Roman Satire (In Our Time)


Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Roman Satire. Much of Roman culture was a development of their rich inheritance from the Greeks. But satire was a form the Romans could claim to have invented. The grandfather of Roman satire, Ennius, was also an important figure in early Roman literature more generally. Strikingly, he pioneered both epic and the satirical mockery of epic.But the father of the genre, Lucilius, is the writer credited with taking satire decisively towards what we now understand by the word: incisive invective aimed at particular personalities and their wrongs.All this happened under the Roman Republic, in which there was a large measure of free speech. But then the Republic was overthrown and Augustus established the Empire.The great satirist Horace had fought to save the Republic, but now reinvented himself as a loyal citizen of the Imperium. His satirical work explores the strains and hypocrisies of trying to maintain an independent sense of self at the heart of an autocracy.This struggle was deepened in the work of Persius, whose Stoicism-inflected writing was a quietist attempt to endure under the regime without challenging it.The work of the last great Roman satirist, Juvenal, was famously savage - yet his targets were either generic or long dead. So was satire a conservative or a radical genre? Was it cynical or did it aim to 'improve' people? Did it have any real impact? And was it actually funny?With:Mary BeardProfessor of Classics at Cambridge UniversityDenis FeeneyProfessor of Classics and Giger Professor of Latin at Princeton UniversityDuncan KennedyProfessor of Latin Literature and the Theory of Criticism at the University of BristolProducer: Phil Tinline.


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Juvenal, Latin in full Decimus Junius Juvenalis, (born 55–60? ce , Aquinum, Italy—died probably in or after 127), most powerful of all Roman satiric poets. Many of his phrases and epigrams have entered common parlance—for example, “bread and circuses” and “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

The one contemporary who ever mentions Juvenal is Martial, who claims to be his friend, calls him eloquent, and describes him as living the life of a poor dependent cadging from rich men. There are a few biographies of him, apparently composed long after his death these may contain some nuggets of fact, but they are brief, ill-proportioned, and sometimes incredible.

From these sparse sources it can be inferred that Juvenal’s family was well-to-do and that he became an officer in the army as a first step to a career in the administrative service of the emperor Domitian (81–96 ce ) but failed to obtain promotion and grew embittered. He wrote a satire declaring that court favourites had undue influence in the promotion of officers, and for this he was banished—possibly to the remote frontier town of Syene, now Aswān, in Egypt—and his property was confiscated. In 96, after Domitian’s assassination, Juvenal returned to Rome but, without money or a career, he was reduced to living as a “client” on the grudging charity of the rich. After some years his situation improved, for autobiographical remarks in Satire 11 show him, now elderly, living in modest comfort in Rome and possessing a farm at Tibur (now Tivoli) with servants and livestock. Still pessimistic, the later Satires show a marked change of tone and some touches of human kindness, as though he had found some consolation at last. Though no details of his death exist, he probably died in or after 127.

Was Jesus a Roman Fiction?

Computer scientist and self-proclaimed biblical scholar Joseph Atwill is going to be giving a presentation in England that is stirring up some buzz.

Recently, Atwill sent out a press release that was picked up by outlets such as The Daily Mail.

According to the press release, Atwill is planning to explain his theory that Jesus Christ never lived.

Atwill is a mythicist—a person who claims that Jesus is a myth, not a historical figure.

According to Atwill’s version of mythicism, Jesus is a fictional character that was invented by the Roman emperor(s) and the circle around them.

How well does his claim stand up to scrutiny?

The position of mythicism is extremely uncommon among historians and Bible scholars. Virtually all—including those who are not Christian—acknowledge that the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was a real, historical figure.

In a previous post, we’ve looked at some of that evidence.

Just looking at early non-Christian sources, we have clear evidence that the Christian movement began in the first half of the first century A.D. in the Roman province of Judaea, and, by the end of the first century, had spread widely in the Roman world.

These are facts admitted by both early Christian and non-Christian sources alike.

The movement's sudden appearance and rapid spread indicate that it was highly organized and motivated to spread its message—facts that in turn point to the existence of a founder who gave the movement its organization and mission.

The earliest sources we have that address who that founder was (that is to say, the New Testament documents), indicate that it was Jesus of Nazareth.

This was the movement’s own account of its founding, and this must be regarded as the most reasonable explanation unless there is compelling evidence otherwise.

Does Atwill have such evidence?

"This imperial family, the Flavians, created Christianity, and, even more incredibly, they incorporated a skillful satire of the Jews in the Gospels and Wars of the Jews to inform posterity of this fact.

The Flavian dynasty lasted from 69 to 96 C.E., the period when most scholars believe the Gospels were written. It consisted of three Caesars: Vespasian and his two sons, Titus and Domitian.

Flavius Josephus, the adopted member of the family who wrote Wars of the Jews, was their official historian.

The satire they created is difficult to see. If it were otherwise, it would not have remained unnoticed for two millennia. . . .

[W]hy then has the satirical relationship between Jesus and Titus not been noticed before? This question is especially apt in light of the fact that the works that reveal their satire—the New Testament and the histories of Josephus—are perhaps the most scrutinized books in literature.

Moreover, the satirical level of the Gospels has not been discovered because it was designed to be difficult to see.

The Flavian Caesars wanted more than just to transform messianic Judaism. They wanted Christianity to flourish and become widely held, even world-wide, before the Gospels’ satirical level was discovered."

So let’s be clear on what Atwill is claiming: The Flavian Caesars invented Christianity, but they did so in a way that incorporated a satire both in the Gospels and in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus.

They incorporated this satire to reveal the falsehood, so that future generations could admire their cleverness.

Yet this satire was “designed to be difficult to see” because “they wanted Christianity to flourish and become widely held, even world wide.”

Thus they disguised this satire so cleverly that it would not be recognized for 2,000 years, even though—as Atwill states—the New Testament and the histories of Josephus “are perhaps the most scrutinized books in literature.”

More than “Too Clever by Half”

This claim is more than “too clever by half.” It’s too clever by several orders of magnitude.

Nobody is going to invent a fake religion and then plant in it a satire that reveals what they are doing, trusting that they have disguised the satire sufficiently that it will let the religion become widespread, or even world-wide, and then expect it to be discovered in future generations.

Even if they tried that, the satire would never remain undiscovered for 2,000 years—in “perhaps the most scrutinized books in literature”—until an obscure computer scientist figures it all out two millennia later.

Simply looking at this set of remarks reveals that the vastly greater likelihood is that the supposed satire is in the computer scientist’s imagination—and that the scholars who scrutinized the texts for 2,000 years and didn’t see the satire were reading them right.

Just to give you a taste of the kind of thing that Atwill sees as evidence of satire, let’s consider one of the key “parallels” that he cites as evidence for the satire.

In a famous passage in Wars of the Jews (6:3:4), Josephus reports that at one point during the siege of Jerusalem the lack of food was so great that an upper-class woman roasted and ate half of her infant son.

The aroma attracted attention, and some of the rebels in the city came to her and demanded her food.

She then offered them what was left, and they went away, horrified, as she sarcastically berated them for causing the calamity that had come upon the city.

Oh, and this woman’s name was Mary (daughter of Eleazar of Bethezub).

And all of this is depicted as occurring more than three decades after the life of Christ.

Despite that, and despite the fact that Mary was the single most common female name in Palestinian Judaism at the time (so that there are six or seven Marys in the New Testament alone), Atwill takes this account as evidence of Roman satire:

  • For Mary of Eleazar, read the Virgin Mary
  • For the unnamed, roasted son, read Jesus
  • For the eating, read the Eucharist

The connections are exceedingly tenuous, to say the least. In his book, Atwill cites several more, equally tenuous connections, but they do not change the fact that the alternative explanation is far more likely: That Josephus is not parodying the Eucharist but reporting an incident that actually took place during the siege of Jerusalem after the rebel leader John of Gischala burned the city’s grain supply and doomed it to famine (5:1:4).

Unfortunately, this kind of parallelomania is common in Atwill’s writing. He regularly cherry-picks Josephus for wildly improbable allusions to the New Testament, at times using his own, idiosyncratic translations of terms.

Frankly put, this is not scholarship.

Taking a step back from the level of detail, let’s consider some of the larger problems with Atwill’s claim.

For a start, why would the Romans do this? What motive would they plausibly have had?

According to Atwill, the Gospels were most likely written between A.D. 71 and 79, during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian.

Vespasian and his son Titus had just fought the First Jewish War (A.D. 66-73) to put down revolutionaries in Judaea, and they wanted to forestall similar incidents in the future.

They thus wanted to create a pacifistic version of Judaism that would accept Roman rule.

There are several problems with this.

First, creating elaborate literary hoaxes to develop pacifistic strains of foreign religions wasn’t the Roman way of doing things.

The Roman way of doing things involved armies and assassinations, not literary hoaxes. They were, after all, Romans, not Cardassians.

Then there is the factor of time: It would take decades or centuries to create a movement that could pacify Judaism, and the Roman emperors simply did not think that long-term.

They were far more focused on surviving their own reigns, and they wanted problems dealt with expeditiously.

For them, the sword was far more powerful—and quicker—than the pen.

Jews Willing to Accept Roman Rule

Second, creating a literary hoax so that Jews would be willing to accept Roman rule would have been completely unnecessary.

There already were Jews willing to accept Roman rule. Loads of them.

And since the revolutionaries had largely been killed off, those willing to accept the Roman rule were now clearly in the majority.

There were even movements within the Jewish community—such as the Sadducees—who were known for being Roman collaborators.

If you wanted to pacify the Jewish community, fostering such existing movements—not spawning a literary hoax to create a new one—would have been far more logical.

Who Has Heard Our Message?

Third, just who was going to be pacified through the new Christian movement?

The revolutionaries, such as the Zealots and the Sicarii, would be the last people interested in a pacifistic version of Judaism.

Anyone preaching cooperation with the Romans would find their message falling on deaf ears when it came to the Zealots and Sicarii.

The only people likely to respond to the message would be the very people who don’t need convincing.

Fourth, Judaea was in no position to rebel after the war finished.

It had been ravaged, its economic and military power destroyed, and its population disorganized, scattered, or killed.

It would take decades of rebuilding before Judaea could think about rebelling again, and when the next rebellion came (the Kitos War of A.D. 115-117) it started outside Judaea, in lands that had not been crushed in the first war.

What Vespasian Actually Did

Fifth, we know what the Vespasian actually did to deal with the Jewish community.

Rather than creating a fake religion, he taxed them.

Vespasian imposed a punitive tax on the Jewish people and, just to add an additional element of humiliation now that their temple was destroyed, he had the money directed to the Temple of Jupiter Best and Greatest in Rome.

His approach was thus to humiliate the Jews through temporal means, not to convert them to a new, pacifistic religion.

Problems with Writing

Another set of problems with Atwill’s claim (beside the issue of motive) are of a practical nature.

For a start, how did he and the circle around him come up with the documents of the New Testament?

They weren’t Jews. They weren’t immersed in the Jewish Scriptures the way the authors of the New Testament clearly were.

It would not have been possible for pagan Romans to write the New Testament. They would have had to have Jewish help.

Indeed, the New Testament documents had to have been produced by individuals intimately familiar with Jewish thought, culture, and language.

So did they employ Jewish writers to do this for them? Why would the Jewish authors have collaborated on a project this blasphemous?

Many Jews would have been willing to die rather than do so.

Planting Secret Messages

Even if they found some who could be forced into doing so, these Jews would have been far more likely to slip in “This is all fake” messages into the texts rather than the elaborate satire Atwill claims is there.

And are we really to believe that the authors' Roman masters were so interested in planting the satire that they were willing to closely superintend the writing and say, “Hey, we need more satire here. Dig through your memory of Jewish lore to come up with something offensive and biting.”

Further, if Josephus himself were one of the authors involved in this conspiracy, and if his writings are meant to form a companion to the New Testament, why didn’t he say more about Jesus in his writings?

He barely mentions Jesus twice.

If Josephus was seeking to plant information to foster Vespasian’s Christ conspiracy, why didn’t he do so in a clear and direct way in Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews (not to mention his Life and Against Apion).

How Will They Hear Without Someone Preaching?

Then there is the practical problem of how the documents of the New Testament were to be distributed.

They couldn’t just leave them in libraries, waiting for the illiterate masses to check them out and start a new religion among the lower class and the slaves.

Religions didn’t get started by literary means.

To effectively spread a faith in the first century would have involved doing exactly what the Gospels present Jesus doing: Starting an organized preaching mission, with evangelists to carry the word to others.

So where, in the A.D. 70s, did Vespasian get a team of Jewish preachers to go out, at risk of damnation, to proclaim a false Christ?

Even if they were charlatans who didn’t believe in actual damnation, why would they be willing to risk persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the local authorities?

These would have been risks for them, because the kinds of riots and divisions we see in the book of Acts would have been precisely what they would face as they preached Jesus among the Jews in different cities.

They would be lucky not to get lynched!

And, if pacifying Judaism was what this was supposed to be all about, why wouldn’t the Romans call the whole enterprise off as soon as they started seeing the kind of uprisings it was provoking in the Jewish communities?

There is also the problem of getting their message accepted.

While many people in Judaea had been killed, many survived and were scattered throughout the Roman world.

Many who had lived in Judaea in the A.D. 30s were still around, and when Christian missionaries showed up with a message about Jesus of Nazareth preaching to thousands, they would have been in a position to say, “Hey! There was no such guy! I was there!”

Some might say, “I was in Jerusalem at Passover of A.D. 33, and the events you describe simply did not happen!” or “I’m from Galilee it’s a tiny place and there was no such Jesus going about preaching and working miracles.”

Who Has Believed Our Word?

Even without such a witness in a local Jewish community, consider what this enterprise would have involved: Creating—in the A.D. 70s—the illusion of a movement stretching back to the A.D. 30s.

That movement was based in local congregations known as churches, and the New Testament documents report churches being located in major metropolitan areas between A.D. 30 and A.D. 70.

These areas include Jerusalem, Syrian Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, Thessalonica, Philippi, and others.

Now: If Christianity was first introduced into these cities some time after A.D. 70, why didn’t the first converts pick up on the fact that there had been no churches in these cities previously?

For example, Ephesus is a major Christian center in Acts. Why didn’t the first actual Christians in Ephesus not notice that there had been no church there previously, though Acts says that there was?

Trying to create the illusion of a previously existing movement would have been fraught with peril and far harder than simply starting one, without claiming an extensive past history for it.

A more logical way to proceed, if you wanted to claim Jesus had lived decades earlier, would be to have a single disciple who knew Jesus but was under orders not to preach him until now.

Making up an elaborate, decades-long backstory for the Church, filled with claims that could easily be falsified, would not be way to go.

Playing with Dynamite

All told, the scheme that Atwill attributes to Vespasian and his circle would seem to have a remarkably remarkably high chance of failure.

One of the missionaries breaking under the pressure of a lynch mob and trying to exculpate himself by pointing to the Emperor would be all it could take to give the plan away.

And if it did fail, the consequences would have been dramatic.

Trying to subvert the Jewish religion is the very kind of thing that would cause a massive Jewish uprising.

If the idea got out that the Romans were trying to get Jews to worship a false Messiah, it would have sparked an empire-wide rebellion that would have been far worse than the Jewish War of the A.D. 60s.

Trying to pull off such a hoax would be playing with dynamite, and the Roman emperors would have been crazy to attempt such a hare-brained scheme.

Editorial Reviews


"This is the best introduction to this subject this reviewer has encountered … It is stimulating, original, and highly informative, and it takes account of all relevant scholarship … Summing Up: Essential. All readers all levels." (Choice)

"What sets this introductory book apart from others of its kind is its dedication to tackling the perpetually vexing question of satire as a genre - the question that vexed the satirists themselves." (Bryn Mawr Classical Review)

"A volume to which one would direct bright students in search of stimulation and intellectual challenge." (Scholia Reviews)


"This is no run-of-the-mill introduction to Roman satire. The book does its solid introductory work, certainly, but at the same time, it manages to be quite brilliant and chock-full of smart new observations."
Kirk Freudenburg, University of Illinois

Book Description

From the Back Cover

The text presents each of the major practitioners of verse satire – Horace, Persius, and Juvenal, and their forebear Lucilius – in the context of the social milieux in which they wrote. It includes comparative and intertextual discussion of different satirists, including those of the Menippean tradition.

What Is Juvenalian Satire? (with pictures)

Juvenalian satire is one of the two major divisions of satire, and is characterized by its bitter and abrasive nature. It can be directly contrasted with Horatian satire, which utilizes a much gentler form of ridicule to highlight folly or oddity. A Juvenalian satirist is much more likely to see the targets of his satire as evil or actively harmful to society, and to attack them with serious intent to harm their reputation or power. While Juvenalian satire often attacks individuals on a personal level, its most common objective is social criticism.

The two main categories of satire are named for the Roman writers most closely associated with their respective satirical forms. Juvenal was a poet active in the Roman Republic during the first century CE, best known for his bitter attacks on the public figures and institutions of the Republic, with which he disagreed. Where his predecessor Horace utilized gentle ridicule and absurdism to point out the flaws and foibles of the Roman society, Juvenal engaged in savage personal attacks. He utilized the satirical tools of exaggeration and parody to make his targets appear monstrous or incompetent. While he occasionally utilized humor to make his point, Juvenal's satire had more in common with the invective of a political pundit than the primarily humor-driven form favored by most modern satirists.

The primary weapons of Juvenalian satire are scorn and ridicule. Often, a satirist will exaggerate the words or position of an opponent, or place them in a context that highlights their flaws or self-contradictions. A satirical piece may be couched as a straightforward critique or take the form of an extended analogy or narrative. Often, characters in a Juvenalian narrative are thinly-veiled representations of public figures or archetypes of existing groups or modes of thought. The characters are made to act in such a way that the beliefs or behaviors the satirist wishes to attack are made to appear evil or absurd.

Juvenalian satire has been a common tool of social criticism from Juvenal's own lifetime to the present. Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson borrowed heavily from Juvenal's techniques in their critiques of contemporary English society. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley created Juvenalian mirrors of their own societies to address what they saw as dangerous social and political tendencies. Modern satirists such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker mount Juvenalian attacks on a wide range of social themes.

Ranging from the bitingly critical to the inanely goofy, satire in music can critique its targets through its music or its lyrics. Parody artists such as Weird Al Yankovic, Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine and Mark Russell craft catchy parodies or homages to popular songs with goofy lyrics. On the other hand, more serious acts such as Pink Floyd and Eminem craft elaborate satirical albums with acerbic social and political commentary.

An emerging medium, video games have transformed from simple entertainment into a more elaborately developed artistic form. As such, there are several video game titles that have a richly developed sense of satire inherent in their storylines. The Fallout series of games explores life in a cartoonishly crafted post-nuclear apocalypse world in which the remnants of the past world poke fun at 1950s American idealism. Similarly, the Grand Theft Auto series parodies highly stylized and glamorously violent films from the 1980s and '90s such as “Scarface,” “Goodfellas” and “Boyz in the Hood.”

What Is Horatian Satire? (with pictures)

Satire is a form of social criticism that manifests in art and literature. Horatian satire is a literary term for lighthearted, gentle satire that points out general human failings. It is usually contrasted with Juvenalian satire, which offers barbed jabs at specific immoral and corrupt behavior. Horatian satire is named after the Roman poet Horace, whose work has had a wide influence on Western culture. This form of satire is still practiced in modern times by cartoonists, comedians and comedy writers.

Horace is the English name of the classical Roman poet and satirist, whose full Latin name was Quintus Horatius Flaccus. He lived in the 1st century BC, and his book Ars Poetica was the definitive source on the poetic form until well into the 19th century AD. He coined many phrases that are still in use today, including carpe diem, or “seize the day.” His Satires poked fun at the dominant philosophical beliefs of ancient Rome and Greece. This approach, amused at human foibles but generally warm toward humanity itself, was immortalized with the term “Horatian satire.”

After the fall of the Roman Empire, much ancient literature, including Horatian satire, was forgotten by Western culture. In the Middle Ages, the rediscovery of classical art and literature led to a revival of interest in satire as well. The Horatian form was revived in such influential works as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The 16th century French writer Rabelais was so noted for his clever comedy that he inspired the phrase “Rabelaisian wit.” Chaucer and Rabelais drew inspiration from Horace, couching their social satires in whimsical stories that could be enjoyed for their own sake, appreciated as satire, or both.

The 18th century Irish writer Jonathan Swift was the most influential satirist of his time. The satire in his most noted work, Gulliver’s Travels, is so subtle that many modern readers do not even notice it. Those familiar with the political and cultural landscape of Swift’s time, however, will realize that the societies encountered by the shipwrecked Gulliver are criticisms of Swift’s own culture. Swift was equally adept at either Horatian or Juvenalian satire. The American patriot and writer Benjamin Franklin also penned many works of Horatian satire, often working, like Swift, under pseudonyms.

Mark Twain, considered one of the greatest writers in the English language, was fond of both Juvenalian and Horatian satire. An example of the latter was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which used a time-travel story to satirize romantic 19th-century views of warfare. Douglas Adams’ series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy used familiar science fiction themes to satirize modern society. Another modern Horatian satire is Matt Groening’s long-running cartoon The Simpsons. It uses the fictional small town of Springfield to poke fun at all aspects of American life.

Placing the Early Christian Family in its Roman Context

[2] The study of the family is at present a rich subfield within both early Christian studies and Roman history. A full survey of this scholarship is beyond the scope of this short article however, I intend to provide here a brief primer on some of the more interesting recent assessments and to point curious readers in fruitful directions. [1] I also hope to begin combining these findings with the distinctive Lutheran perspective and the current debates.

[3] A variety of sub-disciplines has contributed to the upswing in the study of the family. Feminist scholarship has pressing interest in questions of the family, both pioneering and continuing to break ground on a range of essential issues. Growing emphasis on the social history of the Roman world has greatly expanded knowledge of the family during the Roman Imperial Period. Added to these developments, is the attention of archaeologists, some of whom are turning away from large scale monuments and great works of art to examine more closely the artifacts of simple daily life. The confluence of these academic developments produced in 2000 an "Early Christian Families Group" to be held at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature. This SBL Group and the prominent scholars it draws together yearly provide a driving force behind the rich scholarship in recent years studying the early Christian family within its ancient context.

The Family According to Jesus and Paul

[4] New Testament attitudes towards the family within the setting of both Jesus' and Paul's ministries sets the stage for an examination of the early Christian family during the Roman Imperial Period. Jesus' attitudes towards his own family are markedly ambivalent in the gospel accounts. The prominent role of Jesus' mother Mary from the long birth narrative of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1ɉ-2ᛜ) extends into the Gospel of John where Mary is present at Jesus' first miraculous sign (John 2Ʌ-11) and again at the foot of the cross (John 19ᛁ-27). These Marian traditions stand sharply juxtaposed with Jesus' frustration with his family in Mark (Mark 3ᚽ and 31-35 6Ʌ-6a also Matthew 12ᛖ-50). Mark sets Jesus' critique of his family as part of his proclamation of the radical new definitions of family among his believers. Jesus' followers abandon their families and their attendant responsibilities to follow Jesus (Mark 1ᚸ-20 10ᛄ-30) and create a new community of redefined family made up of brothers and sisters. The Matthean account strongly emphasizes that Jesus did not come to overturn the law and the prophets (Matthew 5ᚹ-20) – and Jesus acknowledges the law to honor one's mother and father in the synoptic gospels (see for instance Matthew 19ᚻ Luke 18ᚼ Mark 7ɍ-13 10ᚻ). The message that Jesus brought, however, and the new patterns of relationship this message created clearly challenged established family bonds (Matthew 10ᛊ-39 Luke 12ᛙ-53). Jesus' brief end-times statements further underline this familial disruption. Jesus predicted a world to come in which brother would stand against brother and woe to the woman who was in childbirth (Mark 13ᚴ and 17 Matt. 24ᚻ Luke 21ᚸ) – not exactly an inspiration for a Norman Rockwell painting. The kingdom of God brought with it a redefined notion of family and constituted a fundamental challenge to the established social order of Jesus' times on many levels. This challenge to established family bonds in the light of a new passion to follow the way that Jesus set forth provided an ongoing motif in early Christianity. To put these changes in sociological terms, Christianity created a new fictive kinship group in contradistinction to the established kinship groups within its surrounding Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures. In theological terms, Christianity with its radical and complex notions of the kingdom of God (whether future or realized) constructed a newly unified family comprised of children of God who were adopted as brothers and sisters of Christ under a divine father. Traditional familial ideas of hospitality, loyalty and shared work took on new valences within this redefined fictive kinship group. [2]

[5] Paul also serves poorly as an advertising poster for traditional family values, whether conceived in ancient or modern terms. Paul is best characterized as showing decided indifference towards familial matters. Unmarried himself, he encouraged others to remain single if they could to escape unnecessary distractions (1 Cor. 7ɋ-8, 28, 32-35). Marriage is only specifically endorsed to provide acceptable sexual relations for anyone tempted otherwise towards sexual impurity (1 Cor. 7Ʌ-6, 9, 36-38 1 Thess. 4Ʌ-8). Within Paul's richly apocalyptic worldview, there was little need to worry about creating, let alone raising and educating the next generation. Instead, Paul offered the very practical advice that if one was married they should stay married, if single to remain single, and if a slave to remain a slave (1 Cor. 7ᚴ-40). Children and their ongoing care and protection were likewise of limited concern within this worldview. [3] None of these temporal states or concerns mattered much in the face of the apocalyptic urgency of the resurrection and in light of Paul's own encounter with the risen Christ. Interest in the family and especially in proper order within Paul's house churches only became a pressing ecclesiastical issue when internal disruption threatened to distract his communities from the more important and urgent work at hand.

[6] Like Jesus, Paul was very interested, however, in employing the language of family metaphorically to make sense of the relationships within the new Christian community. In his earliest letter, 1 Thessalonians, Paul uses familial language to describe the Thessalonians' new relationships with God, with himself and with one another. [4] Paul constructs the Thessalonians as a new eschatological family characterized by brotherly love for one another. Paul employs diverse language to describe his own relationship with the community including that of caring father, a wet nurse, and as an orphan while he is separated from them. God as father is envisioned as both creator of the whole world and also of the new family into which he draws those whom he loves. Paul is particularly fond of the parent/child relationship in describing the intimate relationships that connect the new believing community, himself, and God. He also connects the parent/child language especially with adoption and the promise of a new inheritance (Romans 8ᚶ-23 Galatians 3ᛂ-4ɋ). [5]

[7] Drawing upon contemporary ideas of the family, Jesus and Paul created a language of a newly defined idealized Christian community. To uncover Christian families and "notions of the family," however, one is instead forced to turn to the next generation of Christians. Living within slightly muted apocalyptic expectations, these predominantly gentile Christians raised families and lived lives within Greco-Roman cities scattered across the Roman Empire. These Christian families were the first to adapt the Gospel and Pauline messages to the challenges of an ongoing familial life within their world. To understand the lives of these families we must envision them within their socio-economic and cultural setting of the Roman family and only then consider where and if Christian families may have been distinctive from their larger surroundings. We must also always hold these familial relationships in tension with the other major streams of thought within Christianity that remained critical of family life, elevating in its place celibacy and ascetic renunciation. The Pauline Pastoral letters that emphasized marriage and childbirth did so in sharp contrast with the contemporary writings of the non-canonical Acts of the Apostles which valorized instead lives of chastity and virginity. The Pastorals, with all of their emphasis on proper roles for women, and startling ideas like women saved through childbirth, deliver a message of elevating marriage and family as a means to order and control the growing society of Christians. This message, however, remained but a counterpoint, or acceptable alternative, to the higher place reserved for the ideals of virginity and sexual renunciation.

[8] One of the fundamental challenges in studying the early Christian family is the difficulty of separating Christians during this time period from their larger Greco-Roman context. While we have writings by some of the early church fathers from the second through the fourth centuries that address issues of marriage and the family, these writings are typically far more interested in establishing prescriptive boundaries and constructing ideal forms than in describing realities of family life. [6] These writings effectively excluded the vast majority of Christians, the silent majority who lived less extreme lives. [7] To recover the early Christian family, then, we must rely instead on envisioning them first in terms of the Roman family of which they remained a subset. Christians by and large remained outwardly obedient, where possible, to the demands of Roman law and tradition and to present themselves as faithful Roman citizens. [8] With a few notable exceptions (such as with divorce and child exposure), Christians seemed willing to follow the lead of Roman attitudes towards the family. So what were those Roman attitudes toward family? What follows is a run-down of the top five important issues regarding the Roman family and a suggestion of how each connects with contemporary debates such as those of the ELCA's Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality .

Top Five List for the Roman Imperial Family

One: Definitions Matter!

[9] There is no single term in Latin for family as we mean it in modern terminology. [9] The closest cognate, familia , was used for a range of extended relationships organized under the pater familias (father). Familia most particularly described the grouping of individuals under the power and authority ( potestas ) of the pater familias organized often in hierarchical terms such as slaves, children, and mother. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the emphasis on power and authority, the term familia is used often to describe slaves and even groupings of slaves within a household. The word familia worked as a legal construct that did not necessarily define or describe social realities. [10] At stake in this legal usage were economic issues such as rights over the household and household property. The ambiguous place of the mother within the familia provides an important caution of the complexities and limits with using the word familia in relation to the modern family. If the mother had married sine manu ("without the hand" – see marriage discussion below) as was common during the Imperial Period then she remained part of her father's familia (and under his potestas ) rather than becoming part of her husband's familia .

[10] The term domus may be more useful for referring to the family in relation to modern notions and was increasingly employed by Romans during the Imperial Period to describe the "family." Domus indicated the physical building of the "house" as well as the grouping of people living together under one roof. In poorer families without attendant slaves or freedmen, the people who comprised the domus were often co-terminus with the nuclear family, possibly connecting to a few additional close family members living with them. But in wealthy families the term would extend to the vast number of people who could be tied together within one "household." The term domus could also extend to the wider group of kin that originated out of a single household. The domus extended still further to incorporate the dead, as well as the living. Busts of deceased family members and imagines (wax images of ancestors' faces that were worn especially by actors in funeral processions for the family) were displayed prominently within the home. Family tombs mirrored this ongoing connection through the domus, replicating the household symbolically and serving as places for living members to share ritual meals with their dead relatives.

[11] The domus possessed a powerful sacred and symbolic character. The essential sacred role of the household was manifest in the family lars and penates and with household altars on which the pater familias made simple regular offerings. [11] The physical structure of the domus demarcated essential boundaries of power and social hierarchy. The ability to defend one's own household was a fundamental statement of a man's power. The physical layout and artistic expression of the domus were carefully controlled by aristocrats to impress and even overwhelm their guests with their power and wealth. [12] The domus also served as a place to enact and reinforce the Roman system of patronage. The social system of patrons and clients was a defining feature of Roman political and economic life. Clients would come daily to the domus of their patrons to seek favors and protection and to find what was expected of them in return.

[12] The Greek term oikos which is employed frequently in the New Testament is roughly equivalent to the Roman term domus . Emphasizing the physical house or dwelling place, oikos extended to ideas of home, family and even civic life. [13] In the Greek East, earlier notions of the Greek family persisted during the Roman period. Concepts like the importance of the hearth and guest-friendship still had power. However, ruled by the Roman Empire, the Greek East was increasingly bound by Roman notions and definitions, particularly with the power and constraints of the ideas surrounding familia .

[13] Each of these specific terms for "the family" – familia , domus , and oikos – possessed fluidity and ambiguity. They dealt with the complexities of blood and kinship ties but also with the large number of non-kin such as slaves who were part of the household. They combined issues of power and organization, of legal rights and social responsibilities. Bound by physical location and by ties of affection, these terms incorporated a wide diversity of complex social realities. These terms and categories also remained open-ended. The domus or oikos , for instance, were not simply fixed structures or grouping of people but were ever shifting and always under construction. [14]

[14] Reflecting on the terminology of familia, domus and oikos may have useful implications both for understanding the context within which early Christians defined the family but also for our modern constructions of "family." For us family is also often defined by the state in terms of taxes and tax benefits, inheritances, legal protections and responsibilities. The reality of family life, its functioning, power (both internal and external), and even sacrality, however, may well elude these externally imposed definitions. The complex relationships that are formed by people living together under one roof as a single unit may most meaningfully describe "family" both then and now. We may also be wise to keep our own definitions ambiguous and open-ended, recognizing that the family unit remains both complex and ever changing.

Two: Back to the sources! What can we really know?

[15] It is essential with any topic in the ancient world that we remain sensitive to the sources: to what we know, how we know it, and what the limits of our knowledge are. For the study of the family, modern scholars have drawn from a wide range of ancient sources to try to reconstruct this elusive social reality. Daily life can be partially envisioned from the ground up thanks to archaeological finds of preserved houses and from the small finds of simple domestic items. [15] At the opposite end of the spectrum, laws reflect imperial attempts to define and control families from a top down perspective – the success and enforcement of these laws is, however, a very different matter, especially in a world with a responsive legal system and with no standing police force. Marriage and divorce documents preserved on papyri further reflect the legal aspects of marriage, while underlining the economic transactions that occurred between families in creating and dissolving these ties.

[16] Perhaps the most fruitful evidence for the study of the family has proven to be funerary monuments. Recording in written and artistic form idealized notions of real families set up by a particular individual at a particular moment of familial dislocation, these monuments provide both individualized perspectives and a wealth of demographic data for the study of the family. Some of the challenges with working with this material, however, include the highly formulaic language that distorted individual social realities to fit with idealized virtues and societal expectations. Both visual and written formulations shaped these remembrances into their best and most appealing light for passerby. This large body of funerary monuments has made groundbreaking demographic study of marriage patterns possible and has also begun to reveal the distinctiveness of regional practices in different parts of the empire. [16]

[17] Letters between family members offer fascinating windows into family life. These momentary written expressions are especially useful for considering the interconnections between family members and the ties of affection and concern that bound them together. Among our best correspondences are the letters of Pliny the Younger in the early second century CE expressing his notable fondness and longing for his accomplished wife Calpurnia and the letters of Cicero to his wife Terentia in the first century BCE expressing his concern over domestic matters, his attachment to his daughter Tullia, and his despair over her death. Unfortunately, despite the value of these two writers' correspondence, we have a limited number of preserved letters from which to reconstruct family life. [17]

[18] A significant number of ancient authors address aspects of the family within a diverse array of genres. While it would be tempting to construct our dominant images of the family out of these writings, the treatments often prove misleading with extreme crafting of descriptions of the family and family life to suit their own literary needs. So for instance, historians like Livy describe the rape of the Sabine women and the rape of Lucretia, two events that were foundational for the history of Rome and also helped to define the ideals of female behavior as well as threats to marriage. [18] In other sources, such as plays and poetry, we find significant misogyny. Juvenal's sixth satire provides a strikingly unflattering picture of women. Roman comedy loved to depict the extreme types of shrewish and conniving wives, libidinous women, and misbehaving domestic slaves, among many others. More recent study of the family through other sources has thankfully helped to balance the extremes that much of this literature might suggest about the Roman family, even as it has helped to clarify the real tensions that this literature explored and exploited. [19]

[19] Contemporary Christian authors also wrote about the family, with particular interest in the place of married life within Christianity. These writings by the early church fathers focused on such issues as the need for purity and the limits that this placed on sexuality along with the thorny problem of divorce. [20] While many of these writers acknowledged the value and necessity of marriage they were hardly praising of it. [21] Nor were they particularly sensitive to the pastoral needs that could emerge out of real marital struggles, holding rigidly to extreme ideals of purity and the absolute permanence of the marriage bond. Views of married life in the early church fathers were constructed in close relation to the higher ideals of virginity and asceticism. "Orthodox" attempts to draw a careful line that incorporated both marriage and virginity within Christianity labeled movements towards extreme views that excluded either practice as "heretical." [22] Despite attempts by Christian leaders to define marital practices and familial life, actual practice may have remained far closer to Roman practice than their ideals represent. In the fourth century, despite the increasingly prominent role of Christian leaders in shaping Roman society, actual marital practices retained much of their earlier Roman forms. No less an authority than Jerome in 384 CE found himself attending a funeral of a Christian husband. This husband had been married 22 times and his wife 20 times. Despite Jerome's harsh letter denouncing the situation, the extremes of Roman marital practice clearly persisted despite Christian attempts to redefine marriage. [23]

[20] For our current purposes, this recounting of the sources for Roman families provides a useful reminder of how elusive the realities of family life can be, where idealized notions shape expression and so much of what takes place within families remains buried beneath the surface. To make matters worse, both then and now we must consider who is doing the writing… just as almost all of the sources about the family in the ancient world came from men, so too modern discussions of the family are frequently dominated by very charged and particularized perspectives. This discussion of the sources also serves as an important caution of extreme and external attempts to define idealized notions of the family that are disconnected from the needs and situations of families in their day to day lives.

Three: The Marriage Bond

[21] For the Romans, as for us today, the marriage bond was the defining relationship out of which the family was created. Marriage was highly valued by the Romans as the foundation of both the city and the larger Roman state. [24] Marriage and the family that came out of it formed the essential social units that held the fabric of Roman society together. Political, economic, and religious life all were fashioned out of and around the family unit. One might expect from the centrality of the family in Roman life that the marriage bond would be protected at all costs (much as the early Christian leaders attempted to do in their writings). Instead, there was limited control of marriage with little external intrusion except where the state perceived its vital concerns as threatened. [25] Marriage was marked more by custom and tradition than by either official oversight or religious control.

[22] Marriage in the Roman world is best described by its Latin designation as affectio maritalis . [26] The defining aspect of marriage was when two people intended to be married and acted in a married way such as by living in the same place and functioning together as one economic and social unit (parallel in some ways to the modern categories of common law marriage and domestic partnerships). To be considered "married" by Roman law, both people had to possess conubium with one another, or the official right to marry. Limits to conubium between two partners were based especially on differences in social class or overly-close kinship while many men and women were incapable of legally marrying anyone – such as slaves and active soldiers (until 197 CE). People who lacked conubium did sometimes have other options. Men often chose to have a lasting and officially recognized concubine relationship with a woman who was their social inferior. Slaves could form marriage-like relationships of contubernium . These bonds of slaves were official enough that should both slaves be freed they were automatically considered married to one another. [27]

[23] Marriage could be marked by legal or religious transactions, but these transactions were supplemental, rather than necessary, elements for creating the marital bond. Marriage and divorce documents could be drawn up, but these documents, rather than reflecting the formation of the bond between the two partners, detail the economic interconnections between the two familiae connected by the marriage and reflected concern over the exchange of property centering on the dowry. The extent of this economic focus can be readily expressed by the difficulty of distinguishing between marriage and divorce documents. [28] Both types of document give detailed recounting of the specific items exchanged and their value and detail the family members who were overseeing the transactions, particularly on behalf of the woman.

[24] Religious ritual could also mark the formation of the marriage bond. Marriage was a fundamental rite of passage for women, and what we know about marriage ritual connects closely to the woman's shifting roles. The wedding would typically begin at the bride's house with auspices, sacrifices and a dinner. A procession with torches led the wife, accompanied by obscene songs and symbols of fertility, to her husband's house. Once she arrived, the new wife was passed by her attendants over the threshold and into her new home. [29] Arriving in her new home, she would begin the challenging process of negotiating her relationships with existing members of the household, often including a resident mother-in-law and children born from previous marriages. In the Roman world, marriage fundamentally dislocated women, shifting them from the world of one domus to another. Marriage also employed women as intermediaries to form an exchange that bound familiae together.

[25] Romans distinguished between two principal types of marriage – marriage cum manu (with the hand) and sine manu (without the hand). In marriage cum manu the wife passed fully from the power (potestas) of her father into that of her husband. She became a part of his household and her dowry came under his control. Upon her husband's death she could inherit from his estate. In marriage sine manu, the wife remained under the power, and within the household, of her father and her dowry was retained under her supervised control. In marriage sine manu, the wife's potential for inheritance was tied to her father rather than to her husband. During the early Republic women primarily married cum manu, but the practice shifted by the time of the Empire to that of sine manu.

[26] Either party could initiate divorce at any time. Remaining married, on the other hand, was expected to include ongoing consent by both parties. [30] Failure to produce children could result in divorce, and couples who remained married despite infertility depicted their choice to stay married as highly unusual. [31] Marital fault by either party could affect the resolution of a wife's dowry with the full dowry returning to the wife if the husband erred greatly or with the husband retaining some portion if the wife was at fault. [32] The dowry could be quite sizeable given that dowries were expected to provide for the woman's needs within marriage and as security should she divorce. [33] Husbands who divorced their wives could find themselves in significant financial straits as they struggled to repay money within legally specified time limits.

[27] Women first became legally eligible for marriage at twelve years of age. [34] In the upper classes, women married quite young, with marriage by the age of fourteen to sixteen common. [35] Men were not expected to marry until they officially became adults at the age of sixteen or seventeen and they often chose to wait until age thirty or later. [36] For aristocratic marriages, men were typically ten or more years older than their wives. Among the poorer classes, women tended to be older at the time of marriage and closer in age to their husbands. [37] In non-aristocratic marriages, women also may have served more fully as partners alongside their husbands in economic pursuits. Non-aristocratic women often chose to marry husbands who had professions with which they themselves had extensive experience. Aristocratic women certainly could and did take part in their husbands' own strivings towards political and economic advancement, but they tended to do so outside of the public sphere that was seen as the prerogative of their husbands. Women were typically expected to remarry soon after divorce or the death of a husband for as long as they remained of childbearing age, but women could also be praised in funerary epitaphs as retaining their devotion to their husbands by remaining as widows. [38]

[28] A woman's situation would change significantly if she were to become sui iuris (or freely in charge of her own legal transactions). This freedom could be attained with the death of a husband or father. After Augustus' marriage legislation it also was offered as an incentive for women to marry and bear children. Under Augustan Julian laws a free-born woman with three children or a freedwoman with four children was exempt from having a legal guardian and could dispose of property and make wills. [39] These women could choose their own future mates and should they choose to remain widows could become powerful players in charge of their own extended families.

[29] Throughout marriage, there was a strong emphasis on wives as partners to their husbands. Harmony ( concordia ) within a marriage and mutual support through misfortune were particularly praiseworthy. Monogamy throughout life was set as the ideal, and a woman who was wedded to only one man was celebrated as univira (a one-man woman). [40]

[30] Romans did possess ideals of romantic love, and even of love at first sight, as is evident in sources like the ancient romance novels composed and circulated in the first to fifth century CE Mediterranean. However, these ideals were probably never intended to be normative. With marriages usually arranged and the significant age spread between partners, notions of romantic love were not at the forefront in guiding the formation of marriage unions. What we do see from the preserved evidence is a wide diversity of expressions of attachment between partners that reflect the close partnerships that were often attained. This attachment usually emphasizes wifely devotion and faithfulness, chastity, frugality, and obedience namely the social expectations for an ideal marriage. Despite this often formulaic language, the tender expressions in visual and written forms break outside of these expected formulae to offer some examples of striking connection. [41] Other expressions remain cold and lifeless, possibly reflecting the stark reality that many marriages seem to have been cold and loveless places marked instead by rigid formality, control, and limited intimacy. [42]

[31] Attention to the marriage bond within discussion of the Roman family has tended to focus on the place and role of the wife within marriage. The husband certainly played a critical role, as well. Where discussion has addressed the role of the husband, it has tended to emphasize his power, both its extent and its limits. In theory the husband (whose own father was deceased) had absolute power, extending even to life and death, over his entire familia . [43] The pater familias ' absolute power tended to be exaggerated in earlier scholarship. In more recent treatments, there has been considerable questioning of the extent of that power in actual practice. Bounded by tradition and by responsibility for those under his care, a husband may have been much more limited in his exercise of power than was previously assumed. [44]

[32] Discussion of Roman marriage raises a number of important issues for us to consider today. Romans emphasized marriage and the family unit that emerged out of it as the central and defining unit of society. While we also recognize the importance of marriage and the family, the centrality of marriage is often displaced instead in favor of the individual. Individuals are projected as the fundamental societal unit in our culture with paramount focus on personal decisions, individual fulfillment, and individualized economic advancement. The Roman family, in contrast, offered marriage as the original bond out of which a much larger family was created a unit which then functioned as a single larger economic, political and religious unit bound together by ties of mutual obligation. This more corporate sensibility that stretched across the generations may serve as a ready challenge to extremes of individualism to which our society often succumbs. Similarly, our modern elevation of romantic love and sexual passion over the Romans' typically simpler emphases on partnership and harmony can as often inspire destructive behaviors as create marital bonds to be celebrated.

[33] Consideration of Roman marriage also underlines the very real power and hierarchical relationships that can dominate family life. Too often, women (and men) can become the objects and victims in this equation. While we may find some cause for self-congratulation that there is greater equality in marriage today, power dynamics within marriages continue to provide frequent vehicles for abuse and victimization. The exact role and place of both partners within the marriage bond remains an ongoing issue of creative debate. [45]

[34] Roman marriage, with its limited intrusion by official state and religious authorities, may also offer a useful perspective on the values and limits of external attempts at control. The complex bonds and internal relationships within marriage defy external definition or oversight both then and now. Ideals can be offered and encouraged by the larger society and by religious authorities. Marriage can also be supported from the outside with help offered especially in times of distress. But it is only after the marital bonds are broken that external forces have the clearest role, with the necessity to step in and protect both parties from further harm and allow for the healing necessary to create new relationships This is a role the church has often been hesitant to play with its conflicted attitudes towards divorce.

[35] The primary purpose of Roman marriage was procreation and the begetting of new heirs to serve as citizens and soldiers. Children were officially under the father's absolute power and control. Ritually, the father officially accepted the child by acknowledging them and even by picking them up off of the ground after they were born. Upon accepting the child, the father bore responsibility for seeing to their education and preparing them to take their place in the world. In practice, much of the raising of children fell on the shoulders of slaves and servants. Wet nurses were frequently employed, and we have a number of preserved contracts, which set the duration of the contract for eighteen months to two years. The practical aspects of regular oversight and education of young children fell primarily to slaves, especially after the late Republic (at least in the wealthier households, about which we are best informed). Cultivating education had very practical purposes for young boys, but also served to increase the value of slaves and could be seen to add to the charms of a young girl. Within a household, all children (whether slave, free, male or female) were often educated together in their early years. Children could form significant attachment to their wet-nurses and tutors. In sharp contrast, scholars have questioned the extent of emotional attachment between parents and their young children.

[36] The most extreme expression of this lack of early attachment by parents may be found in the practices of infanticide and exposure. For families unable or unwilling to raise children, it was an acceptable (if undesirable) practice to abandon them. Exposed especially on the garbage heaps outside of cities, many of these children survived as slaves or occasionally were taken in and raised by other families as their own. [46] This practice of exposure was repugnant to some Roman moralists and denounced by Jewish thinkers like Philo and by early Christians. Child exposure remained a social reality and was not criminalized until 374 under the emperor Valentinian (after more than half a century of "Christian" emperors). Even once it was criminalized, the practice likely continued, when it was not simply replaced by the alternative of giving the children to monasteries. [47] In 529, the emperor Justinian declared for the first time that all such children could not be made into slaves, but were free.

[37] If parents did appear to lack affection, it may well have been in an attempt to protect themselves emotionally from the harsh realities of life and especially of death with young children. Mortality rates were shockingly high to our modern sensibilities. Roughly one quarter of all children born alive died before their first birthday, while half of them were dead by the age of ten. Put another way, a woman would have to bear approximately five children to make it likely that two would live into their adult years. [48] The death of young children was not a shocking tragedy in the ancient world but a grim reality in the life of families. Despite this high mortality, and even in the face of it, parents did form strong attachments to their children. In fact the treatment of children in death seems to belie any assumptions that parents lacked affection for their children. Family graves often depict children who died very young as part of the family grouping. Child graves include small finds of value as well as items of touching poignancy like favorite dolls and toys. Inscribed epitaphs lament the loss of beloved children and of their remarkable lives cut short. [49]

[38] In contrast with all of these concerns over affection, many Greek and Roman writers seemed keenly aware of the behavior of small children and of their stages of development. Childish antics were frequently seen as a source of delight, and the protection and nurturing of children was considered of significant importance. Plutarch's letter to his wife upon the death of their two year old daughter captures the very real attachment parents could feel, celebrating the delight that she brought to them and the joy of embracing and watching her which was now matched by an equal sorrow. [50]

[39] Another critical element to be aware of throughout treatment of the Roman family, but especially as it affected children, was the frequent disruptions to the family. Mortality for men was also quite high thanks to illness and military service, with the result that many children grew up without a living father. For women mortality was similarly high, especially surrounding the dangers of childbirth. Where parents did survive, the high divorce and remarriage rates in the Roman world meant that the family unit was frequently reconstituted. These disruptions often placed children in liminal and vulnerable positions.

[40] Again, Roman attitudes towards children and their place within family life offer some fascinating insights to modern thoughts on the family and sexuality. Can and should children be the primary purpose of marriage? For Romans the answer was clearly yes, with failure to produce children likely to end in divorce and remarriage. For early Christians the issue was more difficult to answer. Divorce and remarriage were unacceptable because of the strong emphasis on retaining sexual purity. Children were seen in a mixed light they could be represented as a blessing (in the language such as that of the Abrahamic covenant, or even as a type of immortality) but they could just as easily be seen as a further burden and distraction that provided one more argument in favor of the celibate life.

[41] The question of affection towards young children is also interesting. In our culture, there is a clear expectation of close affection of parents for their children from the moment of birth with exceptions to this cast as deviant. Actual patterns of affection may however be more complex. With the need in many modern families for both parents to work and spend long hours away from their children, affection patterns can become complicated. As with the Romans, close ties of affection often extend to those who care for the children on a daily basis, and these often are not the parents. These ties of affection in many ways extend the family unit to partially incorporate non-kin especially during intensive child-raising years. Parents forced by the demands of the working world can also all too easily become managers of their children and disciplinarians, missing out on opportunities to form close bonds of affection and to share in the best parts of their children's day to day lives.

[42] This issue of affection also underlines one of the ongoing issues with children, namely their vulnerability. Children's worlds are constructed by those who have power over them, with their needs and desires often placed distantly behind the needs and desires of others. While nurturing relationships within environments of trust and security may represent the ideal, all too often children grow up instead in environments marked by brokenness: whether that of divorce, neglect, or abuse. Families can as easily generate hurt and alienation that must be overcome as create any foundation of trust. Making sense of and ministering to this brokenness within families is vital if children are to be able to develop successful relationships later in life.

[43] The Roman family also may offer an optimistic example of the surprising resilience of both the family and of the children within it. [51] Despite patterns of frequent disruption, incredibly complex formulations of the family unit, and often limited connections with children in their early years – both the family and the children raised within it proved remarkably vital. Indeed, it would seem that it was the very complexity of the family unit, its extended definition, and the many strategies within it which provided such enduring strength in the face of such adversity.

Five: Sexuality Within and Outside of the Family[52]

[44] Male sexuality within the marriage bond had relatively few limits placed upon it when compared with what we assume today. Men were expected to produce children with their wives and to abstain from intercourse with married or marriageable women (or at least not get caught doing it). However, a wide range of sexual relationships were otherwise permissible. An entire class of women were labeled as disreputable or infamis and were considered below the attention of the law and thus fair game for male sexual attention. Men could largely act as they pleased with their own slaves, while sexual involvement with another's slave was unacceptable and treated as damaging to property. Same-sex relations (which Romans represented as a Greek influence) were also acceptable, particularly with involvement with an adolescent male who was not freeborn. Serving as the passive partner in same-sex acts, however, could bring into question one's masculinity and power and functioned as a popular attack in Roman satire. Incest was also repugnant and served alongside accusations of passive same-sex acts for accusing a man of sexual misconduct and as an effective slur on his whole character. Overall, men were allowed significant freedom in their personal sexual gratifications as long as they fulfilled their familial obligations and acted properly within the public sphere. The example of Cato the Elder serves to illustrate both the freedoms and constraints embodied by a famed moralist of the late Republic. Cato harshly condemned adultery, demanding that women be put to death for it. He likewise expected men to fulfill their marital duties and to restrain from adultery. However, Cato approved of married men visiting brothels as a means to satisfy their sexual desires without transgressing their marital obligations. Cato himself was described as keeping a slave specifically for his own sexual gratification and of marrying a young woman in his old age to satisfy his undiminished sexual desires. [53]

[45] Female sexuality was more constrained by marriage. Women could roughly be divided into two categories, those who were marriageable women and were highly controlled in their sexuality and those who were not seen as marriageable and did not have constraints placed on their sexuality. Married and marriageable women acting sexually outside of marriage risked accusations of stuprum . [54] Most often describing adultery, stuprum included any illicit and disgraceful sexual activity. [55] Stuprum brought dire shame upon the family and was punishable by the pater familias under whose jurisdiction the woman lived. The pater familias always in theory had the power of life and death over those under him, and adultery is one of the few occasions that truly harsh punishments may have been exercised. Notably, while a man should not have engaged in such adultery either, he was not necessarily shamed by the act. It was only if he was caught in flagrante within the domus that his offense to the authority of the husband was so threatening as to require reprisal. The emperor Augustus enacted a series of important marriage reforms. One of these reforms made adultery a public crime that was a threat to the larger state, requiring that it be tried in a court of law rather than dealt with as an internal matter of the household. [56]

[46] Romans projected an image of themselves as restrained in their own sexuality, particularly in their earlier origins and in contradistinction to both Etruscans and Greeks. However, the ideal of chaste wives at home weaving wool and hardworking temperate husbands out in the field dutifully returning home after farming or fighting to create children for the needs of the state seems to be lost with the expansion of Rome in the late Republic (if it ever truly existed). Romans in the early Empire possessed an odd mix of longing for an ideal of a perceived earlier morality and an embracing of the joys of more permissive sexuality. While Augustus engaged in moralizing marital reforms with laws that attempted to constrain the sexual activities of the aristocrats, poets like Ovid and Catullus extolled the joys of sexual longing and gratification that often transgressed these very ideals of appropriate sexuality.

[47] One of the shifts that Christianity offered with marriage was an attempt to control more fully the sexuality of both partners within the marital relationship. Men and women were both expected to hold themselves to ideals of purity, a purity that looked towards models of virginity and asceticism recast into the acceptable if undesirable outlet of procreative sex within marriage. Christian ideals of purity could effectively build upon internal critiques within Roman expectations of sexuality and married life. Setting themselves at the opposite end of the spectrum from the problematic and periodically outlawed practices of Bacchic worship, Christians represented themselves as models of sexual temperance. Christians could claim to aspire to even higher standards than popular philosophers like the Stoics, who cautioned against seeking too strongly after desire even within the confines of the marital relationship.

[48] This brief discussion of sexual limits and license with Roman and early Christian marriage again connects to ongoing issues. Roman Imperial practice seems to mirror some of the extremes of double-standards that our society still tolerates in male infidelity as well as the voyeuristic fascination projected onto women of their taking every available opportunity to transgress appropriate marital bonds (think "Desperate Housewives"). The misuse of power with sexual intimacy also remains a vital concern, with an ongoing need to protect those who are most vulnerable to victimization, be they children, husbands, or wives.

[49] Having addressed a range of important sub-topics within the Roman and early Christian family and some of their possible implications for current deliberation, I wanted to turn briefly to address the proposed sexuality statement more directly.

[50] One of the areas where the sexuality statement is most successful is in placing the issue of sexuality within the larger issue of relationships. The family becomes important in this setting as a foundational place for the constructing of relationships. The nurturing environment of trust and mutuality is emphasized within this family unit, but there is also acknowledgment of the brokenness. Throughout this treatment, emphasis on the theological underpinnings of all relationships in a world redrawn by God's grace remains paramount.

[51] Whether by accident or design, the complexity of metaphorical and anti-family language in the New Testament is often eschewed in favor of the less problematic relational language of the Hebrew Bible. Similarly, the real tensions that shaped sexual attitudes within early Christianity where married life and acceptable sexuality were constructed as an acceptable middle path between the ideal of sexual renunciation and the dangers of sexual depravity is replaced with the more marital and sexually affirming language of the Hebrew Bible.

[52] The richly metaphorical language of Paul and Jesus, which drew upon the power and complex relationships within the family to convey the newly defined community, remain of great value. [57] We should not try to oversimplify this language – in which Paul can be an orphan when separated from his community, a fellow brother in Christ adopted by God, a father to their fledgling community and a wet-nurse in his care for them in their infancy. Because of our own experiences with family, many have shied away from language like God as father, but there is a richness and power to all of this language that we need to claim, even sometimes in opposition to the reality of families that can be places of brokenness as much as foundations of trust.

[53] With Christian ideas of redrawn fictive kinship, there is also intriguing potential for greater protection and nurturing created by extending familial relationships. Church communities can serve as vital embodiments of "family" that can strengthen existing family relationships while expanding the boundaries of traditional families. Perhaps the Clintonian emphasis that to raise a child "it takes a village" should instead be replaced with "it takes a church." Such expanded familial boundaries can sadly bring with them new opportunities for abuse as well as protection that must be carefully guarded against.

[54] Early Christianity offers a tension between married life as a necessary and occasionally valued way of life and a calling to extreme versions of purity in the forms of virginity and asceticism. While virginity and asceticism have become de-emphasized particularly in the Protestant tradition, there is a fascinating tension here that continues to inform and shape our attitudes towards family and sexuality within Christianity. I might caution against too quickly removing this tension as we seek to elevate the values and realities of married life. Striving for extremes of purity certainly has its place within the Christian life, even as our inevitable failing and brokenness must be acknowledged. This is one area where I would argue against simply remaking the tradition in our own more modern image.

[55] The Lutheran tradition is particularly well-suited to address both this striving towards perfection and inevitable failing, given the tension Lutheran theology holds between law and gospel, sin and grace. There is neither a need to relativize the ideal of Christian families to suit current cultural trends, nor the need to fixedly project or guard impossible ideals. Instead it is possible to hold out the potential for families as a place of trust and protection and of striving to create loving relationships that help to recreate God's creation as it was meant to be, while also extending God's grace to the broken realities that families can all too often become.

[1] A brief suggested bibliography for the early Christian family includes: Halvor Moxnes, ed., Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor (London: Routledge, 1997) David L. Balch and Carolyn Osiek, eds., Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches (Louisville: KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997) and David L. Balch and Carolyn Osiek, eds. Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003) and Biblical Interpretation 11 (Leiden: Brill, 2003) a host of recent articles also address the topic with the entire issue of Journal of Early Christian Studies 15 (2007) devoted to the topic with an emphasis on late antiquity. Scholarship on the Roman family is extensive and includes especially: Richard Saller, Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family (New York: Cambridge, 1994) Sheila Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992) and eadem , The Roman Mother (London: Croom Held, 1988) Keith Bradley, Discovering the Roman Family (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) Judith Evans Grubbs, Law and Family in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995) Susan Treggiari, Roman Marriage (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991) Beryl Rawson's edited volumes The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986) and eadem , Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome (Oxford, Clarendon 1991) Michele George, ed., The Roman Family in the Empire: Rome, Italy and Beyond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). For excellent sources on the family and especially women see Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Fant, Women's Life in Greece and Rome (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005) Judith Evans Grubbs, Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook on Marriage, Divorce, and Widowhood (London: Routledge, 2002) and Diotima – .

[2] Christians were not alone in their use of fictive kinship language. The language of God as father put within contemporary cultural terms was employed by Philo and by Greco-Roman philosophers. Collegia – Roman fraternal organizations – also employed familial language to describe their relationships with one another. For a brief description see Wayne Meeks, The Origins of Christian Morality: the First Two Centuries (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1993), 170-172 and for collegia more generally see Wayne Meeks , The First Urban Christians: the Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 77-80.

[3] For an intriguing treatment of children which focuses especially on placing them theologically at the center of familial discussion, see Adrian Thatcher, Theology and Families (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

[4] Abraham Malherbe, "God's New Family in Thessalonica," in The Social World of the First Christians , L. Michael White and O. Larry Yarbrough, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 116-125. The brief summary of 1 Thessalonians that follows draws especially on Malherbe's discussion.

[5] O. Larry Yarbrough, "Parents and Children in Paul," in The Social World of the First Christians , L. Michael White and O. Larry Yarbrough, eds. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 126-141 places emphasis especially on 1 and 2 Corinthians.

[6] For a similar assessment of the situation see Rosemary Radford Ruether, Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000). Ruether offers a solid overview of many of the critical periods of development for the Christian family and is particularly praiseworthy for considering carefully the consequences of her reflections.

[7] For consideration of these writings and their particular perspectives as well as the emphasis on a silent majority, see the excellent discussion in Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

[8] For an intriguing assessment of how Christians and Jews played upon ideals of the Roman family in their own self-constructions, particularly with the fundamental idea of pietas in 4 Maccabees and in the Pastorals see Carolyn Osiek, "Pietas In and Out of the Frying Pan," in Biblical Interpretation 11 (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 166-172.

[9] For discussions of this terminology see Kate Cooper, "Approaching the Holy Household," Journal of Early Christian Studies 15 (2007): 131-138 Richard Saller, Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family (New York: Cambridge, 1994), 74-101 Sheila Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992), 1-35 and Keith Bradley, Discovering the Roman Family (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 1-12.

[10] For discussion of the legal emphasis of familia see especially Jane F. Gardner, Family and Familia in Roman Law and Life (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

[11] For discussion of domestic religion see Mary Beard, John North and Simon Price, Religions of Rome , 2 Vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[12] Kate Cooper, "Closely Watched Households: Visibility, Exposure and Private Power in the Roman Domus," Past and Present (2007): 3-33.

[13] Aristotle's Politics sets out the Greek notion of family set within the larger social structures. Aristotle's hierarchical organization of the family was highly influential and shaped the household codes of the New Testament in 1 Corinthians and the Pastoral epistles.

[14] See Margaret Mitchell, "Why Family Matters for Early Christian Literature," 358 in Early Christian Families in Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003) for the unfinished and open-ended character of the household playing on the common modern practice in Turkey of families leaving exposed rebar on top of their concrete homes to allow for later additions to incorporate future generations.

[15] Domestic finds include prosaic objects of day to day life such as pottery and loomweights as well as more startling erotic images on items like hand mirrors and wall paintings.

[16] Richard Saller and Brent Shaw's groundbreaking study or Roman tombstones – "Tombstones and Roman Family Relations in the Principate: Civilians, Soldiers and Slaves," Journal of Roman Studies 74 (1984), established the value of demographic study of the materials and emphasized the importance of the nuclear family. Dale Martin's "The Construction of the Ancient Family: Methodological Considerations," Journal of Roman Studies (1996): 40-60 challenged Saller and Shaw's earlier assessment of the nuclear family to emphasize larger extensions of the family based on a smaller selection of materials from Asia Minor. For emphasis on the regional distinctiveness of the family see especially Michele George, ed., The Roman Family in the Empire: Rome, Italy and Beyond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[17] The Vindolanda Tablets discovered at a fort in northern England provide a rare cache of letters including ones between family members. They are available online at . Of particular interest for the family is .

[18] Livy, History of Rome 1.9 (rape of the Sabine women) and 1.57-60 (rape of Lucretia). For discussion of the importance of these two mythic stories in shaping marriage and for the place of women more generally see the excellent recent treatment by Eve D'Ambra, Roman Women (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

[19] For an intriguing attempt to use ancient fiction to reconstruct aspects of the Roman family, particularly ones that are not usually preserved in the sources that so strongly emphasize aristocratic families, see Keith Bradley, "Fictive Families: Family and Household in the "Metamorphoses" of Apuleius," Phoenix 54 (2000): 282-308.

[20] See for instance the Shepherd of Hermas with its prohibition against divorce, and categorizing of any later sexual activity as adultery. These concerns about divorce built upon Jesus' and Paul's teachings about divorce (Mark 10Ɇ-12 1 Cor. 7ᚲ-11 Romans 7Ɇ-3). Early Christians were particularly concerned about making sure that those who they chose as leaders had not been divorced, with it expressed as a specific requirement for selection. For references to some of the major texts by the early Christian writers on marriage and divorce and brief bibliography – as well as an excellent resource for materials on the early church fathers more generally see .

[21] Augustine offers one of the most highly praising treatments of the value of marriage within this literature. His On the Good of Marriage carefully defends the importance of marriage. His treatment defending marriage was written in direct challenge to rival views that questioned the value of marriage. Notably this work is also balanced by his writing On Holy Virginity . Strikingly, Augustine categorized marriage primarily as friendship and was highly uncomfortable with the realities of sexuality and desire, particularly as they affected the will. For a useful discussion see Peter Brown, Body and Society , 401-408.

[22] David Hunter, Marriage, Celibacy and Heresy in Ancient Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

[23] Geoffrey Nathan, The Family in Late Antiquity (New York: Routledge, 2000), begins and ends his study of late antique marriage with this particular example. Nathan's work offers a useful detailing of the persistence of Roman marital practice among Christians in late antiquity despite moves towards its redefinition by church leaders.

[24] See Cicero, On Duty 1.54 for Greek ideas about marriage and family and its place within civic life see especially Aristotle's Politics 1 and 2.

[25] The Augustan Marriage legislation is a striking exception to this hands-off policy, but was presented as a response to a dire threat within the aristocracy. The legislation also seems to have had limited effect in accomplishing its desired goals. Constantine likewise attempted a series of marital reforms, albeit with questionable effect.

[26] Dig. 50.17.30 C.Just. 5.17.11. See for instance Susan Treggiari, Roman Marriage. Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[27] For discussion of these other types of relationship see Beryl Rawson, "Roman Concubinage and Other de facto Marriages," Transactions of the American Philological Association 104 (1974).

[28] For an excellent site with marriage and divorce papyri see which can be accessed at .

[29] We do not have a complete description of a wedding from the early Empire, but Tacitus, Annals 11.27 combines with a diverse array of other sources including poetry by Catullus to give a fairly full accounting of the practices.

[30] An oral statement of intent to divorce made before witnesses was sufficient typically to mark the process.

[31] See for instance the remarkable eulogy CIL (Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum) 6.1527/ ILS (Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae) 8393.

[32] The distinctions of fractions of the dowry apportioned are fairly complex. For brief discussion see the useful summary article by Susan Treggiari in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean , ed. by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988).

[33] Among aristocrats 1 million or more sesterces during the early Empire might be expected – cf. Tacitus, Annals 2.86.2 Martial 11.23.3-4 and Juvenal, Satires 6.137 – for further discussion see Susan Treggiari, Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean , ed. by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988), 1348. Treggiari also briefly details the challenges men could face when forced to repay the dowry, particularly if they had used it as collateral to borrow money.

[35] Keith Hopkins, "The Age of Roman Girls at Marriage," Population Studies 18 (1965) and Brent Shaw, "The Age of Roman Girls at Marriage: Some Reconsiderations," Journal of Roman Studies 77 (1987): 30-46.

[36] See R.P. Saller, "Men's Age at Marriage and Its Consequences in the Roman Family," Classical Philology 82 (1987): 21-34.

[37] Christians appear to have married older and closer in age, but this may well correspond with a difference in social class rather than any distinctive practice by Christians – see Brent Shaw, "The Age of Roman Girls at Marriage: Some Reconsiderations," Journal of Roman Studies 77 (1987): 30-46.

[38] Augustan marriage legislation attempted to force women to remarry soon after divorce or the death of a husband, with economic penalties for failure to do so. The pastoral epistles similarly expect a woman to marry again rather than remaining a widow, this was particularly important as widows could expect some support from the community and retained a certain status. For a particularly vexing case of a woman’s remarriage, see Apuleius’ Apology 18 – the case of Pudentilla in which her brother, deceased husband’s brother, and surviving son all have a vested interest.

[39] Augustus created the Julian Laws in 18 BCE and the Papia-Poppaean Laws in 9 CE encouraging women to produce children and punishing celibacy. See also Dio Cassius, Roman History 54.16 and Tacitus, Annals 3.25.

[40] For ideals of long harmonious marriages see for instance CIL 6.33087 (a freed couple married for 60 years) CIL 6.1779/ ILS 1259 (Paulina's epitaph for her husband Praetextatus) for similar ideals within Christianity see Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres 81, 333, 404, 3343, 4311, 4346. For additional discussion of the ideal of the harmonious, lifelong marriage and of marriage more generally see the excellent short summary by Judith Evans Grubs under "Marriage" in Late Antiquity , G.W. Bowersock, Peter Brown and Oleg Grabar, eds. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 563-565.

[41] This funerary urn praises the wife as being most faithful, most loving and most devoted and includes a fairly common image of the two with clasped hands, as in the marriage ritual – . For a sterner if highly realistic depiction of a married couple see – .

[42] Abuse was also sadly permissible with wife-beating sadly commonplace – see for instance Augustine's Confessions 9.9.

[43] Remember, however, that if the wife had married sine manu she remained officially part of the familia of her father rather than her husband and was under his potestas .

[44] For a recent example of the limits of the pater familias ' power see Steven Thompson, "Was Ancient Rome a Dead Wives' Society? What Did the Roman Paterfamilias Get Away With?," Journal of Family History 31 (2006): 3-27 for an excellent treatment of how the ideals of pietas effectively balanced the power of the pater familias see Richard Saller, Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family (New York: Cambridge, 1994).

[45] See for instance Rosemary Radford Ruether's concluding thoughts in chapter 9 of Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000).

[46] Even with exposure, parents may have clung to the hope that their child would be taken into a good family. Children were often abandoned with clothes and with birth tokens such as jewelry – see Valerie French "Birth Control, Childbirth, and Early Childhood" in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean , ed. by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988), 1355-1362 for this observation and for a good brief treatment on children. Exposure rates are unclear but may have ranged from 10 to 20 percent of children with exposure most common among the poor and with female children. For child exposure see also William V. Harris, "Child-Exposure in the Roman Empire," Journal of Roman Studies 84 (1994): 1-22.

[47] Christians may have had ready alternatives from early on with their own extended social connections and fictive kinship allowing for easier placement of children into other homes. Certainly the acceptance of children by monasteries provided an attractive alternative. For early opposition to exposure among Christians see Didache 2.2.

[48] Keith Bradley, "The Roman Child in Sickness and Health," in The Roman Family in the Empire: Rome, Italy, and Beyond (Oxford, 2005).

[50] For this more positive assessment of Greek and Roman attitudes towards children and for the example of Plutarch, see Valerie French "Birth Control, Childbirth, and Early Childhood," 1355-1362 in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean , ed. by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988).

[51] For an insightful reflection on the surprising resilience of the Roman family see Suzanne Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), esp. 160-163.

[52] Sexuality within the Roman World is another example of an enormous sub-topic within social history. Here my purpose is to consider the narrower sub-topic of the freedoms and constraints placed upon sexuality which surrounded the family.

[53] For Cato the Elder see Plutarch's Parallel Lives and Horace's Satires . For a more extended discussion of this topic generally and of Cato specifically (with him cast as hypocritical) see Judith Hallett, "Roman Attitudes Toward Sex," 1265-1278 in Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean , ed. by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988).

[54] It is unclear how often women did choose to act adulterously. Male authors of poetry and comedy regularly present wives seeking out opportunities for dalliances with young men, performers such as gladiators and attractive slaves. How much this is a projection of their own imaginations, however, is unclear.

[55] Aline Rousselle, Porneia: on Desire and the Body in Antiquity (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), offers a useful discussion of the distinction between the two effective classes of women, of the range of acceptable and available partners for each sex, and of the category of stuprum . The treatment in Porneia focuses especially on the difficult place of women and the uneven expectations, but remains an excellent discussion of the fundamental issues.

[56] The Augustan Julian Laws made adultery a crime that was punished by the state. The laws also clarified that a husband or father could kill both the wife/daughter and their adulterer if they caught them in their own home.

[57] For careful consideration of some of the aspects of this metaphoric language and its intersection with and contradiction of social realities within the ancient world see Halvor Moxnes, ed. Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor (London: Routledge, 1997).

Examples of Satire in Film and Literature

Below are several famous examples of satire from film and literature. These writers used a combination of parody, irony, and humor to both entertain and enlighten audiences.

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove

“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

One of the most oft-cited quotes from the film (and in film history), President Muffley’s concern for the unrest in the War Room illustrates the connection between satire and irony. Dr. Strangelove employs satire to entertain audiences while making a more serious commentary on war and politics.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, farm animals rebel against their human farmer to form their own society free of tyranny. However, it’s not long before the pigs take over, reproducing the same unjust treatment the animals sought to replace, and creating a totalitarian regime.

Orwell’s novel satirizes the breakdown of ideologies and the abuse of power, which was interpreted as an attack on Stalinist Russia at the time it was written.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

“‘Let the jury consider their verdict,’ the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first — verdict afterwards.’”

There are a lot of theories out there regarding the “true” meaning behind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but it’s not hard to see the satirical nature of some of Carroll’s passages.

The above scene, for example, can be interpreted as a satire on the Victorian justice system.

A Teaching for Americans: Roman History and the Republic’s First Identity

What did Rome mean to the original Americans? What counsel did its early history contain? And what must we conclude about our forefathers from their somewhat selective devotion to the Roman analogue?

The Federal District of Columbia, both in its formal character as a capital and also in its self-conscious attempt at a certain visual splendor, is, for every visitor from the somewhat sovereign states, a reminder that the analogy of ancient Rome had a formative effect upon those who conceived and designed it as their one strictly national place. What our fathers called Washington City is thus, at one and the same time, a symbol of their common political aspirations and a specification of the continuity of those objectives with what they knew of the Roman experience. So are we all informed with the testimony of the eye, however we construe the documentary evidence of original confederation. So say the great monuments, the memorials, the many public buildings and the seat of government itself. So the statuary placed at the very center of the Capitol of the United States. And much, much more.

But Roman architecture and sculpture were not the primary inspiration for America’s early infatuation with the city on the Tiber. That connection came by way of literature, and particularly from readings in Roman history. What Livy, Tacitus, Plutarch, and their associates taught the generation that achieved our independence was the craft of creating, operating, and preserving a republican form of government. For gentlemen of the eighteenth century, Rome was the obvious point of reference when the conversation turned to republican theory. The Swiss, the Dutch, the Venetians and (of course) the Greek city states sometimes had a place in such considerations. And in New England the memory of the Holy Commonwealth survived. Yet Rome had been the Republic, one of the most durable and impressive social organisms in the history of the world. Moreover, there was a many-sided record of how it developed, of how its institutions were undermined and of the consequences following their declension. This Rome was no construct issuing from deliberations upon the abstract “good,” no fancy of “closet philosophers.”[1] Public men might attend its example with respect, learn from its triumphs and its ruin. On these shores they did. And, once we were independent, with a special urgency. To explain why and with what results, I will first reconstruct a composite Roman model according to the understanding of those first Americans and then document that pointed synthesis with a limited selection from the wealth of supporting evidence left to us from the architects of our political identity. Only then will it be possible to account for the impetus given by this effort at emulation to the development of an indigenous American regime: account for and thus correct many now accepted readings of our early history, as that identification requires.

The best way to recover Roman history as it signified to the English Whig or like-minded commonwealthsman of the late eighteenth century is to ignore such diverting questions as what it meant to the republican historians themselves, to Polybius, to Plutarch, the Renaissance, or the leaders of the French Revolution. Or of what it means to Western man today. The distinction here is akin to the difference between the study of biblical influence and direct exposition of the scripture itself. Our fathers trusted the Roman historians rather well. To them, as to other late Augustans, history was a moral and political study, not a precise antiseptic science.[2] And especially Roman history. They found the truth of men and manners in its long and varied entirety. This enlightenment did, to be sure, include a deposition from life under the Caesars—even though that testimony was chiefly negative in character. But the deepest teaching of the full chronicle was concentrated in its first three parts: from 510–252 b.c., the rise of the Republic (in Livy and Book II of Cicero’s De Republica) 262–202 b.c., the era of the Punic Wars (in Livy, Appian, and Polybius) and 201–27 b.c., the decline toward anarchy and despotism (in Sallust, Lucan, Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch, and others).[3] Admiration for the old order was a convention with the later, imperial authorities. Caesar allowed the sentiment, sometimes even officially encouraged it: Caesar as the only conceivable keeper of the republican fires. Yet the moral imagination of Romanitas continued its location in the memory of the Republic long after the subject of this recollection had forever disappeared. Nothing could be more republican than the wicked, arbitrary, and tumultuous princes drawn to life in Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars, than Tacitus’s portrait of Tiberius in The Annals, or the Galba and Otho of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. But these writings are republican only by implication. It is a presupposed knowledge of the Republic itself, and of the books where it is described and reported, that gives them an indirect resonance of bygone stabilities. Finally, it is the history of the Republic that is republican history proper.

Yet an even further narrowing of focus is in order. Beyond any doubt or question, the second of my divisions of the Roman record before Augustus is the most important. For its relation to the other two is almost as normative as that of the entire Republican period to the total history of Rome. Indubitably, the tale turned there, the action that embodied and implied the politics with which we are here concerned. In other words, the Rome that overcame Carthage was the perfection of pagan republicanism. Its merit, slow and certain in formation, corporate and all-absorbing in operation, was revealed in that test. Rome as a whole won a victory—won it with finality despite poor generalship, lack of sea power, and a terrifying adversary. That the consequence of successfully implementing this perfection was to be internecine strife is in no wise a necessary judgment upon the constituent particulars which worked toward its formation: is instead only evidence that traditional societies cannot recognize their own composition as something frail, in need of self-conscious husbandry, of protection from internal schism and the temptations of novelty and change. Imperial expansion, in conjunction with rearrangements within the Roman order—changes brought on by the exigencies of protracted conflict and unexpected, inadvertent conquests—disrupted the moral and economic balance of the Republic. Or at least set in motion the forces which brought that disruption to pass. How Rome at large became strong and then, by stages, lost that strength is what fascinated the generation which made a new republic in this new place.

Probably the best way to understand how the Roman Republic came to be is to consider the place occupied in its development by the Twelve Tables of the Law (449 b.c.). This codification made official and permanent the replacement of the ancient kings by a prescriptive, constitutional system. For the Law of the Tables was “essentially a codification of existing customs,” the “funded wisdom” of the Roman people upon which all subsequent additions to their legal order drew for their authority.[4] It objectified their will toward existence as a community. To borrow language applied elsewhere, Rome was not made but grew. Despite the legend of Romulus and Remus and the myth of Trojan relocation, Romans did not connect their purchase on the favor of the gods with an original commitment to political “propositions” or a plan for improving the world. The ontological fact of Rome, rooted in familial piety, flourishing in patriotic zeal, was logically prior to any meaning it acquired. Out of the pull and push, the dialectic of a few tribes in central Italy, emerged a cohesive unity, bound by blood, place and history, slowly absorbing neighboring cities and peoples once these had earned their right to absorption, periodically redistributing sources of power within itself whenever the amiable interaction of its constituent parts required such adjustment. For out of that remarkable oneness of spirit Rome had acquired its original hegemony. And out of it the city continued to grow and prosper under new and unexpected conditions: continued to augment the dignity of its name and the honor of having a share in that name’s hieratic authority.

Said another way, the self-respect of every Roman depended upon his being a Roman. In a fashion which few of us would understand, the self in this system was derivative of the social bond and depended upon a common will to preserve that broad fabric of interconnection intact. A good Roman of the old school had personal pride and a considerable sense of honor. His was a shame culture, dominated by intense and personally felt loyalties to family, clan, and individual. Commitment to Rome had its root in, and was not separable from, these most primary attachments. They tell us what Rome meant. And why a true Roman was not an individual as we understand the term. Yet this frame of mind was not so statist or secular as such evidence would lead us to believe. For the fabled virtu of full citizens under the Republic had a ground in what Richard Weaver wisely denominated “the older religiousness.”[5] Romans honored (and moved with them, as earth) the manes of their ancestors, the lares and penates of hearth and rooftree, the genius loci of groves and plains and waters, and the higher gods consulted through official augury: honored them privately and in the service of the state, itself always reverent toward the mysterious powers which touch the lives of men.[6] But Rome’s tangential connection with the numinous entailed little of fable or theology, little suggestion of a divine plan for the city, only prescribed rites and ordinances. And this bond through custom only reinforced their social and political conservatism whose patterns were of a piece with the inherited religion. Respect for all the mores majorum, the tested ways, permeated everything in the habitus of this society. The will of the Fathers was the will of the gods.

The old Roman of good family had about him a continuous visual reminder of the history by which he had been personally defined. I make reference to the images of his ancestors which had a prominent place in the disposition of his household effects. According to Pliny the Elder:

In the days of our ancestors [these images] . . . were to be seen in their reception halls . . . arranged, each in its own niche . . . to accompany the funeral processions of the family and always, whenever someone died, every member of the family that had ever existed was present. The pedigree, too, of the individual was traced by lines to each of the painted portraits. Their record rooms were fitted with archives and records of what each had done. This was a powerful stimulus.[7]

Roman history proper began with these family annals, and with the linen rolls which recorded by year the names of office holders and a few events. These propitiary figures stood between the Roman and the higher powers, dictated the religious ritual by means of which that relation was negotiated, and could therefore dictate in conjunction with these rite a prescriptive law which was the political state as the customary forms of worship were the state religious. Rome was the prescriptive law and that law had a sanction in religion.

Of course, the prescriptive culture of plebeians and of the ordinary free farmers in the countryside was less elaborate than what we found in Pliny or can discover in the glowing pages of Fustel de Coulanges.[8] Plutarch, however, in reporting a speech by the noble Tiberius Gracchus, leads us to believe that in the days of Roman glory the identity with the antiqui moris had been supported by the same ties with blood and place throughout every level of class and occupation. It is to the disappearance (during the Punic Wars and their aftermath) of these reasons for mutuality that the tribune objects. And for their reestablishment that he died.

The savage beasts, in Italy, have their particular dens, . . . places of repose and refuge but the men who bear arms, and expose their lives for the safety of their country, enjoy in the meantime nothing more in it but air and light and, having no houses or settlements of their own [are subjected to an indignity when their commanders exhort them] to fight for their sepulchers and altars. . . [when they have neither] houses of their own nor hearths of their ancestors to defend.[9]

A general distribution of property, in at least thirty-one of the thirty-five tribes, was the strength-giving backbone of the Roman Republic. For, as one scholar has remarked, the original Roman was a farmer/soldier.[10] And his mind reflected his occupation. Roman literature, and especially its normative components, tells us nothing to the contrary. It warns reiteratively against the corruption of the cities, the urbanite intrusion of foreign values or notions, and praises the advantages, practical and spiritual, of rural life. I call this mood hard pastoral—as opposed to the Arcadian (escapist) or Dionysian (fierce) pastoral of the Alexandrian Greeks. Peace, health, and repose (as, for instance, in Horace) are a part of its benison, but not freedom from work or liberation from duty. Consider in this connection the De Re Rustic of Cato the Censor. Or the satires of Juvenal. Or the Germania of Tacitus (about the Romans, not the rough folk across the Rhine for the Germans serve as reminders of the human excellence once possible in Rome’s general population).[11] All locate Rome at its best with a regulated combination of honesty, thrift, patience, labor, and endurance—with the “home place,” the routines of field, stream, and altar, where men and women of a predictable character may be formed out of a well-tested mold. The city was a place of general worship, a scene for politics, an armory and refuge in war, a point of contact with other societies. Rome is thus an arena, but not a seedbed for the original Roman sensibility. As was the case with Sparta, its firmest walls were the breastplates of its soldier/citizens so long as they could be expected to say (with Cato the Younger) in response to appreciation for service, “You must thank [instead] the commonwealth.”[12]

But this Cato Uticensis (along with his great-grandfather the Censor, and perhaps Camillus, a cynosure of republican excellence) comes down to us as a byword because his rectitude was a dramatic, unbelievable anachronism when it appeared in the senate, the forum and the field. In Cicero, Lucan, Persius, Plutarch, Tacitus, Appian, Martial, Sallust, and Virgil, he is remembered as the exemplar in that he stood out in bold relief against the political and moral decadence of the social wars. And because the Republic breathed its last with him at Utica, there was only one Cato to resist Julius Caesar. To confront Hannibal there were thousands. Which returns us to my centerpiece of republicanism in action, the Rome of the Punic Wars.

Public spirit had its heyday in these troubled times. Rome’s future existence was at stake. Livy tells us that after Cannae Roman women were forbidden to weep, that no man (soldier, planter, or merchant) charged the state for his goods or service, that no one took political advantage of his country’s distress.[13] And Sallust adds in support that “before the destruction of Carthage the people and senate of Rome governed the Republic peacefully and with moderation. There was no strife among the citizens for glory or power.”[14] In the view of the prudent Polybius, the credit for this balance (his great theme) and thus for Rome’s persistence belonged to its prescriptive, “organic” constitution: a constitution drawn by no lawgiver or savant but made “naturally,” not “by purely analytical methods, but rather through experience of many struggles and problems with the actual knowledge gained in the ups and downs of success and failure.”[15] Of course, this is a slow process and certain to involve fierce conflict. Livy’s first ten books give us a narrative of that evolution.[16] And a clear impression of the reluctance among the plebeians (when agitated by their tribunes) to accept any stable order which did not guarantee their absolute control. Or the patricians to distribute unoccupied or conquered lands to those landless and deserving in the ranks of the common soldiery. Formidable enemies (such as Pyrrhus and Brennus) taught both the necessary lessons, that “such being the power of each element [of Roman society] both to injure and to assist the others, the result is that their union is sufficient against all changes and circumstances.”[17] Taught them just in time.

The history of the three wars with Carthage is as stirring a tale as anyone could want. It is a story of repeated defeats and terrible casualties. Yet always the city stands and its citizens regroup. Hannibal seems to fear the physical proximity of Rome, even when it appears to be defenseless. He wanders south, attempting (with no success) to break the loyalty of Rome’s satellite communities. Then the tide turns. Carthage is riven internally. A narrowly commercial city, it has no healthy yeomanry to call to arms. Its aristocrats lack public spirit and aspire to absolute dominion. Mercenaries finally falter before armed and patriotic citizens. The Romans learn war at sea, learn Hannibal’s tactics and discover in their midst a captain to face him down. Scipio locates the weak link in the armor of his adversaries. The Africans lack dependable allies and cannot defend their city from siege.

Carthage does not frighten the Romans. Thereafter the end comes swiftly. For a summary, I must cite Titus Livius once again: “No other nation in the world could have suffered so tremendous a series of disasters and not been overwhelmed,”[18] does not exaggerate.

Who, after this, will dare to jeer at those who praise olden times. If there were a city composed of sages such as philosophers have imagined in some ideal, but surely not actual world, I for my part cannot think that it would contain leaders with greater dignity of mind and less lust for personal power, or a populace more admirably conducted.[19]

But as we all know, the republican spirit of incorporation disappeared rapidly once Cato the Elder got his way and the ancient (and perhaps useful) enemy was no more. It is a commonplace that the Roman Republic was ruined by success, both in the Punic Wars and in the East (Macedon, Parthia, etc.). It is more appropriate to say that the harm was done by the form of that achievement, and by the time that it required. External pressure had been necessary to the development of a balanced constitution and a cohesive interdependence of the classes, a community of older (patrician) and newer (plebeian) families.[20] Yet, contrary to many authorities, this dependence was in itself nothing ominous or unusual. Some of it is visible in the history of every healthy nation—an oblique proof that enemies can motivate a people to perform their best. Instead, the real problems were (1) removal of the Roman armies from the category of citizen-soldiers into the classification of full-time military professionals (2) the consequent decline of home agriculture and village life (3) the growth of large slave-operated, absentee-owned estates (4) the large concentration of wealth in a new group of imperial managers and international traders (5) a great dependence on foreign food and the skills of educated foreigners (6) a sharp decline in character among the plebeians of the city—the emergence of a useless, dishonorable proletariat. Without a rural nursery for virtue or a necessary role for all citizens, and with Romans in the army detached (and almost in exile) from the motherland, the ground had been cut from under the institutions of the old Republic.[21] Add to these harbingers of disaster the decline of the official Roman religion and the concomitant “passion for words flowing into the city,” the foreign rituals and forms of speculation, and we can understand why old Cato drove out strange priests and philosophers.[22]

But to no avail. For Rome, though it had no imperial theory, had acquired an empire with a rapidity and ease which its social structure could not digest.[23] Moreover, conquest had given the imperialist temper of the city a momentum which its earlier struggles in Italy did not foreshadow. The spread of wealth unconnected with merit or the spirit of public service completes the pattern: the substitution of “nobles” (rich men) for patricians (men of good birth) of proles (faceless members of a mob) for plebeians (plain but solid fellows). Sallust draws us a painful picture of the results:

The whole world, from the rising of the sun to its setting, subdued by [Rome’s] arms, rendered obedience to her at home there was peace and an abundance of wealth, which mortal men deem the chiefest of blessings. Yet there were citizens who from sheer perversity were bent upon their own ruin and that of their country.[24]

And with the mob even worse:

For in every community [thus corrupted] those who have no means envy the good, exalt the base, hate what is old and established, long for something new, and from disgust with their own lot desire a general upheaval. Amid turmoil and rebellion they maintain themselves, without difficulty, since poverty is easily provided for and can suffer no loss.[25]

How different from the men who defeated “Pyrrhus, Hannibal, Philip and Antiochus, if not for [their] liberty and [their] own hearthstones [then for the] privilege of submitting to nothing but the laws.”[26] I conclude my abbreviated Roman model with that potent conjunction. Liberty meant in this milieu access to one law, not freedom for “self-realization” (whatever that now signifies): dignity meant incorporation in that law, but not equality. Sallust informs us that, once the old kings fell from disrespect for liberty in law, living with senate, consuls, tribunes, and people under that ancient, common and impersonal authority made “everyman to lift his head higher and to have his talents more in readiness.”[27] This was the concordia ordinum of Cicero.[28] Its significance was not lost upon 1688 English Whigs who could see in the Roman balance what they had themselves achieved with and through a king. And it was the obvious burden of Roman history for the English colonials in North America who lived in constant fear of despotic subjection, burdened by a sense of general decline in the moral fiber of their world—a decline with its source in England.

But Americans, in creating a new republic, a modified Whig Rome, were proving to themselves that by sundering the link with England they were resisting despotism and arresting the corruption of their fellows: that is, such of their countrymen as were prepared to honor law, the unwritten prescription, and the patria (their lesser homelands, the chartered colonies qua states). Virtu was demonstrated in every assembly, on every battlefield. Personal honor and the unselfish keeping of oaths were both assumed. But responsible liberty was the precondition for all of these elements of character: liberty restricted by a given identity and channeled by a will to cohesion shared by a number of discrete political entities and kinds of people. And, as with the Romans after Lucius Junius Brutus had done his work, the law and the prescription were actually strengthened by removal of the king from the American Whig configuration. New arrangements among persons and states, to institutionalize what they were (and what they were becoming, by insisting on that character) seemed necessary. And especially after war. But no founding—any more than the Roman Republic had been an invention or creation out of whole cloth. As for confederation, Rome did a lot of that, absorbed to defend itself any who accepted its values, could reinforce its strength and needed the protection that combination could provide. Assuredly, Americans were a rural people, in the habit of governing themselves, with almost every freeholder a potential man-at-arms. Europeans, and especially the English who fought them, marvelled at the warlike firmness of these “embattled farmers.” And soon enough they came to prefer such of their number as could be recruited to serve in red to the mercenaries George III sent over. Add to this a general commitment to inherited religion and the pattern is complete. Once the die was cast, among such a people—a community which “knew the literature of Rome far better than they did that of England”—it is no marvel that, in making the break official, “the young boasted they were treading upon the republican ground of Greece and Rome.”[29]

I will not attempt to record all of the available expressions of self-conscious Romanism coming down to us from the original United States. For they are numerous enough to form a work of two large volumes. Indeed, they were so numerous, positive, or even assertive that Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania complained of the “pedantry” of “our young scholars . . . who would fain bring everything to a Roman standard.”[30] Yet Morris grumbled in vain. For the analogy which he found to be oppressive informed the conduct of even so unintellectual and representative a public figure as the commander of our armies and then first President, George Washington. Consider for an instance Washington’s manifesto in answer to Burgoyne’s demands for submission, August 1777: “The associated armies in America act from the noblest of motives, liberty. The same principles actuated the arms of Rome in the days of her glory and the same object was the reward of Roman valor.”[31] Pure Livy—and from a man who kept a bust of Sallust on his mantel, who loved to be identified as a Cincinnatus, and who quoted regularly from the Cato of Joseph Addison, his favorite play. And if Washington behaved in this way, what Romanizing would we expect to find among his more bookish, intellectually curious peers? [32]

But what surprises is not the Roman predominance in this early American passion for antiquity. For Augustan and later English neoclassicism was always principally an admiration for, and emulation of, Rome—not Greece. The difference on this side of the Atlantic was a matter of degree—of frequency and intensity in political application of the example. And especially outside of New England.[33]

However, though I cannot cite every offhand remark that confirms the pattern of allusion suggested by Washington, I must expand somewhat upon the echoes of Roman history distributed among the sayings of our political forefathers in order to establish a ground for my final arguments concerning their implications for the interpretation of our national beginnings. And to this end I will emphasize a representative set of “rebels”: Patrick Henry of Virginia, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, and John Adams, the Squire of Braintree, Massachusetts. I commence with Henry because his draft upon the Roman model was so homely and so completely of a piece with his American Whiggery. For these reasons, and because he represents the untroubled romanitas of the South, where that attitude put down its deepest and earliest roots. Dickinson I include because he was one of the reluctant revolutionaries—a legalist or Erastian for whom the English Whig and Roman regimens coalesced into one (still predominantly English) instruction for American colonials. And also in recognition of his importance as a spokesman for the sensible Middle Colonies. John Adams is an obvious choice. For no colonial American was a deeper student of the history and political importance of earlier republics than this brilliant New Englander. Furthermore, he functions in pointed contrast to the perfectibilitarians so frequently spawned in the Zion of his nativity. Not one of this trio was an egalitarian, an optimist, or a devotee of “propositional, teleological politics.” And not one was a democrat of the sort we are often led to imagine that such men must have been.

Though Patrick Henry was, with the possible exception of Washington, more frequently compared to the great figures of the Roman Republic than any American of his time, he was almost as little a scholar as his illustrious friend upstate. But what he did study, he knew well. Says William Wirt, his first serious biographer, Henry read “a good deal of history.” And Livy “through, once at least, in every year during the early part of his life.”[34] To what effect this concentration, we all know. But it is wise to consider the impact of Henry’s vigor and gravitas on the leading men of his own era. Only there can we recognize the premeditation in his achievements as patriot qua orator, his emulation of Livy’s heroes. St. George Tucker in recalling the performance before the Virginia Convention of March 23, 1775 (“Liberty or Death”) asks us to “imagine this speech delivered with all the calm dignity of Cato of Utica imagine . . . the Roman Senate assembled in the Capital when it was entered by the profane Gauls. . . .”[35] And George Mason, when recalling his great contemporary’s total career as keeper of the common virtus, of the memory that makes for honor, could go so far as to write that “. . . had he lived in Rome about the time of the first Punic War, when the Roman people had arrived at their meridian of glory, and their virtue was not tarnished, Mr. Henry’s talents must have put him at the head of that glorious commonwealth.”[36]

So seemed Henry to the end of his life when he thundered against the ahistorical, impious ideology of the French Left. So even when, in 1788, he fought the ratification of the Constitution by summoning up the togaed exemplars of his boyhood dreaming, to say “nay” once more to power, to protect the hearth and rooftree.[37] Reasoning from the universality of his impact, we can assume with confidence that there was calculation in Henry’s Roman posture, a sense of what could be accomplished by cultivating the Roman analogy running throughout his entire career. From his sort of working classicism we can defend the claim of Charles Mullen that the “ancient heroes” of early Rome “helped to found the independent American commonwealth . . . not less than the Washington and Lees.”[38]

Unlike Henry, John Dickinson was a thorough classicist. And a deep student of the law, trained in England at the Middle Temple. The former intellectual habitus was subsumed within the latter. Against the usurpations of crown and Parliament, Americans had no better defender of their “historic” (as opposed to “natural”) rights as Englishmen. And for such strictly prescriptive constitutionalism this pillar of the Philadelphia bar found much Roman precedent. In the late 1760s he could write with his beloved Sallust, “Nihil vi, nihil secessioni opus est” (No need for force, no need for separation).[39] Yet the promise of something more severe is just beneath the surface of his reasonable Letters of a Farmer in Pennsylvania: a determination epitomized in the words of Memmius as quoted by Dickinson from the Jugurtha in his final exhortation to his countrymen: “I shall certainly aim at the freedom handed down from my forebears whether I am successful or not . . . is in your control.”[40]

Indeed, Dickinson quotes as much Roman history as his purposes will allow. Like a good Whig, he insists that all Englishmen have their civil status (and are one) in the law, politically exist through that bond. King and Parliament have authority according to its dictates, not in themselves. Furthermore, the constitution (prior to and the basis of statute law) will be kept, even if some of the derivative elements of the transoceanic political structure surrender their connection to each other in its behalf. Dickinson’s most recent editor is wise to set him over against “the rationalist view” of human justice which maintains that men are meaningfully “born” with “certain rights” on which they can insist, even if not specified in a particular social continuum.[41] That rights—even the most sacred—can be realized only in a specific history and are likely to disappear when the edifice which contains them is fractured, Dickinson never forgets. He invokes the bad examples of James II and of the Caesars of Tacitus who, by art, “ruined the Roman liberty” and practiced “dangerous innovation.”[42] And especially in the matters of taxation, standing armies, and court manipulation. Two worlds, but one problem. In England there were, as Dickinson notes, men who denied that either English or Roman political history was of any significance in treating of the North American colonies, men who prated of “indirect representation” and urged the King toward writs of fire and sword. But the Roman colonials, if citizens when they went out to form a new city, were still citizens once there—sometimes better citizens. And likewise American colonials, as secured in their charters binding on both King and Parliament. But he does insist, knowing with Cicero (Oration for Sextius) that never to be roused is to forget what honor demands.[43] His letters are the essential expression of that great middle body of Americans who continued to think and feel as a kind of Englishman, even when they had come with regret to join with their radical compatriots and insist on independence. And he continued to be the same kind of man as author of the original Articles of Confederation, and at Philadelphia in 1787.[44]

A discussion of John Adams in this context must be very restricted. For though a great “common law” man like Dickinson and a lifetime admirer of the “balanced” Roman constitution, a devout republican and therefore no democrat, his near stoicism causes him at times to plead universal law as a ground for rebellion: to plead as if he were a primitivist and theoretical uniformitarian like Jefferson (at his worst) and Paine, a meliorist with a habit of ignoring historic circumstance. These passages, solus, are, however, misleading. Adams pled “higher law” only in the spirit of Burke, as something sometimes visible and partially preserved in “the cake of custom”—and especially after regular English cooking or as something obvious, like the right of self-preservation.”[45] I identify this part of his politics with those of the not-too-Puritan, not antinomian members of the 1641 English Parliament: and with the authors of the 1689 Declaration of Rights. It was Adams’s view that England, once the Stuarts were expelled, became through its constitution “. . . nothing more nor less than a republic in which the King is. . . first magistrate.”[46] And that the situation of Americans changed very little when the King, as administrator of the given law (“a republic is a government of laws, and not of men” alone) failed in his duty, “abdicated,” and had to be officially removed.[47] A republican is what Adams always was, even when loyal to George III.

But as American republican, Adams advocated consistently a “balanced constitution.” And what he meant by this familiar language is, by reason of our ignorance of the classics, nothing like what we might imagine. Polybius is behind this facet of Adams’s position, and also Livy. Particularly Polybius.[48] But more important (and encompassing these Roman instructions) is his view of how the English prescription, the great body of Whig theory, could be applied to the new situation created at Yorktown.[49] Adams in this respect clearly resembles Dickinson, combining English and Roman constitutionalisms, with the former retaining predominance: combining them in the quarrels before the Revolution and, once the war was over, continuing with them in the effort to convert the resulting independence into a framework for sustaining a nationality already there. Adams had clearly a more rigorous mind, a more consistent theoretical position than his friend from Delaware and Philadelphia. Yet he is identical with him in refusing to accept Lockean or other rationalist conjectures about men in a pre-social state.[50] For him, a social contract was, if trustworthy, something worked out by a given people: worked out among themselves, over a period of time. Their existence as a people is, however, a priori. This is Polybius and Livy. No constitution, even if aimed at balance, could be better as a social bond than one “negotiated,” whose development itself was a source of mutual trust among the people whose unity it formalized. Adams understood balance in these terms and, in his Discourses on Davila (1791), said so: “While the [Roman] government remained untouched in the various orders, the consuls, senate, and people mutually balancing each other, it might be said, with some truth, that no man could be undone, unless a true and satisfactory reason was rendered to the world for his destruction.” With this promise, liberty begins.[51]

Even in 1787, Adams’s thought began with what was and had been, not with what might be. After the “tyrannical machinations” of George III had been forestalled, his fear was of the process well described by Livy, that by seeking perfect liberty Americans could well discover what real servitude is like.[52] Devotion to an inherited regime, as in the time-tested constitutions of the states, protecting legitimate holdings in property while securing to all citizens access to the same restricted body of laws, could hope to secure a general assent.[53] And if we were to go further with union, we should begin the process with a foundation in that devotion. Comity would be the result. Inside the American configuration, Adams struggled to conserve. In the year of the Declaration he could write a friend, “I dread the Spirit of Innovation.”[54] What we often fail to see is that such dread is what made him a rebel and still a New England sort of American an Englishman, once rebellion was done. Imbalance through foolish innovation should be expected, in a republic, to draw its support from the lower orders of society, as aggravated by ideologists and crafty demagogues. Not from the senatorial class, Adams’s beloved republican gentlemen. And envy would be the cause. Titus Livius tells us nothing to the contrary. Nor the favorite of Adams’s old age, gloomy Sallust. Following their example, he thundered against the “simple, centralizing schemes of Dr. Franklin and Tom Paine,” defended the institution of senates, a strong elected executive, and a deference toward law in the conduct of popular assemblies.[55] And he cried out in alarm when certain of his countrymen conflated their own political inheritance with what had in 1789 begun in France.

But the best way to measure the indebtedness of John Adams to the history (and historians) of the Roman Republic is to look outside his published writings and beyond his public career: to the correspondence of his old age, and particularly his exchange with Jefferson. One scholar has observed that “. . . the greater part of Adams’ historical investigations were devoted to studying governments which failed, he believed, because of their unbalanced structure.”[56] This was true of his early preparations in response to the Stamp Acts. And it was true to the end.[57] Readings in Roman history were, however, only part of a larger, lifetime habit. As an aged man, he could claim that . . . classics, history and philosophy have never been wholly neglected to this day.”[58] For the repose of his spirit, and the support of his judgment, he found these “indispensable.”[59] The senectutal epistles prove these words to be no exaggeration.

The Virginian, in contrast, was more Greek than Roman. His studies, like his experience, had made him sanguine. Above all else, Adams found in the classics warnings against men in the mass, unrestrained by precept or authority, corrupted by flattering politicians. Jefferson (especially in Tacitus, Suetonius, and other authorities on the Empire) saw more of a caution against concentration of power than an admonition to avoid egalitarian preachment, an “excess of words in the city.” But finally, in the shadow of sectional conflict over the admission of Missouri as a state, the thought and language of the two old friends/old enemies came together. The end result of the centralizing that began in 1820 was both a concentration of power and triumph for the popular spirit of endless adjuration over “principles”: the new founding of Abraham Lincoln, which Adams, as a New Englander, could spot on the horizon long before his Southern counterpart.[60] The French influence combined, in the years before secession, with the old Puritan montanism to undermine the civility and public spirit necessary to republican cohesion. In their place stood finally the politics of “continuing revolution” and capital-letter abstractions, the “Empire of Equality and Liberty” foreshadowed in Webster’s reply to Hayne.[61] In consequence, the Roman republican teaching as a serious influence was thereafter generally confined to the nomological South. There survived the dream of ordered liberty saluted in the following lines, by an anonymous Charleston Whig of 1769:

Parent of Life! true Bond of Law!

From whence alone our Bliss we draw, Thou! who dids’st once in antient Rome,

E’er fell Corruption caus’d its Doom, Reign in a Cato’s godlike Soul,

And Brutus in each Thought controul Here, here prolong thy wish’d for Stay,

To bless and cheer each passing Day,

Tho’ with no pompous Piles erect,

Nor sculptured Stones, thy shrine is deckt

Yet here, beneath thy fav’rite Oak,

Thy Aid will all thy SONS invoke.

Oh! if thou deign to bless this Land,

And guide it by thy gentle Hand,

Then shall AMERICA become

Rival, to once high-favour’d Rome.[62]

This vision of the political good I can trace from John Randolph’s fulminations against bankers, cities, dole, and expediency (alieni avidus sui profusus) to Tom Watson’s outcry against “A party for Pompey—A party for Caesar—No Party for Rome.”[63] And beyond—i.e., until the South came to feel that the heritage of the Republic had become its exclusive possession, even in secession.[64] But that is another essay.

What then did Rome mean to the original Americans? What counsel did its early history contain? And what must we conclude about our forefathers from their somewhat selective devotion to the Roman analogue?

To begin with, in so far as the original national identity derives from a reading of early Roman history, our first Americans did not see in independence a sharp departure from the identity they already enjoyed. Rather, both of these developments were, above all else, necessities for the protection of an already established society: necessities like those behind Rome’s own republican development. “Their respect for [that] past brought them to their rebellious and finally revolutionary posture.”[65] Even in whatever they attempted that seemed new. All of which is another way of saying that Romanitas on these shores, to whatever extent that we may demonstrate its presence, is an indication that American Whiggery is (or was) closer to that of Edmund Burke than to the nostrums of Priestly and Fox. And is no relation whatsoever to the “virtue” preached by Robespierre. Burke’s view of the ancient European orders transplants rather well in a locally structured commonwealth with no nobility and no established church. Indeed, as Burke himself discovered in conflicts with his King, it is perhaps more consonant with a pious, xenophobic republicanism under a specified tradition qua law than with monarchy.”[66] A community of interdependent parts, inseparable and yet distinct, was the natural consequence of the growth of thirteen colonies as separate social, political, and economic units. The war with England had itself given the specific colonies unto themselves a new social maturity and cohesion, and to their citizens a horror of class conflict and internecine strife.

Roman history taught that all of this was natural: a commonwealth “grown,” not made a definition by history, not by doctrine or lofty intent and a general recognition, negotiated in the dialectic of experience, that all Americans had together a corporate destiny and would henceforth depend upon each other for their individual liberties. Confederation for liberty: Roman history allowed for that one near-abstraction. But liberty, meaning collective self-determination and dignity under a piously regarded common law, is a check upon ideology, not a source.[67] For modern regimes the alternative is the hegemony of an ideal as end, not condition. And the arrangement becomes finally the hegemony of a man, a despotism which makes a noble noise. Between 1775 and 1787, we discovered no new doctrine. We left that to the English. Self-defense was our business. Courage and discipline were displayed. Also self-sacrifice. Furthermore, leaders filled with public spirit had appeared and had earned the confidence of their compatriots: leaders who would be available to call up, once again, the active virtue which had preserved “the walls of the city.” King John and the Tarquins, Charles I and James II had together made Americans to know what was wrong with “emperors” and with George III. Once freed of his authority (and his provocations) they would aspire to no overseas dominion, employ no mercenaries, deify no administrator, and neglect no freeholding. Or, at least for a while, they would go from what and where they were, many and one, a culture of families, not so atomistic or commercial as The Federalist anticipates they were to become. Not deracinated, they would cherish the emotionally nourishing matrix of the unpoliticized communities to which they were primarily attached. And they would keep the “democratical” component of their position in perspective, tolerating no Jacquerie (vide Shay’s Rebellion), no divisive feudal appointments—honoring their most deserving citizens with office and good repute, as in history. Their only innovative engagement would be in the creation of new states in the “open” lands to the west—states just like their own!

All of this composition and more our fathers could recognize in the history of Rome, in the “laboratory of antiquity” where lessons for their not-so-new science of politics seemed unmistakably clear. In between us and these self-evident truths stand the War Between the States and other, subsequent (and derivative) transformations. Plus a legion of historians from the party which triumphed in these “other revolutions.” To penetrate their now accepted obfuscations and to see the elder Rome as did the first American citizens is an appropriate undertaking in these years of official self-examination. Appropriate, painful, and surprising.

This essay in our series of “Timeless Essays” originally was published here in May 2012. Reprinted with the gracious permission of The Intercollegiate Review, Orientation Issue 2008.

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1. Hostility to Plato among colonial republicans was so great that it has puzzled all subsequent scholarship. But it is easily explained: Plato’s politics are an a priori, theoretical creation, derived not from experience but from high doctrine and propositional truth. See 178–79 of Richard M. Cuminere’s The American Colonial Mind and the Classical Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963).

2. This attitude toward history as a humane or ethical study was an Augustan commonplace. See for instance H. Trevor Colbourn’s The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1965), 21–25 James William Johnson’s The Formation of English Neo-Classical Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), 31–68 and Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960), 218–19.

3. Cicero’s De Republica was available only in fragments before 1820. But its arguments are suggested in the rest of Tully.

4. Cited in full, with the appended comment which I quote, in Roman Civilization: The Republic (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), edited with an Introduction and Notes by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, 99–111.

5. The Southern Tradition at Bay (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1968), edited by George Core and M. E. Bradford, 98–111.

6. Hyperbolic but indispensable for the study of the full sweep of Roman piety is Fustel de Coulanges’ century-old The Ancient City. I cite the Doubleday Anchor Books edition, New York, 1955, 38–40 and 136, et passim. Consider also the Antiquities of Vasso, the Stoic, as represented by Augustine in the Civitas Dei.

7. Roman Civilization, 482 (from Natural History, XXXV, 2). Polybius supports this view: The Histories (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1966), translated by Mortimer Chambers, with an introduction by E. Badian, 261–62.

8. But not in its essential impulse. Consider, for illustration, Horace’s image of life on the Sabine Farm.

9. Plutarch, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, translated by John Dryden and revised by Arthur Hugh Clough (New York: Random House, n.d.), 999. For support see Cicero’s second oration against Verres, (Roman Civilization, 456).

10. R. H. Barrow. The Romans (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1949), 11–14.

11. Tacitus is as often praised by Old Whigs, English and American, as any Roman historian. And his Germania has become infamous as a point of departure for various rhapsodies on the need for gemeinschaft and the merits of the organic (that is, unphilosophical) society. But his republicanism, apart from a few portraits, is too indirect for the purposes of this essay. It is, however, pervasive. See M. L. W. Laistner, The Greater Roman Historians (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1966), 114 and Michael Grant, The Ancient Historians (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970), 271–305.

12. Plutarch, 928. From his life of Cato Minor, expressed by Cicero in response to the reduction by Uticensus, of the abusive orator Clodius.

13. See Livy., Book XXIV. I employ here the text as translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, The War With Hannibal, Books XXI–XXX of The History of Rome from Its Foundation (Baltimore: Penguin, 1970), 253. See also Laistner, 89, on the communal theme in Livy.

14. Sallust, “The War With Jugurtha,” xli I cite the Loeb Classical Library edition, edited by J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1921), 223. See also Grant, 201–07.

15. Polybius, 222. See also 193.

16. Grant writes (228) that Livy’s “account of the earlier Republic is largely one long narration of traditional Roman virtues.”

17. Polybius, 229. In support see Livy, Book III, xvii. I cite the Loeb edition, edited by B. O. Foster (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), 57–61: the speech of Publius Valerius. Also Grant, 240, et seq.

18. Livy, The War With Hannibal, 154–55.

20. See Livy, Books III and IV also Joseph M. Lalley, “The Roman Example,” Modern Age, XIV (Winter, 1969–1970), 14.

21. I derive here (as did our fathers) from Baron de Montesquieu. See David Lowenthal’s edition and translation of Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1968), 91–92.

22. Plutarch, “The Life of Cato Major,” 428.

23. In this connection I would recommend Arnold J. Toynbee’s finest work, Hannibal’s Legacy (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1965) and also Tenney Frank’s Life and Literature in the Roman Republic (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1956), 19–23.

24. Sallust, “The War With Catiline,” xxxvii, 63 of the Loeb edition.

26. Sallust, “Speech of the Consul Lepidus,” iv 387 of the Loeb edition.

27. Sallust, “The War With Catiline,” vii 13 of the Loeb edition.

28. Cicero’s vision of the social order depended upon his confidence in the “political manners” of the Romans, the force of the “public orthodoxy.” Things in this societas were attempted in the way of political change only in an accepted fashion, a manner which postulated loyalty to Rome, regardless of personal success, or else the result would be forfeiture of status as citizen. On the difference between societas and universitas (nomological and teleological regimes) see Michael Oakeshott’s On Human Conduct (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), 199–206. On Cicero see “Cicero and the Politics of the Public Orthodoxy,” The Intercollegiate Review 5 (Winter, 1968–69), 84–100, by Frederick D. Wilhelmsen and Willmoore Kendall.

32. Johnson, 91–105. Also Howard Mumford Jones’s splendid chapter, “Roman Virtue,” 227–72 and 96 of O Strange New World (New York: The Viking Press, 1964), Jones helpfully includes illustrations of Washington carved as a Roman senator.

33. See Charles F. Mullett, “Classical Influences on the American Revolution,” The Classical Journal, 35 (November 1939), 92–104. Gummere admits (37) that the reformist temper, coming down from Puritanism, worked against the classical inheritance in New England. New England remained a universitas, even when Unitarian.

34. William Wirt. Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (New York: McElrath and Bangs, 1835), 31. Henry also read one political theorist, Montesquieu, whose constant text was Livy. See Richard Beeman, Patrick Henry (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974), 116.

35. Jay Broadus Hubbell, The South in American Literature, 1607–1900 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1954), 120.

36. Quoted in Kate M. Rowland’s The Life of George Mason 1725–1792 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892), Vol. I., 169.

38. Mullett, 104. Henry of course was not unique in this emulation. And it may have been unselfconscious, the reflex of an intense admiration like that of Charles Lee when he told Henry, “I us’d to regret not being thrown into the World in the glorious third or fourth century of the Romans” but changed when he could say that his classical republican dreams “at length bid fair for being realized.” Quoted in Gordon S. Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1789 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 53.

40. In Empire and Nation, containing “Letters From a Farmer in Pennsylvania” and Richard Henry Lee’s “Letters From the Federal Farmer” (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962) ed. with an Introduction by Forrest McDonald, 84.

44. The best description of this middle party, who made the Revolution possible and then controlled its results (away from Jacobinism) in drawing up the Constitution, is in Merrill Jensen’s The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763–1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968). John Dickinson, as their spokesman, went so far as to oppose the Declaration of Independence as both too early and too ambiguous in its language. But he accepted the results and went out with his neighbors. Dickinson’s greatest influence may have been toward the establishment of a Continental Congress and, in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, in the creation of a United States Senate with two seats for each state.

45. George A. Peck Jr., ed., The Political Writings of John Adams (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1954), xxiv of the editor’s “Introduction.”

46. Colbourn, 96. Also The Political Writings of John Adams, 44.

47. Colbourn, 87. Adams was a chauvinistic New Englander and therefore blind to the differences between his own legalism and the antinomian, “revealed politics” of Cromwell and other Puritans. He seems not to know that many Erastians followed Charles I. But he is clear about the settlement of 1688–89.

48. Gilbert Chinnard, “Polybius and the American Constitution,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 1 (January 1940), 38–58. See also Richard M. Gummere’s “The Classical Politics of John Adams,” Boston Public Library Quarterly, 9 (October 1957), 167–82, and Zoltan Haraszti, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952). On the link between the Whigs and Polybius see Zera S. Fink, The Classical Republicans (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1945). Colbourn, 102.

50. The Political Writings of John Adams, Peck’s “Introduction,” xv.

52. Livy, III, 121 of the Loeb edition. Also Peck’s “Introduction” to Adam’s Political Writings, xviii.

53. I refer to his A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United Slates (1786–87). Here and in his early A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (1765) Adams identifies New England as the perfection of the English tradition.

55. The Political Writings of John Adams, 105, 119, and 132.

57. See Vol. VI, 12, 43, 86–87, 209, 217 and 243 of Adams’s Works, the edition of Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little Brown, 1850–56), 10 volumes. But the influence of Roman history is evident throughout his political writings. See especially the Novanglus (1774–75).

58. Colbourn, 85. By “philosophy” he meant, for the most part, ethics and “political philosophy.”

60. Adams in answering Governor Hutchinson, 1773. Quoted by Colbourn, 98. The difference between this paper and the rantings of other Sons of Liberty is instructive. Such radicals, of course existed, but the Revolution was not finally their show.

61. See Richard Weaver’s “Two Orators,” Modern Age, 16 (Summer–Fall 1970), 226–42.

62. Hubbell, 161. Quoted front the South Carolina Gazette. I suspect that the author may have been William Henry Drayton. See Jones, 254, for a related passage from Richard Henry Lee.

63. This echo from Sallust’s “The War With Catiline,” iii, is quoted on 164 of Russell Kirk’s John Randolph of Roanoke: A Study in American Politics (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1964) and is part of an extended philippic against American declensions from “republican virtue” Watson’s remark seems to come from Cato Minor’s orations in Lucan’s Pharsalia. See C. Vann Woodward’s Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel (Savannah: The Beehive Press, 1973), 109 and 353.

64. A good illustration is Major Buchan, the patriarch in Allen Tate’s The Fathers (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1960).

66. Indeed, no society is likely to be as xenophobic as a racially homogenous republic. The only equivalent would be a monarchy uniting strictly patriarchal tribes.

67. See Richard Henry Lee, An Additional Number of Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1962), 178. Reprint of the edition of 1788.

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