AMME Seminar: Migration in the Ancient World

On May 7th, the theme of the Ancient and Medieval Middle East seminar was Migration in the Ancient World. This time AMME Seminar was held online via Zoom and the audience was bigger than ever before.

First speech was given by Maijastina Kahlos (University of Helsinki) on the topic of “The Humankind is Constantly Moving to and fro – Migration in the Roman Empire”. The title of the speech is from Seneca the Younger’s consolation to his mother. It reveals that for the Roman elite mobility and migration were a normal part of life in the vast empire. The Roman empire was in constant need of laborers and this need was sometimes filled with forced migrations. There are mentions of forced migration both within the borders of the empire as well as from the outside to the empire. Few case studies of forced migration were presented in the speech. For example, in the 2nd Century during the reign of Marcus Aurelius people from conquered regions were forced to migrate to different parts of the empire. Not all migrants were happy with this decision which resulted in the uprising of migrants in Ravenna. One purpose of the forced migrations was to promote the peace of the Roman empire by cultivating more remote areas. Another reason was to supply the Roman army with more men. Slaves were also needed, and this need might have motivated some conflicts in the border areas of the empire. As Menander Rhetor said: “We acquire prisoners as slaves, not by going to war ourselves, but by receiving them from the emperor’s victorious hand.” (Peri epideiktikon 1-2, Basilikos logos 377). It was expected that the empire and the emperor provided the slaves for labor, as well as for the slave trade.

The second speech was given by Melanie Wasmuth (University of Helsinki) about the Social Impact of Cross-regional Migration in Late Assyrian Empire. The focus of her research is on the Late Assyrian Empire, and on the social outcome of migration in the eyes of an individual. There is an exceptional text corpus from the Late Assyrian Empire, which is also mostly available online. This makes it easier to study this certain period.  One of the key questions of the research is what does ascription ‘foreigner’ mean when it is used in the ancient sources. Who was counted as Egyptian in the sources? What was this identification based on? Was an Egyptian someone who was from certain cultural or  geographical area? How was one defined if they came from somewhere that was politically divided or contested? One interesting question is also how were the practicalities of voluntary migration handled. It was necessary to stay over night somewhere while relocating, but not much is revealed about possible accomodation in the available sources. After the migrants arrived their destination, how did they find housing and a source of income. Some questions might remain unanswered, such as how the cultural diversity of Egyptians was perceived by Assyrians. Other questions can be at least partially answered with the research that is currently being done by ANEE’s Team 1. The findings of Team 1 can be used as a comparative material in studying Egyptian migrants in late Assyrian Empire.

A lively discussion followed the speeches. A big thank you for both Maijastina and Melanie, and everyone that participated in the seminar. This was the last AMME seminar for this spring.