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Sarah E. Bond: Labor Unions, Athletic Guilds, and the 'Fall' of Rome
Arresting a charioteer in the late Roman world was a perilous act. A large portion of the Roman populace felt great affinity for members of one of the four factiones (“factions”) that dominated the chariot racing scenes in dozens of Roman cities with a hippodrome across the Roman Mediterranean. The arrest of a charioteer put the success of these factions at risk. It could also put hundreds of people out of work. Late Roman athletic unions and factions often consisted of up to 200 people, many with overseers, animal trainers, doctors, veterinarians, masseurs, stable hands, and a network of other individuals who worked collectively with the charioteers to put on races in the circus about every 5-6 days in cities like Rome and Constantinople. This talk looks at the internal structure of the late Roman athletic unions, entertainment groups (e.g. actors, musicians, bear trainers), and charioteer factions that underpinned the bustling economy of the Roman hippodrome. Although many people think of labor unions as a development of the Middle Ages, the roots of the medieval guild lay in antiquity. And charioteers were often the union figurehead, guiding both their faction and their fans to political ends. Re-viewing Late Antiquity through the lens of labor organization, strikes, work contracts, and—when deemed necessary—coordinated violence, leads us to a different narrative of the 'fall' of Rome, this time from below.
Sarah E. Bond is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Iowa. She is interested in late Roman history, epigraphy, late antique law, Roman topography and GIS, Digital Humanities, and the socio-legal experience of ancient marginal peoples.
Thursday, March 16 at 5:30pm
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