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Memory Sanctions and Damnatio Memoriae, c.200 - c.800 AD

When Sep 05, 2017 09:00 AM to
Sep 06, 2017 05:00 PM
Where Trinity College, Cambridge
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This conference will explore the changing concept of memory sanctions and damnatio memoriae (literally 'damnation of memory') in late antiquity and the early middle ages, c. 200 - c. 800. Traditionally, damnatio memoriae has been thought of as a purely Roman practice signalling formal attacks upon the memory and commemoration of convicted traitors and enemies of the state, akin to the memory purges of modern Communist regimes. Perhaps its starkest contemporary articulation comes in the form of a law issued on 21st April 395 in the wake of a civil war whose supposed instigator, Eugenius, was condemned to oblivion: ‘Let that time be reckoned as if it never was.’ 

Damnatio memoriae has been widely studied in the Roman world, but almost exclusively as a process of destroying and defacing images and of removing names from honorific inscriptions, that is as a physical and destructive process. Yet the bounds of human memory and the aim of these sanctions stretched far beyond physical memorials. It has been the effort of a number of scholars, including two of the participants in this conference, to broaden our understanding of this damnatio memoriae beyond the current disciplinary strictures under which it operates, and to engage with sanctions against memory in terms of more universal notions of cultural memory and of taboo in human societies. This conference will be the next step in that process.
During this conference, we will therefore seek to chart instances of the conscious and intentional attempt to supress memory – however conceived – in the Roman world, in the post-Roman West, and in the Byzantine East across the period now called Late Antiquity (c. 200 – c.800 AD). The focus of the conference is firmly comparative and interdisciplinary. Invited speakers comprise a number of senior figures with specialisms spanning our stated chronology, and we will bring together classicists, Byzantinists, and medieval historians, as well as drawing together individuals who work on textual material and on physical artefacts. In the field of memory and its suppression, these disciplines typically work independent of one another – we seek to break that pattern.
Above all, this conference will bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars not confined to a single regional, chronological, or cultural focus in order to explore the universality of social interaction with memory.

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