasti, again, is
a subversive meditation on the ritual and theological culture of Rome, built
around the defamiliarising juxtaposition of Roman ritual patterns with a
Greek framework of astrological and mythographical knowledge.35 In these
works, at least, the stark details of scientiļ¬c and biographical compilation
engage with the distinctive and familiar contours of local life and ritual
experience in more sustained ways than is initially obvious.
See further below, pp. 13ā“14. See Goody (1977) 74ā“111; for criticisms, see Miyoshi (1994).
35 See Feeney (1998) 123ā“33.
Ordering knowledge 13
knowi ng ph ilosophy
Questions of knowledge will inevitably end up confronting philosophy.
Our concern is not here with philosophical epistemology as such;36 it
is rather with the cultural valency of philosophical knowledge, its quasi-
institutionalised status within society. Ancient philosophical theory, almost
by deļ¬nition, often aimed at totalisation: adherents of one view held it to
the reasoned exclusion of other alternatives, personally committing to the
idea of its superiority. (This goes even for the Pyrrhonists, sceptical anti-
dogmatists who disdained all philosophical positions.) Yet by virtue of its
exclusions, spoken or unspoken, philosophy necessarily acknowledged the
co-existence (albeit not the equal value) of alternative perspectives; ongoing
border disputes implied that the process of totalisation was never complete.
In many cases these border disputes were all the more urgent for the fact
that mutual inļ¬‚uence between different schools was so strong. By the time
of the empire, the consolidation of philosophical schools, each with its own
tenets and dogma, had created a market-place in knowledge.37 No philoso-
pher was just a philosopher: s/he was a Stoic, Epicurean, Cynic, Sceptic,
Academician . . .
Viewed from outside, however, the conļ¬‚icts between the schools could
be considered evidence for the impossibility of totalisation: if philosophers
cannot agree what they know, can there be anything at all to know? This
position is dramatised perhaps most eloquently by the satirist Lucian. His
Sale of lives, for example, presents a slave-market where a potential buyer
surveys a series of potential philosophers desperate to whore their trade.38
His Symposium, meanwhile, works playfully against Platoā™s and Xenophonā™s
texts of the same name: in contrast with their paradigms of social and
intellectual order, Lucian represents his philosophers ā“ all from different
schools ā“ warring drunkenly and bitterly.39 These powerfully vivid narrative
metaphors (the slave auction, convivial disharmony) for the philosophical
market-place do more than simply debunk the authority of philosophers;
36 Schoļ¬eld, Burnyeat and Barnes (eds.) (1980); Everson (1990); Striker (1996).
37 On the development of philosophical schools, cf. Boys-Stones (2001); also Hahn (1989).
38 See further Whitmarsh (2001) 258ā“60.
39 See Branham (1989); similarly Alciphron Letters 3.19 ā“ in a closely related narrative probably written
in imitation of Lucian ā“ portrays philosophers brawling at a dinner party, each of them misbehaving