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Dominik Maschek: Die römischen Bürgerkriege. Archäologie und Geschichte einer Krisenzeit, Mainz: Philipp von Zabern 2018, 352 S., 28 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-3-8053-4913-0, EUR 49,95
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Rezension von:
Carsten Hjort Lange
Aalborg University, Denmark
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Carsten Hjort Lange: Rezension von: Dominik Maschek: Die römischen Bürgerkriege. Archäologie und Geschichte einer Krisenzeit, Mainz: Philipp von Zabern 2018, in: sehepunkte 18 (2018), Nr. 9 [15.09.2018], URL:

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Dominik Maschek: Die römischen Bürgerkriege

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This commendable volume arises as part of a burgeoning new trend that focusses on the great impact exerted by stasis and civil war upon Roman society (e.g. Josiah Osgood, Caesar's Legacy, 2006; Kathryn Welch, Magnus Pius, 2012; Johannes Wienand, Der Kaiser als Sieger, 2012; Henning Börm et al. [eds.], Civil War in Ancient Greece and Rome, 2016; Wolfgang Havener, Imperator Augustus, 2016; Carsten Hjort Lange, Triumph in the Age of Civil War, 2016, among others). Organised around two main axes - 'Das Trauma der Vernichtung' and 'Gesellschaft und Krise im Spätrepublikanischen Italien' - and containing six chapters, an introduction, and Schlussbetrachtungen, this volume is especially to be commended inasmuch as it brings the perspective of an archaeologist to the historical debate surrounding the civil war and the outgoing Republic.

In his introduction on the anatomy of civil war, Maschek underlines that as a consequence of the Macht der Bilder approach (cf. Paul Zanker, Augustus und die Macht der Bilder, 1987), the Late Republic and its civil war(s) have been grossly understudied by archaeologists, and especially so with regard to the period as a whole. Maschek sets out to use written evidence and material culture gleichberechtigt: civil war is to be approached as a political as well as a cultural and gesellschaftliches phenomenon (12). Modern approaches such as "revolution" and "Krise ohne Alternative" are duly mentioned (13), emphasising also the great value to be derived from an analysis of structures, traditions, and dynamics (13). The book sets out to understand the Late Republic as a period of crisis, at the same time approaching it by using a generationenübergreifende perspective, emphasising continuation between generations (17). Positively, Maschek focuses on the period not as punktuelle Gewaltausbrüche, but as a prolonged epoch of civil war and crisis from the early second century BCE to Actium (18).

The first chapter, Roms mediterrane Revolution, discusses Rome's period of expansion. In 125 BCE Fregellae revolted against Rome and as a consequence the city was destroyed as comprehensively as those of Rome's enemies, Corinth and Carthage, in 146 BCE. According to Maschek the sack of Fregellae was the symptom of a new period of civil war (23). There is indeed good reason to use the phrase 'civil war' to describe the Late Republican civil war: civil war proper, 91/88-29 BCE, with a build-up phase from 133 BCE (Josiah Osgood, Ending Civil War at Rome, AHR 120, 2015, 1684; Lange 2016, esp. 21). Whatever we make of this, looking at the Roman concept of civil war - containing the concepts of bellum and civile - the sack of Fregellae was not a civil war, not in the ancient evidence nor in modern terms; the city had Latin rights. It was an 'internal' war. Arguably, civil war (as in, warfare between cives) only began in 88 BCE - although this may of course be too exclusive and categorical an approach (see Carsten Hjort Lange, Stasis and Bellum Civile: A Difference in Scale?, CAL 4, 2017, 129-140). Following these discussions, a large section is devoted to the end of the First Punic War to 146 BCE (24-52).

The following chapter, Zwischen "Globalisierung" und Ausbeutung, rightly (also) focuses on the violence that accompanied Roman expansion (was Rome exceptional, we may ask). On 64 we are at the beginning of the civil war (64-73): the destruction of Fregellae is visible both in the written evidence as well as in the archaeology of the city. Maschek again approaches the period from 133 BCE onwards as a civil war period (cf. 74). Certainly the Late Republic is indeed a time of political violence, stasis, and bellum civile; but even if the Romans never agreed upon a definition of the concept of 'civil war', the period from 133-88 BCE, or thereabouts, cannot simply be termed a 'civil war' without a thorough debate of the concepts involved.

In the next chapter, Eskalationen der Gewalt, Maschek claims that the destruction of Fregellae was different not because of the violence, but because of the praetor Opimius' use of devotio (75-76). A brief examination of the use of religious justification during the period follows (76-82). Religion as a stabilising factor was important (82). We may also ask why Opimius was declined a triumph? Valerius Maximus (2.8.4) suggests that he petitioned, but as no expansion of the Empire had taken place it was declined. A triumph suggests a foreign war - certainly so in 125 BCE, decades before a senatorial debate on awarding a triumph for a victory gained in civil war was even a remote possibility. A section on the radicalisation of Rome due to its use of violence in war follows: war and violence was a central characteristic during the 2nd and early 1st centuries BCE in order to subdue foreign enemies, but with Fregellae and the Gracchi (91) precedents had been set to justify its internal dimensions too. Later examples of violence are of interest: the destruction of Perusia by Young Caesar is now supported by archaeological evidence (95). The chapter's conclusion suggests that violence is what brings the period of expansion and the Late Republic closer together (108). This is not wrong, but what about the relationship between generals / dynasts and there soldiers, and the extraordinary comments (cf. Frederik J. Vervaet, The High Command in the Roman Republic, 2014)? Besides, even if we accept Maschek's views, violence - even political violence - simply does not (necessarily) constitute a civil war.

Turning to section two, the first chapter, Land und Stadt, focuses on demographic changes in Italy and the alleged crisis in agriculture as well as the alleged manpower shortage. The chapter concludes that Rome could have solved some of its issues by extending citizenship to its allies. By not doing this, Rome precipitated the crisis at Fregellae and the war against the Socii, as well as the civil wars (144). The chapter Landbesitz und Gesellschaft in der Bürgerkriegszeit suggests that the crisis of the Late Republic was always also about land and its redistribution (151). A section on Grabbauten built just after the war against the Socii is particularly interesting (153-157): locals built in order to show loyalty to Rome. Maschek concludes that this was about consensus rather than competition (157). This may be correct in this isolated case, but surely competition within the political elite of Rome - acting like dynasts and often under the aegis of overweening extraordinary commands - brought about the civil war. Maschek rightly emphasises just how great the demographic changes were during the Late Republic, not the least in connection with veteran settlements. This is yet another often forgotten part of the impact of civil war, well beyond the battlefield (cf. Börm et al. 2016). The valley of Biferno provides an excellent example (163-167). The final sentence of the chapter seems to restate the old mistake that Augustus wanted to downplay the consequences of civil war. In fact, nothing is further from the truth. But importantly, in the Augustan narrative the conflict was begun by others, and brought only to a successful outcome by the Young Caesar himself.

Bauboom und Konsumverhalten in Zeiten der Krise proposes that the period labelled as one of 'crisis' in fact saw some remarkable building projects in Italy (for monumental building activity, see 177). Violence and building programmes happened at the same time (181). The chapter ends with a discussion about consumption, which he does not see principally as a question of identity, but as one connected as such to the period of crisis (224-225). Consumption among the elite turned into a politikum with etiquette, rules and conventions (226). This was all part of civil war and what Maschek calls "die Gesichter des Bürgerkrieges und seiner grausamen Selektion" (224-225). This was - as Maschek rightly concludes - a symptom of civil war, not its cause (225).

The book ends with Schlussbetrachtungen: the civil war(s) finally come to an end with Augustus. Here Maschek rightly criticises the idea of "aktiven Aufnahme und Verwendung politisch-mythologischer Bilder und Ideen in breiten Teilen der Gesellschaft" (231). In the three generations following the razing of Fregellae, religion, politische Freigiebigkeit, and building programmes were used in a notably traditional manner to stabilise a society in crisis (232). After Actium it was necessary - retrospectively - to relocate consensus when looking back at the civil war period (233). However, there are some issues with this conclusion: firstly, we may ask if consensus was ever reached indeed. Whatever we do, there was never, ever, only one narrative. The many different approaches to civil war in historiography show that this is too simplistic (Carsten Hjort Lange / Frederik J. Vervaet [eds.], The Historiography of Late Republican Civil War, 2019).

In a fashion similar to Josiah Osgood (Rome and the Making of a World State, 2018), this volume endeavours to force us to expand the period of the Late Republic in order to understand it better, in its proper context. Osgood offers a stimulating alternative to the useful but entrenched "fall of the Roman Republic" approach: the emergency of a world state 150 BCE to 20 CE. They both succeed well in their endeavour, which will in their turn undoubtedly foster new debates. We may however ask if the volume under review is in fact a book on civil war. A through discussion of the phenomenon of civil war would have been needed in order to make the case. It is a book about the Late Republic; and what defines the period is stasis and political violence followed by civil war proper. We may thus conclude that this is not (only) a book on civil war; it is in many ways much more than that. These reservations apart, this is an important book, one which has finally brought forward an archaeological statement in the debates about civil war during the Late Republic. The relatively new field of research in conflict archaeology, pertinent to mention in relation to this volume's approach, poses equally promising potential (see now Manuel Fernández-Götz / Nico Roymans [eds.], Conflict Archaeology, 2018). Hopefully, we may add, Maschek's volume will be the first of many to elucidate civil conflict in the Late Republic through an archaeological lens.

Carsten Hjort Lange