Cassius Dio on Roman Civil War

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Abstract

Recent years have seen a renewed interest in Cassius Dio and a growing interest in his particular take on stasis and civil war. There are numerous ways of approaching civil war, both ancient and modern. Dio approached Roman history as an historical theorist, giving particular attention to the political upheaval of the Late Republic and the transition from Republic to Principate. In doing so, he clearly resembled Thucydides and his take on stasis (civil strife) and human nature. Quite exceptionally and originally for a Roman historian, Dio’s framework of historical analysis focussed less on the destabilising effects of Rome’s expansion—he was himself a critic of imperialism (see below)—and rather more on its ineffective and flawed democracy, especially during the Late Republic. Having said that, even with its shortcomings, the (Late) Republic was not only a force for evil in his view. It was, in Dio’s reading, a necessary albeit long transitional period. The end goal remained the same: monarchy. The rule of Augustus brought stability and peace, but alas, not durably so. Dio was undoubtedly a theorist of the main historical development that led to this constitutional change—that is, civil war—but above all he was a monarchist; these two aspects of his theoretical approach are complementary, but monarchy to Dio represented the sine qua non. Further periods of civil war,—especially following the death of Nero and later under Septimius Severus and beyond—needed to be properly explained by the historian, not as anomalies, but as setbacks due to ineffective emperors and likewise members of the elite. Dio was a historian in his own right both because of his historical analysis and his specific take on the past. I will suggest that the description of the Late Republic in its entirety is best approached as an excursus—a very long digression—on civil war. Even though the Late Republic was a vital part of his Roman History—and, perversely, the most successful part of it, because it created the conditions for the return of monarchy to Rome—it was evidently a terrible period of civil war in Dio’s view; his own personal experiences from the Severan period were vital for his interpretations of the past and our interpretation of his work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBrill's Companion to Cassius Dio
EditorsJesper M. Madsen, Andrew Scott
PublisherBrill
Publication statusSubmitted - 2020
SeriesBrill's Companions in Classical Studies
ISSN1872-3357

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  • Cite this

    Lange, C. H. (2020). Cassius Dio on Roman Civil War. Manuscript submitted for publication. In J. M. Madsen, & A. Scott (Eds.), Brill's Companion to Cassius Dio Brill. Brill's Companions in Classical Studies