Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Taking Sides in the Civil War (49-44 BC): Fear, Memories and High-Sounding Words

08 June 2016, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

Taking Sides in the Civil War (49-44 BC): Fear, Memories and High–Sounding Words

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IAS Seminar Room 20, First Floor, South Wing, Wilkins Building

The Institute of Advanced Studies is delighted to host this Department of History lecture given by Professor Pedro Lopez Barja de Quiroga from the Univesity of Santiago de Compostela.

As F. Millar pointed out in 1986: "Gelzer's assertion… dispensed us from troubling with the problem of explaining voter behaviour at all" (p.4). This also applies to civil war. Prosopographical studies (such as Shackleton-Bailey, 1960, and Bruhns, 1978) have failed to explain "voter" behaviour, that is, why Roman aristocrats and plebeians took either Caesar's or Pompey's side in 49 B.C. Even if the expression itself (bellum ciuile) is a Roman coinage, the truth is that the combats and battles of 49-44 B.C. have been analysed not as a war but as a consequence of the nobiles' fight over power. Professor Lopez Barja de Quiroga's contention is that we may learn a lot by comparing the Roman case with what scholars have concluded from other civil wars across history. First of all, we must begin by stating the obvious: it was a war and many citizens, including those who lived in Rome, were injured or killed. Ancient sources are unanimous and should be believed: Caesar's recensus showed the high number of casualties caused by the civil war in the city of Rome. Modern scepticism in this case is unjustified.  Secondly, S.N. Kalyvas has shown the logic of violence in a civil war.

Here, we will study three aspects that certainly were important even if they do not amount to a complete explanation: fear, memories and high-sounding words. Fear is everywhere in Cicero's correspondence but the way Pompey manipulated the panel of jurors in 52 B.C. probably contributed a great deal to increasing the tension. Memories could be preserved in very different ways. They were used as weapons and the same can be said of political ideas: both sides choose which to defend. "High-sounding words" is an ironic expression of R. Syme (RR p.59: "They will often be rendered, on a cool estimate, as privilege and vested interests"), but as Q. Skinner showed in 1969, ideas - and words - do matter. They may go a long way towards explaining the agonising decision that nobles and commoners had to make in 49 B.C.: which side to take in a civil war.

Pedro Lopez Barja de Quiroga (Ph.D. Complutense university) is Profesor Titular de Historia Antigua at the university of Santiago de Compostela and was visiting scholar in Oxford (Wolfson College) in 2002-2003. His main research interests are, firstly, manumission, Junian Latins and the social mobility of Roman freedmen; secondly, ancient political thought, especially Aristotle and Cicero; thirdly, Roman juridical epigraphy. He has written a book on each one of the first two subjects (Historia de la manumisión en Roma. De los orígenes a los Severos, Anejos de Gerión XI, Madrid, 2007; Imperio legítimo. El pensamiento político romano en tiempos de Cicerón, Madrid, 2007) but not yet on the third. This loophole is not likely to be filled shortly for he is now writing a book on the Roman Civil War of 49-42 B.C. The common feature of all three is an effort to put juridical sources to use when dealing with historical problems. Too often they have been discarded as irrelevant or entirely detached from the social reality of its time. Lately he has opened a fourth line of research on the comparative study of Empires and particularly the neoconservative interpretation of ancient history.


For further information, please contact Valentina Arena: v.arena@ucl.ac.uk