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Peace and Power in the Roman Principate - PePo

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier

What

PePo explores the deployment in early imperial Roman literature of the ideology that makes one-man rule a necessary condition for peace in the Roman Empire. With the establishment of the Principate, the power structures of Roman society changed radically, a change accompanied by a move from a republican to an imperial 'regime of truth': as the meaning of key political and moral terms changed, so did the premises whereon one reasoned. I will 1) explore how the claim that one-man rule was necessary for peace functions within the imperial 'regime of truth': how it is deployed, negotiated, and played with by imperial writers. 2) analyse the reception of the claim in modern scholarship: how it has come to be accepted and used to explain the establishment of one-man rule in ancient Rome.

Why

Firstly, PePo offers a new way to think about a crucial, transformative period of Roman history: a philological close reading of early imperial literary texts facilitates a deconstruction of the rhetoric through which imperial ideology was promoted and an exploration of the 'regime of truth' on which it rested. Secondly, it also deals with questions of sustained importance for broader, more interdisciplinary, and increasingly relevant debates on governmental legitimacy, the connection between political system and peace, and the power of discourse to invent and sustain perceptions of reality. Of special importance in this regard is the relation of 'regimes of truth' to contemporary debates on fake news and the post-truth era.

How

Through philological analyses of imperial literary texts carried out at Bristol University, I will explore the emerging imperial 'regime of truth' and investigate the claim around which changes in politics, morality, and rhetorical strategies during this period revolve: that one-man rule was necessary for the maintenance of peace. Key texts are Seneca's philosophical treatise "On Mercy", Lucan's epic poem on the civil wars, Pliny's panegyric to the emperor Trajan, and the historical works of Tacitus and Velleius Paterculus. The close attention bestowed upon a text through philological analysis makes it a powerful tool for the exploration of the imperial 'regime of truth' as well as of modern scholarship which uncritically accepts the link between peace and one-man rule as true.

SSR

PePo revolves around politically volatile issues. In a moment when the rise of authoritarian populism seems unstoppable, if not inevitable, and discussions of peace and governmental systems seem to incline towards the belief in a strong leader unfettered by judicial constraints for the sake of security, a deconstruction of the rhetoric of one-man rule has never been more pertinent. Moreover, since the ancient world is frequently invoked in defence of regressive and/or authoritarian policies (e.g. regarding immigration, gender, ethnicity), a scholarly responsible treatment of the link between peace and one-man rule at the transformation from Republic to Principate is needed as a bulwark against simplistic and dangerous interpretations used to condone authoritarian policies and regimes.