For good or for ill, heritage is no antiquarian concern. Preserving one's heritage is not about collecting facts for their own sake, or curating curios for their aesthetic value. Heritage is a tangible connection to ancestors, to patrimony, and thus to identity. It is an inheritance that connotes entitlement and thus a sense of desert. While Cicero may have thought that if someone loses their patrimony, only an individual would suffer (Pro Caecina 26), that is not true if the patrimony of some groups or individuals has been systematically diminished by the heritage claims of others. In such cases, “heritage” has a darker cast, encoding and perpetuating the values of the dominant culture. Indeed, across the long twentieth century, as some groups have stepped forward to claim their patrimony, others have sometimes tried to deny them: by parrying their own heritage claims, they attempt to reassure themselves not only of who they are, but of the status and privilege that had long been attendant.
In this sense, the anxieties singing out from the Afro-Eurasian world of Late Antiquity harmonize with our own—a phenomenon that the articles in this issue highlight in provocative and sometimes disturbing ways. These parallels are easiest to see in Duncan MacRae's article, “Late Antiquity and the Antiquarian,” which directly asks how people in Late Antiquity related to their heritage. This methodologically innovative study uses the “self-conscious antiquarianism” of early modern Europe to think about the interest that late ancient people bore for their past. MacRae argues, for example, that people like Maximus of Madauros (an early teacher of Augustine of Hippo) defended the preservation of local “pagan” statuary not merely as connoisseurs, but also because they linked “civic identity with the remains of the past.” Unlike the hundreds of monuments to Confederate soldiers erected half a century after the end of the US Civil War, Madauros’ long-standing statue of Mars was not part of an effort to re-impose an ideology (in this case polytheism) on the populace. Nevertheless, we are now perhaps more appreciative of Augustine's suggestion that Maximus resist grounding his heritage on the pedestals of demonic statues in favor of a Punic literary legacy that all Africans might share.
In his insightful article, “Archery in the Preface to Procopius’ Wars: A Figured Image of Agonistic Authorship,” Marion Kruse demonstrates the power of heritage as a symbolic system, capable of communicating an author's intentions between the lines of his prose. As a case in point, Kruse analyses Procopius’ curious reference to Homeric bowmen in the preface to the Wars, a passage that modern historians have often read as a commentary on the tactics of the sixth-century East Roman army. Procopius’ references to great deeds invoke Herodotus, Kruse argues, while he summons Thucydides in drawing attention to the great span of time he will cover. On the basis of these allusions, Kruse concludes, Procopius uses his literary heritage to make a statement—veiled to all but those who share this heritage—about the methods and value of his own historiographical endeavor.
Finally, Ekaterina Nechaeva's article, “Seven Hellenes and One Christian in the Endless Peace Treaty of 532,” sounds a cautionary note to our modern assumptions about the pull of patrimony and heritage. The historian Agathias relates that the seven Hellenic philosophers (Damascius, Simplicius, Priscian, and the others), who moved to Persia to find religious freedom, came back to the Roman Empire because they were disappointed by the Persian way of life, “returning home as soon as possible.” Readers shaped in a western tradition—with Agathias’ encouragement—have long assumed that Hellene philosophers would rather live in their homeland, albeit under the threat of persecution, than in the Persian east. Astutely bringing the Syriac Life of the Persian general, Mar Grigor (Pīrān-Gušnap), in dialogue with Agathias, however, Nechaeva argues that the repatriation of the philosophers was probably not voluntary. Instead it was likely part of a symmetrical safe conduct agreement in which Justinian and the Persian king exchanged them for the captive Persian (and Christian) general Mar Grigor.
In the nineteenth century, Leopold von Ranke imagined History as a scientific discipline dispassionately and objectively engaged with the past for its own sake. The goals of the anthropologist Frank Boas were similar. Both figures dramatically influenced many of the disciplines with which this journal is engaged. We now see more clearly, however, how engagement with the past is always about the context in which we find ourselves. As such, it is often a project in which our own identities are at stake. It seems to me that we as readers of and authors for SLA have a responsibility to consider how best to balance our interest in the past as a foreign country with our awareness of ourselves as embedded in a particularly fraught contemporary context. The journal welcomes future contributions in this vein.