Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Rome’s imperial discourse

Studies in the historical semantics of empire and autocracy, from Cicero to Augustine

Dr. Ingo Gildenhard


Towards the end of the first century BCE, Rome’s success in external wars and the simultaneous disintegration of consensual politics at home—two phenomena not unrelated to each other—resulted in the emergence of a new world order defined, above all, by two, again interrelated, realities: empire and autocracy. The transition of the ‘free republic’ into the imperial principate coincided with the radical reconfiguration of socio-political and geopolitical space, which involved every social group or persona, from the princeps to the senatorial elite, from the army to the urban populace. At the same time, a host of writers negotiated and shaped the existence of empire and autocracy in their works. Their persistent meditation on several key themes to do with imperial and monarchic realities makes it possible to study all of them as contributions to a larger discursive formation, beyond social, chronological, and literary specificities (to which due attention must of course be given). The aim of my project is to identify the ‘historical logic’ of this imperial discourse and trace its evolution, from its origins in the late republic (especially in Cicero) to its full articulation in the early principate (Augustus - Trajan) and its transformation in the Christian writings of the third and fourth centuries.