'If the world itself is shaken': Roman responses to natural disasters from the late Republic to the great famine under Claudius and Nero (65BC – AD63)
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 11:08 authored by Daryn Robert Graham
The historical analysis of ancient natural disasters, that is, those occurrences of natural phenomena resulting in loss of life and human injury, and damage or destruction to human property, is a new field of research. Yet despite its relatively recent emergence, engagement with this new field can inestimably help historians better understand how those belonging to ancient civilizations understood the natural world around them. This thesis examines the responses of various Romans to natural disasters – an area that has received little attention. For, although scholarly works on individual natural disasters such as the Campanian earthquake of AD62, the great fire of Rome in AD64, and the eruption of Vesuvius, certainly exist, there are relatively few treatments on Roman responses to natural disasters in the broader sense, especially during the Julio-Claudian period which predates those of the aforementioned individual natural disasters under Nero and the Flavians. Stringent historical and historiographical investigative approaches are implemented throughout this monograph in order to derive from the Romans themselves, through the writings and other sources of information they left behind – especially in Rome, but also throughout Italy and the empire – how they articulated their understandings of their natural world and its recurring natural disasters. In line with current scholarship I shall illustrate that Roman perceptions were far from homogeneous and that their responses over time were anything but uniform. However, in divergence from what has gone before, this thesis will demonstrate that the Romans made individual and communal decisions as to how they understood and responded to nature and natural disasters. Thus, the responses of Romans at individual and collective levels are explored throughout this thesis. Moreover, it will be shown throughout, that Romans responded to natural disasters essentially in one or more of the following four ways: firstly as a means of survival, secondly as means of religious observance, thirdly, as a means of following a philosophical standpoint, and fourthly as part of civic duty, at an individual (e.g. a princeps) and/or a communal (e.g. a city or social group) level. Most certainly, cultural trends helped shaped how Romans lived, but so too did their own individual attitudes. In this way, this thesis will benefit future historians seeking to better understand the diversity of the Roman world and, indeed, the ancient Romans themselves.