Some Portable Sundials and Their Roman Owners: Issues of Intellect and Values
Friday, March 24, 2017 - 5:00pm

Keynote Address of the 47th Annual MeetingClassical Association of the Pacific Northwest (CAPN) 

FRI March 24th
Lincoln Hall |  Recital RM 75 


This lecture considers a type of Roman sundial that has been unappreciated from geographical, cultural, and social perspectives—miniature bronze instruments fitted with adjustable rings to accommodate changes of latitude liable to occur during long journeys. As many as thirty-six names of cities or regions are listed on them, each with a latitude figure in Ptolemy’s style—each set of names offering insight into an individual’s ‘mental map.’

Comparison of the latitude data with modern calculations reveals many errors—so these sundials could not be relied on to tell the time accurately. The possibility arises that often they were valued not so much for practical use, but rather as prestige objects which advertised the owner’s supposed scientific awareness as well as an enviable mastery of time and space—the forerunners of today’s luxury Swiss watches that flaunt their purchasers’ wealth, sophistication, and cosmopolitanism.  



Richard Talbert is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of Ancient History and Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is best known for his work on Roman government and institutions, as well as for mapping the ancient world and investigating Roman worldviews. His books include The Romans from Village to Empire; The Senate of Imperial Rome; Rome’s World: The Peutinger Map Reconsidered; and the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World.  His latest books are Roman Portable Sundials: The Empire in Your Hand, Oxford University Press (January, 2017) and Mercury’s Wings: Exploring Modes of Communication in the Ancient World (forthcoming, May, 2017).   


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