After the revolution: constitutional change and theocracy in Greek political thought
The word ‘revolution’ – once thought to be hopelessly anachronistic – has been rehabilitated for classical studies in a number of recent studies (by, among others, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Tony Spawforth and Julia Shear). But was it an actor’s category for the ancients, and if so how did they evaluate it? This paper will focus on the shifting use of the word metabolē (particularly as an abbreviation for metabolē politeias, ‘change of constitution’), which when pressed can disclose much about the Greeks’ philosophy of history. As one might expect, there is a strong strain of resistance to change in Greek political thought, a strain that is evidently allied to cosmic and naturalist ideas about health and order. When Critias at the trial of Theramenes says ‘all metabolai politeiōn bring death’ (Xen. Hell. 2.3.32) he mirrors similar claims in e.g. the Hippocratic corpus about the disease-bringing effects of changes in the winds or the seasons. Yet change is also inherent in nature, both organic and meteorological, and there can be – as Aristotle’s Politics make abundantly clear – good, health-bringing political changes too. The real question for the Greeks, I argue in this paper, is not whether per se revolution is good or bad, but which individuals or communities have the authority to design and implement it: and that is a question with implications that stretch beyond the political into the theological. In particular, grasping this point helps to explain how Greeks of the early Roman imperial period adapted to the ‘Augustan revolution’, receiving it as a theocratic rather than a straightforwardly political change.
Coping with Crisis: Sulla’s Civil War and Roman Cultural Identity
This paper will discuss how the Romans responded to one of the most severe crises of the early first century BCE, namely Sulla’s civil war and his acts of vengeance after the victory at the Colline Gate on 1 Nov 82 BCE. It will draw on Gregory K. Golden’s definition of a crisis as “a situation in which a decision maker, or a group designated as the decision makers within a community, perceives a threat to itself or to things upon which the decision maker places very high value (core values)”. While Golden’s approach to define a crisis in the context of “core values” seems promising, his focus on the core values of a body of decision makers is probably too limited. Instead, this paper focuses on the social dimension of the term “crisis” and proposes that a society will experience crisis whenever members of said society gravely violate its fundamental values. After his victory in the murderous civil war of 83–82 BCE, in which about 100,000 soldiers lost their lives, Lucius Cornelius Sulla gave orders to massacre many thousands of his fellow citizens. Altogether, he was responsible for the death of more than 130,000 men of all strata of Roman society. However, this did not stop him from assuming the cognomen Felix, “the Fortunate”, as the first Roman in history. His deeds constituted a hitherto unknown transgression of values at the heart of the Roman Republic: the salus rei publicae – the public good of the Romans – and the idea of felicitas – divine favour bestowed upon a Roman general to foster wealth and growth of the populus Romanus. The Romans responded to this crisis as a community by “working through” Sulla’s acts of vengeance in the legal and political arena. After concluding this “working through”, they continually re-remembered Sulla’s deeds and established a remarkable change in their cultural identity: while salus rei publicae and felicitas remained highly positive values in Roman society, the cognomen Felix was transformed into a stigmatising symbol. Thus, Roman generals and emperors avoided this surname for centuries to come.
Civil Strife and Post-Conflict Reprisals, 133-70 B.C.
This paper examines reprisals undertaken by the Roman state in the aftermath of civil strife in the half-century after the death of Tiberius Gracchus in 133. The key examples are the trials of the friends of Tiberius Gracchus in 132, the arrest and mass execution of the followers of Gaius Gracchus in 121, the hostis-declarations of 88 and 87, and the proscriptions of 82. Comparisons will be drawn with the aftermath of the death of Saturninus in 100, the institution of the lex Varia in 90, and the conclusions of the revolt of Lepidus in 77 and the war with Sertorius in 71. Conflict was often the product of mass unrest, but collective reprisals are rare. Punishment was for the most part selective, and reserved for the individual leaders considered responsible for the outbreak of violence. Post-conflict reprisals served to reinforce the legitimacy of the re-established status quo, and also to satisfy desires for vengeance and profit. A further aim, I will argue, was to create a narrative in which civil strife was caused not by social or political unrest, or by the failure of the establishment to respond to the legitimate grievances of ordinary Romans, but solely by the selfish and tyrannical ambitions of their leaders. The logic was to establish a post-conflict consensus in which guilt was attached only to those who had been punished by the winning faction.
Crisis and Coinage. How a crisis marks the numismatic production. The royal Hellenistic example
The Hellenistic world faced a series of crises, mostly due to military operations, social uprisings, and economic difficulties. These crises affected not only the royal administration(s) but also the everyday life of people. In this paper, I will focus on the effects crisis has on the numismatic production of Hellenistic kingdoms. Is there a direct effect of a crisis on the total volume of coins produced? Did circulation patterns changed due to crisis? How the royal issuing authority managed to find a new balance after the crisis? How quick the recovery happened (if it happened) after the crisis? Focusing on test cases from the Seleucids (Syrian Wars, loss of large territories, post-Peace of Apamea period) and the Ptolemies (again, Syrian Wars, local revolts in Upper Egypt, etc.), I will try to define the general patterns adopted by the two Hellenistic dynasties when facing important crises. Three extensive databases will be used for such analysis: the “Seleucid Hoard Database” (SHD) and the “Seleucid Excavation Database” (SED) compiled by Iossif and the large die study for the second part of the Ptolemaic dynasty by Julien Olivier. Also, data from prices will also be considered in relation to the rich documentation from Babylonian cuneiform tablets.
Sands of Shame: The Parthian Landscape in the Roman Literary Imagination
In 53 BC, the city of Harran (ancient Carrhae) saw one of the most humiliating defeats of Roman history: the annihilation of an army, the death of its commander Crassus, and the loss of several legionary eagles. Ancient accounts of the battle stress how the unfamiliar and brutal landscape of Parthia contributed to the Roman defeat. This paper sketches a literary biography of the Parthian desert. I analyse how Roman authors write blood and shame into the sands of Parthia, turning them, even after the return of the standards under Augustus, into a lasting memorial of Roman defeat and humiliation.
Dio Cassius’ debate on the Roman constitution and the historiographical tradition
After his narrative of Octavian’s victory over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, Dio Cassius’ inserts a fictive debate in which Agrippa and Maecenas offer conflicting advice about the future Roman constitution (52.1-41). This passage recalls debates about constitutional reforms in earlier historiography (in particular Hdt. 3.80-82 and Pol. 6.3-10, but compare also elements in Thucydides’ debates on Mytilene, 3.37-48, Melos, 5.85-113 and Sicily, 6.9-23). These debates are usually placed in the context of great crises, and reflect the need to rethink the constitution so as to enable the state to cope with such events if they were to recur in the future. This contribution will assess the extent to which Dio Cassius was influenced by his predecessors in composing the speeches of Agrippa and Maecenas and in describing Octavian’s reaction. Can we indicate typically Greek topoi that are re-used in a Roman setting? And if so, is it legitimate to assess their presence as an anchoring device?
Security, The Birth of a Metaphor
The word Securitas first occurs in Cicero meaning “tranquility,” in a strictly psychological sense. A century later the “security of the Roman Empire” had become a political slogan. Recognition of the concept’s origins in the collapse of the Roman Republic helps to clarify its potential for ideological manipulation. Ancient philosophy makes the blessed life, humanity’s highest aspiration, dependent on peace of mind. And when tranquility becomes a political imperative, it justifies Imperial governance and encourages depoliticization. Originally less a concept than a cluster of tropes, the evolution of “security” can be traced through a series of figurations, including the imagined embodiment of group safety in a charismatic leader. In this lecture, Lowrie sheds light on how security discourses have always sympathized with the maintenance of hierarchies, the centralization of power, and trade-offs in citizen rights.
Caesar and the Crisis of Corfinium
After crossing the Rubicon and officially starting the civil war (January 49BC), Caesar marched south to pursue Pompey. In the Bellum Civile (BC) Caesar gives a fairly detailed account of his march through Italy, and his account fits the grand ideology of the BC: Caesar is a reasonable and merciful leader, open to negotiations and interested in sparing his enemies; of course, he enjoys the support of the towns of Italy; on the contrary the Pompeians are warmongers, disorganized and disunited. This characterization of Caesarians, Pompeians and Italian towns culminates with the episode of Domitius, the crisis of Corfinium and its merciful solution by Caesar. In the first part of my paper I plan briefly to set Caesar’s account of this crisis against other sources (esp. Cicero, Appian, Suetonius and Plutarch) in the attempt to isolate Caesar’s literary exaedificatio; in the second part I will discuss its effects. I argue that Caesar shapes his account of the crisis at Corfinium after topical motifs of stasis and after famous descriptions of civil war; as a result, he portrays himself as the solution to civil war rather than its cause or, even, rather than one of its main players.
Young Caesar and the Termination of Civil War
The most likely legacy of civil war is renewed civil war; the Roman civil war(s) of the first century BCE furnish us with the best proof of this supposition. The task of breaking that cycle fell, finally, to Young Caesar—but how, in practical terms, did he bring this about? What ‘phase IV’ operations, activities conducted after combat in order to stabilise and reconstruct the area of operations, did Augustus facilitate? The “unconditional surrender” effected by the suicide of Cleopatra and Antonius in 30 BCE was the obvious starting point to this phase; with Actium had come the decisive battle, followed by the triumph in 29 BCE, symbolising the end of war. According to Augustus’ own claim the flames of civil war had been ‘extinguished’ (RG 34.1)—but this, of course, was not quite true in the end. This paper examines Roman history from Actium to the ‘Settlement’ of 28-27 BCE, defining the period from 31 to 27 BCE as a process of normalisation in the wake of civil war. Its focus will be on ideological dimensions as well as practical political solutions: the ‘Settlement’ of 28-27 BCE, veteran colonisation, the incorporation of former enemies into the new regime, and so forth. In so doing, this enquiry also proposes to use modern theoretical approaches as well as historical studies—including Osgood’s splendid recent article [AHR Roundtable, 2015] on how Roman civil war ended—in order to rethink the nature of civil war, and thereby enables us to ask more fundamental questions on the character of civil war in the ancient world.
Alternative Futures in Lucan’s Bellum Civile – Imagining Aftermaths of Civil War
In recent research, Lucan’s epic on the civil war between Caesar and Pompey has often been approached from the point of view of memory studies and trauma theories and interpreted as a kind of nostalgic backward glance at the lost republic. The present paper takes a different approach by looking not at the past but at the future as embodied in Lucan’s epic – a future which paradoxically is already part of the past or present for the author and his readers. However, the Bellum civile alludes not only to the historical future of the Neronian principate, but also sketches a wide range of alternative futures that could have resulted from the civil war, including the possibility that the civil war might have been prevented or stopped at an early stage and led to a reconciliation of the parties involved. Such passages where the narrator or characters of his epic envisage a possible aftermath of the crisis will be placed in their narrative context and interpreted within the framework of the narratological category of ‘Ungeschehenes Geschehen’, the fictional strategy of alternate history, and the historiographical thought experiment of virtual or counterfactual history. Lucan’s visions of potential and/or not realized aftermaths of the civil war thus constitute an innovative laboratory against which the actual strategies of dealing with the aftermath of the crisis of the first century BCE can be tested.
Staging the Enemy after the Crisis: Carthage in Republican drama
The period of the first two Punic wars coincided with the birth and growing popularity of Roman adaptations of Athenian tragedies and comedies, with the invention of Rome’s Trojan origin, and with the birth of Latin epic and historiography, namely the birth of a ‘national’ literature. Within this climate, it is possible to see Rome’s collective action, her building of a collective identity and the construction of a ‘national’ Enemy as part of the very same process. This paper suggests that the construction of the Carthaginians in mid-Republican Rome developed in theatrical performances on the model of the Greek ‘invention’ of the barbarian Persians, and that in both cases the building of a collective identity was tightly intertwined with the artificial creation of a national Enemy. It is possible that dramas concerned with barbarian themes, performed during or in the aftermath of the conflict against Carthage, would trigger subtle associations between the fictional barbarians on stage and the real enemy at the gates, together with a feeling of anti-barbarian cohesion among Rome’s theatrical community. At the same, however, the model of the fifth-century Athenian barbarians also encapsulated the anxieties surrounding Rome’s own barbarian identity from a Greek perspective. Recognition that in mid-Republican Rome alterity and identity are the ever-shifting and ill-defined conceptual products of interactions and compromises between these two apparently opposing discourse provides a better understanding of the paradoxes surrounding the only extant portrait of Carthaginian staged at Rome after the crisis: the Poenulus of Plautus.
Tragedies of War in Phylarchus and Duris
Phylarchus and Duris, two fragmentary historiographers, are most often termed ‘tragic’ both by ancient sources (Polybius and Plutarch) and by modern scholars. They apparently wrote ‘tragically’ about atrocities of their own lifetime (responding to crises), but their works are so fragmented that it becomes hard to decide what ‘tragically’ here means.
The Family As Institution and Metaphor After the Civil Wars
I will focus on the role of the family both as an institution and as a metaphor that was useful for re-anchoring in the wake of Roman civil wars. I am interested in how this framework served both as basis for explaining the roots of civil conflict and as a means of reestablishing cohesion once the wars were over.
The Fate of the Lepidani: Civil War and Family History in First Century BCE Rome
This paper explores the aftermath of the so-called ‘rising of Lepidus’ initiated in the year 78 BCE by focusing on three of its most important leaders along with their families: M. Junius Brutus (tr. 83 BCE), father of Julius Caesar’s future assassin; L. Cornelius Cinna, the young son of Marius’ great ally; and M. Aemilius Lepidus (cos. 78 BCE) himself. While Brutus was executed and Lepidus died after fleeing to Sardinia, Cinna joined Sertorius and eventually was restored to citizenship thanks in part to his brother-in-law Julius Caesar (under whom many years later, in 44 BCE, Cinna would serve as praetor). Topics examined include (1) the ways that surviving family members of Brutus and Lepidus – most especially their sons – coped with their loss and how, in particular, they recast the overall histories of their families; (2) Cinna’s own reintegration into Roman society and the reframing of his family’s history; (3) the implications of the fate of the Lepidani for members of these families and Roman society more generally when civil war burst out again fully in the 40s BCE. This paper will contribute to a new understanding of how aristocratic practices of family history changed in response to political crisis, ultimately allowing even those on the ‘wrong’ side of civil war to be represented positively, thereby reintegrating society.
Steve Mason, Groningen University closing address
Aelia Capitolina as Settlement of the Judaean Question
This paper will explore the topic of the Aelia Capitolina colony in Jerusalem as it relates to the archeology of the city, evidence in Roman epigraphy, and the scattered literary notices, considering the reconfiguration of Jerusalem (known in Arabic texts for centuries still as Illiya) from the perspectives of space and power. In retrospect of the disasters of 70 and 135/36 became fused in both the Jewish and Christian imagination. The Roman city in Jerusalem paved the way for the Christian reaction, locating the holy sepulchre on the site of the Capitoline triad temple.