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Catharine Edwards

While the definition of luxury might be contested, high-value goods played a crucial role in articulating social distinction and political power in Greece and Rome. Particularly in ancient Rome, where imperial expansion brought increased wealth and access to a wider range of goods, luxury was often the object of moralizing criticism, both as a personal vice and as a general threat to the well-being of the state.

Originally a term to characterize the exuberant growth of plants (see OLD 1), the Roman word luxuria (cf. luxus, luxuries), applied to human behaviour, is regularly associated with the desire for and consumption of high value ephemeral items, such as food, drink, and perfume, costly fabrics and accessories, precious artworks and furnishings, beautiful slaves, and private residences constructed on a large scale and/or out of precious materials.1 The pursuit of luxury is often presented as inimical to manliness and (particularly in the historical discourse of the late Roman republic and early principate) features as a causal factor in accounts of political crisis and moral decline.


What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.