Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
The inhabitants of ancient Rome seem to have been a riotous lot. For the 575-year period from 200 BC to AD 375, there are at least 154 episodes of unruly collective behavior in the city of Rome that could be considered riots. The worst of these resulted in pitched battles in the streets, hundreds of deaths, widespread looting, acts of arson, and even the lynching of leading magistrates of the state. Due to such incidents, Rome has often been characterized as a lawless, violent place, and its inhabitants, especially the poor, portrayed as disorderly and fickle. The reality is more complex. Many outbreaks were organized and instigated by Rome’s political and social elites, not by the indigent. Riots occurred within the constraints of a tacit and well-recognized set of informal societal expectations, and the motivations of those who participated were far more varied than the primary sources typically depict. Rather than focusing on any one specific riot, this presentation will examine the overall phenomenon of rioting in ancient Rome in order to identify characteristics and commonalities of Roman violent collective urban behavior.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
“Riots,” by Gregory S. Aldrete in The Cambrige Companion to Ancient Rome, ed. by Paul Erdkamp, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013, 425-440.