The Construction of one's enemies in civil war (49-30 BCE)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The representation of victorious achievements in war was commonplace in the art and self- presentation of the political elite of the Roman Republic. In both ephemeral display and permanent memorialisation, Rome celebrated her triumphs over her enemies, a practice that scholarship recognises as part of the competitive cult of the mid and late Republic. Rome, the perennial victor knew how to represent and understand the enemy, when the enemy was external. The civil wars of the late Republic, however, produced the issue of how to deal with and talk about an enemy who was Roman.
During the period of growing civil conflicts and violence of the late Republic the concern for political stability, and with that political dominance, became increasingly prevalent. Rhetoric traditionally used in respect of external enemies was being employed by statesmen against their political enemies (one need only think of Cicero’s speeches against Catiline as an illustration of this). Whilst rhetoric and allusion could be used against one’s political enemies in domestic politics, the period of civil wars from 49 BCE onwards brought the problematic nature of creating enemies out of fellow citizens to the foreground. Cicero in a letter to Atticus, written in 49, stated that ‘even an unjust peace is better than the most just wars against one’s countrymen’ (Ad Att. 7.14). For Cicero that idea that of a victor in civil war was tantamount to tyranny. For all that, sides were taken, and the enemy was ‘constructed’ by both sides as justification for civil war.
This paper examines how Romans went about constructing and representing their opponents in civil war, through a variety of media: letters, speeches, coins, and even rumour. The author in each instance champions their cause against an opponent who would destroy the ideals of the state that they set out. Creating an image of the enemy in civil war was a game of rhetoric over whose idea of the res publica was correct. The paper examines the whole period of civil war from 49-30 BCE in order to build up a picture of the battles played with words and images, that enabled Romans to construct enemies out of Romans.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA House Divided
Subtitle of host publicationThe Reality and Representation of Roman Civil War
EditorsRichard Westall
Place of PublicationTrinity College Dublin
PublisherTrinity College Dublin
ChapterPart 1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


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