Freedom from Democracy and Ideal Monarchical rule in Cassius Dio's Roman History

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Jesper Majbom Madsen


University of Southern Denmark


DKK 793,000




Monograph Fellowships


Just as western commentators today are concerned about the challenges faced by liberal democracies, so too did historians and political thinkers in Imperial Rome search for ways to organise a more stable and inclusive form of monarchy: their preferred form of government. The 3rd century Roman historian Cassius Dio was no exception. He too favoured monarchy over Rome's republican rule. But he goes further than most of his peers both in his account of how historically unstable and dangerous republican rule had proved to be, and in his promotion of a form of monarchy in which emperors held un-checked powers. In this book, I analyse why Dio was so devoted to a form of autocratic rule at a time when Rome (in his eyes) was ruled by a string of unfit tyrannical emperors.


It was once widely believed that Dio copied down, uncritically, the narratives of earlier historians. But recent studies have demonstrated that Dio's history contains significant original and independent analysis and a strong bias against Rome's republican form of government. As a key source for the history of Rome, it is essential that we better understand his perception of history and the narratological and theoretical choices he made across the text. That Dio seems actively to have coloured his narrative so that it demonstrates the benefits of monarchy renders eclectic and uncritical readings problematic. One example is his favourable portrait of Octavian-Augustus, our most detailed account of Augustan Rome which juxtaposes a chaotic and violent republic.


Although I am convinced that Dio strived to write an accurate account of Roman history from its foundation to the moment he left the city in 229 CE, I analyse his Roman History as a contribution to an intense debate about how to institute the most stable form of government in Rome, re-evaluating Dio's work as a sophisticated and cohesive analysis of Rome's history from a constitutional point of view. Inspired by intellectual history and political theory, I work through all Dio's surviving text comprehensively, considering his political thought in the light of his time, his Greek heritage, and the social and political norms he shared with fellow Roman elites in 2nd-3rd century Rome, including his own first-hand traumatic experiences with several of his contemporary emperors.

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