Dying on Foreign Shores: Travel and Mobility in the Late-Antique West by Mark Handley (review)
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Dying on Foreign Shores: Travel and Mobility in the Late-Antique WestMark Handley Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 86. Portsmouth, RI, 2011. Pp. 167. ISBN 1–887829–86–5

Prodigious labor underpins this book, with results that will impress readers yet at the same time frustrate them. Its title’s opening phrase is a curious choice, given that the main focus here is not death, but rather the movements of the living across a vast space over several centuries as documented by inscriptions. The geographical scope is clarified on p. 15, namely the western Roman empire and its successor states, but excluding the city of Rome because the untypical and voluminous testimony from there (already assembled and analyzed by others) would only create distraction and imbalance. Meantime the plentiful testimony from Ireland, the Isle of Man, northern Scotland, and Scandinavia is excluded too, on the grounds that they were never part of the Roman empire—moot though it is whether that distinction ever much bothered contemporaries, especially the common folk in whom Handley expresses a particular interest. The time frame he encompasses is described as “ranging from the 4th to the middle of the 8th c., with a few examples earlier and later” (16): those few stretch back to the 250s (no. 28, p. 118) and on to “8th–9th c.” (notably nos. 266–88, p. 128).

The key determinant for the book, however, is the confinement of its attention to fixed (nonportable) inscriptions, mostly in Latin or Greek but also in runic scripts, from the west. Handley is justifiably proud of having identified as many as 567 that offer information about 623 travelers or foreigners, more than any previous scholar with comparable goals has found. “Travelers,” it should be understood, are individuals from the west commemorated away from their place of origin, whereas “foreigners” are individuals from elsewhere (the east especially) with an attested presence in the west. Handley acknowledges that even after his sisyphean trawling, relevant material may still remain unnoticed; he is also aware that new inscriptions constantly come to light. There are in addition numerous publications where he searched in hope of uncovering material, but did not; future researchers are likely to be irked, one suspects, by his decision (16 n.30) to dispense with listing these.

Five chapters bookended by an introduction and conclusion explain Handley’s identification of foreigners and travelers and then analyze who traveled and why, their origins and destinations, and change over time; a substantial number of tables, graphs, maps, and figures reinforce this discussion. There follows an appendix concisely recording all the epigraphic testimony, together with a long bibliography and several indexes. The criteria for inclusion are cogent: Handley normally requires explicit mention of a city or region of origin, although he also trusts the epithet “peregrinus/a” (35) and admits epitaphs where a “foreign” calendar (Seleucid or Egyptian, for example) is used, as well as inscriptions [End Page 417] commemorating individuals with a “traveling” occupation, such as provincial administrator. He rightly rejects geographic names (Athenius, Dalmatius) as reliable indicators of origin, nor will he credit that the subject of an inscription in Greek is necessarily an easterner. He recognizes the existence of long-established western communities of Jews and hence declines to classify all Jews automatically as travelers or foreigners. Equally, he will not infer from epigraphic formulae alone that individuals meet his criteria—for example, that someone commemorated in Italy as “fidelis in pace” must be from Carthage because that formula is ubiquitous there (35). One important issue, however, that he ignores—and certain conclusions may be weakened in consequence—is how to distinguish between local and long-distance travel. Consequently, his list of traveling religious people in Italy (48–49; cf. 73) draws no distinction between Aquileia to Grado or Trieste, or Milan to Como, or Naples to Amalfion the one hand, and Ireland to Bobbio, or Syria to Trento, or Spain to Syracuse on the other. Again, the conveyance of bodies for burial simply across the Rhine, or from Hyble to Catana in Sicily, or within the diocese of Langres, is not differentiated from...