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Fighting (for) Rome: Narratives of War in Roman Historiography

Module co-ordinator: Dr Nicolas Liney

Module value: 15 CAT

Timetabled teaching: 2 hours of class per week (lecture/seminar format), 2x seminars.

Introductory Description

Since its beginning, the history of Rome is permeated by conflicts, foreign as well as civil. Among the many wars that the Romans fought, the Hannibalic war against the Carthaginians (218-201 BC) and the civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49-48 BC) are two of the most influential and consequential and, hence, play a prominent role in Roman collective memory even centuries after they ended. But how are the wars narrated in ancient literature? How do these narratives interact with each other and with material evidence as authors (re-)construct the wars and their outcomes and create collective memory in the process? How are Roman victories and defeats approached? How are Roman and non-Roman leaders characterised?

Based on a comparative approach, this module will discuss the ways in which the Hannibalic war and the Caesarian civil war are narrated in a range of prose and verse texts, with a specific focus on the writings of Polybius, Livy, Julius Caesar and Suetonius. It will explore the particular relationship between Latin literature and warfare, and the cross-generational processes of building collective memory and understanding the role of both these wars in shaping Roman identity, and examining how the literary representations of both wars impact upon and relate to one another.

Principal Module Aims

This module explores forms and meanings of Roman historiography of war. It focuses on the narratives of the Hannibalic war (218-201 BCE) and on the civil war between Caesar and Pompey (49-48 BCE), and will introduce students to key historiographical texts and other texts for both wars. The module will offer students the opportunity to critically engage with the literary representation of warfare in Roman literature and their political and cultural contexts, as well as reflect upon the nature and generic features of historiography. This module develops students’ skills in applying recent critical approaches and methodologies, with a particular focus on memory studies, exemplarity, and intertextuality.

Learning Outcomes

  • Show a good understanding of the Roman historiography of war with a particular focus on the Hannibalic war and the civil war between Caesar and Pompey.
  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of the main theories surrounding war narratives in antiquity.
  • show the ability to use different methodologies, such as interdiscursivity and intertextuality, exemplarity, memory studies, narratology.
  • demonstrate critical analysis of ancient historiographical texts in their political and cultural contexts.
  • Advanced skills in the critical analysis of classical scholarship.
  • develop the ability to set their findings into a wider comparative context, drawing in other aspects of the study of the ancient world.
  • engage creatively with a wider range of secondary literature that includes discussion of classical literature within broader comparative, including critical-theoretical, frames.

Illustrative Syllabus

Wk 1: Introduction to war narratives in Roman historiography and the main authors analysed in the module

(Polybius, Livy, Caesar, Suetonius; other authors such as Plutarch, Appian or Lucan will be discussed as required by individual lectures)

Wk 2: Beginnings: Pretexts and Causes of the Hannibalic war

Polybius 3.6-9; 3.15, 3.20, 3.30.3-4 Livy 21 (extracts)

Wk 3: Beginning Again: Civil War, Cause and Justification

Caes. BC 1 (selection of passages) Suetonius Iul. 28-30

Wk 4: Constructing the Enemy: Identity and Ethnography

Polybius (selection of passages); Livy (selection of passages); Caes. BC (selection of passages); Lucan (selection of passages).

Wk 5: Heroes, Villains, and Exemplarity (1): Scipio Africanus and Hannibal

Livy 21.4, 26.7, 28.12; 30.30-1, 39.51 Pol. 9.22.1–10, 24.1–26.11; 11.19.1–7; 15.6; 23.13.1–2

Wk 6: Reading Week (no lecture)

Wk 7: Heroes, Villains, and Exemplarity (2): Caesar and Pompey

Caes. BC (selection of passages) Plut. Pompey (selection of passages) Suet. Divus Iulius (selection of passages)

Wk 8: Battle Narratives: Triumph, Disaster and Spectacle

Cannae: Pol. 3.107-109; 111-112; 115-118 Liv. 22.39-54 (selection of passages)

Zama: Pol. 15.1-16 (extracts; esp. 15-16) Liv. 30.32-6

Wk 9: Battle Narratives in Civil War

Dyrrhachium: Caes. BC 3.9-74 (selection of passages)

Pharsalus: Caes. BC 3.82-112 (selection of passages) Lucan (selection of passages)

Wk 10: The sense of an ending? Closure, Victors and Victims


1x 2500-3000 words essay (60%)

1-hour examination consisting of practical criticisms of texts read in class/in preparation for seminars.