The Roman Language of civil war: from Internal War and stasis to bellum civile

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This paper retraces what remains of the Roman republican conceptual debate about different kinds of unrest: internal war and/or rebellion; civil strife; and civil war. Necessarily these concepts also intersect with related Greek traditions, and were furthermore developed by those Greek historians of the Roman Empire to have fortunately come down to us. This paper will trace that conceptual debate back to the Punic Wars and survey its development over time. As they sought to understand their contemporary history, the Romans of the Middle and Late Republic looked back on the conquest of Italy and the Punic Wars. In doing so, they encountered numerous parallels to their own times, but (initially) with differences of scale and emphasis. Certainly there were revolts during the 2nd century, but mainly outside Italy: rebellions in Spain, the Corsican and Sardinian rebellions of the 180s & 170s BCE, the fourth Macedonian War, the rebellion of the Achaean League, Aristonicus, the Allobroges, the so-called Sicilian Servile Wars, Tolosa’s revolt in in 109 BCE, and Jugurtha. All these were former allies or subject territories that rebelled (Maschek 2018, 83-90 on violence and war during the 2nd century BCE). But importantly, with the destruction of Fregellae in 125 BCE there came a shift. Nothing would be ever the same in Italia. The Romans had destroyed an allied city in central Italy: this is recognisably more internecine, domestic, and internal than the revolts of earlier in the century. Fregellae was just as important to the history of Rome’s civil wars as the crisis caused by the Gracchan reform attempts, although scholars tend to overlook it. By joining the dots between the case of the rebellious Falerii in the 3rd century as told by Polybius, the destruction of Fregellae followed by stasis/seditio and, finally, full-blown bellum civile, this paper will trace the development of the language of internal unrest during the period from 241 BCE to the first civil war between Sulla and Marius. It offers a reinterpretation of the relation and interaction between concepts such as revolt and/or rebellion – that is, challenges to the Roman order – and the ancient terms of emphylios polemos, stasis, seditio, and bellum civile.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLisa Eberle & Myles Lavan, UNREST IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE: A DISCURSIVE HISTORY
Publication statusSubmitted - 2022


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