RSRC Workshop December 2010

Fighting, justifying and negotiating power in the Roman World
Ghent, 17th December 2010

Location : Ghent, Royal Academy for Duth Language and Literature
Koningstraat 18, 9000 Gent

(for map and driving directions see

with material support from the
Royal Academy for Dutch Language and Literature

participation free, for further details and registration please contact Koen Verboven ()


(click here for pdf)

14:00 Welcome

14:30 Senior papers:

  • Johannes Hahn (Münster), Fighting Paganism under the Theodosian Dynasty (abstract)
  • Adam Bartley (Kent), Embracing and rejecting power. The use of Greek historians by Sallust and Caesar (CANCELLED)

16:00 coffee

16:30 Junior papers:

  • Wouter Vanacker (Ghent University), Indigenous rebellions in the Roman empire (abstract - powerpoint - text)
  • Sam Van Overmeire (VUB), Constructing and Deconstructing an Emperor’s Image: Nero (abstract - powerpoint)

17u30 end of the workshop

Johannes Hahn (Münster), Fighting Paganism under the Theodosian Dynasty

Imperial Legislations and its execution by the emperor’s administration in the provinces and cities of the Roman Empire was, as we are taught by our textbooks, the primary means of enforcing the emperor’s will on his subjects – and proving his power in the public sphere. The public reading of an imperial pronouncement thus was an awe-inspiring performance, leges and edicts had sacrosanct character. But did the decisions and declarations of the imperial court, as our legal text collections of the 4th and 5th – the Codex Theodosianus in particular – suggest have such straightforward significance, did all officials and subjects regularly hasten to follow the imperial fiat? The legislation on religion, in particular on paganism (as well as on heresy and Judaism), a field of primary importance for imperial ideology and local societies, represents a revealing case, a kind of litmus test for the workings of the late Roman state as an agent and mediator of power. The talk will scrutinize the theory and practice of religious legislation and its execution on the provincial and local levels in the crucial decades around 400 A.D. and will take the influence of other power brokers as bishops. church councils and local elites into account as well.

Sam Van Overmeire (VUB), Constructing and Deconstructing an Emperor’s Image: Nero

Rulers desire to be perceived as legitimate leaders, men who have a right to the power they wield. And to demonstrate this legitimacy, they present a positive image of their own virtues and government through a variety of media. This is not a new phenomenon: the Roman Emperors did their best to show their legality to the Roman society as well, using inscriptions, statues, coins... Here, we will focus on one of these rulers: Nero. First, this paper will attempt to give a concise account of the various ways in which he constructed his image. How did he present himself? What media did he use to do this? Next, we will search for the ‘sources of inspiration’ for his rule, still a topic of disagreement among scholars. While several of them think he only followed Roman precedent – treading in the footsteps of earlier emperors – others argue he found stimulus in the east. Finally, we will take a look at the receiving end of this imperial ideology: the evaluation of Nero’s reign by contemporary Roman society. We will take into account senators, plebs, soldiers and the provincial population.

Wouter Van Acker, Indigenous rebellions in the Roman empire

As indigenous rebellions may be perceived as a negative mode of negotiation of various aspects of integration, they may provide highly interesting perspectives on the impact of subjugation and imperial policy. Therefore, the topic of indigenous insurgency has not received the attention it deserves in the study of Roman imperialism. It may also be particularly useful to connect the history of indigenous rebellions with contemporary archaeological stories of integration. Moreover, scholars have left an opportunity to implement a comparative approach which surpasses the case-specific or regional level of analysis, and which leaves an opportunity to reveal differentiated integration trajectories throughout the Empire. This lack of interest may have been fuelled by the problems a researcher on indigenous revolts may face when studying these phenomena. This paper aims to illustrate the values and weaknesses of the sources on this type of revolts. One case will be more extensively elaborated in order to show how numismatic, archaeological and epigraphic sources may be particularly valuable for the interpretation of the stories told by the “embedded” authors.