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Specialized Labor in Classical Antiquity: Economy, Identity, Community

May 14-15, 2021, Zoom Webinar

Keynote Speakers: David Hollander (Iowa State University) and Lynne Kvapil (Butler University)

The notion of ‘specialized labor’ informs research on economic growth in antiquity, ancient slavery, urbanism, philosophical discussions of craft and knowledge, and so much more. But what is specialized labor? In what contexts did it exist in classical antiquity, and why? What were its economic consequences, and how did its existence shape discourses concerning work, knowledge, and identity? Who were the people performing this labor, and what impact did it have on their lives?

The past decade has seen a surge in interest about the lives of workers both in the ancient Mediterranean and beyond. From in-depth case studies (such as Flohr 2013; Tran 2013) to expansive volumes (Verboven and Laes, eds. 2017; Stewart, Harris, and Lewis, eds. 2020) and dedicated conferences, there is an increasing awareness of and interest in what labor looked like in classical antiquity. This conference will join that conversation. Specialized labor provides an approach to understanding labor that bypasses the valuation of labor as ‘skilled’ or ‘unskilled’ by focusing more closely on the division of labor rather than its social prestige. Charcoal burners and mosaicists alike may be specialists, for all the differences in their professional lives.

For our upcoming online conference, “Specialized Labor in Classical Antiquity,” we invite graduate students and other early career scholars from Classics, Archaeology, Ancient History, Anthropology, and related disciplines to join us in investigating the role of specialized labor in Classical antiquity. In addition to discussions of specific professions, possible topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Definitions of specialized labor, both in antiquity and developed by modern scholars

  • Ancient attitudes towards specialized labor or laborers in literary, documentary, epigraphical, and visual sources

  • Tools and technologies which enable and define specialized labor

  • Agricultural work and urbanism

  • Personal and communal identities

  • Education and training

  • Specialized labor and religion/magic

  • Free(d) and enslaved labor

While this conference is centered on the Greco-Roman world(s), proposals may also include comparative research and/or research which interrogates the framework of the conference itself. The conference will be conducted as a Zoom webinar. Each session will consist of 3-4 prerecorded papers followed by time for a question/answer session.

Please send abstracts of no more than 250 words (excluding bibliography) by January 13th, 2021 to Papers should be no more than 20 minutes in length. Please include in the email your name, affiliation, and contact information. The abstract itself should be anonymous. Be sure to include any audio-visual needs in this email. Questions may be sent to the same email. Successful applicants should expect to hear back from conference organizers by February 5th, 2021.


Twitter: @LaborClassics21
Organizers: Elliot Wilson (, Selena Ross (, Kate Stevens (