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Andriscus, Aristonicus, and How to Rebel from Rome: Comparing Republican and Imperial Revolts

Gregory Callaghan

University of Pennsylvania

The present paper places the wars of Andriscus and Aristonicus in dialogue with later Roman provincial revolts, particularly the Pannonian and Judaean Revolts. The goal of such a dialogue is to correct an unfortunate trend in the current scholarship of Roman revolts. Despite the proliferation of detailed studies of individual provincial revolts during the Imperial Period, relatively few comparative analyses of these conflicts exist—a clear shortcoming of our field given comparative revolt studies in other traditions (e.g. Hobsbawm 1959; Goldstone 1991, 2011). Recent scholarship offers hope that we are moving in the right direction, but demonstrate another shortcoming (Woolf 2012; Gambash 2015; Collins & Manning 2016). Of our limited corpus of comparative revolt studies, only Dyson’s includes even a single Republican-era conflict, that of Vercingetorix (Dyson 1971). This isolation of Republican from Imperial Revolts is ill-advised. There are, of course, reasons for speaking of Republican and Imperial periods. But this distinction does not address provincial realities. It presupposes that the nature and makeup of the ruling center matters in the provincial perception of and reaction to that center—a misconception that this paper corrects.

The revolts of Andriscus and Aristonicus are particularly well-suited to encourage a correction early-on in our burgeoning comparative studies. Both arise when Rome had already achieved a unipolar interstate system. Yet, Macedonia and Anatolia were very much on the edges of Roman imperial control at the time—recently subsumed, but not wholly integrated (satisfying Dyson 1971, p. 239), which places them in geopolitical conditions similar to later Imperial revolts. These circumstances allow us to evaluate the structural similarities between the revolts of Andriscus and Aristonicus and those of Pannonia and Judaea as features of a generalized phenomenon of a revolt against Rome. And it is easy to identify similarities: motivations, actors, stages of the revolt, even the historiographical tradition. For instance, we might pair Rubinsohn’s observation regarding Andriscus’ revolt that Roman conquests were “designed to enrich the conqueror, while disregarding the necessity of establishing a modus vivendi acceptable to the conquered” alongside the failure to provide a functional government prior to the Jewish Revolt (Rubinsohn 1986, p. 146). The synchronization of Andriscus’ revolt to the release of hostages from the 3rd Macedonian War may be compared to Bato’s, leader of the Pannonian Revolt, former status as a Roman hostage. Aristonicus’ status as “slave revolt” may be overstated by Marxists (see Vavrinek 1975), but there is still some radicalization which parallels the Jewish Revolt and is perfectly adheres to Goldstones’ structure of revolutions (1991). Even in remembering the conflicts, historians record a suspected Macedonian-Carthaginian plot of 149—an occurrence almost as unlikely as Suetonius’ Pannonian-Germanic alliance (Florus 30.1; App. Pun. 16.111; Suet. Tib. 17).

In looking at this chronological cross-section of resistance, we see that there is less difference between Republic and Empire than current comparative studies suppose. From the vantage of the provinces, Roman imperial power is perceived much the same whether you are on the periphery of that power in the Republican era or on the periphery in the Imperial era. The periphery might change, but the center remains the same, as do the motivations to revolt against that monolithic center, the methods used to resist it, and even the ways that this center responds to peripheral resistance. The generalized phenomenon of resistance to Rome helps us define the perception of Roman imperial power. It also allows us to identify features that deviate from this established structure of provincial resistance. Accurate identification of such deviations as unique to particular peripheries will allow us to explore the significance of cultural and historical circumstances that lead to these structural anomalies. Thus, considering Republican alongside Imperial provincial revolts is essential not only to questions of Roman imperialism and its perception in the provinces, but is equally useful in the individual analysis of those provinces and what features are particular to their own local conditions, history, and culture.  

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