The Once and Future Kings Conference

The international conference, “The Once and Future Kings: Roman Emperors and Western Political Culture from Antiquity to the Present”, will be held the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia), from Wednesday July 5 – Friday July 7, 2017. The conference will be hosted by the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry and convened by Dr Caillan Davenport and Dr Shushma Malik.

The conference will feature as keynote speakers Professor Rhiannon Ash (Oxford), who will be the 2017 RD Milns Visiting Professor at the University of Queensland, Professor David Scourfield (Maynooth University), and Dr Penelope Goodman (Leeds).

The conference will open on the evening of Wednesday 5 July with a public lecture by Professor Ash. This will followed by two full days of papers, including lectures by Professor Scourfield and Dr Goodman, and a conference dinner at Saint Lucy Caffé e Cucina on the evening of Thursday 6 July. On Saturday 8 July there will be a special excursion for delegates to the Queensland Museum’s ‘Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum’ exhibition (limited to 25 guests).

The conference convenors are grateful for financial support provided by the R. D. Milns Perpetual Endowment Fund, the Ian Potter Foundation, and the Australasian Society for Classical Studies.

Please register as soon as possible, as registration will close on Tuesday 31 May. We look forward to welcoming you to Brisbane in July!

Roman emperors play a significant role in contemporary political discourse, with rulers such as Augustus, Caligula, Nero, and Marcus Aurelius regularly cited as positive or negative models in newspaper editorials, stump speeches, and Twitter. Our understanding of these emperors as paradigms of power has been shaped by centuries of intellectual debate from Tacitus and Seneca to Erasmus and Machiavelli.

The conference aims to answer the question: ‘How have literary and artistic representations of Roman emperors been manipulated for political purposes throughout history?’ This overall question is divided into two areas:

  1. Roman emperors within a specifically Roman political context, from Augustus to the fall of Constantinople in A.D. 1453;
  2. Roman emperors in the western medieval world and beyond.

The conference aims to connect these two aspects as part of a larger study of the process of reception, which occurred across temporal, spatial, and social boundaries in antiquity and continues to take place up to the present day.


18.00 – 20.00: Opening Session and Public Lecture

Venue: Room 212, Sir Llew Edwards Building (no. 14), University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus

18.00 – 18.15: Welcome to the University of Queensland and ‘The Once and Future Kings Conference’.

  • Professor Alastair Blanshard (Paul Eliadis Professor of Classics and Ancient History and Head of the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry)
  • Dr Shushma Malik (University of Queensland; conference co-convenor)
  • Dr Caillan Davenport (Macquarie University; conference co-convenor)

18.15 – 19.15: Keynote Lecture 1 – Professor Rhiannon Ash (University of Oxford; R.D. Milns Visiting Professor 2017), ‘Emperors in Space: Proxemics and the Portrayal of the Princeps’

19.15 – 20.00: Wine Reception in the Terrace Room, Sir Llew Edwards Building 

Dinner at 20.30 Olé Restaurant, Shop B12, Little Stanley Street, South Brisbane. (For registered delegates at own expense). 


All conference sessions: Level 2, Michie Building (no. 9), University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus

  • Registration: Room 210, Michie Building
  • Presentations and Keynotes: Room 211, Michie Building
  • Teas and Lunches: Level 2 Foyer, Michie Building

09.15 – 9.30: Registration and Arrival Tea/Coffee

Session 1: The Legacy of Augustus - Chair Dr Tom Stevenson (Queensland)
  • 09.30 – 10.30: Keynote Lecture 2 – Dr Penelope Goodman (Leeds), ‘Retrospective parentage: Augustus as a “father of Europe”’
  • 10.30 – 11.00: Morning tea, coffee, and sustaining goodies will be available in the Level 2 Foyer. 
Session 2: Emperors in the Principate (I) - Chair Dr Meaghan McEvoy (Macquarie)
  • 11.00 – 11.45: Paper 1 – Dr Eleanor Cowan (Sydney), ‘Inventing Augustus: the representation of Augustus under the Julio-Claudians’
  • 11.45 – 12.30: Paper 2 – Dr Gwynaeth McIntyre (Otago), ‘From gilded age to golden age: Suetonius’ Domitian and the purpose of De Vita Caesarum
  • 12.30 – 13.30: Lunch will be served in the Level 2 Foyer of the Michie Building. 
Session 3: Emperors in the Principate (II) - Chair Professor Arthur Pomeroy (Wellington)
  • 13.30 – 14.15: Paper 3 – Dr Caillan Davenport (Macquarie), ‘The Emperor Writes Back’
  • 14.15 – 15.00: Paper 4 – Dr Janette McWilliam (Queensland), ‘Shaping paradigms of power: the role of imperial children in the early empire’
  • 15.00 – 15.30: Afternoon tea, coffee, and sustaining goodies will be available in the Level 2 Foyer
Session 4: Emperors in Byzantium - Chair Professor Bronwen Neil (Macquarie) 
  • 15.30 – 16.15: Paper 5 – Dr Meaghan McEvoy (Macquarie), ‘Educating Theodosius II: Theodosian child-emperors and manipulation of the imperial image in the fifth century A.D.’
  • 16.15 – 17.00: Paper 6 – Mr Ryan Strickler (Macquarie), ‘Emperor or Antichrist? Portrayals of Roman emperors in seventh-century Byzantine apocalyptic discourse’
  • 17.00 – 17.15: Short Break
Session 5: Emperors and Fiction - Chair Dr Shushma Malik (Queensland)
  • 17.15 – 18.15: Keynote Lecture 3 – Professor David Scourfield (Maynooth, Ireland), 'Fictions of Power: Thornton Wilder’s Ides of March and John Williams’ Augustus’

For delegates who have booked, the conference dinner is held at Saint Lucy Caffé e Cucina 19:00-22:00, University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus


9.30-10.00: Tea and coffee will be available in the Level 2 Foyer.

Session 6: Emperors in the Renaissance - Chair Professor Han Baltussen (Adelaide)
  • 10.00 – 10.45: Paper 7 – Associate Professor Benedetto Fontana (CUNY) [via Skype], ‘Machiavelli and the military: the people and the army under the principate’
  • 10.45 – 11.30: Paper 8 – Ms Frances Muecke (Sydney), ‘Biondo Flavio on the Roman emperors: periodization, sources and chronicle’
  • 11.30 – 12.00: Morning tea, coffee, and sustaining goodies will be available in the Level 2 Foyer.
Session 7: Emperors from the Enlightenment to the Nineteenth Century - Chair Dr Shushma Malik (Queensland)
  • 12.00 – 12.45: Paper 9 – Professor Graham Maddox (UNE), ‘Justinian, neo-Roman liberty and the western republican tradition’
  • 12.45 – 13.30: Paper 10 – Dr Shelley Hales (Bristol), ‘Decline and Fall or Rejuvenation?: Walter Pater's Moribund Emperors in Rodolfo Lanciani's Rome’
  • 13.30-14.30 Lunch will be served in the Level 2 Foyer of the Michie Building.
Session 8: Emperors on the Silver Screen - Chair Associate Professor Tom Hillard (Macquarie)
  • 14.30 – 15.15: Paper 11 – Associate Professor Tom Stevenson (Queensland), ‘Julius Caesar in film’
  • 15.15 – 16.00: Paper 12 – Professor Arthur Pomeroy (VUW), ‘Sympathy for the devil? The depiction of Nero on screen’
  • 16.00 – 16.30: Afternoon tea, coffee, and sustaining goodies will be available in the Level 2 Foyer.
Session 9: Closing Roundtable Discussion
  • 16.30 – 17.15: Chairs – Dr Caillan Davenport (Macquarie) and Dr Shushma Malik (Queensland)

For delegates who have registered dinner at UQ Pizza Caffe, St Lucia Campus (at delegates’ own expense)


‘Gladiators’ Exhibition Excursion

10.45: Meet at the Queensland Museum front entrance on the corner of Grey and Melbourne Streets, South Brisbane for the ‘Gladiators’ exhibition. Please be prompt, as this exhibition has timed entry and we need to enter as a group.

11.00: ‘Gladiators’ exhibition entrance time (for ticketholders).


Professor Rhiannon Ash (University of Oxford)

Professor Rhiannon Ash

Rhiannon Ash is Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Merton College and Professor of Roman Historiography in the University of Oxford. She is an internationally-renowned expert on the historian Cornelius Tacitus and Latin prose literature of the principate. Her books include Ordering Anarchy: Armies and Leaders in Tacitus’ Histories (London and Ann Arbor, 1999), Tacitus: Histories II (Cambridge, 2007), and Oxford Readings in Tacitus (Oxford 2012). She has revised and updated Kenneth Wellesley’s translation of Tacitus: The Histories (London, 2009) for Penguin Classics, co-written Fifty Key Classical Authors (London 2002) with Professor Alison Sharrock, and co-edited Fame and Infamy: Essays for Christopher Pelling on Characterization in Greek and Roman Biography and Historiography (Oxford 2015) with Professor Judith Mossman and Professor Frances Titchener. Professor Ash is also the author of numerous scholarly articles and book chapters on authors such as Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and Statius. In July 2017, Professor Ash is the R. D. Milns Visiting Professor at the University of Queensland.


Professor David Scourfield (Maynooth University)

Professor David Scourfield

David Scourfield is Professor and Chair of Ancient Classics at Maynooth University. He is leading authority on Greek and Latin literature in Late Antiquity and in the field of Classical Reception. Professor Scourfield is the author of Consoling Heliodorus: A Commentary on Jerome, Letter 60 (Oxford, 1993) and editor of Texts and Culture in Late Antiquity: Inheritance, Authority, and Change (Swansea, 2007). His research covers authors as diverse as Jerome, Cyprian, and Euripides, as well as the reception of Classics in South Africa and the novels of E. M. Forster. Professor Scourfield has served as editor of Classical Review and Chair of the Council of the UK Classical Association.




Dr Penelope Goodman (University of Leeds)

Dr Penelope Goodman

Penelope Goodman is Lecturer in Classics at the University of Leeds. Her research has made a profound impact in areas as diverse as Roman geography and urbanism and Classical reception in science fiction. Dr Goodman is the author of The Roman City and its Periphery: From Rome to Gaul (London, 2007), and co-editor of Animating Antiquity: Harryhausen and the Classical Tradition (Open University, 2013), with Dr Steven Green. She has published articles and book chapters on Roman artisans, temple architecture, and urban peripheries and boundaries in the Roman world. Dr Goodman is the principal investigator of the ‘Commemorating Augustus’ project, established to investigate the significance of Augustus in world history on the two thousandth anniversary of his death in 2014.

Registration now closed.

‘Emperors in Space: Proxemics and the Portrayal of the Princeps’ Professor Rhiannon Ash (University of Oxford; R.D. Milns Visiting Professor 2017)


‘Retrospective parentage: Augustus as a “father of Europe”’ - Dr. Penelope Goodman (Leeds)

No-one would have thought to call Augustus a ‘father of Europe’ in his own lifetime. For his contemporaries, Europe existed only as a geographical concept, not as a political unit or cultural identity, and in any case his empire also included territory in the geographical regions of Asia and Africa. Nonetheless, two thousand years later, he is regularly credited with having laid the foundations of modern Europe, and sometimes described directly as its ‘father’.

The narrative which now underpins this characterisation lays great emphasis on continuity. Augustus is placed at the head of multiple western European traditions, including Christendom, political institutions and the literary canon. Yet the continuity of these traditions in themselves is often highly mythologised, while they did not cohere into any very clear sense of ‘European’ identity and culture until the early modern period and the age of imperialism.

In this sense, then, casting Augustus as a ‘father of Europe’ is reductive, inaccurate and anachronistic. The identity is not inherent, but has been written onto him retrospectively in response to a later view of what being ‘European’ means. Nonetheless, it is a popular narrative, with the result that the strength of interest in and identification with Augustus today reveals a great deal about contemporary (western) European identities: themselves still evolving and contested.

This paper will set out the narrative of Augustus’ European parentage as it is usually told, explore the problems with it, examine how it has evolved all the same, and offer some thoughts on what it means for us – and reveals about us – today.

‘Inventing Augustus: the representation of Augustus under the Julio-Claudians’ - Dr.  Eleanor Cowan (Sydney)

In 2009 I published a pair of articles which examined Tiberius’ role as the successor to – and interpreter of – the Augustan achievement. My current project, from which my proposed paper is drawn, seeks to extend the approach adopted in these articles to the remainder of the Julio-Claudian emperors in order to demonstrate how the management of Augustus’ legacy and the invention of Augustus continued throughout the Early Principate.

My paper maintains the dual focus on Tacitus’ Annales and on material contemporary to the Julio-Claudian emperors modeled in these articles. Its central claim is that whilst securing the succession itself might be reduced to a matter of outliving one’s rivals (obviously no simple task) and accumulating the powers of coercion and control, being a successor was infinitely more complicated. Being a successor meant managing the expectations, hopes and aspirations of the community of the Romans. It required the careful management of the Augustan past and the figure of Augustus – both the man and the divinity. His immediate successors (Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius and Nero) each needed to assert themselves as the key interpreter of the Augustan legacy at a time when what Augustus had achieved – even what he had said – was not clear in all cases. His successors operated in a context in which there could be alternative interpretations of Augustus’ ‘deeds and words’ and where ‘imitating Augustus’ might in fact involve the selection of which Augustan precedent to imitate.

How did a successor establish a monopoly over the interpretation of the Augustan past? And, in their attempts to do so, how did each successor invent and reinvent ‘Augustus’? My paper will concentrate on the representation of Augustus under Claudius and Nero.

‘From gilded age to golden age: Suetonius’ Domitian and the purpose of De Vita Caesarum’ - Dr. Gwynaeth McIntyre (Otago)

The final passage of Suetonius’ Domitian points to the start of a new Golden Age after the death of Domitian. Framed within a prophetic dream, Suetonius looks ahead to his own time and highlights the virtues (abstinentia et moderatione) of Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian.  This final passage hints at the ultimate goal of the “Lives” and can help guide our understanding of how these biographies ought to be read, especially considering the loss of the introduction which would likely have included a programmatic statement.

This paper argues that the purpose of De Vita Caesarum is to explore ideas of tyranny and the failure of hereditary succession in order to promote the new meritocracy of Trajan and Hadrian. Suetonius illustrates this using invective tropes for attacking the character of each of the emperors in his “Lives” thereby denigrating the earlier dynasties. As a case study, I examine two such tropes (hypocrisy for appearing virtuous and pretentiousness)[1] present in Domitian which cast him as a foil to the two virtues by which Suetonius ends his work.  The specific passages to be discussed in terms of abstinentia are Dom. 9 and 10, and for his lack of moderatio, Dom. 1, 13.

As a son and a brother who could never quite live up to his predecessors, Domitian serves as an excellent example of how Suetonius uses these invective tropes to outline the dangers of hereditary succession. Through his biographical style, Suetonius is thereby able to praise and promote the new Golden Age of his own time.

‘The emperor writes back’ - Dr Caillan Davenport (Macquarie)

The ancient biographical and historical accounts of imperial Rome (such as those by Suetonius, Tacitus and Cassius Dio) feature fragments of popular interpretations of the lives of Roman emperors, in the form of graffiti, humorous verses, and acclamations in public entertainment venues. Some of these writings and sayings affirmed and supported imperial behaviour, while others were more subversive, satirical, or abusive, attacking the emperors’ sexual mores, appearance, intelligence, and personal habits.

In this paper, I will argue that these fragments of popular discourse are valuable as a way of reconstructing alternative lives of Roman emperors constructed ‘from below’. Zadorojnyi (2011) has suggested that not all such public criticism was necessarily popular in nature, arguing that these fragments of dissent emerged just as often from elite voices. But this only broadens our horizons, demonstrating that Romans from a variety of social backgrounds were not only interested in the details of the emperors’ lives, but also engaged in a process of rewriting and subverting them.

Furthermore, I will propose that sources such as graffiti, satirical verses and acclamations constituted but one half of a larger ‘biographical dialogue’ between the emperors and their subjects. Emperors did not always ignore popular criticism of their lives, habits and appearances, but very often engaged with the people, responding with what Gleason (1986) has aptly termed ‘edicts of chastisement’ (the most famous being Julian’s Misopogon). This meant that the characters of the emperors were constantly being publicly contested in written and spoken form throughout the empire, as each side sought to establish the primacy of their particular version of the emperor’s life.

However, our evidence for the ‘biographical dialogue’ diminishes in Late Antiquity, as a result of changes in the imperial office and the emperor’s own self-presentation (Julian being the only notable exception). The emperor only continued to respond to criticisms when the issue of his personal piety came into question.

‘Shaping paradigms of power: the role of imperial children in the early empire’ - Dr Janette McWilliam (Queensland)

From the reign of Augustus onwards, children of the Imperial household, both future emperors and the future mothers of emperors, were often used to promote ideas associated with the continuity, prosperity, stability and security of the state. However, not all imperial children conformed to the ideal, either because they died prematurely or because their behaviour failed to adhere to a strict set of moral standards. This paper will explore some of the ways in which images of and stories about imperial children were manipulated during the period of the early empire by supporters of Imperial power. It will also examine how and why these images and stories either continued or changed after their deaths, often becoming re-shaped by later political and intellectual debate. It will focus, in particular, on Gaius and Lucius Caesar and Agrippa Postumus, Britannicus, Nero and Octavia, daughter of Claudius, Commodus and Annius Verus, and Caracalla and Geta.

‘Educating Theodosius II: Theodosian child-emperors and manipulation of the imperial image in the fifth century A.D.’ - Dr Meaghan McEvoy (Macquarie)

In the late fourth – mid-fifth centuries AD, a surprising string of very young emperors came to the Roman throne. Some inherited their rule from imperial fathers who died prematurely, while others were raised as emperors through the machinations of court and military elites. The longest-reigning of these child-emperors was Theodosius II, raised to the full rank of Augustus at the age of 9 months. He became sole ruler of the eastern Roman empire at the age of 7 years in 408, and reigned until 450, when he died following a horse-riding accident.

This paper will examine the representation of Theodosius II and his fellow child-emperors of the late Roman period (Arcadius, Honorius and Valentinian III) in contemporary literary and material evidence. The reign of Theodosius II is well-documented, although our understanding of him and his fellow child-emperors is greatly influenced by the fact that a number of our surviving sources are ecclesiastical histories, rather than secular works. One of the most famous of these is the account of the church historian Sozomen, who describes Theodosius being educated for his role as emperor, supposedly by his older sister, the formidable Pulcheria. This education apparently involved training in how to sit and stand appropriately, how to wear his royal robes, how to avoid giggling and how to look suitably interested at crucial moments. It did not, however, involve time spent with the military.

While accounts of the activities of these young emperors often focused on their promising abilities and desire for military glory, only rarely did any of them actually take to the field. And in fact, the presentation of the emperor’s role and function was in the process of undergoing an immense change as a means of coping with the accessions of very young emperors who could not, throughout their minorities, be expected to fulfill the traditional range of imperial functions. As the new phenomenon of a sedentary emperor based in Constantinople took hold in the east in this era, the presentation of young emperors – especially in the ecclesiastical histories - came to emphasise their piety as the key to the victories of their armies, rather than the emperor’s personal leadership of these armies. While this was a largely successful and accepted approach to presentation of the emperor during this era, this change in an emperor’s function and representation has evoked more criticism from modern scholars. The great historian of the later Roman empire, A.H.M. Jones, declared that for all Theodosius’ reported knowledge of the scriptures and his extensive library of theological works, “Such amiable qualities did not make a good emperor.” (1964, I: 173).

These criticisms however often fail to take into account material depictions of the emperors of this era, including statues and inscriptions, which continue to emphasise the military role of emperors, rather than marking any obvious change from earlier campaigning emperors. One question this paper seeks to address, therefore, is how different would our view of emperors such as Theodosius II be, if the statues and inscriptions were the main basis of our evidence and understanding of his reign, rather than literary sources? And further, in seeking to understand the depiction of Roman emperors of this era, should we be paying more attention to the way in which moments (such as education) in the life of a child-emperor like Theodosius II were manipulated by different writers with their own political agendas?

‘Emperor or Antichrist? Portrayals of Roman emperors in seventh-century Byzantine apocalyptic discourse’ -  Mr Ryan Strickler (Macquarie)

Throughout the seventh century, as Byzantine fortunes began to wane in the wake of unprecedented defeat, first at the hands of the Persians and later at the hands of the ascendant Islamic Arab forces, traditional Byzantine triumphalism, under which victory was evidence of divine favour was found wanting. God’s hand in human events was not in question, instead Byzantine rhetoric became increasingly dynamic. Authors emphasized the role of the Byzantines and their adversaries in an unfolding providential drama, one which took on an apocalyptic, if not eschatological role. Byzantine subjects of various backgrounds placed themselves in their own providential narrative.

Within this narrative, the figure of the Roman emperor took centre stage, taking on a supernatural aura. Emperors, both historical and eschatological, served as heroes and villains, receiving blame for misfortune and offering hope of deliverance. Heroes could be found in the Emperor Maurice, depicted ad a martyr by Theophylact Simocatta, the Emperor Heraclius and his portrayal as the new Alexander in the Syriac apocalyptic tradition or as George of Pisidia’s new Heracles, or eschatological heroes such as the Last Roman Emperor, who Pseudo Methodius predicted would restore the empire and surrender control to Christ.

Emperors could also serve as villains, such as the notorious usurper Phocas, whose coup d’etat against the Emperor Maurice was blamed by many for the success of the Sassanid Persian invasions. For Jewish authors, Heraclius was not the restorer of a great empire but as a destroyer, whom, in the guise of the anti-messianic Armilos, the Sefer Zerubbabel predicted would meet his eventual end at the hands of the coming Messiah.

This paper examines the role of the emperor in bolstering Byzantine identity through apocalyptic discourse. Of particular interest will be the emperor as a cause of crisis, or as a figure of deliverance.

‘Fictions of Power: Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March and John Williams’ Augustus’ - Professor David Scourfield (Maynooth, Ireland)

Historical novels on Roman subjects abound, but few achieve canonical status. Twentieth-century examples include Graves’ I, Claudius, Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, and Vidal’s Julian – all written (with minor variations) in the form of a historical memoir by a Roman emperor. In this paper I propose to examine two texts – Wilder’s The Ides of March and Williams’ Augustus – which similarly present an imperial (or quasi-imperial) protagonist but take a radically different pseudo-documentary form: that of the epistolary novel. Taking into account both form and content, the paper will explore these texts and their representations of political power in terms of the tensions they display between (for example) fictionality and historicity, liberty and constraint, public and private, agency and contingency; and will seek, finally, to relate the emperor-figures at their centre to the world within which they were constructed.

‘Machiavelli and the military: the people and the army under the principate’ - Associate Professor Benedetto Fontana (CUNY)

The fall of the Roman republic was the culmination of a lengthy process characterized by civil wars, which saw the rise of private citizens who recruited, controlled and led personal armies of retainers. The rise of what Machiavelli calls “uomini privati” led to the emergence of Caesarism and imperial rule. Such rule represented the subordination of the civitas to the "uomini privati": first, by introducing force and violence (the army) into the public-political arena, and second, by the appropriation of the victorious general of all the relevant political space, so that glory and public office were no longer a function of the political competition among equals, but were rather contingent upon the gratia or favor of the emperor, who embodied in his person the public space. Caesar was no longer one actor contending against many others within a well-defined political arena based upon the twin poles of senate and people. On the contrary, this arena itself was now the property (the dominium) of Caesar, and the res publica has become a res privata. As Machiavelli says, ‘Caesar could conquer his country [Cesare potette occupare la patria]." (Discourses, III: 24)

To conquer or to occupy a country is to exercise imperium sine fine, a form of rule directly comparable to that possessed by a Roman magistrate outside the pomerium of the city--namely, the imperium militiae--such that rule over Roman citizens is equivalent to rule over conquered provinciae. What this means is that, rather than acting within a political space, the ruler (emperor) or dynast (Marius, Sulla) was now outside and above it. The supremacy of one man represented the constriction of the public and political space. Libertas has become dominatio, and the res publica is now a domus. It is in this context that the Machiavellian concern for virtus and virtu' is to be understood: under a despotic or tyrannical system of rule virtu' degenerates into ambizioso ozio (Discourses, I: Intro.) and corruption, whereas under a republican or free government opposition and competition for office generate within the people an energy that brings to the fore virtuous men competent to rule.

 What emerges from Machiavelli's analysis of the class conflict and power struggles of ancient Rome is a theoretical and political construction that enables him to identify the defining elements of the vivere politico and the vivere civile (See, for example, the Discourses I: 3, 4, 5, 17, 54, 55, 58; II: 1, 2). The political is defined by what it is not: despotism or tyranny reduces all political space to itself, such that the relation between Caesar and the citizens is no longer one of equality and mutual discourse (as it would be if he were an ordinary magistrate) and has now become equivalent to that prevailing between the pater or dominus and his familia or domus--that is to say, the public space has been transformed into that of the private, and the civitas has become a dominium. The space described by the dominium is a private space where the absolute power of the master reigns, a space which is defined precisely by the use of force and violence over the subjects.

In effect, Machiavelli uses his discussion of Caesar, Augustus, and the later emperors (see The Prince, chap. 19) to develop his notions of republican liberty and republican politics. Imperial rule (despotism, tyranny) is the mirror through whose refection its opposite, free government, can be understood and constructed.

‘Biondo Flavio on the Roman emperors: periodization, sources and chronicle’ -  Ms Frances Muecke (Sydney)

Petrarch’s 14th-century De viris illustribus contains biographies of 23 ancient Romans beginning with Romulus and ending with Julius Caesar. In the early 15th century Italian humanists debated whether the Republican Scipio Africanus or the ‘tyrant’ Julius Caesar was the greatest figure. As Thomas Dandalet characterises it in The Renaissance of Empire in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2014), this debate was about the competing models of Roman Republic and Roman Empire. Dandelet, again, highlights Biondo’s Roma triumphans (1459) as important for its presentation of a paradigmatic Empire.

The presentation of the Empire and the Emperors in Biondo’s great 10-book synthesis of Roman civilization needs a closer reading. Biondo constructs a chronology of his own which does not put great stress on the political transition from Republic to Empire. He mentions a large number of the later emperors, taking the history of Rome well into late antiquity. In fact, in his historical work, the Decades (p. 5), he says that the time of Theodosius in the fourth century AD represented the culmen ipsum et tamquam verticem of Rome. In Book 7 of Roma triumphans he even gives a potted history of the emperors up to the sack of Rome in 410.

Given that not many people are familiar with Roma triumphans, my paper will inevitably be descriptive. I will however consider the reasons for, and modes of, Biondo’s interest in the Empire and Emperors, and try to assess the impact of his interpretation of them.

‘Justinian, neo-Roman liberty and the western republican tradition’ -  Professor Graham Maddox (UNE)

Justinian I came to the dominate in 527 with three major objectives: to reconquer the western empire for orthodox (Trinitarian) Christianity, to codify the Roman law, and to reunify the church under the one doctrine (Millar). Political scientist Karl Loewenstein found the codification to be ‘the greatest historical legacy the Roman political civilization has left to the Western world, still controlling today [1973] … the legal life of a very large segment of humanity’ (Loewenstein, p. 457; cf. Jolowicz).   

The chief proponent of the neo-Roman theory of republican liberty, Quentin Skinner (Liberty Before Liberalism) draws upon the Digest of Justinian to pick up the long tradition of republican and imperial legislation ‘from the days of Romulus’.[2] In earlier work Skinner had appealed to Roman law, rather than scriptural exhortation, as the true basis of political resistance among the early modern Calvinists (McLaren).  Just as the ambivalent ancient Jewish scriptures contained conflicting ‘trajectories’ (Brueggemann}, one extolling the monarchy, the other offering endless prophetic warnings against the rapacity and tyranny of kings, beginning with a lurid passage denouncing kingship (1 Samuel 8. 11-18), so there is a clash in the ‘objectives’ of Justinian’s rule between the reconciliation of divers ideologies within a reunited empire and the insistence upon orthodox Christianity as prerequisite for citizenship (Codex 1. 5. 18). Skinner resorts to the Digest to illustrate that a person sub iure alieni is not free, and he and his ‘neo-Roman’ colleague, Philip Pettit, learning from the Roman moralists such as Sallust, apply this doctrine to entire communities.  There can be no republic where the citizens are subject to the power of someone set over them (a dominus).  What Skinner does not acknowledge is that by another reading he would find Justinian’s codification offensive, recurring as it does to the punishment of pagans and Christian heretics alike.  Moreover, while Justinian finds slavery contrary to nature (Finley, p. 167)[3], his laws accommodate its existence.  Justinian surely offends Skinner’s notion of freedom, restricting citizenship to Christians.  In any case, Justinian was a dominus.

Both Skinner and Pettit, instructed by Wirszubski as well as Justinian, cite the seventeenth-century Machiavellian, Harrington, as a champion of neo-Roman ideas of citizenship, yet the milieu Harrington wrote in was heavily influenced by puritanism, which Skinner rejects as a factor in resistance literature in the seventeenth century (McLaren).  While Skinner recalls the many references amongst the ‘neo-Roman’ republicans to Sallust, Tacitus and Livy, it is clear that their first and last recourse was to scripture and personal devotion (Maddox; Moore and Maddox}.  Harrington himself was committed to a godly (and protestant) republic (Goldie).

The chief problem with both authors is that they project Roman slavery as a bald category at the opposite pole from citizenship.  But there are many layers of citizenship, and many degrees of liberty or containment among those formally classified as citizens.  There is ample evidence that the multitude of ‘free’ Roman citizens endured many restrictions on their freedom and often outright persecution, especially in the last century of the republic (Brunt), oppressed by the twin evils of plutocracy and pauperism (Walbank).  These evils have disturbed the harmony of republics in all ages.


Brueggemann, Walter, The Prophetic  Imagination, Fortress, 1978.

Brunt, P. A, Social Conflicts in Republican Rome, Chatto and Windus, 1971.

Finley, M. I., Aspects of Antiquity, Viking, 1968.

Goldie, Mark, ‘The Civil Religion of James Harrington’, in Anthony Pagden, ed., The Languages of Political Theory in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, pb 1990, p. 205.

Jolowicz, H. F., Roman Foundations of Modern Law, Greenwood, 1978.

Loewenstein, Karl, The Governance of Rome, Nijhof, 1973.

McLaren, Anne, ‘Rethinking republicanism: Vindiciae, contra tyrannos in context’, The Historical Journal, vol. 49. no. 1, 2006, pp. 23-30.

Maddox, G., Religion and the Rise of Democracy, Routledge, pb 2015.

Millar, Fergus, ‘Rome, Constantinople and the Eastern Church under Justinian: Two Synods of C.E. 536’, Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 98, 2008, pp. 62-82.

Moore, T. and Maddox, G., ‘Participation, Democracy and the Split in Revolutionary Calvinism’, Nebula 7, 2010, pp. 103-113.

Pettit, Philip, Republicanism. A Theory of Freedom and Government, Oxford, 1997.

Skinner, Quentin, Liberty Before Liberalism, Cambridge, 1998.

Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Cambridge, 1978, 2 vols.

 F. W. Walbank, ‘Polybius on the Roman Constitution’. Classical Quarterly, vol. 37, nos 3 /4, 1943, p. 89.

Wirszubski, Ch., Libertas as a political idea at Rome, Cambridge, 1960.

Graham Maddox

‘Decline and Fall or Rejuvenation?: Walter Pater's Moribund Emperors in Rodolfo Lanciani's Rome’ -  Dr Shelley Hales (Bristol)


 ‘Julius Caesar in film’ - Associate Professor Tom Stevenson (Queensland)

Films set in the ancient world have sometimes been dismissed as frivolous entertainment, amateur enthusiasm or harmless storytelling by academic historians, unsure how to criticise a genre which on one hand has strong persuasive power and lasting impact, but on the other hand draws heavily on fiction and often admits to dramatic licence.  A major aim of this paper is to argue that film portrayals should be taken seriously by academic historians because they frequently support controversial claims to power in the present.  Ancient History, then, becomes not a way to establish in pedantic vein how things really happened but a means to moderate unfair or unjust claims for redistributions of power in the present based on poor or distorted renderings of ancient traditions. 

Receptions of Julius Caesar have been studied in growing breadth and depth in recent years, but there has been no systematic attempt to study portrayals of Caesar in film.  Maria Wyke has studied two or three relevant films in her Julius Caesar in Western Culture (2006) and Caesar: A Life in Western Culture (2008), but there is no chapter on film in (e.g.) Miriam Griffin’s Companion to Julius Caesar (2009).  My aim is to employ a sample of Caesar films, from Enrico Guazzoni’s Caius Julius Caesar (1914) through sword-and-sandal epics of the ‘50s and ‘60s to Asterix films and recent television movies, in order to demonstrate how their depictions of Caesar promote controversial political, social and other agendas.

 ‘Sympathy for the devil? The depiction of Nero on screen’ - Professor Arthur Pomeroy (Wellington)

Nero first appears on the silver screen for less than a minute in George Hatot’s Nero Trying Out Poisons on his Slaves, (1896), but that brief depiction of imperial cruelty indicates the popular reception of the emperor that has lasted throughout the course of film history. Luigi Maggi’s Nerone (1909) was a one-reel, fourteen-minute tale of how Nero’s infatuation with Poppaea led to his murder of his wife, Octavia, sparking a popular outcry, the emperor’s retaliation by burning Rome, and a consequent revolt that resulted in his suicide. But most popular have been versions of Sienkiewicz’s 1895 novel, Quo Vadis, beginning with Guazzoni’s 120 minute epic from 1912 through Gabriellino D’Annunzio’s 1925 version, Mervyn LeRoy’s film of 1951 with Peter Ustinov stealing the show, to Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s 2001 Polish blockbuster, not to mention the unauthorised Sign of the Cross (1914 and, most notably De Mille’s version of 1936 with Charles Laughton as Nero).

In this paper, I will examine the depiction of Nero in Franco Rossi’s Quo Vadis (1985). Klaus Maria Brandauer brings a psychological depth to the emperor in a version of the novel that avoids Roman Catholic triumphalism, while also emphasizing the power discrepancies within the populace of Rome. Instead of the megalomaniacal fool and arsonist of other depictions, Rossi’s emperor while unstable is also deviously cunning. By using the same sources (particularly Tacitus’ Annals and Suetonius’ Nero) as Sienkiewicz, Rossi adapts and reimagines his Polish nationalist source in the atmosphere of post-war Italy and post-Vatican II religion.


[1] Craig identifies 17 invective tropes in common practice by the late Republic and it is certain that these would have continued to be used in the imperial period (Craig, C.P. 2004. “Audience Expectations, Invective, and Proof.” in J.G.F. Powell and J. Paterson (eds). Cicero the Advocate. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 187-214.)

[2]  Corpus Iuris Civilis 1.2, Digesta, as quoted in Millar, p. 66: ’…we have found the whole extent of our laws which has come down from the foundation of the city of Rome and the days of Romulus to be so confused that it extends to an inordinate length and is beyond the comprehension of any human nature.’

[3] Finley, p. 175: ‘The legal problems created by the continued existence of slaves required more space in the sixth-century codification of the emperor Justinian than any other topic.’

There is a wide range of accommodation available to delegates either at the University of Queensland St Lucia Campus, in the nearby suburb of Toowong, or in Brisbane City itself. The options below are listed only as suggestions: please contact the accommodation providers directly for prices and bookings.

The University of Queensland, St Lucia Campus

(This is available to both men and women).


Toowong is a short 10-minute bus ride away from the University of Queensland. It has a large shopping centre with many cafes and restaurants.

Brisbane City

There is a wide range of accommodation in the city to suit all budgets. Please consult the Visit Brisbane website.

The conference is being held at the University of Queensland St Lucia Campus. For the conference venues, please see the PDF map.

The campus is accessible by bus and ferry services.

The 412 bus from Brisbane City, via Toowong, stops at Chancellors’ Place outside the Michie Building, the venue for most conference sessions.

The 66 bus from Brisbane City, via South Brisbane, stops at the UQ Lakes bus terminal, a short 10-minute walk away from the Great Court.

The CityCat Ferry stops at the UQ St Lucia Terminal, also a short 10-minute walk away from the Great Court.

For a full list of transport options, see the UQ Transport website. The TransLink website provides a journey planner and list of bus, train, and ferry services in Brisbane.

For any questions and queries about the conference, please contact the convenors, Dr Caillan Davenport ( and Dr Shushma Malik (