This article examines the tradition of punitive house demolition during the Roman Republic, but from a sociocultural rather than institutional-legal perspective. Exploiting recent scholarship on the Roman house, on exemplarity, and on memory sanctions, I argue that narratives of house demolition constitute a form of ethically inflected political discourse, whose purpose is to stigmatize certain social actors as malefactors of a particular sort (“aspiration to kingship” being the central instance). The demolition itself is symbolically resonant, and the resultant stigma is propagated by subsequent monuments—various structures, toponyms, narratives, etc.—that attach to the housesite. These monuments are thought to bear the trace of what went before, hence transmit an account of the alleged malefactor's deed and disgrace. Far from obliterating the doer of misdeeds, then, the discourse of punitive house demolition fixes him in cultural memory as a negative exemplum.
Demolished Houses, Monumentality, and Memory in Roman Culture
This article has been seven years in the making. During that time, portions were presented in numerous venues. I hope it will not seem ungrateful to refrain from listing them: comments in every case helped improve the final product. I owe special thanks to John Bodel and Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, who read and rendered much assistance to near-final versions; to Uwe Walter, whose lucid German version of one talk enabled me to reach German audiences more effectively; and to an anonymous referee for CA. All translations are my own.
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Matthew B. Roller; Demolished Houses, Monumentality, and Memory in Roman Culture. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2010; 29 (1): 117–180. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/CA.2010.29.1.117
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