My research investigates mass violence in ancient warfare, a phenomenon that has received little scholarly attention despite its frequent occurrence in Greek and Roman texts. My forthcoming book, Spare No One: Mass Violence in Roman Warfare (part of the Rowman & Littlefield War and Society series) examines the Romans’ use of massacres, urban destruction, and mass enslavement during the third and second centuries BCE. The book adapts a theoretical framework from political science to examine Roman violence. While there is some disagreement among political scientists, many regard mass violence as a deliberate strategy undertaken by military and political leaders (e.g. Valentino 2004; Downes 2006; Kalyvas & Kocher 2009; Sullivan 2012; Mitchell 2015); in short, violence is a strategic response to specific historical circumstances, and is designed to achieve specific goals. Employing this “strategic perspective,” the book argues that Roman commanders employed mass violence instrumentally, to achieve military objectives and to resolve problems encountered on campaign. Political and economic aims could also motivate Roman leaders to destroy cities, prisoners, and population groups in war.
My second project has run alongside my work on Roman warfare and picks up research threads from the book. This research is concerned with ancient political, diplomatic, and literary reactions to mass violence. Recent scholarship was argued that the ancient Mediterranean was effectively a political anarchy, where there was no effective international law and no means to restrain warfare or military conduct. Yet our sources register several negative reactions to extreme violence. Ancient authors denigrate what they regard as excessive violence, equating it with barbarism or criminality. Some Roman commanders were reportedly denounced by their political rivals for massacring or enslaving populations after their surrender. And in the Hellenistic world, especially, our sources describe substantial political and diplomatic responses to mass violence. For example, several Greek states censured the Macedonian king Philip V for enslaving and sacking cities in the Aegean, and their condemnations may have helped mobilize an anti-Macedonian coalition. And the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, made a public effort to smooth over relations with Sardis, a city in Asia Minor, after his soldiers brutally sacked it. My next project aims to determine whether these reactions amounted to de facto limits to acceptable military conduct despite the lack of effective international law.
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