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Plagues, famines and other disasters: interpreting the signs from the gods
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 17:38 authored by Judy Simpson
My thesis concerns the decemviri sacris faciundis - a college of priests from Republican Rome who were in charge of the Sibylline books, considered the most sacred possession of the Romans. When Rome was besieged by disastrous events, their role was to search these books for remedies that would appeal to the gods, thus maintaining the pax deorum. The aim of my thesis is to show how the decemviri, through their responses to disasters, changed the sacred landscape of Rome. Firstly, I analyse the role of this college, which consisted in equal part patrician and plebeian, in the intertwined system of religion and politics that saw Rome expand its empire across Italy and into the Mediterranean. My aim is to understand how these priests might use religion for political ends. My analysis is therefore concerned with the prestige of this college in the Republican period. Secondly, I examine the psychological responses of disasters as a way of understanding the impact of these events. This is a necessary element in analysing the subsequent responses of the senate and the decemviri to disasters. Although ancient historians consistently avoided this type of emotional analysis, Livy, in his descriptions of wartime disasters, provided a thorough record of the fears and anxieties associated with disastrous events. Thirdly, I consider the reliability of Livy, and other ancient authors, as a source for religious traditions, an essential component in establishing how and why the decemviri were called upon to consult the Sibylline books. Finally, I investigate how the decemviri responded to disasters. I consider the built spaces, the celebrations and the transitory religious observances that pervaded the city at the behest of these priests. My thesis provides a better understanding of how the decemviri were important to the religious and physical development of Rome.