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. Familiar names that dominate the period include Caesar, Pompey, Marius, and Sulla. The aforementioned Romans are indeed historic figures who altered the political and social landscape of Rome. Notwithstanding their significance to the development of Roman history, there is a different but equally vital story of the late Republic that is revealed through the lives of oppositional figures to the Roman state. The revolutions which Sertorius, the Marsi, and the slave rebels under the leadership of Eunus and Salvius organized against Rome represented large-scale movements attuned to changing norms and institutional flux in Rome. Evidence from the movements offer insight into the source and expression of authority and power in the late Republic. In addition to providing a different framework for understanding norms and the Roman capacity to absorb violence, the work challenges traditional notions of Roman hegemony and suggests ways of viewing authority that encompasses broader power bases in the Mediterranean. The first chapter of the dissertation surveys events in Rome; it is necessary to begin the analysis in the forum because political malfeasance and disregard for laws in Rome radiated beyond the city. Roman politicians and military leaders were instrumental to the changes and serve as inflection points for social and political recalibrations within Rome. They repeatedly broke precedents and violated norms, which engendered long-term adjustments in Roman attitudes towards violence and the law. Rome underwent a process that I term “renormalization” whereby normative changes evolved in the wake of increasing violence and fostered new thinking and behavior regarding customs, laws, and tradition. The effects of these changes within Rome were compounded by the formation of revolutions outside it. Leaders and groups competing for power with Rome experimented with Rome’s institutions and customs in wars against it that reflect the same malleability of laws and institutions within the capital. The second chapter concerns the slaves of the three late Republican Servile Wars (135-132, 104-101, 73-71) and their organization of large and sophisticated movements in the field against Rome. The ancient sources indicate that the rebels coined money 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, coopted fasces and other Roman insignia, and displayed a knowledge of legal processes. Ultimately, the rebels in each of Servile Wars succumbed to the Roman military, but before they did, they opened pathways of legitimation and authority that stood in defiance of Rome’s assertations to absolute hegemony. The activity of the slaves in conjunction with the revolutions led by the Marsi and Sertorius situate the slave rebels within a larger pattern of oppositional wars and experimentation with governance in the late Republic. In this sense the slaves should neither be viewed in isolation from events in Rome during the late Republic nor from other contiguous 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 and the refusal of the request precipitated the conflict, but the measures which the Marsi took in war suggests efforts for a different orientation to Roman power and collective governance rather than centralized leadership from Rome. The allies established their own government, minted coins, and created magistracies and organizational command structure borrowing from but also altering Roman political organization. In breaking away from Rome the allies sought to establish an independent government with functioning institutions, a treasury, and a strong military. That the allies based their institutions on Roman government speaks to the malleability of institutions at the time and the presupposition of legitimacy that the allies afforded 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 other nationalities that joined his cause. The significance of the army goes beyond mere soldiering against Rome; Sertorius trained the army in Roman military customs and battle formation, and he also instituted a school in Spain that instructed local leaders in Greek and Roman cultures and education. The innovations were effectual, as his army defeated well-trained armies in the field led by capable Roman generals such as Pompey and Metellus. Sertorius established a government and Roman senate in Spain that was composed of senators and officials from Rome. The senate functioned as a legitimate organ of government, conducted foreign affairs, and established treaties with Mithridates. The collective acts of Sertorius presuppose expectations of legitimacy, exemplify institutional fluidity, and suggests recognition of a newly constructed political entity distinct from Rome. The actions of 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 in real time offer unique insights about institutions and the origination of authority in the late Roman Republic. The violence in the late Republic requires an explanation that shows how changing norms conditioned Romans to growing violence, and how a constellation of institutional developments outside of Rome reflects internal stress of Roman institutions. The continuous violation of norms, violence, and challenge to precedent created lasting normative adjustments that altered Romans’ attitudes towards customs and traditions within Rome. Beyond Rome, 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 against Rome. My work will challenge and decenter how we view power and authority in the late Republic and offer a new way of understanding legitimation that neither requires sanction from Rome nor coheres with notions of absolute Roman hegemony.

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