BMCR 2021.08.22

Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in der späten Römischen Republik

, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft in der späten Römischen Republik. Fachwissenschaftliche und fachdidaktische Aspekte. Gutenberg: Scripta Mercaturae Verlag, 2020. Pp. 250. ISBN 9783895901843 €68,00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The late Roman Republic has always been a focal point of historiographic debate since the Age of Enlightenment as one of the most dramatic crises the world has ever known.[1] After conquering the entire Mediterranean basin in less than a century (264-168 BCE), the Republic experienced a crisis, which broke out violently in 133 BCE (see App. BC 1. 4-8, within the volume, p. 14-17) and ended with Augustus’ rise to power as sole leader of the res publica constituta (see Tacitus’ general statement, Ann. 1.9: non regno tamen neque dictatura, sed principis nomine constitutam rem publicam).A crisis indeed, but one that led to recovery (p. 28), as the conclusion of Uwe Walter’s paper demonstrates (“Die Errichtung der römischen Monarchie als Prinzipat durch Augustus gehört in diesem Sinne zweifellos zu den erfolgreichsten Systemtransformationen der Weltgeschichte” / “The establishment by Augustus of Roman monarchy as a Principate in this sense without doubt constitutes one of the most successful system transformations in global history”).

All the papers published in the volume here under review tackle these events of “World History” (Weltgeschichte is still a key Hegelian concept within the German-speaking academic milieu)[2] from a variety of different perspectives, focusing on historiographical and didactic traditions in the German-speaking world. They are the proceedings of a conference held at the Europa-University in Flensburg, Germany, on March 21st-22nd, 2019. The central idea is that the crisis of the late Republic can be used as a theoretical model of a crisis and compared with other crises from world history. Specialists both from schools and universities were invited to explore the economic and social aspects of this crisis and the way in which those realities have been represented in schooltextbooks and in historical articles and monographs.

The papers can be divided into three different groups (see the Table of Contents below): the first consists in overviews of the state of research on various social, economic, historical and archaeological aspects of the crisis and some key historical actors; the second focuses on didactic perspectives, while the third takes a closer look at movies and TV-series inspired by the events of the late Republic. This division provides a useful balance between discussions of the current academic state-of-the-art on the topic and the bias and opportunities within the didactic transmission of knowledge in high-schools and universities, as well as in popular culture, as represented by movies and TV-series.

Among the first group of papers, leaving aside Uwe Walter’s paper already cited, Dominik Maschek’s should be highlighted as both an overview (following up on some of the results of his own research[3] and that of Federico Santangelo[4]) and an in-depth analysis of the archaeological and historical perspectives of the crisis in the Italian peninsula, stressing that it was a crisis of the entire peninsula of Italy and not just of Rome itself. But the crisis provided also a window of opportunity for the municipal elite to emerge from their local obscurity and become the backbone of the future imperial Italian elite (p. 50 – tota Italia). Some of Kai Ruffing’s conclusions regarding Cicero as businessman (homo oeconomicus) could also be integrated into this analysis, together with his overview of the shifts in the studies of the Roman economy from “primitivism” to a complex integrated history, following in Helmuth Schneider’s footsteps,[5] that resulted in the highly regarded Cambridge Economic History of the Graeco-Roman World, edited by Walter Scheidel, Ian Morris and Richard Saller (2007). The next paper deals with Fulvia, Marcus Antonius’ wife, as femme fatale or femina oeconomica. The political goals of all economical endeavours during the 1st Century BCE are once again emphasized in Katja Kröss’ paper on Pompeius’ cura annonae from 57 BCE. This first group of contributions closes with Wolfgang Spickermann’s paper on Spurius Postumius Albinus, as the first among his family to have been augur. Starting from this example, Spickermann draws up a complete and very useful list of all known members of the augural collegium during the 2nd Century BCE (p. 113-116).

Among the second group of papers, Nils Steffensen’s chapter provides an overview of the contemporary relevance of the crisis of the Roman Republic within the education system, as it is reflected in school textbooks and academic curricula. The oversimplified Marxist concept of “class struggle” still dominates the interpretative framework, in which the crisis of the Republic is sometimes depicted as a struggle between “poor men and rich men” (p. 126-130). This is merely the reflection of idiosyncratic curricula that require that pupils in schools and high-schools receive a simple, single explanation of a complex event, ignoring the fact that the social and political interactions involved were far more complicated. To combat that, the author argues for a different structure among the classes during the crisis of the Republic, in the hope that this will raise consciousness among students of the “alterity concept”, which understands Roman political life as a system based on different alliances and oppositions (p. 138-140). The next paper by Björn Onkenlooks closely at the use of Sallustian “decadence discourse” and the “metus hostilis idea” as important learning tools within the high-school history and Latin curricula of the Federal German Republic, in what amounts to a very useful overview of nature of Classics and Roman History in German curricula since World War II. The author underlines that Classics has suffered during the social and institutional changes of the 1960s and 1970s, but the focus has shifted in this period to an analysis of social and economic structures (p. 162-166).

The third and last group of papers deals with the reception of antiquity (“Rezeption der Antike”) within the film industry. The first contribution focuses on the image of late-Republican society in the HBO ‘Rome’ series, produced in collaboration with the BBC and RAI, between 2005 and 2007, which portrays Roman history between 52 and 30 BCE. Due to financial restrictions, the events after the battle of Philippi were only partially depicted. The series was a popular success, gaining numerous Emmy Awards. The second paper deals with the depiction of everyday life in Rome and the Germanic world in the German film industry during the 1930s, while the third paper takes a closer look at audio-visual didactic material used in teaching the economy and society of the Roman Republic.

In the first paper of this group, Krešimir Matijević stresses once again that the ‘Rome’ series was a success from a historical and archaeological point of view, but also for its very realistic depiction of the complicated “power relations” within late-Republican society (p. 178-179, citing extensively some relevant past assessments), although the historical consultant Kristina Milnor, had her doubts, emphasizing that the film industry is simply unable to depict how really different the Romans were.[6] Despite that, Matijević’s overall conclusion is rather positive: “Dieses Rom ist meines Erachtens aber gar nicht so sehr zu kritisieren” (p. 180 – “In my opinion, this ‘Rome’ does not deserve to be criticized very much at all”), and he focuses on the treatment of the Roman army and the people of Rome in order to prove this point. Among the themes treated, I would highlight the excellent casting of the main/lead characters (see the discussion at p. 186), the two Roman centurions, mentioned by Caesar, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus (BG 5.44 – p. 183), although in the series Pullo is portrayed as just a simple soldier (miles). Very credible is the overall depiction of the streets and daily life in the city of Rome, very similar to modern-day Mumbai or Mexico City (p. 185 and figs. 1-2, p. 188).

The second paper in this section by Martin Lindner should be very interesting for everyone outside the German-speaking world, since many of the details of German film production during the Nazi regime in the 1930s and, especially, the use of the ancient themes is not very well known. Lindner chooses some case studies such as the documentary Flammen der Vorzeit (Flames of the Past, 1933/1936, p. 206-209) and the film Ewiger Wald (Eternal Forest, 1936, p. 209-213). This combination of flames and forests was part of every mythical reconstruction of the ancient world within totalitarian regimes, being used as symbols of eternal purified nations (see, for instance, the Romanian film productions inspired by the mythical history of the Dacians, examples that I, as a Romanian, know very well).[7] The next two examples are the documentary propaganda films Altgermanische Bauernkultur (Old-German Peasant Culture, 1934, p. 214-216) and Germanen gegen Pharaonen (Germans against the Pharaohs, 1938, p. 216-219). Some of these general themes reappeared during the 1980s in TV series such as Die Germanen (The Germans, 1984, p. 219-220), opening the way for a certain revisionism, which was welcomed during the Cold War era by both the Right and Left wings.

This third group of papers and the volume itself concludes with Marcus Altmann’s contribution about the use of audio-visual material in teaching, starting from the general assumption that television is the essential medium for children aged between 6 and 13 years old (p. 229-230) and focusing on depictions of the crisis of the Roman Republic.

To sum up, the volume under review should prove very useful both for its general historical overviews and for the way in which these can be used within curricula and classes. The topic has attracted some of the best research within the field of Ancient History, but still raises new challenges within the complex world of the 21st century. Both the editor and the authors should be highly praised for their achievement.

Tables of Contents

Krešimir Matijević, Vorwort des Herausgebers (7-10)
Uwe Walter, Doomed to extinction? Alte und neue Bilder der späten Republik (11-32)
Dominik Maschek Die vielen Gesichter der Krise: Archäologische und historische Perspektiven auf das spätrepublikanische Italien (33-58)
Katja Kröss, Plebs und Politik in der späten Republik. Die Unruhen rund um Pompeius’ cura annonae im September 57 v. Chr. (59-76)
Kai Ruffing: Cicero, ein homo oeconomicus? (77-92)
Sven Günther, Femme fatale oder femina oeconomica? Fulvia und ökonomisches Kalkulieren in der Späten Römischen Republik (93-104)
Wolfgang Spickermann, Spurius Postumius Albinus, der erste Augur seiner gens: Überlegungen zum gesellschaftlichen Ansehen des Augurenkollegiums im 2. Jahrhundert v. Chr. (105-120)
Nills Steffensen, Neue Chancen für Gegenwartsbezüge? Das unterrichtsfachdidaktische Potential der Krise der Römischen Republik (121-152)
Björn Onken, Sallust und der Untergang der römischen Republik im Geschichtsunterricht – Traditionen und Perspektiven(153-176)
Krešimir Matijević, Spätrepublikanische Gesellschaft in der Fernsehserie »Rome« (177-198)
Martin Lindner, Der Krieg der Töpfe – Rom und die ‹germanische› Alltagsgeschichte in deutschen Filmen der 1930er Jahre (199-228)
M. Altmann, Audiovisuelle Schulmedien zur Römischen Republik: Potentiale und Defizite der Illustration von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (229-238)
Register (239-248)
Zu den Autorinnen und Autoren (249-250).


[1] For a still relevant overview in English see P. A. Brunt, The Fall of the Roman Republic, in The Fall of the Roman Republic and Related Essays, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1988, p. 1-92.

[2] G. W. Fr. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History. Vol. 1. Manuscripts of the Introduction and the Lectures of 1822–23, edited and translated by Robert F. Brown and Peter C. Hodgson with the assistance of William G. Geuss, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2011. For the avatars of the concept in the 20th Century, see Joseph McCarney, Hegel on History, Routledge, London-New York, 2000, p. 209-213.

[3] D. Maschek, Die römischen Bürgerkriege: Archäologie und Geschichte einer Krisenzeit, Darmstadt, 2018.

[4] F. Santangelo, Sulla, the Elites and the Empire: A Study of Roman Policies in Italy and the Greek East, Leiden–Boston, 2007, and some other studies cited within the paper.

[5] H. Schneider, Wirtschaft und Politik. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der römischen Republik, Erlangen, 1974, and Die Entstehung der römischen Militärdiktatur. Krise und Niedergang einer antiken Republik, Köln, 1977 (second expanded edition, Stuttgart, 2017).

[6] Kristina Milnor, ‘What I Learned as an Historical Consultant for Rome’, in M. S. Cyrino (ed.), Rome. Season One. History Makes Television, Malden, 2018, p. 42-48, extensively also cited in Martin Lindner’s paper (p. 199-200).

[7] Aurelia Vasile, Le cinéma roumain dans la période communiste. Représentations de l’histoire nationale, Bucharest, 2011, the published version of her PhD thesis (HAL archives-ouvertes tel-00659394).