Romanization is a widely-used concept in Classics, even though it is nebulously defined. Romanization is, loosely, the cultural and military imperialism foisted upon large swaths of the Roman Empire; some places were more “Romanized” than others, depending on your more precise definition. The main problems with the concept of Romanization are the homogenization inherent within the premise of Romanization and the erasure of the voices and experiences of conquered peoples within the Roman empire.
Barret, in his article, questions the “mechanism of agency” that drove the creation and expansion of empire, the mechanisms that
enabled the local experience to be understood and acted upon, that maintained the social formation, and that addressed the possibility of a new order? …the idea of being Roman was one which had to be lived: it was a disciplinary understanding of one’s own body within certain material and historical conditions. Such a practical re-invention was never secure: it was diverse and vulnerable. What is interesting is the way in which different communities of people were created as the lived and shared understandings of an ideal. It is the historian’s task to trace the extent and limits of that practical understanding, the relationship between the self and the ideal, rather than to reify the ideal (Barret, 63).
In other words, according to Barret, the way that scholars conceive of the idea of Romanization currently buy into the ideals, rather than the reality, of Romanization in the empire. Rome portrayed itself as a culturally unified entity; while it did so, it does not follow that it actually was a culturally unified entity. Not only that, but Romanization as a process was hardly permanent; it involved the ways in which people saw themselves and their position within the social fabric – to believe in being Roman was to be Roman, in a sense. Barret argues that this current conception homogenizes the contents of the empire, and I agree. This can be illustrated through a case study of Roman Britain done by Hingley.
In Hingley’s article, he discusses the effects of “Romanization” or, more accurately, the exertion of a strong outside military and economic power by the Romans on the native Britons. While some acquiesced to this new order, and even adopted some forms of Roman power such as the civitas, according to Hingley, some “resistance occurred against those who drew on ‘Roman’ concepts to create power”, and that “the adoption of ‘Roman’ standards by estate workers or slaves may have been prevented by an elite intent on demonstrating their power over others. In other words, those with power in society may have retained elements of native material culture for reasons of social control”(Hingley, 93, 96). In other words, the picture of Roman Britain is more complex than the traditional model of “Romanization” would lead scholars to believe. According to Hingley’s article, the main drawback of Romano-Britain studies thus far is that it generally comes from a pro-Roman point of view and ends up excluding the voices of those who were marginalized within the exported Roman power structures. While the traditional view of Romanization would imply that either everyone wholeheartedly embraced it or that elites embraced it and pushed it on everyone else, the picture that Hingley paints, with the different patterns within Roman Britain itself (some elites retaining traditional British marks of status, some resisting Roman forms of power, others embracing it, not only elites embracing Roman ideas, etc.) is much more complex.
Both Barret and Hingley critique the traditional view of Romanization, though they do concede that one must have some shorthand to refer to the changes that the Romans brought throughout the empire. I agree with them on this as well as their assertions that the main shortfalls of Romanization are the homogenization of empire and the way that this overarching concept silences dissent and resistance to the Roman hegemony within the empire.