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Diaspora as a State of Mind: An Impossibility for Pre-imperial Italy?

Elena Isayev

Transnational communities are not simply a more neutral term for diasporas. Rather these have the potential of becoming diasporas if a collective identity is formed around ideas of a particular homeland (Levitt 2001). This has many features in common with, and is perhaps simply another process of, ethnicity formation, as demonstrated by Luraghi (2008) in his deconstruction of the Messenians. What this paper will explore is how particular conceptions of the mobile and constructions of place may have been instrumental in the non/formation of a diasporic mindset or enclave, despite the large number of individuals on the move, whether through independent or mass/colonial migration. It will argue that for ancient Italic communities prior to the Imperial period, a more relational approach to space and place (Massey 2004; 2005; Harvey 2009), as well as an acceptance and anticipation of high rates of mobility, may have undermined the formation of a diasporic mentality. The extent to which the rise of Roman hegemony and the value of Roman citizenship may have affected this will also be considered.

A number of ambiguous cases will be examined, including the ‘diasporic’ communities on Delos and in Asia Minor, but also the evidence of our earliest witnesses to mobility through Italy, such as Plautus and Polybius.  Within their writings the idea of homeland is much more flexible and has a fluid relationship with territoriality. In addition, the concept of a migrant (as distinct from other catgeories of foreigner, non-citizen etc.) is difficult to find in this period. The institution of exile has a particularly interesting place in this discourse as a form of coerced mobility. The problem in the context of ancient Italy seems to have been how to keep one’s own community members in one place. If this is the case then we need to be very cautious in identifying enclaves as diasporas, where diaspora is used not simply to refer to dispersal, but the creation of a collective identity around real or imagined connections between migrants of a particular homeland.

Session/Panel Title

Diaspora and Migration

Session/Paper Number

23.4

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