The Academy: session abstract and readings

Classics, Lecture 3: The Fall of The Roman Republic

Professor Matthew Fox

“The fall of the Roman Republic” conjures up a contrast between liberty and tyranny. But by the time Julius Caesar established his dictatorship, the concept of liberty had almost become synonymous with the rights of aristocrats to unrestricted personal power. In the view of the historian Tacitus, the transition from Republic to Empire had little meaning for most of Rome’s citizens. This lecture will begin with a brief sketch of the main historical events, and then move to discuss the tensions that are apparent in the writings of the period. I will consider the historian Sallust in some detail – his work gives insight into ideas about social order, global economics, gender roles, and political power. Understanding why he thinks Catiline – leader of a failed coup – is so important, will reveal a great deal about the live political issues of the day. The lecture will end by considering the conception of tyranny at Rome, and will put into perspective the transition from a system of endemic political instability, to one which saw Roman political power thrive for a further three centuries.
In preparation for the lecture, and to inform the discussion after it, please consider the following questions:
Is ‘the fall of the republic’ a moral or a historical idea?
Are there any heroes in Sallust’s War with Catiline?
What seems to be Sallust’s purpose in writing this work?
What role do the ordinary people of Rome play in the events described?


See the Academy 2015 readings page for attendees.

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