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The Enemy Within: Combatants, Commanders, and Comparative Models in Julio-Claudian Recollections of Late Republican Civil War

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Slingsby, Elisabeth 


This thesis analyses parallels between the civil wars of late Republican Rome and episodes about non-Roman historical figures, which were drawn in Latin, and occasionally in Greek, literature composed throughout the Julio-Claudian period. I argue that these parallels provided a key apparatus through which writers active in the century between Augustus' consolidation of power in 27BC and the resumption of civil conflict in 69AD after the death of Nero conceptualised, constructed, and communicated the contentious history of Roman-on-Roman violence.

In the last two decades, there has been a renewed scholarly interest in the ways in which armed hostilities between members of the same community have been remembered and retold. From conflicts labelled bellum civile and stasis in the ancient Mediterranean, to their reception in the modern day, research in this area has repeatedly demonstrated that there was an endeavour to come to terms with lingering memories of brutality, division, and adversity at all societal levels, long after the swords of civil war were sheathed. With respect to the recollection of civil war between Romans, illuminating research has been undertaken on several key periods of Roman history, including the final decades of the Republic, under the Flavians and the Tetrarchs, and in Late Antiquity. However, there is no comparable study of civil war memory under the Julio-Claudians. Rather, scholarship in this area has tended to focus on the representation of late Republican civil war in the literature and visual culture produced under Augustus, and in Lucan's Neronian epic De Bello Civili.

In this thesis, I use methodology drawn from another burgeoning area of research, ancient exemplarity, to examine the portrayal of late Republican civil war across the Julio-Claudian period. I contend that the frequency with which Julio-Claudian writers drew parallels between civil war Rome and individuals from the non-Roman past, who had previously been depicted in Greek and Roman historiography, is testament to a shared outlook on how memories of the late Republican civil wars should be expressed. Furthermore, the remarkable consistency between these parallels, regardless of whether a writer was looking back on civil war from the perspective of a survivor or after almost a century of peace, attests to a common understanding of which aspects of civil warfare should be remembered. Yet, those writing under the Julio-Claudians did not seek to understand late Republican civil war as a single entity. Through a series of case studies on parallels which treat the Triumviral, the Caesarian and the Sullan civil wars, I demonstrate that each of these three major conflicts had its own distinct legacy. By comparing deeds undertaken in the midst of each conflict with those of non-Romans in other contexts, Julio-Claudian writers grappled with challenging and often confronting memories of civil war, from its all but forgotten victims, to its most famous generals.

Overall, I argue that the Julio-Claudian period constituted a critical juncture in the reception of the late Republican civil wars. Although Rome no longer cowered under swords wielded by enemies from within, Roman-on-Roman violence cast a long shadow. In the endeavour to impose order on the chaos of the past, writers with vastly different frames of reference and intended audiences used parallels to paint a remarkably uniform portrait of each major late Republican civil war. Yet, when civil conflict returned to Rome once again in 69AD, many of the comparative models used under the Julio-Claudians were supplemented, even superseded, as a more recent civil war eclipsed the brutality and betrayal of the late Republic. This thesis aims to cast light back onto the writers active during the Julio-Claudian period, their memories of combatants and commanders, and above all their endeavour to come to terms with the horrors of Roman civil war through comparison with events quite literally foreign to it.





Beard, Mary
Patterson, John
Oakley, Stephen
Malik, Shushma


Civil war, Classics, History of memory, Julio-Claudian Rome, Late Republican civil war, Republican Rome


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
I gratefully acknowledge the financial support I have received during my degree from the Cambridge Trust, Cambridge Australia Scholarships, the Faculty of Classics, and Corpus Christi College.