The extreme violence that permeated ancient Roman society may be well-documented by historians, but research by a professor at West Virginia University into the Roman empire’s legal system is yielding fascinating clues into what expectations citizens had of their government.

Ari Bryen, assistant professor of history, has been named a 2014-15 American Council of Learned Societies fellow. He also received a Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors and will spend a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, studying the legal cultures of the Roman world.

“The subjects of the Roman Empire were very interested in the rules under which they lived, and the peoples whose job it is to enforce them,” Bryen said.

“They spent a lot of time thinking about law, and making claims on the people who ruled over them. Yet no one has ever given them much credit as contributing to the development of their legal system as a whole. My project hopes to reconstruct these understandings, and show their effects.”

Bryen is the author of “Violence in Roman Egypt: A Study in Legal Interpretation,” which was printed by the University of Pennsylvania Press. He came to WVU after holding an American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellowship in the Department of Rhetoric and Classics at UC Berkeley, and a Visiting Research Scholarship at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

American Council of Learned Societies fellowships support research in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Recipients are selected through a multi-stage peer-review process and represent some of the best scholars in their fields. The fellowships provide salary replacement for scholars who are embarking on six to 12 months of full-time research and writing.

The program is funded by council’s endowment, which has received contributions from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Council’s college and university Associates, past fellows and individual friends of the council.

For more information, contact Ari Bryen at



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