Alte Geschichte

Unrest in the Roman empire: a discursive history

International workshop, June 13th and 14th 2019

Lisa Eberle (University of Tübingen) and Myles Lavan (University of St Andrews)

Resistance and revolt in the Roman empire have long been a subject of scholarly interest. Most research on this problem has been conducted in the mode of social history, trying to analyze the social origins and political motivations of ancient revolts. Unlike in other periods of history, however, the sources for such histories are rarely legal and administrative records but narrative accounts of such revolts preserved in the ancient literary record, meaning that the elite authors of these ancient literary accounts were engaged in the same enterprise as social historians are today: they too were trying to explain why and how certain groups of people challenged the place in the social order that those in power envisaged for them, a fact that social historians of resistance and rebellion in the Roman empire often fail to acknowledge. While the distinctive nature of the evidence for resistance and revolt in the Roman empire raises an important methodological concern - how can social histories of these phenomena avoid replicating the thought patterns of ancient texts’ elite authors? - it also offers a singular opportunity: to examine how ancient elite authors and their audiences identified, categorized and narrated instances of resistance in the Roman empire. The goal of this workshop is to excavate and critically analyze the histories of such ancient theorizing of unrest in the Roman empire from the republican period to Late Antiquity.


The event will take place at the Evangelisches Stift. If you are interested, please just come along! In case of questions, get in touch with Lisa Eberle (lisa.eberlespam and Myles Lavan (mpl2spam


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June 13th


  • 9.00 – Welcome/Setting the scene (Lisa Eberle and Myles Lavan)
  • 9.10 – Towards a history of Roman discourses of unrest (Myles Lavan)
  • 9.50 – Aporetic unrest: Appian's materialism reconsidered (Lisa Eberle)
  • 10.30-11.00 – Coffee


Roman concepts

  • 11.00 – The Roman Language of civil war: from Internal War and stasis to bellum civile (Carsten Hjort Lange)
  • 11.40 – Securitas as ideology and narrative strategy (Michele Lowrie)
  • 12.20 – Uproar and Unrest in Roman Law: Seditio in its Legal Context (Nicole Giannella)
  • 13.00-14.00 – Lunch


Roman (and others’) concepts: piracy & banditry

  • 14.00 – No Sea Could Be Navigated: Piracy in the Roman Mediterranean (Gil Gambash)
  • 14.40 – Bandits, barbarians and usurpers: the narrative of provincial unrest in the third and fourth century (Bruno Pottier)
  • 15.20-15.50 – Coffee


Slaves & soldiers in Roman historiography

  • 15.50 – Tacitus, Florus, and slave revolts: servile insurrection as a historiographical tool (Peter Morton)
  • 16.30 – Mutiny, then and now: diachronic perspectives on military unrest in Roman historiography (Hans Kopp)


June 14th

Provincial perspectives (I): Greek cities

  • 9.30 – Friends and enemies of Rome? Stasis in the second century BCE (Henning Börm)
  • 10.10 – Struggles to define and counter-define dissent in the cities of the early Roman East (Benjamin Gray)
  • 10.50-11.20 – Coffee


Provincial Perspectives (II): Jews and Christians

  • 12.40- 13.40 – Lunch


Troublesome people? Christians & women

  • 15.00-15.30 – Coffee


New and changed centers

  • 15.30 – Revolt, Sedition and Counterinsurgency in the Later Roman State (John Weisweiler)
  • 16.10 – Tyranny, Invasion, and Rebellion in the Visigothic Kingdom (Damien Fernandez)
  • 16.50 – Closing thoughts and discussion (Greg Woolf)