Published: June 8, 2023
St. Sebastian pleads for the life of those afflicted with the “plague of Justinian” (c.6 CE); oil painting by Josse Leferinxe, end c. 15 CE

Call for Papers
The 2024 University of Colorado Boulder Classics Graduate Colloquium conference:
Plague and Pandemic in the Ancient World
Friday, 19th – Saturday 20th January, 2024
Keynote Address by Hunter Gardner (University of South Carolina)

Through the very trauma they inflict, plagues and pandemics stir conflict and controversy and exercise an enduring intellectual and emotional appeal. The intersecting religious, material, medical, historical, artistic, and literary responses they engendered in antiquity tell a complex story of confrontation with an experience dwarfing individuals and collectives alike. These ancient responses elicit questions for us as modern readers and experiencers of pandemic, and they offer us the opportunity to interact with earlier moments in the evolution of plague discourse. What were the politics of plague at different moments and in different geographical and cultural arenas in antiquity? What opportunities for transgression did plague create, and (how) did societies move to control them? What power dynamics and hierarchies were strengthened or undermined by the intrusion of plague? What did ancient attempts to combat plague, to respond to its intervention, to document it, or to trace its physical, emotional, social, or material consequences look like? Did plague create new taboos or destroy old ones, and what kinds of fear or cultural imperatives did plague engender? How was plague represented in the ancient imaginary? How do our own notions about plague and plague discourse affect our study of these topics in the ancient world?

The University of Colorado Boulder Classics Graduate Colloquium invites papers from current graduate students addressing plague and pandemic as played out across the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond. We welcome papers viewing the topic through the lens of anthropology, art history, archaeology, ethnography, literature, philosophy, and religion, among others. Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words via email to by August 30, 2023; subject line “Boulder Classics Graduate Colloquium 2024 Submission.” Abstracts should include a title for the paper and be anonymous PDF files. Please include your name, institution, and the title of your abstract in the body of your email. Presentations should be no longer than 20 minutes.

Possible topics are not limited to but may include:

  • the social consequences of plague and pandemic as experienced in antiquity and beyond
  • effects of pandemics on ancient belief systems or more broadly the relationship between religion and disease in the ancient world
  • ancient material responses to disease and its effects, including votives, inscriptions, prosthetics -
  • ancient artistic or literary responses to plague and pandemic and their later reception
  • the ways plague since antiquity has prompted reflection on human ingenuity and its hard limits
  • ancient dietary, surgical, or pharmacological responses to plague
  • figures in the history of medicine and their intellectual or physical encounters with plague

Please direct any questions to