Spectacle and political culture in the Roman Republic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

46 Scopus citations


uolgo dictum ipsius ferebant, et conuiuium instruere et ludos parare eiusdem esse qui uincere proelio sciret. "A saying of his (L. Aemilius Paullus) was commonly repeated: that a man who knows how to conquer in battle should also know how to give a banquet and to organize the games." Livy (45.32.11) Roman culture was in many ways a culture of spectacle: spectacle was at the heart of politics and of the Romans' understanding of the identity of their community. Theirs was above all a visual culture, a culture of seeing and being seen, both on special occasions and in everyday life. Consequently, many actions were essentially theatrical, and there was relatively much less of what a modern person would call privacy. Indeed, a person's identity and status took on their full meaning only in the eyes of his fellow citizens. Repeated spectacles, which mostly belonged to recognizable types, reinforced Roman ways of thinking, especially through the power of the example (exemplum) and through the relation of the individual to the precedents established by traditional norms (mos maiorum). This culture of spectacle expressed the values of the political elite but also served as a vehicle for communication between all citizens, as all participated together in celebrating and reaffirming the common values, shared goals, and political institutions of the community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781139000338
ISBN (Print)9780521807944
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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