Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Ancient History

First Advisor

Cam Grey


This dissertation argues for cultural heritage as a focus of analysis within the contexts of ancient Rome and traces the contours of an evolving cultural heritage discourse within Rome of the first centuries BCE and CE through an examination of literary episodes contesting acts of cultural destruction. Chapter 1 establishes a theoretical foundation for this examination by deconstructing the presumed modernity of “cultural heritage” as a phenomenon and reformulating it into an epistemological construct involving the politically-inflected valuation and regulation of objects, sites, and practices as expressions of culture. Building on the theoretical work of heritage studies scholars who criticize the UNESCO conceptualization of cultural heritage as hegemonic and not representative of the heritage values of many global societies today, this dissertation argues that once cultural heritage is recognized to take various shapes within various societies, there is no logical barrier to studying it in past societies. Chapters 2 through 4 examine negative reactions to cultural destruction in Cicero’s In Verrem, Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, and Dio Chrysostom’s Rhodian Oration as reflections of Roman heritage thinking. These texts demonstrate not only that individuals within Roman antiquity grappled with ethics concerning the proper and improper treatment of cultural property, such as statues, temples, monuments, and traditional customs, but also that contesting cultural destruction was a political tool within elite discourse long before it manifested as a component in conflict between Christians and pagans in the late antique period—a phenomenon that has received disproportional attention in the scholarship to date. Moreover, analysis of these texts underscores the interrelationship between ideas about the mistreatment of cultural property and a range of stigmatized identity categories, such as barbarians, pirates, and brigands, and corrupt magistrates. That this discourse contesting cultural destruction was both informed by and, in turn, contributed to identity politics within ancient Rome helps us recognize a pre-Christian and pre-modern history to the politics of caring about culture.


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