Greg Woolf RSL17
The Ronald Syme Lecture: Migration and the Metropolis: How ancient Rome stayed great

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Monday 30 October

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Professor Greg Woolf delivers the Ronald Syme Lecture this year.

In the course of this lecture, Woolf will examine the many myths told by the Romans of their civic inclusiveness, myths repeated from Machiavelli to modern times. The growth of their capital to a city of nearly a million has been understood as dependent on migrations of different kinds. Imperial Rome is often portrayed as a cosmopolitan society in which hundreds of languages, cults and styles rubbed shoulders in cheerful chaos, a microcosm of empire, Orbis in urbe. Woolf asks: how much of this we can believe given what we know about the scale and nature of human mobility in the classical Mediterranean, and the structure of Roman society? Modern analogies have taken us so far, he will argue, but compared to the capitals of modern empires ancient Rome was an Alien Metropolis.

Director of the Institute of Classical Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, Professor Woolf represents the Institute both at home and abroad and serves as General Editor of the Institute's publications. Woolf’s research concerns the history and archaeology of the ancient world.

Some of his current projects include books on urbanism, mobility, and ongoing collaborations on ancient library culture. He is an associated fellow at the Max Weber Kolleg in Erfurt where, along with Professor Jörg Rüpke, he leads a major research project, funded by the Humboldt Foundation, into the role of sanctuaries in forming religious experience. Woolf also sits on the British Museum Research Committee, and he chairs the Council of University Classical Departments.

The Ronald Syme Lecture was established in memory of the eminent Roman historian, Sir Ronald Syme, OM, a Fellow of Wolfson College from 1970 until 1989, and widely regarded as the twentieth century's greatest historian of ancient Rome. Learn more. 

Photo credit: Maud Woolf