Title: From Murdering Emperors to Saving the State: Varying Depictions of the Roman Army in the Historia Augusta  

Abstract: The Roman army’s reputation in Imperial historiography is overwhelmingly negative. While the need to defend the empire meant that the army was always understood to be necessary, it was also consistently criticised in historical works, often using a series of standard negative tropes. The army was derided for the financial burden it placed on the empire, the cruelty of its soldiers to the civilian population, and the instability it wrought through its instigation and support of usurpers. Against this negative historical tradition, the series of Imperial biographies known as the Historia Augusta and the approach of its anonymous author stand out as something of an anomaly. While the army is still criticised in the Historia Augusta, the author’s views are clearly idiosyncratic and his portrayal, at times, diverges considerably from the standard negative historical tradition. This seminar will explore this variable depiction of the army throughout the Historia Augusta. Through an analysis of the army’s role across a number of the Historia Augusta’s biographies it will be demonstrated that the author does not present a consistent view of the army and its place within the empire. Instead, he routinely changed his depiction of the army based on his opinion of individual emperors and the role the army played during their reign. This biographical approach resulted in a depiction of the army which is notable for being both innovative and at times strikingly positive.

Presenter: Duncan Grey (UQ), HDR candidate in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry.

Will be presented alongside a presentation by Sarah Prince (UQ), HDR candidate in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry.