Reconstructing the Roman Republic: An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Research

Reconstructing the Roman Republic: An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Research

Reconstructing the Roman Republic: An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Research

Reconstructing the Roman Republic: An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Research


In recent decades, scholars have argued that the Roman Republic's political culture was essentially democratic in nature, stressing the central role of the 'sovereign' people and their assemblies. Karl-J. Hölkeskamp challenges this view in Reconstructing the Roman Republic, warning that this scholarly trend threatens to become the new orthodoxy, and defending the position that the republic was in fact a uniquely Roman, dominantly oligarchic and aristocratic political form.

Hölkeskamp offers a comprehensive, in-depth survey of the modern debate surrounding the Roman Republic. He looks at the ongoing controversy first triggered in the 1980s when the 'oligarchic orthodoxy' was called into question by the idea that the republic's political culture was a form of Greek-style democracy, and he considers the important theoretical and methodological advances of the 1960s and 1970s that prepared the ground for this debate. Hölkeskamp renews and refines the 'elitist' view, showing how the republic was a unique kind of premodern city-state political culture shaped by a specific variant of a political class. He covers a host of fascinating topics, including the Roman value system; the senatorial aristocracy; competition in war and politics within this aristocracy; and the symbolic language of public rituals and ceremonies, monuments, architecture, and urban topography.

Certain to inspire continued debate, Reconstructing the Roman Republic offers fresh approaches to the study of the republic while attesting to the field's enduring vitality.


As the original edition, published in German in 2004, this book has a history of its own—and in a way, although this may seem paradoxical, this history goes back far beyond that date, namely to my years in Cambridge, which were not only intellectually highly stimulating, but also, in many ways, a formative stage of my career. When in later years I summoned up remembrance of things past, I realized that one of the more bitter lessons that I also had to learn in Cambridge was a widespread attitude in international academic circles (not only in classical scholarship) that was usually left unsaid, but on one occasion precisely and bluntly put by a colleague in the Classics Faculty: “An idea not conceived in English is probably not worth thinking at all.” At the time, the heavy irony was not (quite) lost on me, but the implicit message certainly was—in fact, it took me years to realize and at last resign myself to accepting it as a fact of academic life: “Teutonica sunt, non leguntur” (nor, for that matter, anything in a language other than English)—and even by basically open-minded and well-meaning people who consider themselves serious scholars in a field that has traditionally been, and still is, international and multilingual. This translation is an offer to give them an idea that, to use another famous Shakespearean phrase, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their Anglocentric philosophy—namely, that there is a lively, possibly interesting and important debate out there, of which they may have an inkling; a debate among a select few, whose names they may even have heard of; a debate, alas, that was (in large part) led in idioms as exotic as French, Italian, and even German—a debate not only about the Roman republic and its 'political culture,' but also about fundamental issues of theories and methods; about modern views of, and approaches to, the ancient world and 'classical' civilizations in general; about the contents and aims, concepts and categories as well as, in the final analysis, about the future of ancient history as an academic discipline.

To be fair, the original book did meet with a good deal of interest, and not only in Germany and the German-speaking academic community, but also abroad; there were quite a few colleagues in France and Italy, as well as in America and Britain, who took notice of the ideas proposed in this book, actively participated in the aforementioned debate, and above all published substantial contributions of lasting importance on a number of central concrete topics that could, by the nature of this book, only be mentioned or touched upon here in rather general terms. It has been . . .

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