Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.09.09 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.09.09

Philippe Akar, Concordia: Un idéal de la classe dirigeante romaine à la fin de la République. Histoire ancienne et médiévale, 122.   Paris:  Publications de la Sorbonne, 2013.  Pp. 576.  ISBN 9782859447380.  €35.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Hannah Cornwell, Keble and Trinity Colleges, University of Oxford (


Philippe Akar reconstructs the story political elites at Rome told themselves in order to understand and justify events in terms of the maintenance and disruption of concordia, which he stresses was a fundamental part of the structure of Republican political language. Whilst there have been several works on concordia, Akar distinguishes his study from those which predominantly rely on Ciceronian literature to engage with the concept, as well as studies that examine concordia at the end of the Republic as a means for understanding an ideological base of the principate.1 Moreover, he also emphasises the need to provide a precise analysis of the term concordia itself, beyond the idea of an accord between certain or all citizens, and stresses the different ‘types’ of concordia that were articulated at different times, and the reasons for this.

Akar structures his argument primarily as a synchronic account, due to the nature of the evidence, which forces us to understand the concept as an element of the political language functioning within the context of a precise episode or series of events, rather than a continuous narrative. Because of the ideological value of concordia within the political language, however, Akar also stresses the need for a diachronic approach to the study, illustrating the malleability of the term and the ways in which concordia was ‘un lieu d’affrontements entre les membres de la classe dirigeante, provoquant une série d’évolutions par réactualisation de la notion’.2 The study is divided chronologically: 1) between the second and third Punic wars; 2) the end of the metus hostilis and the tribunates of the Gracchi; 3) the Sullan Period; 4) Cicero’s praetorship to consulship; 5) the first triumvirate; 6) Caesar’s domination; 7) from the assassination of Caesar to that of Cicero. The study is predominantly of the literary tradition contextualised with the political field; however, Akar does introduce numismatic material to the discussion, although only when the word CONCORDIA appears on the coins, and does not consider the symbols of concordia (joined hands), which could have provide further avenues of discussion in his later chapters.

In his introduction, Akar examines the origins of the concept at Rome through both the cult of Concordia and the influence of the Greek term ὁμόνοια. His discussion of the temple to Concordia is well-managed as regards the possible reconstructions of the cult’s early history (notably the temple built by Camillus in 367/6) by later politicians and authors of the late Republic. This methodology is echoed throughout the work as Akar illustrates the ways in which political actors used historical precedents to readjust the notion of concordia. Akar also provides a detailed analysis of the word concordia, its Greek equivalents (ὁμόνοια; ὁμοφροσύνη; ὁμολοία), and its potential antonyms (discordia; στάσις; bellum civile); he discusses the frequency of the term within our sources, and includes graphs illustrating the occurrences of the term from the third century BCE to the Imperial period, as well as indices of the occurrences of the term concordia and its Greek equivalents (485-490). One point that might cause confusion for readers is that the frequencies given do not appear consistent in Akar’s presentation.3

Owning to Akar’s synchronic and diachronic approaches, it is a little unclear at times as to whether his early chapters are primarily meant as a historical analysis of the role of concordia within the actual period under discussion, or whether the focus is rather on the historiographical analysis of the ways in which authors from the end of the Republic used and (re)wrote the accounts of earlier events as a means of explaining the civil conflicts of their own time. His first three chapters are more successful as analyses of how the annalistic tradition and authors of the end of the Republic focused on particular exempla from the past, which furnished them with appropriate models of behaviour.

In chapter 1, Akar provides a base level from which to judge the meaning and development of the term concordia throughout the following period. He attempts to unpack the annalistic tradition, transmitted through the works of Cicero and Livy, to emphasise the importance of concordia within the tradition as an expression of political relations before the third Punic war. The discussion focuses on concordia between magistrates of equal potestas/imperium (with particular attention paid to the Censors), and the potential conflict that a lack of hierarchical order opened up regarding the legitimacy of political decision-making. From this conflict comes, Akar argues, the idea of concord as a primary concern in the discourses of the late Republic.

Chapter 2 highlights two different historiographical traditions dealing with the origins of the rupture of concord: the end of the metus hostilis, which leads Akar into an interesting, though potentially distracting, examination of relations between Rome and Italy in the 5th century BCE, and the tribunates of the Gracchi. Within his synchronic framework, Akar stresses the changes after 146 BCE in the political relations between citizens and the elite, and also amongst the elite, and articulates a new aspect of concordia as the physical removal of an individual deemed dangerous to the state. Nevertheless, one is left with the strong sense that the well-handled historiographical analysis is the driving force of the chapter.

At the start of chapter 3 Akar stresses the absence of concordia in the sources covering the period between the Gracchi to 88 BCE, and convincingly argues that the civil conflict between the Sullans and Marians provided, for our sources, the next important episode in terms of the use of concordia. Through an examination of a number of speeches in historical works (notably those of Lepidus and Philippus in Sallust’s Histories), Akar highlights the fact that both sides used the language of concordia and arguments for its restoration, whilst presenting the opposition as responsible for the rupture of peace.

In the second half of his study, Akar notes a change in the source material, with a move away from works that were essentially histories promoting certain individuals and events as exempla for understanding the political situations of the present, to Cicero as a major source for contemporary events. Akar now examines concordia as an essential component of public activity and discourse. In the chapters that follow (4-7), he explores the different conceptualisations of concordia and their relations to contemporary politics and power struggles. He also contends with the overwhelming influence of Ciceronian thought on previous studies of concordia, attempting to reconstruct the arguments of other politicians; his analysis of anti-Ciceronian rhetoric transmitted through later sources such as Dio Cassius is effective in this regard.

Chapters 4 and 5 focus on Cicero’s concept of concordia ordinum and its failure during the period of the first triumvirate (62-50 BCE). Whilst Cicero sought the harmony of the state through both the unity of the elite and the agreement of two groups (senate and equites) who were not in direct competition, the first triumvirate’s conception of concordia was the absence of opposition from the senate. Akar’s discussion in both chapters marks the changing nature of the term as regards the relationships it aimed to articulate: Caesar legitimised his position as a form of concord directly between the consul and the people, without the interference of the senate.

In chapter 6, Akar, relying heavily on Cicero’s letters, examines the way in which concordia was used by political adversaries amidst growing political instability and controversy. Once again, he orientates ideas of the contest of power around arguments of concordia (now between the first triumvirate), emphasising accounts that ascribed the equality of power (reminiscent of the early concordia from chapter 1) as the cause for the violent conflict that followed. Whilst no explanation for the application of concordia is given in the source material for this period, Akar emphasises use of the term to express the political behaviour of individuals.

Chapter 7 focuses on the debates concerning concordia from 17th March 44 onwards, using Cicero’s Philippics as a major source, whilst also bringing in anti-Ciceronian literature, such as the speech of Calenus (Dio 49.1-28). Akar draws out two conflicting arguments concerned with the conflicting concept of power and legitimacy: whether it should rest on the personal powers and positions established under Caesar, or on the collegial power of the senate. Akar highlights well the contentious debates surrounding concordia in this period through the absence of any reference to the term in Cicero’s 14th Philippic – the point of victory over Antony, which Cicero had stressed since September 44 was dependent on the concord of the senate.

In his conclusion, Akar stresses a number of points. Firstly, the predominant occurrence of concordia within speeches and arguments of orators and magistrates highlights the role of the concept within the structuring of political language and debate, whilst also acknowledging the methodological issue involving the transmission of only the occurrences of concordia that were deemed of importance and interest to the sources who choose to record them. Later (pp. 454-61), Akar goes on to provide an insightful analysis of the position of concordia within the various speeches, noting that the term was regularly placed at the end of a speech, serving as the ultimate persuasion and support for the argument being put forward. Furthermore, the term concordia, Akar argues, never referred to the present condition, but rather to a past previous state, or a state to be achieved in the future; the term served to define the ideal model of political life.

Overall, Akar provides a thorough, though often rather dense, analysis of concordia within the late Republic. He succeeds in detailing it as a model of behaviour as well as a means of confrontation between politicians, used to pass judgment on opponents. Whilst he highlights the aspects of equality that are integral to the discourse, he does not explicitly explore the social value of inequality.4 Due to the detailed analysis of particular episodes and sources, the narrative structure, at times, comes across as repetitive and overly long. That said, given the synchronic division, readers can engage with the political discourses at different points within the late Republic individually. Whilst Akar stresses the need for a diachronic approach, his sensible assessment of the source material for the earlier periods provides less a reconstruction of the use of concordia between 218-70, and more an historiographical analysis of how and why these earlier events were transmitted in the later sources. Such a lengthy treatment of this single concept does raise the question, which Akar alludes to at points, of how concordia related to other political concepts such as libertas, pax, fides etc., which might provide further nuance to the term and its role within the construction of Republican political language.5 Akar concedes that even an analysis of consensus would make the work far too large (40).

The book is well produced for the most part, although there are a number of typos and errata.6 The maps and graphs help to elucidate points of argument, and the coin images are reproduced to a high standard.


1.   Most recently, Lobur, J. Consensus, Concordia and the Formation of Roman Imperial Ideology, Routledge, 2008 BMCR 2009.07.37.
2.   Akar (2013), 8.
3.   On p. 41 the number of occurrences in Cicero is given as 115, then at p. 49 as 101; in Livy as 76 on p. 49, and 84 on p. 51; in Dionysius of Halicarnassus as 46 on p. 49, and 47 on p. 51.
4.   Liv M. Yarrow, in an unpublished paper, makes a convincing argument for concordia reinforcing social hierarchy.
5.   For example, Akar stresses (p. 14) that concordia occurs 25 times in the Philippics, yet does not note that other terms are used far more frequently, e.g. bellum (186), hostis (126) and pax (114).
6.   By way of a brief example: on p. 44 a passage from Cic. Phil. IV.14 is misquoted in the Latin as ‘pacis et foederatis’ and referenced as Phil. VI.14, but correctly referenced and quoted as ‘pacis et foederis’ in a footnote on the same page. The date of Murena’s consulship is given as 1962 on p. 260.

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