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Divine Institutions: Religion and State Formation in Mid-Republican Rome

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 16, 2014 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
Drawing of Rome

Republican Rome’s progression from Italic city-state to Mediterranean superpower during the 4th to 2nd centuries BCE continues to fascinate. Over two millennia after the Greek Polybius asked at the opening of his Histories whether there was anyone so trivial-minded and lazy that he could not be bothered to know how and under what constitutional system the Romans had subjugated “almost the entire inhabited world” (Hist. 1.1.5), Rome’s imperial expansion remains a topic of lively debate. This talk will argue that one important—but often overlooked or incorrectly evaluated—contributing factor to the success of this imperial expansion was Roman religious practice.

Attempts to write the history of mid-republican Rome face evidentiary hurdles: Romans do not begin writing their own histories until the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 2nd century, and these histories—and most other contemporary or near-contemporary writings—survive only in fragmentary form; the material evidence unearthed by archaeologists regularly poses challenges of dating and interpretation. These same hurdles stand in the way of writing the religious history of mid-republican Rome. Padilla’s talk will first explain how a combination of quantitative modeling and social-scientific theory can help us clear these hurdles and recover the types and patterns of social behavior structured around religious ritual. The talk will then explore how such religious rituals set up the durable and long-lasting institutions that were responsible for maintaining communal trust and cohesion in the face of rising military commitments and considerable social upheaval.