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The effeminate east: orientalism in Roman military contexts (c.200 bce to c. 200 ce)

McAvoy, Ioan ORCID: 2017. The effeminate east: orientalism in Roman military contexts (c.200 bce to c. 200 ce). PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The purpose of my research is to illuminate the gendered and ethnic stereotyping of Easterners in Roman literature of the central period (c. 200 BCE to 200 CE), particularly in texts concerned with masculinity and warfare. Military situations were often constructed as the ultimate ‘tests’ of masculinity and Romanness, and they are, therefore, uniquely revealing for the constructions of these ideas. The idea of gendered lifestyles was central to these constructions. Roman authors distinguished between easy, pleasurable, feminine lifestyles and hard, austere, masculine ones. Masculinity and virtue were intertwined, and these precepts informed the ways in which Roman authors constructed their own worth, and the worth of other peoples. Easterners were presented as living luxurious, pleasurable lives, which were contrasted with a stereotypical Roman life of martial toil. However, when Easterners were depicted in martial contexts, this resulted in the caricature of their inabilities in this area. The accusation that Easterners allowed pleasure into martial contexts underpins these caricatures, and this was particularly challenging for Roman authors. Athletic training, for example, was constructed as pseudo-martial but inadequately so, as it was enjoyable. This was contrasted with difficult, ‘true’ military training, which helped build a man’s endurance, and proved his masculinity. The relationship of Easterners to arma (arms) was also deemed troubled, and Easterners were often constructed as having poor ability with arms, or an interest in adorned arms for their aesthetic value rather than their rugged purpose. Similarly, in the naval sphere, Roman authors were prone to depict Hellenistic rulers with luxurious and ornamented flagships, oversized and unsuitable for real warfare. In essence, these constructions were used to affirm Roman superiority – both moral and military – and also to serve as a warning as to what could happen should Romans allow themselves to succumb to easy, ‘effeminate’ lifestyles. Fundamentally, I argue that gendered constructions of ethnic ‘warlikeness’ were the principal force behind the disparagement of Greeks and other Easterners in Roman literature.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 24 May 2017
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2022 11:06

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