Nomads, soldiers, musicians and hairdressers

25 November 2019 18:00 to 20:00

Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford

Nomads, soldiers, musicians and hairdressers: some thoughts on language and identity in the Roman Provinces of Syria and Arabia


While Latin was the official language of the army, Greek was the language of government in Roman Syria and Arabia and was used among some of the population, particularly in towns and cities. However, several other languages were spoken and written in different areas and among various communities, and it seems that language could be an important expression of identity under Roman rule, but was not always so. As might be expected, many inhabitants of the former Nabataean kingdom continued to use their traditional spoken and written languages and, according to at least one inscription, to call themselves "Nabataeans", more than twenty years after the Roman annexation. Nomads on the edges of the provinces continued to speak and (unexpectedly) write their own forms of Arabic, though they occasionally showed off by writing their names in basic Greek, etc. In this lecture, I shall look at the, often strange, intersections between language-use and identity in the Levant and northern Arabia at this period.

About the speaker: Michael C.A. Macdonald has been recording and studying the ancient inscriptions of Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia for the last 45 years. He worked with both Gerald Lankester Harding and Crystal-M. Bennet in Jordan, where he lived between 1976 and 1983. He has led, and continues to lead, numerous epigraphic surveys and he recently directed the AHRC-funded project to create the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient North Arabia based at the Khalili Research Centre, University of Oxford. This provides readings, translations commentaries, provenance details and photographs for over 40,000 inscriptions from Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, with more being added every day. He has published widely on ancient literacy, the ancient nomads of the Syro-Arabian desert, and the languages, scripts, inscriptions, and rock art of ancient Arabia. He is currently an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and a Fellow of the British Academy.

This lecture is the first of a CBRL series on Language and Identity in the Near East, Ancient and Modern. 

This event is open to all and free to attend.

Seating is unreserved - first come, first seated - no booking required. The lecture theatre seats 147.

View other events