Res Novae and Radial Governmentality (112-72 BCE)

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lenski, Noel


This dissertation examines how the Romans habituated themselves to increasing violence during the late Roman Republic and analyzes normative change within Rome and its effects beyond the city. The investigation subsumes the familiar names that dominate the period—Caesar, Pompey, Marius, and Sulla—under a long-term process of change that altered the citizens’ attitudes towards politics, Roman traditions, and vis. As the establishment of new precedents using violence led to more egregious manifestations of political conduct, changes in the Roman psychology towards institutions also shifted, and the changes in thinking and conduct following repeated violation of norms transformed Roman society in the late Roman Republic. The transformation did not inexorably lead to collapse, but it became more difficult to arrest the process once Roman generals backed by formidable armies normalized the manipulation of the law to achieve political ends. Violence and force eventually supplanted the law, and Roman institutions still functioned though attended with growing malleability. The normative changes within Rome and their consequences have implications for not only what happened in Rome, but the lessons also apply to any society whose laws and institutions undergo constant alteration. Moreover, the events in Rome represent only one part of the story. A fluid institutional environment developed within Rome that also manifested outside of Rome. Sertorius, the Marsi, and formerly enslaved persons under Eunus and Salvius organized large-scale wars attuned to changing norms and institutional flux in Rome. The institutional conduct of the leaders and armies involved in these conflicts against Rome attests to the fluid social and political landscape of the region. Evidence from the wars offers insight into how authority was established and reveals various avenues for the expression of power in the late Republic. The three case studies of the dissertation challenge traditional notions of Roman hegemony and posit a different calculus for understanding authority and legitimation. The first chapter of the dissertation surveys events in Rome. Roman politicians and military leaders serve as inflection points for political recalibrations within Rome since they repeatedly broke precedents and violated norms, which engendered long-term adjustments in Roman attitudes towards violence and the law. Rome underwent a process of ‘renormalization’ in the late Republic, whereby normative changes materialized due to unbridled violence and fostered new thinking and behavior in relation to customs, laws, and tradition. The effects of these changes within Rome were compounded by revolutions beyond Rome. Leaders and groups competing for power with Rome experimented with Roman institutions and customs, and their governmental innovations underscore the malleability of laws and institutions within Rome. The second chapter concerns the slave rebels of the three late Republican Servile Wars (135-132, 104-101, 73-71) and their organization of large and sophisticated wars. The rebels issued coinage and established well-defined hierarchies of leadership in order to manage their war efforts. They fielded successful armies and won major victories against skilled Roman generals. The rebels also issued proclamations, co-opted fasces and other Roman insignia, and displayed a knowledge of legal processes. Ultimately, the rebels in each of the Servile Wars succumbed to the Roman military but not before opening pathways of legitimation and authority that stood in defiance of Rome’s assertations to absolute hegemony. The activity of the former slaves, coupled with the wars led by the Marsi and Sertorius, situates the slave rebels within a larger pattern of revolution in the late Republic. In this sense the rebels should neither be viewed in isolation from events in Rome or the region nor from other contemporaneous movements. Each represents the shifting of norms and malleability of institutions that increased in the late Republic and conditioned local responses to Roman power. The third chapter covers events of the Marsic War (91-88). The Marsic War evidences the interplay between events in Rome and the formation of revolution outside of Rome. The demand for Roman citizenship by Rome’s Italian allies precipitated the war, but the measures of the Italici in war suggest a different orientation to Roman power that emphasizes collective governance rather than centralized leadership from Rome. The allies established their own government, minted coins, and created magistracies with an organizational command structure; they both borrowed from and reconfigured Roman political organization. That the allies based their institutions on Roman government speaks to the malleability of institutions at the time and the legitimacy that the allies ascribed to their institutions. Local legitimation was possible without approval from Rome. The development of institutions in situ is just as much a function of the institutional character of the times as Roman hegemony. The fourth chapter depicts Sertorius as a leader equal in importance to his contemporaries Marius, Sulla, and Pompey. Sertorius is a pivotal figure because he embodies a Roman and an anti-Roman identity. He formed an eclectic army in Spain composed of natives and soldiers of various nationalities, trained the army in Roman military customs and battle formation, and instituted a school in Spain that instructed local leaders in Greek and Roman education. Sertorius’ army defeated well-trained forces in the field led by capable Roman generals such as Pompey and Metellus. Furthermore, Sertorius established a government and Roman Senate in Spain that was composed of senators and officials from Rome. His Senate functioned as a legitimate organ of government, conducted foreign affairs, and established treaties. The actions of Sertorius presuppose legitimacy, exemplify institutional fluidity, and suggest recognition of a newly constructed political entity distinct from Rome. Sertorius cannot be easily dismissed given his longevity as a political threat to Rome and his military successes. The implementation of his program and affirmative responses to it offer unique insights about legitimation and authority of the period. The violence in the late Republic requires an explanation that illustrates how changing norms conditioned the Romans to new forms and levels of violence. Also, Rome was not the only power base on the Italian peninsula or in the ancient Mediterranean, and this circumstance necessitates an exploration of other sites of power in order to grasp how institutions and legitimation functioned in the region. A framework is currently nonexistent that juxtaposes the three Servile Wars, the Marsic War, and the Sertorian War and analyzes them as analogous representations of revolution and governance. In addition to explaining late Republican violence and demonstrating a relationship between laws and norms in Rome and institutional developments away from Rome, the dissertation seeks to reframe how we view legitimation, authority, and Roman hegemony in the late Republic.

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