Programme of Events

Join us every Tuesday and Thursday for the premiere of these talks on YouTube at 5.30pm (GMT)

Tuesday 20 July Augustus, Nero and Imperial Power
Anthony Smart, York St John University

Nero’s death at his own hands in 68 AD marked the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, and the line of Augustus. His rule demonstrated both the terrible potential for power to corrupt, and the inherent weaknesses within the Augustan Principate. When we think of Nero we tend to imagine him in the company of Caligula, Domitian or Commodus, a classic example of a “bad” Roman emperor. The ancient writings present an image of him as a tyrant, prone to violence, excess and unfit to rule. A performer, and not a leader. However, the British Museum has recently offered a new perspective on Nero, and one that poses important questions concerning the nature of imperial power in the Roman world. To visit the new Nero exhibition is to see the emperor in a new light. He emerges as a “populist” leader, a defender of the people, in a time of great turmoil and change. Taking the new exhibition as inspiration, in this talk we will look again at imperial power in the Roman world, and what a new study of Nero can achieve. What is imperial power? What did it mean to be an emperor in the first century AD? And how far can we reimagine Rome’s most (in)famous emperor?
Thursday 22 JulyAugustus Unlimited: Geography and power in the Roman empire
Penelope Goodman, University of Leeds

This talk will look at the emperor Augustus’ boast that he had brought the whole world under Roman power, as set out in the title of his Res Gestae (record of achievements) and detailed in chapters 26 to 33. Here, Augustus claimed power over more than fifty foreign peoples and places, all listed in rapid succession and often for the first time in Latin. But would contemporaries really have accepted that this added up to power over the whole world? The talk will show how Augustus took advantage of hazy geographical knowledge and an elastic understanding of ‘power’ to serve his extraordinary claim.
Tuesday 27 July(Roman) Peace: What is it good for?
Hannah Cornwell, University of Birmingham

This lecture explores the role that the Roman concept of peace played in the construction and maintenance of Roman imperialism and Empire, focusing on the late Republic and early Principate (1st century BC-1st century AD). The Roman state, even before Augustus assumed control, fashioned itself as the guarantor of peace within the wider Mediterranean; this became a fundamental principle of the Augustan principate both to a citizen audience (as the altar of Augustan Peace at Rome illustrates) and to provincial communities. More than that though, ‘peace’ became a language utilised by the subjects of empire to negotiate internal disputes and to position themselves in relation to the political centre. Rome’s claims of imperial peace were also an ideal against which critics of empire measured the success of Rome.
Thursday 29 JulyAnger and Imperial Power in Julio-Claudian Rome
Jayne Knight, University of Tasmania

This lecture focuses on how the emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty were evaluated with respect to their anger. Through the analysis of a variety of literary sources, I trace the development of a unique discourse about imperial anger during the early principate and demonstrate how anger played a role in the construction of the political identity of the Roman emperor.
Tuesday 3 AugustSuetonius and the Politics of Gossip
Neville Morley, University of Exeter

Suetonius’ Life of the Caesars is both a fascinating and a frustrating source. It offers us many memorable stories about larger-than-life characters – but, faced with a succession of lurid anecdotes and scandalous rumours, we have to ask whether it is ever possible to get at the ‘reality’ of the emperors being discussed. Why has the great tradition of Latin historiography been reduced to gossip and innuendo? What Suetonius shows us is how members of the Roman elite thought about their rulers, and how, under an autocracy, the political inevitably becomes personal.
Thursday 5 AugustEmperors, soldier, senators. The military aspect of imperial power
Wolfgang Havener, University of Heidelberg

The emperor’s role as commander-in-chief of the Roman armed forces formed one of the most important foundations of the princeps’ political power. In the course of the early Principate the possibilities of establishing close relations with the soldiers as well as the prestige that could be derived from military victory were therefore increasingly monopolized by the emperors. The result of this process was the almost complete extrusion of the members of the senatorial elite from the process of transforming military success into political power, thus depriving them of one of the most eminent resources of traditional aristocratic competition. Augustus and his successors were thus confronted with a twofold challenge: on the one hand, they needed close relations to the soldiers in order to consolidate and in some contexts even legitimate their rule. On the other hand they had to secure the acceptance of the senatorial elite on whom they still depended in order to run the empire. For this reason the principes of the 1st century constantly had to develop methods and strategies to avoid potential conflicts concerning their military role. My talk aims to illustrate some of these strategies and to explore the question what this specific aspect can tell us about the character of imperial power more generally.
Tuesday 10 AugustPhilo and Roman Imperialism
Jane Bellemore, University of Newcastle (Australia)

Imperialism is more easily understood when we see it in operation, particularly so when it is reported by one of those most affected by its application. Philo, a leading Jew from Alexandria, has left us two works that describe the interaction between the Alexandrians and their Roman overlords during a period from late in the Principate of the Emperor Tiberius into that of Gaius (Caligula). Philo himself witnessed the events he describes, or he heard of them from seemingly good sources, and although he necessarily reflects the Jewish point of view, the contemporary nature of his evidence, as well as his noted intellect, makes him an important commentator. In this talk, we will examine half a dozen extracts from Philo, ‘Against Flaccus’, and ‘Embassy to Gaius’, to illustrate features of Roman imperialism.
Thursday 12 AugustAgrippina the Younger, Mother of Nero: Fact or Fiction
Mairéad McAuley, University College London

Granddaughter of Augustus, wife of Claudius and mother of Nero, Agrippina the Younger was a powerful, ambitious and intelligent woman at the heart of the dynastic politics of imperial Rome. She is also one of the most vilified women in history, charged by later Roman writers like Tacitus and Suetonius with lurid crimes such as conspiracy, incest and poisoning. She is most famous for the fact that she died at the orders of her own son, the emperor Nero. Her life was so extraordinary and her later reputation so outrageous that the historical truth about Agrippina is hard to pin down. Was she as bad as all that? How can we separate the facts from the fiction?
Tuesday 17 AugustImperial Power and the Soldierly body in Latin epic
Hannah-Marie Chidwick, University of Bristol

“Of legality conferred on crime we sing!” This lecture will examine the representation of warfare in Lucan’s epic, Civil War, written during the turbulent rule of the emperor Nero. This wild, gruesome poem has often been interpreted as a tirade against one-man power and the evils of civil war. Join me in examining how the horror of the civil war is embodied by the way its combatants fight and fall in Lucan’s narrative. You will learn about the tropes of Silver Latin poetry, and how Lucan’s epic shows us a different picture of Rome’s military might.
Thursday 19 AugustAppointment with Destiny: Carthage’s fated defeat in Virgil’s Aeneid and Silius Italicus’ Punica
Jackie Murray, University of Kentucky

“A lawful time for war shall come—do not hasten it, when one day savage Carthage shall open up the Alps and hurl great destruction at the heights of Rome” (Virgil, Aeneid 10.11-14). Famously in Vergil’s Aeneid, Aeneas abandoned Carthage to answer Jupiter’s command that he resume his mission of founding Rome and Dido committed suicide after cursing him. She accused him of treachery regarding their love and charged all future Carthaginians to perpetuate her anger and hatred, forbidding them to make any alliances with Romans, personal or political. Dido also called for an avenger who would pursue Aeneas’ descendants with sword and fire. Silius Italicus’ epic, Punica, relates how Dido’s last wishes were fulfilled by the great Carthaginian general Hannibal in the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE). This talk examines how Virgil and Silius turn history into prophecy as a crucial justification for Roman expansion, shutting down direct critique of the genocidal nature of imperialist expansion.
Tuesday 24 AugustTacitus and the Secret of Imperial Power
Ellen O’Gorman, University of Bristol

‘Secrets of State’ is one of the most important concepts in Western European political: the idea that the state maintains power by covert means. It comes from Tacitus, who uses the phrase arcana imperii twice in his works – but what does he mean by this? We’ll look at how Tacitus uses this concept to explore the sources of the emperor’s power: the army, the management of elections, and the maintenance of secrecy itself.
Thursday 26 AugustDomitian: (Re)building Rome
Eric Moorman, Radboud University

Domitian stands as one of the classic examples of a “bad” Roman emperor. He can appear as a violent, unpredictable and jealous figure, who ruled through a combination of fear and terror. Tacitus gives us an image of a senate cowed by fear, unwilling or unable to speak out, and the terrible vengeance and violence of a Caesar who enjoyed the dread he created. But who is he really? Can we approach Domitian from a new perspective, and perhaps recognise a slightly different form of imperial power beyond the negative images so often seen in the ancient writings? In this talk, Professor Moormann will provide a detailed analysis of Domitian’s efforts to reconstruct Rome, looking closely at the material evidence, to recognise the important ways in which the Emperor engaged with the physical topography of the ancient city. The talk will be followed by a short discussion around the nature of Domitian’s rule, and the way we can interpret ancient buildings and monuments.
Tuesday 31 AugustBarbarians
Rhiannon Evans, La Trobe University (Australia)

How did Roman writers depict barbarians? How did they feature in the Roman sense of identity? And what is the link between the representation of barbarians and imperial power? Roman emperors actively engaged with the images and ideas of people beyond the borders. We need only look at Trajan’s Column to see how this perspective could shape an interpretation of imperial power and identity. In this talk, Rhiannon will provide a study of the Roman representation of Gauls, Britons and Germani.
Thursday 2 SeptemberHadrian: Running the Roman Empire: Petition, Response and Policy
David Potter, University of Michigan

The administration of the Roman Empire, ideally for both the governed and its rulers, worked through a constant dialogue between the emperors and their subjects. The fact that so much evidence for the working of government consists of imperial responses to local requests has suggested that government tended to be responsive rather than proactive. The publication of a collection of letters from the emperor Hadrian on the subject of public entertainment, however, shows how the imperial government manipulated this dialogue to dictate coherent policy across the empire and enables us to see how proactive discursive government could be.
Tuesday 7 SeptemberThe Severan Dynasty
Alex Imrie, University of Edinburgh

The Severan era (193-235 CE) is difficult to quantify. Is it the dawn of the so-called Crisis of the Third Century, or is it rather the last bastion of institutional continuity before the Military Anarchy? The truth may lie somewhere in between. The Severan dynasty was in many ways institutionally consistent with its predecessors, but the collapse of the Antonine household in 192 also opened a new frontier in which rulers and writers alike were challenged to define the era anew. The result of these varying attempts was a dramatic 40-year period marked by violence and intrigue, but also containing one of the most potentially important constitutional developments in history.
Thursday 9 SeptemberUsurping History and Building Legitimacy in Severan Rome
Susann S. Lusnia, University of Tulane

Architecture and imagery played a significant role in validating the imperial authority of Lucius Septimius Severus who claimed the role of emperor when civil war was erupting in 193 following the murder of Pertinax. Many of the monuments in Rome commissioned by Severus served to further his political goals: establishing his legitimacy as emperor, broadcasting visions of prosperity​ and stability, and founding a new imperial dynasty. This talk focuses on projects undertaken in the Roman Forum. Since the time of the Late Republic, the Roman Forum had become increasingly museum-like, filled with honorific monuments representing Roman power and authority. Severus laid claim to this space in a way not seen since the reign of Augustus. By restoring select buildings and adding new monuments to the space, Severus reshaped the lower forum to create the atmosphere of an imperial forum, similar to the nearby Forums of Augustus or Trajan but without needing to acquire land and build a new public square. Just as he had seized political and military power, so Severus usurped the age-old manifestation of that authority, the Roman Forum.
Friday 10 SeptemberBritannia’s Western Frontier: Conquest and co-existence
Caroline Pudney, University of Chester

This talk will provide an outline of conquest and an exploration of the fortresses and networks of the frontier. The discussion will include an overview of rural settlement and material culture, thinking about people, interaction and the fusion of culture, before closing with the key questions and problems about understanding frontier dynamics.
Tuesday 14 SeptemberLocal Responses to Imperial Power
Jinyu Lui, DePauw University

How was imperial power experienced across the Empire? What was it like at a localised level? What did it mean to the people of the Empire? In this talk, Professor Lui will provide a study of imperial power within contemporary Roman society, stepping away from the grand narratives of political history, and instead looking at the realities of Roman rule as it was experienced by local communities.
Thursday 16 SeptemberStatues of emperors, and the use of imagery by the provincial elite
Monica Hellström, Corpus Christi College, University of Oxford

Images of emperors and imperial symbols became an ubiquitous feature of urban life in the Roman empire, finding their way into almost any power relation. They appeared on grand monuments in urban spaces to game tokens in homes, and communicated a multitude of messages, sometimes with little to do with the emperors themselves. Emperors strove to direct and control the use of their images, by providing models but also by managing access, and to move an imperial statue was a case for sacred law. However, many aspects of the phenomenon escaped their control, and imperial imagery was among the most widespread, and instantly recognizable, iconographic systems in the ancient world.
Tuesday 21 SeptemberRepresenting power through the past: Constantine and the imitation of Trajan
Alessandro Maranesi, University of Pavia

The aim of this presentation is to show if and eventually how emperor Trajan appears and affects Constantine and his political communication. In every society, different kinds of media inspire their audiences with different kinds of messages. Trajan was one of the models that ancient media could draw upon to help shape contemporary imperial authority and political aims. Inspired (or controlled) by Constantine, the use of Trajan’s memory allowed for the creation of positive imageries around the emperor, and the possibility to “sound-out” ideological messages.
Thursday 23 September A Teaspoon of sugar: The buildings of women and soft power in Augustan Rome
Barbara Kellum, Smith College

In marked contrast to the triumphalist rhetoric of many of the buildings in Augustan Rome, Professor Kellum will argue that the Porticus of Livia and the Porticus of Octavia and the displays within them were carefully calibrated to appeal to the hearts as well as minds of viewers. These monuments–two of the first buildings in Rome’s history to bear the names of women—not only gave material form to the public personas of their dedicators but also subtly but insistently instantiated the notion of an imperial family whose stories became inextricably interwoven with Rome’s own.
Tuesday 28 SeptemberEmperors, Imperial Power, and Empire: the Ancient Evidence and the Multiple Modern Interpretations
Stéphane Benoist, University of Lille

What was a Roman Emperor, his powers, and the conception of the Empire his res gestae can deliver to his contemporaries as well as to Modern observers? We have to assume the Ancient evidence presents a discourse made of facts and biases. Literary testimonies, inscriptions, coins, portraits, and monuments tell us a ‘story’ about the first historical globalization, from various perspectives: the functioning of an Imperial res publica with an Emperor as her ‘head’ –usually considered as a sovereign– and an Imperial territory made of Provinces and Conquered nations, a ‘body’ politics composed by people who were, after 212 CE, citizens thanks to the universal grant of the ciuitas Romana by the Constitutio Antoniniana. During this lecture, a few examples from Augustus to Constantine demonstrate the flexibility and pragmatism of the Augustan model of Principate and its various declinations during three and half centuries: not a true ‘Republic’, neither a ‘Monarchy’ or a ‘Colonial’ Empire, but a very special ‘city-state’ (res publica) becoming an ‘Empire-state’, assuming tradition and res nouae, under the protection of gods, then God.
Thursday 30 SeptemberSlavery and Empire
Greg Woolf, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Wherever you travelled in the Roman World you would find slaves, and slavery can appear a crucial component in the formation of the Roman Empire itself. But what is the connection between slavery and empire? And how much can we ever know about slaves from the ancient world? In this talk, Greg will provide a detailed analysis of the link between slavery and empire, examining the different ways of approaching this topic, and engaging closely with the ancient evidence. The talk will be followed by a short discussion around slavery, imperial power and the Roman city.