Roehampton and SW London CA branch / Roman Society lecture

Humanities, Duchesne, Room 211, 5:30pm-7:00pm

Image - Roehampton and SW London CA branch / Roman Society lecture

Dr Caillan Davenport (Macquarie University, Sydney / Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt)

Death, Dynasty, and Rumour in Imperial Rome

The death of an emperor or a prominent member of his family was often a moment of social and political anxiety in the Roman world. Orderly succession from one emperor to another brought with it the prospect of continued peace and stability. But very often, the process of succession was not straightforward either because the emperor did not have a designated heir or because his death was sudden, unexpected, or occurred in suspicious circumstances. Imperial deaths therefore frequently gave rise to public speculation in the form of rumours. These could seek to explain how and why an emperor had died, speculate about the identity of the new ruler and opportunities he might bring, or be prompted by anxiety about the potential for civil war. In sociological terms, such rumours represented popular attempts to make sense of a situation that could be volatile and unpredictable and to manage the ensuring risk and uncertainty. Drawing on sociological and anthropological studies of rumour, as well as comparative evidence from the medieval and early modern world, this talk will use rumours about imperial deaths as a lens through which to explore popular political discourse about Roman emperors.