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Early Rome, after the war

Jeremy Armstrong

University of Auckland

Livy’s opening to Book VI of the Ab Urbe Condita states that the events in the previous five books appear “like remote objects which are hardly discernible through the vastness of the distance.” This description is often presented as being paradigmatic for the entirety of Rome’s early history. Although the passage technically refers to the narrative before 390 BC, and indeed Livy subsequently expresses some optimism about the evidence for the period after, the attitude has applied – to varying degrees – to all Roman history up until the Second Punic War and the advent of native, narrative histories of the city. The primary issues which Livy and his peers faced when writing about the early city are traditionally assumed to have been the lack of contemporary written sources and the amount of time the narrative had been preserved, and presumably manipulated, as part of an oral tradition.

Harriet Flower’s 2009 Roman Republics suggested, however, that these are not the only issues. As she noted, the concept of a single, monolithic Republic present in our sources likely represents a historiographical fiction which also needs to be dismantled – although this process has been frustrated by the uncertain nature of this monolith. In this context, while the massive impact of the Second Punic War on various aspects of Roman society has long been recognized, very little attention has been paid to the impact which the war had on the Romans’ understanding of their past. The war immediately preceded the birth of Roman history, but the society which emerged from the war, suddenly interested in chronicling and deciphering its past, was fundamentally different from the society which entered it.

This paper will attempt to describe the broad nature of the possible distortion caused by the advent of native, narrative histories occurring at this pivotal time in Roman history, and the influence of the Second Punic War on the Romans’ presentation of the history of the early city. In particular, it will draw on modern paradigms (Anderson [1983], Wimmer [2013], etc.) to make suggestions about the likely impact of the war on Rome’s social and civic cohesiveness – arguing that the intensity of the external conflict would have strengthened internal bonds and worked to alleviate internal divisions, at least in the short term. In addition, the period saw the emergence of a new Roman elite, stepping into the void left by those who died in the war, and also possible influence from Rome’s suddenly expanding Mediterranean empire, where a diverse and heterogeneous Rome was often presented in a more unified manner (Gruen [1992] and Wallace-Hadrill [2016]). In sum, the paper will highlight how various factors in Rome, in the immediate aftermath of the Second Punic War, helped to shape the version of the early city which appeared in the emerging genre of ‘Roman History’, and which likely contributed significantly to the monolithic vision of the Republic offered by later writers.

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Hannibal's Legacy

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