We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History

By Victoria Emma Pagán

Publication Year: 2004

Conspiracy is a thread that runs throughout the tapestry of Roman history. From the earliest days of the Republic to the waning of the Empire, conspiracies and intrigues created shadow worlds that undermined the openness of Rome’s representational government. To expose these dark corners and restore a sense of order and safety, Roman historians frequently wrote about famous conspiracies and about how their secret plots were detected and the perpetrators punished. These accounts reassured readers that the conspiracy was a rare exception that would not happen again—if everyone remained vigilant. In this first book-length treatment of conspiracy in Roman history, Victoria Pagán examines the narrative strategies that five prominent historians used to disclose events that had been deliberately shrouded in secrecy and silence. She compares how Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus constructed their accounts of the betrayed Catilinarian, Bacchanalian, and Pisonian conspiracies. Her analysis reveals how a historical account of a secret event depends upon the transmittal of sensitive information from a private setting to the public sphere—and why women and slaves often proved to be ideal transmitters of secrets. Pagán then turns to Josephus’s and Appian’s accounts of the assassinations of Caligula and Julius Caesar to explore how the two historians maintained suspense throughout their narratives, despite readers’ prior knowledge of the outcomes.

Published by: University of Texas Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (216.7 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (95.2 KB)
pp. ix

Completion of this project was made possible by generous grants from the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the University of Wisconsin Institute for Research in the Humanities, and the University of Wisconsin Graduate School. I would like to thank Rhiannon Ash, Susanna Morton Braund...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (343.4 KB)
pp. 1-24

On October 12, 1973, the United States Court of Appeals ordered President Richard M. Nixon to produce White House tapes and documents that had been subpoenaed in July. Ten days later, Nixon announced his compliance. District Court Judge John J. Sirica requested, among others, tapes for June 20, 1972 (three days after the burglary at the Watergate Hotel). But there was a problem. Rose Mary Woods...

Part One: Betrayed Conspiracies

read more

Chapter One: Sallust: The Catilinarian Conspiracy

pdf iconDownload PDF (394.2 KB)
pp. 27-49

Cicero’s invitation to Lucceius to write an individual monograph about his consular year and its most famous event, the Catilinarian conspiracy, indicates that such a narrow topic was considered a suitable subject for a shorter historical monograph:

So you may also likewise isolate the domestic conspiracy...

read more

Chapter Two: Livy: The Bacchanalian Affair

pdf iconDownload PDF (314.6 KB)
pp. 50-67

The Catilinarian conspirators needed to hide their activities so that their plans could come as a complete surprise to a public caught unaware. Meeting in secret, they depended upon one another’s silence to ensure that the conspiracy went undetected. But first, the involvement of a woman brought the matter...

read more

Chapter Three: Tacitus: The Pisonian Conspiracy

pdf iconDownload PDF (339.0 KB)
pp. 68-90

Perhaps no other extant Roman historian is as obsessed with conspiracy as Tacitus. From the outset, the Annales would have us believe that Tiberius owed his rise to power to secret machinations. In the first ten chapters alone,Tacitus casts suspicion on the rise of Augustus and the deaths of Lucius, Gaius, Hirtius,...

Part Two: Successful Conspiracies

read more

Chapter Four: Josephus: The Assassination of Caligula

pdf iconDownload PDF (328.2 KB)
pp. 93-108

Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus could narrate the Catilinarian, Bacchanalian, and Pisonian conspiracies in spite of the veil of secrecy and silence that shrouded the events. In each case, women (and in one case, foreigners) betrayed the conspiracy and saved Rome from the internal threats posed by Catiline and his forces, by the...

read more

Chapter Five: Appian: The Assassination of Julius Caesar

pdf iconDownload PDF (319.7 KB)
pp. 109-122

We come at last to perhaps the most renowned event in Roman history, and certainly the most commemorated assassination of a Roman statesman in Western thought. Caesar’s death had been contrived by the most upstanding citizens of the day, men whose lives were measured by their belief in, and their adherence to, an intangible mos maiorum (ancestral custom). Leading the...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (280.1 KB)
pp. 123-131

The prevalence of conspiracy in the Roman literary imagination is testimony to the fear that it generated and the need to assuage that fear by retelling the stories of how conspiracies were detected, suppressed, and punished.We have examined five conspiracy narratives with a view to the mode of presentation, the hermeneutic principle, and...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (145.2 KB)
pp. 133

Abbreviations for journals and series follow those in L’Année philologique 63 (1992), xvii– xxxix. Abbreviations for ancient authors and works and modern collections of ancient sources follow those in H. G. Liddell, R. Scott, and H. S. Jones...


pdf iconDownload PDF (426.8 KB)
pp. 135-162


pdf iconDownload PDF (339.8 KB)
pp. 163-176

General Index

pdf iconDownload PDF (266.5 KB)
pp. 177-187

Index Locorum

pdf iconDownload PDF (262.7 KB)
pp. 188-197

E-ISBN-13: 9780292797185
E-ISBN-10: 0292797184
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292705616
Print-ISBN-10: 0292705611

Page Count: 207
Publication Year: 2004