What’s in a Natio. Negotiating Ethnic Identity in the Roman Empire

Stanford Libraries

Natio as a concept has been profoundly understudied. Previous scholarship has tended to gloss over the various nuances of natio and relegate the concept to the realm of either “nationality” or “ethnicity” without a deeper discussion on the intersections of the Roman concept with these modern ones. Conversely, in recent scholarship on ethnicity and identity, natio is either mentioned in passing or completely neglected. This paper provides a preliminary probe into how natio was used on the ground, in the lived experiences of those in the provinces. As a case study, I focus specifically on the treatment of natio within funerary epitaphs of those whose origins are described as from the region of Pannonia. Drawing on postcolonial theory, this paper demonstrates that natio was not a one-dimensional static identity, but one that oscillated between etic and emic perceptions, between socio-cultural and geo-political definitions, and between local and global identities.