Abstract Scholarly discussions of the live burials of Gauls and Greeks in the Forum Boarium in the mid- and late Republic (attested for the years 228, 216, and 114/113 B.C.E.) replay the debate on Roman imperialism; those supporting the theory of ““defensive”” imperialism connect religious fears with military ones, while other scholars separate this ritual and the ““enemy nations”” involved in it from the actual enemies of current warfare in order to corroborate a more aggressive sense of Roman imperialism. After reviewing earlier interpretations and the problems of ancient evidence for these Roman instances of ““human sacrifice,”” I propose a new reading based on a ritual parallel, a slightly earlier Greek oracle related to purification from avenging spirits. As burials of symbolic former enemies haunting Rome, the ritual suggests an insight into the experience of constant warfare and close-contact killing by citizen-soldiers in an aggressively imperialistic state. Especially with the disappearance of captive killings in the symbolic context of aristocratic burials and the emergence of Hellenistic epic to address elite glory, the live burials could have been critical in providing psychological closure to the once-soldiers back in Rome. Remarkably, the ritual offered an outlet in the religious realm for sentiments unwelcome in the Roman army: in the larger dynamic of the military and religious spheres, the strict world of military discipline was complemented by a religious (and cultural) realm that was much more open to external influence and innovation.
Research Article| October 01 2007
The Specters of Roman Imperialism: The Live Burials of Gauls and Greeks at Rome
Classical Antiquity (2007) 26 (2): 277–304.
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Zsuzsanna Váárhelyi; The Specters of Roman Imperialism: The Live Burials of Gauls and Greeks at Rome. Classical Antiquity 1 October 2007; 26 (2): 277–304. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2007.26.2.277
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