Gauls, the Sack of Rome, and Legal Dodges: Tony Thomas Seminar London, 30th Nov. 2018

This Blog is delighted to note that Dr Ulrike Roth of this University will be giving the Tony Thomas Seminar in the newly refurbished Bentham House on 30 November, 2018. Her title is “Third time lucky? The ‘history’ of a legal dodge and Roman republican historiography”. An abstract is included below.

When the Romans were attacked by the Gauls in 390 BC, and agreed to surrender, one of Rome’s greatest heroes – Marcus Furius Camillus – appeared just in time to stop the ransom exchange that the Romans had agreed with the Gauls – or so the story goes. Camillus challenged the ransom exchange on a constitutional basis, claiming that the agreement was invalid because it had been made by a magistrate of inferior status. A couple or three generations later, in 321 BC, the Romans were once more in a situation in which – according to their enemies (and Livy …) – they defaulted on an agreement. Livy makes the enemy leader exclaim that the Romans always “contrive to give the fraud some colour of legality”, citing specifically the situation in 390 BC (Livy 9.11.6-7):

Nunquamne causa defiet cur victi pacto non stetis? Obsides Porsinnae dedistis: furto eos subduxistis; auro civitatem a Gallis redemistis: inter accipiendum aurum caesi sunt; pacem nobiscum pepigistis, ut legiones vobis captas restitueremus: eam pacem inritam facitis. Et semper aliquam fraudi speciem iuris imponitis.

(Will you never, when you have been beaten, lack excuses for not holding to your convenants? You gave hostages to Porsinna – and withdrew them by a trick; You ransomed your City from the Gauls with gold – and cut them down as they were receiving the gold. You pledged us peace, on condition that we gave you back your captured legions – and you nullify the peace. And always you contrive to give the fraud some colour of legality.)

This paper first demonstrates the dependence of the constitutional aspect of Camillus’ interference in the Romano-Gallic ransom exchange in 390 BC on this later event, in 321 BC, and – second – the dependence of both legal dodges on a much later event still – in 137 BC. In consequence, a terminus post quem for the invention of Camillus’ “legal armoury” of 136 BC is suggested. The question thus raised is why it was important to attach this legal armoury to this Roman hero in the late Republic – and a tentative answer is given. The paper makes a contribution to our understanding of changes in the Roman handling of international agreements in the second century BC, Livy’s Ab urbe condita, and Roman historiography of the late Republic more broadly.

Those attending are advised to read the relevant passages of Livy in advance: 5.33-49.7, though for the idle it may be worth noting that chapters 47-49 are the most important ones for the purposes of the paper