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Constructing, Deconstructing and Reconstructing Civic Memory in Late Republican Rome

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Chapter Summary

Long before Romans began to write histories, they honed strategies for communicating through the built environment, using public architecture as a means of recording and interpreting past events and influencing people of their own day and the future. Architectural style, honoree and site were carefully selected for effect, offering selective views of history, crafted to bring favour to distinct social groups or families. This paper explores two instances in the late Republic when those in power perceived recent events to be sufficient impediments to their advancement to justify aggressive steps toward a rehabilitation of civic memory: in the 70s, senatorial conservatives who had profited from Sulla’s dictatorship, nevertheless acknowledged the regime’s regrettable brutality; and in the first half of the 40s, Julius Caesar was forced to navigate the complexities of civil war and the ignominious murder of Pompey, the sometime people’s favourite. In the first case, a physical erasure of the past constituted an invitation to civic oblivion; in the second, massive building initiatives recast Pompey’s perceived virtue as an unforgivable flaw. The result, in both cases, was an architectural rewriting of the past on an unprecedented scale.



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