Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga
Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

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Exploring a Romano-African city: Thugga

2.2 Modelling cultural interaction

To study this mixing of cultures in a systematic way I would like to propose four models of cultural interaction which might provide a framework for scenarios of what could have happened when the Roman met the African. First, it is worth briefly explaining what is meant by ‘model’ here. ‘Model’ is used to mean an explanation of a process of change. Once a model has been suggested, it can be held up for examination. If it is found not to fit the evidence or to explain observations, it may be discarded; if it does fit the evidence, it may help to build an understanding of the past. The theoretical models proposed here suggest what might have happened when two cultures – African and Roman – interacted. From our observed and contextualised evidence we can construct models exploring various ways that evidence may be interpreted. These models can then be used to reassess the evidence and so help both to frame questions about that evidence and to assess the appropriateness of the interpretation.

So in the case of Africa we can construct models of what might have been the result of the interaction of African and Roman cultural forms:

  1. African meeting Roman leads to Roman dominance and an end of African traits: this may be called assimilation.

  2. African meeting Roman leads to African traits continuing to dominate and Roman traits failing to become established, which amounts to rejection.

  3. African meeting Roman leads to African persistence and no evidence of Roman traits dominating, in effect a separation of cultures.

  4. African meeting Roman leads to Afro-Roman cultural mixing, which may be termed fusion.

These four models are gross simplifications, but I would like to comment upon each in turn and suggest some areas in the cultural, historical and archaeological record where we might hope to find indications of one or other of the models being fulfilled. The rest of the course will introduce some new forms of evidence, and you will be invited to consider how they compare to each of the models.

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