After the Crisis

Re-anchoring and Innovation in Post-War Societies

Researchers: Dr. Inger Kuin and Dr. Jacqueline Klooster

Directors: Prof. Ruurd Nauta and Prof. Onno van Nijf

After the Crisis is a research group at the University of Groningen dedicated to investigating the responses of individuals and communities to war, violence, and disruption in the ancient Roman Empire. We focus on the (civil) wars of the first century BCE and their repercussions at Rome and in the Roman East.

The After the Crisis project was part of the pilot project for the national Anchoring Innovation research agenda of OIKOS, which led to the award of an NWO Gravitation Grant in May 2017. The pilot project has now finished, but several publications are still being completed, most importantly the conference volume After the Crisis. Remembrance, Re-anchoring and Recovery in the Ancient World. 

The project has opened up numerous interesting insights. One of these is related to the representation of crises as the products of fate, fortune or chance historiographical and other narratives. Jacqueline Klooster will further pursue this insight, in a research project on the narrative representation of coincidence and chance in ancient narrative.

Jacqueline Klooster’s project focuses on the question how different Roman and Greek authors come to terms with the Civil Wars, both during and after the fact. Could they use established modes of thinking about war and peace to grapple with this new phenomenon and to represent its effects on society? Or had such traditional modes of conceptualization become obsolete when the social order itself changed as an effect of civil strife? Inger Kuin’s project focuses on memory and the conceptualization of change in the Roman East after the wars of the first century BCE, investigating such questions as: How were the traumatic and violent events of this time remembered by subsequent generations? And how did the cities of the Roman East respond to the political changes that arose out of these conflicts?

We are collaborating closely with one another in thinking about how the wars of the first century BCE were framed and remembered, and, on a more fundamental level, about how crises are defined generally, and what it means for communities to be in a state of post-crisis. At the moment we are working on a paper on the rhetoric of crisis and order in ancient history. This project is part of our preparation for the international conference we will be organizing in Groningen in December, titled “After the Crisis: Remembrance, Re-Anchoring, and Recovery in the Ancient World.” Our individual research consists of the following works in progress:

During the Wars – Jacqueline Klooster

To analyze changes in mentality during and after the Civil Wars, the project studies a number of commentarii and hypomnemata, political autobiographies or memoirs, from the late Roman Republic. (a.o. the fragments of the works of Sulla, and Cicero, and the Bellum Civile of Caesar). Previous autobiographical war-reports had usually described supra-national wars, where the enemy nation were not part of the authors’ intended audience. In reporting on a civil war, the situation was necessarily different, and a new degree or even mode of self-justification, propaganda or apology will have been inevitable.

For instance: in what ways does the fact that the authors themselves are party to a civil conflict influence the authors’ narrative stance, the self-representation of the author and of the other, and the deployment of topical concepts like Fortuna (fate, chance) and divine intervention? Traditionally, Fortuna was supposed to be on the Roman side. However, if in a civil conflict, there were two Roman parties opposing each other, could Fortuna still pick sides? The concept, as we see in the texts mentioned, is continually being questioned, reshaped and rethought, or even simply evaded.

After the Wars – Jacqueline Klooster

Another part of the project focuses on texts that try to come to terms with the Civil Wars after the fact. In projecting a new future after civil war it was difficult to anchor this in the present or near past, as these had shown the collapse of all existing structures and values. So there was a need for innovation, but also for new anchors, which had to be sought in a more distant past, but needed to be adapted to the new situation. An example is the first century CE biographer Plutarch, and his application of Plato’s philosophical ideas on kingship and tyranny to the Roman Lives of the period of the Civil Wars (e.g. the Gracchi, Sulla, Cato Minor, Caesar, Antony, Pompey, Brutus). He does so with the double aim of a) philosophically explaining the dynamics of revolution, civil strife and the establishment of tyranny, and b) that of preventing a recurrence of such situations. The interesting question then becomes: how and why can Roman commanders, tribunes and consuls be called either king (basileus) or tyrant (tyrannos), and what does this entail? And in what way should the Greek social elite relate to the Roman ruling classes, in view of such issues?

Remembering the Wars – Inger Kuin

The violence of the Mithridatic Wars greatly affected the cities of the Roman East. In an effort to better understand how these violent events were remembered I am working on two case studies. The first study considers how Strabo deals with the impact of the Mithridatic Wars on the position of his family in Pontos. In his Geography Strabo elaborates on the activities of his ancestors during the wars, some of whom defected from Eupator to the Romans. The central questions include: How does he frame the recent history of his fatherland and of his family, also in light of his own Roman allegiances? And what can the way in which he writes this ‘autobiography’ tell us about the role of (constructed) memory in anchoring new identities? The second case study concerns the reception of Sulla’s sack of Athens in Greek authors. I trace a diachronic development in the Greek sources whereby the emphasis shifts from Sulla as a political actor towards Sulla as a looter and destroyer of Greek cultural capital. I will investigate how we should understand this development, and how these authors relate the events of 86 BCE to the position of Athens and Greece in their own time.

War and Political Change – Inger Kuin

In the aftermath of the wars of the first century BCE the political institutions and political culture of the Roman East seem to have undergone certain changes, which are, however, difficult to pin down for us historians. Important questions that face us include: Did local communities and individuals indeed experience this period as a time of political change? And if so, how did they view these political changes, and how did they adapt to them? In looking at these questions it should be kept in mind that perhaps the modern historian’s perception of political change does not align well with ancient views. To engage the latter issue this project will start out with a theoretical inquiry into ancient Greek philosophical ideas about political change, for instance in Aristotle, that were still influential in the Roman period. Secondly, I will look at how authors like Appian and Strabo perceived and represented the political developments in the Roman East during the first century BCE, and how this (may) connect(s) to ancient philosophical ideas about political change.

Additionally, the directors of the project, Prof. Onno van Nijf and Prof. Ruurd Nauta, are conducting their own research within the After the Crisis research group. Onno van Nijf will investigate how the Greek festival traditions were rekindled and flourished under Roman rule with a new political message. For more information about his project ‘Connected Contests: Festival Networks in the Ancient World’ go here. Ruurd Nauta focuses on the virtue of clementia. This virtue was originally collectively ascribed to the Roman people, and denoted their consideration with their vanquished external enemies. It developed into a personal virtue of the victor in civil war (Caesar, Augustus), displayed towards the fellow-citizens who had been his adversaries.