Universität Erfurt

Antike Kultur


NEW FOR 2013:

The conference panel formed the foundation for a remarkable book:

Anton Powell (Ed.), Hindsight in Greek and Roman History. Swansae: Classical Press of Wales 2013. xv,  228 pp. ISBN 978-1-905125-58-6

Celtic Conference in Classics

July 28-31 2010

The sixth Celtic Conference in Classics has met at the University of Edinburgh from Wednesday 28th to Saturday 31st July 2010. The Conference was open to all. Details are still available via http://www.shca.ed.ac.uk/conferences/ccc .

The venue of the Conference was Pollock Halls, an elegant campus of the University of Edinburgh in a pleasant setting, close to but sheltered from the city centre. The dates of the conference have been chosen in part because they immediately precede the Edinburgh Festival.

Conference members may be able to stay on, if they wish, into the Festival period – using the campus’ inexpensive accommodation.

The Celtic Conference meets every two years, and rotates between Ireland and Scotland, Brittany and Wales. It promotes collective work from scholars world-wide, in a friendly and constructive atmosphere. Many of its panels come to publication as books.

The languages of the Conference are English and French.

Chairs’ e-mail addresses:

  • Kai Brodersen: Kai.Brodersen@uni-erfurt.de
  • Emma Buckley: eb221(at)st-andrews.ac.uk
  • Glenys Davies: G.M.Davies(at)ed.ac.uk
  • Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones lljones(at)staffmail.ed.ac.uk
  • Anton Powell: powellanton(at)btopenworld.com
  • Ursula Rothe: ursula.rothe(at)ed.ac.uk
  • Simon Trepanier: Simon.Trepanier(at)ed.ac.uk

Founder and Organiser: Anton Powell powellanton(at)btopenworld.com
Organiser in Edinburgh: Richard Rawles Richard.Rawles(at)ed.ac.uk



Chairs: Kai Brodersen (Erfurt) and Anton Powell (Classical Press of Wales)
To form a conference panel at the sixth Celtic Conference in Classics, Edinburgh, 28-31 July 2010.

If, as a historical magazine puts it, 'What happened then matters now', it may seem to follow that we should privilege those aspects of ancient history which most clearly lead to the modern world, or at least had long-lasting and obvious consequences in Antiquity. And so we may downplay ancient expectations  which were not fulfilled. But such expectations may have been predominant in their day. To neglect them may make it impossible to reconstruct ancient mentalities, or even to understand why history's winners acted as they did. Especially in periods of gross instability, unfulfilled forecasts may be numerous and rewarding to reconstruct. Some examples: after the disgrace at Sparta of three recent royal predecessors, what were Leonidas' prospects if he were to return alive from Thermopylai? After Caesar's death, how persuasive was the fear that his empire, like Alexander's, would fragment into permanent successor kingdoms? What chance did the militarily-inept Octavian seem to have of surviving - before Naulochus? Or,   given his record of poor health, after Actium? But even in less troubled times, unfulfilled forecasts which influence policy may be the norm, subject afterwards to downplaying by historians in Antiquity as today.
The organisers of this conference panel believe that one of the most promising ways to improve the writing of history is to train ourselves not to impose our hindsight onto the necessarily-diverse and imperfect forecasting by political actors of Antiquity. This approach is also currently under discussion by academic and other lawyers, interested in the concept of `negligence' in relation to the benefit of hindsight.
We warmly invite suggestions for papers on this theme, concerning any period of Greek or Roman Antiquity.
Reply to kai.brodersen@uni-erfurt.de and powellanton(at)btopenworld.com

Apart from the panel oganizers, contributors so far include colleagues from Belgium, England, Germany, Scotland, the US, and Wales:

Roger Brock <r.w.brock(at)leeds.ac.uk>
Dorit Engster <dengste(at)gwdg.de>
Lisa Hau <l.hau(at)classics.arts.gla.ac.uk>
Katie Low <katie.low(at)magd.ox.ac.uk>
John Matthews <john.matthews(at)yale.edu>
Alexander Meeus <alexander.meeus(at)arts.kuleuven.be>
Christopher Pelling <chris.pelling(at)classics.ox.ac.uk>
Helen Roche <hber(at)hermes.cam.ac.uk>


Roger Brock (Leeds)

The Athenian triumph in Sicily and what (might have) followed

Writing from the perspective of the ultimate defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides focuses on the Sicilian expedition as a key error (2.65.11), and moderns have generally been happy to follow his lead and identify it as the fatally over-reaching step to which the demos had always been tending.  Yet the narrative of the expedition in books 6 and 7 reveals that militarily it was ‘a damned nice thing’ (cp. Katie Low’s abstract below) which the Athenians came close to winning.  What, then, if they had?  Success on this scale would have brought its own problems:  would the Athenians have made a durable peace in Sicily which avoided a power vacuum and established a modus vivendi with the other central Mediterranean powers – and if they had, where might that have led – or would the demos have contrived to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory?


Dorit Engster (Göttingen)

Perseus of Macedon: prospects of a new Alexander?

The battle of Pydna is seen in many modern studies as a turning point. From 168 B.C. onwards Rome is seen as the dominating power in the Mediterranean. After the defeat of Macedon there was no other state that could challenge its authority. This assessment is one in hindsight, based on the tendency of the ancient sources. The main source for this period, Polybios, sees the rise of Rome as inevitable. In his Histories he explains in detail to his fellow countrymen, why Rome was able to conquer the Hellenistic world. But this development was not as unavoidable as Polybios presented it. The Roman victory especially in the Third Macedonian War seemed at least temporarily at risk.
Perseus, following the model of his father, saw himself as a successor to Alexander the Great. In his propaganda, for example his coinage, he presented himself as a king that would lead Macedon to new glory. Influential circles in Greece were obviously impressed by this propaganda and Perseus had followers in many of the Greek states, who were expecting that he might be able to resist Rome. The view that Perseus had aspirations to follow in the steps of Alexander the Great was also adopted by his enemies, especially Eumenes II., who warned the Roman senate of a Macedon that has regained strength and of its king that was planning to invade Italy. Following these warnings the Romans took the view, that a preemptive strike was necessary. But picture of a re-armed, strong and aggressive Macedon is in sharp contrast to the outcome of the war. 
This paper seeks to explore the realistic chances of Perseus to defeat Rome. It will be analyzed, if Perseus could and should have acted differently - for example, if he should have formed alliances with other Hellenistic powers. It will also be examined, what would have happened, if Perseus had used his contacts to the Balkan tribes more intensively. In this context it has to be asked (as already Polybios did), if Perseus should have spend his money more freely instead of being rather parsimonious - with the result that after Pydna the Romans were able to take possession of the enormous royal treasure. Ultimately it will be imagined what would have happened if Perseus had won the battle of Pydna (which was quite possible).
In connection with this consideration of the realistic chances of Perseus and a potential different course of development the narrative of Polybios will also have to be questioned. He obviously used a Macedonian source for his description of the politics of Perseus, especially his imitatio Alexandri. In this account, written by a disappointed Macedonian courtier, especially failure of the king to equal Alexander was emphasized – contrary to the Macedonian propaganda. In conclusion it will therefore be asked, if and how Perseus could have become indeed a second Alexander.


Lisa Hau (Glasgow)

"The Shadow of What Might Have Been: sideshadowing and unfulfilled expectations in ancient historiography"

The narratologist Gary Saul Morson has developed the theory of sideshadowing. Whereas foreshadowing in narrative allows the future to "cast a shadow" into the present and so allows the reader some degree of knowledge about what is yet to happen, sideshadowing allows possible alternative presents to "cast shadows" into the narrative’s actual present and allows the reader some degree of knowledge about what might have been. The advantage of this technique is a closer approximation of the narrative to reality, where the future is never set in stone and every moment offers a myriad of different possible futures, of which only one will be realised.
This has implications for the study of history. Here, the theory of sideshadowing may help historians to avoid their (our) tendency to view history only in hindsight and thus unconsciously imagine that the outcome of historical events could not have been any different. If we realise that what is now our past was at one point the future, and was thus at that point only one of a myriad of possible futures, which at the time were all realisable, and of which some perhaps seemed more probable to the participants than what eventually happened, we will be closer to understanding what living in a given historical period was really like.
This paper examines the efforts of some ancient Greek and Roman historians to represent the existence of alternative outcomes to historical events. These efforts fall into 3 categories:
1. Counterfactual history, where the historian explicitly imagines what might have been;
2. Expressions of unfulfilled expectations, where the historian reports the expectations of historical characters of a future which never happened;
3. Mirror stories, where the historian tells a sub-story which has certain characteristics in common with the main historical narrative and thus makes the reader reflect on possible alternative outcomes of the main narrative.
The paper pursues the literary origins of all three methods of sideshadowing and explores the way in which they are employed in the service of history.


Katie Low (Oxford)

The Claudian Conspiracy: AD 41 and the ‘restoration’ of the republic

The sources tell us that after the assassination by conspirators of the emperor Caligula in AD 41 there was a short interregnum in Rome, and an attempt was made to restore the republic. Given that this did not occur when the principate was in its infancy, but after some seventy years of imperial rule, and that at no other time after the death of an emperor do we hear of a return to the previous political system being mooted, it is rather surprising that neither ancient nor modern commentators make a great deal of this event. The references in Dio and Suetonius are very brief, and although Josephus offers a longer narrative there is a pervasive sense within it that the attempt was doomed to failure.My paper will fall into three parts. In the first, I shall reconstruct what happened and speculate about what might have been and about the putative results of any ‘restoration of the republic’, although this may be more of a jeu d’esprit than anything else. In the second, I shall outline the ancient sources’ treatment, such as it is, of the events of 41 and attempt to account for their relative silence. A key component to this will be the influence of hindsight, and the possibility that the principate’s continued existence induced writers of the late first and early second centuries to underplay the possibility that it could have been abolished. Any such prospect would have been historically meaningless. I shall then look harder at this hindsight. Taking a small detail in Suetonius as a starting-point, I shall argue that the ancient authors do not play down what occurred in 41 just because nothing similar ever happened again, but as a result of an attempt by the new emperor to erase the details of what might have been. We shall see that other evidence from Claudius’ principate shows that he sought to obviate the ways of thinking that had led to this particular ‘what if?’.


John Matthews (Yale)

Alternatives to the Roman Principate?

It is a general truth that what actually happens is an infinitesimal proportion of the things that might happen but do not.  The historian’s task, to construct a logical understanding of what has come about in the past is only a special case of what confronts us all the time, of finding a level of generality that will make understanding of our situation possible and suggest remedies; much as one can foresee that one’s lawn will become infested with dandelions and address the problem without being able or needing to predict where the particular dandelions will grow, or predict that Manchester United will defeat Sheepy Parva (an actual place in Leicestershire) or a team of Long John Silvers without knowing which particular goals will be scored, or how they will be executed.  The historical questions, ‘What if…..?’,  ‘Did it have to be this way?’ offer an entertaining exercise in speculation, but not just this, for they may compel us to distinguish what is essential to the broader historical process from what is inessential to it.  This paper will apply this train of thought to the historical process that produced the Roman Principate from the ruins of the Republic.  Accepting that there was a large element of chance as to which of Mark Antony and Octavian, Sextus Pompeius and Lepidus – to name only the chief protagonists – would survive as the victor in the civil wars of the 30’s BCE, it will ask whether the underlying political institutions that ensued in the res publica could have been different from what they turned out to be.  It will ask whether the idea of a Principate as an institution based on Republican principles and public law, as devised by Augustus, expounded by Mommsen and criticised by Syme, was the necessary outcome of these events, or whether one can imagine the emergence of a quite different political and constitutional order.  The paper will ask whether modern interpretations of the Principate have been unduly willing to accept the terms in which Augustus himself posed the question, and seek an alternative in the persistence throughout the Julian-Claudian period and later of various forms of Hellenism, and in the fears that some Roman observers entertained of this.  The question is the more difficult since the language in which we ourselves think about such matters is a consequence of Augustus’ success.


Alexander Meeus (Leuven)

Confusing Aim and Result? Hindsight and our Understanding of the Disintegration of Alexander the Great’s Empire

The communis opinio of modern scholarship is that the disintegration of Alexander’s empire was the natural result of a struggle between separatists and unitarists. The aim of becoming Alexander’s sole true Successor is attributed only to Perdikkas and the Antigonids, whose actions most clearly displayed their goals, and it is assumed that Alexander’s empire could not but fall apart because the unitarists were not up to the more numerous separatist forces. It is possible, though, that the eventual break-up of the empire was not caused by the purposefully executed plan of a number of separatists, but by the failure of every Successor to eliminate all of his rivals. After all, both Diodorus and Cornelius Nepos contend that all of the Successors aimed at controlling the entire empire, and the propaganda of the Diadochoi seems to suggest that this is correct. Nonetheless, scholars are very reluctant to abandon the traditional view.
It has also been argued that the Diadochoi all wanted to establish a new kind of monarchy, and did not feel the need to create firm connections with the old Macedonian royal house. Kassandros is seen as a possible exception, because he married Alexander’s half sister Thessalonike, and was in control of Macedon itself. However, it is clear that he was not the only one who tried to marry an Argead woman, nor was he the only one who coveted possession of Macedon. Furthermore, the main Hellenistic dynasties all claimed Argead descent.
The era of the Successors therefore seems one of the periods best suited for studying the role of hindsight in historical analysis. Through a new assessment of the problem we will not only gain a better understanding of the ambitions of the Successors, and their policies, propaganda and diplomacy, but also of Hellenistic royal ideology. Furthermore, the analysis will reveal several methodological caveats which are relevant to any (ancient) historian, whichever epoch he may be studying.


Christopher Pelling (Oxford)

Historical explanation and what didn't happen: the virtues of virtual history

Speculation on what-might-have-beens is not limited to moderns: there are a fair number of instances even in ancient authors, including two very well known examples which will feature heavily in the last part of this paper. But there are many less striking examples: what would have happened if the Gracchi had been closer in age to one another, or if the Cimbri and Teutones had invaded at the time of the Jugurthan War, or if Vercingetorix had led his revolt just a few years later, or (particularly) if Pompey had won the civil war? (All of those are Plutarch.) This paper will be concerned with the ways in which what-might-have-beens are thoroughly implicated in any attempt at historical explanation. There is a sense in which, at least on traditional views of causation, every causal explanation carries a hidden speculation of this sort: but for A, B would not have happened. I will consider the ways in which syllogistic reasoning of this or similar sorts becomes explicit, for instance in Polybius’ discussion of the causes of the Second Punic War; and some cases where it is arguably implicit, as in several explanatory schemata in Thucydides. There may be time to raise the question how far these cases illuminate the nature of historical explanation itself, how far it aligns with ‘scientific’ explanation and how far we should think instead in terms of (e.g.) ‘narrative codes’.
This will lead into a discussion of a favourite point of theorists of closure, the tight and paradoxical link of closure and causation; one does not know what one is trying to explain until one knows what sort of story it is, and one does not know that until it ends. Lucan might provide a neat test-case here, as the multiple prolegomena in BC 1 may link with uncertainty as to his end-point. The enigmatic close of Xenophon’s Hellenica may provide a link to exploration of cases where it may not be clear to a writer or an immediate audience where or how the story will end. Carolyn Dewald has interestingly suggested that the end of Herodotus might be read differently according to a later audience’s knowledge of a future which is not yet known to Herodotus himself; that idea lends itself to expansion, possibly for Thucydides and Tacitus and certainly to the last books of Polybius.
The last part will turn to two very elaborate examples of what-might-have-been speculation, Herodotus 7.139 on what would have happened if the Athenians had not won the strategic debate and Livy 9.17–18 on what would have happened if Alexander had attacked Rome. Both need to be read in context, and analysis of both can bring out how the arguments used are unexpected and even extraordinary. Historical explanation may again be the key, but historical explanation of events some way from those to which the passages most obviously relate.


Anton Powell (Swansea)

The future is eastern? Roman fears of hellenistic rule in the 30s and 20s BC

Did Cleopatra really represent a threat? Horace's treatment of the queen as challenging the Roman empire may seem mere sycophantic exaggeration, designed to distract from an embarrassing reality: that Antony's eastern forces were part of a Roman civil war,  that Octavian was victor over his own countrymen.  Horace, however, had lived through a prospect very different from the one normally reconstructed by modern scholars.
The hellenisation of Roman behaviour had troubled some Romans since the days of Cato the Elder. Julius Caesar, long derided as `The Queen of Bithynia' for his long sojourn with King Nicomedes, tried to abolish his own example by outlawing protracted residence in the Greek east by Roman grandees. Does this imply a widespread fear among non-elite Romans that members of the governing class had their hearts elsewhere? How was bilingualism among the aristocracy regarded, as a prospect, by the monoglot population of Rome and Italy?
That the most powerful Roman military leaders should dwell for years in the east  might seem normal after Sulla, Lucullus, Pompey. Antony's settling in Alexandria represented a predictable development: an avowed emigration eastward of Roman authority. And in the process Antony nurtured someone who represented Caesarian precedent for a hellenising future: `Caesarion', `Ptolemy and Caesar'.
Rome's population might fear growing hellenisation in two possible forms. Supreme power might emigrate east permanently, with predictable results for the prosperity and self-image of Romans in Italy. Or a ruling dynasty might arise which was resident in Rome but of hellenistic character: not so much Julians as Juli-ids. Only by examining how persuasive might be such fears can we understand why, for example, Virgil in the Aeneid repeatedly expressed and opposed the idea that Aeneas' founding line consisted of Phrygians who were effeminate, perfumed and amorous to the point of distraction. There was perhaps a wide and deep public apprehension informing the choice made by Octavian on reaching Egypt in 30BC: whether to become the third Caesarian ruler to engage with Cleopatra, or to react with lethal chastity.


Helen Roche (Cambridge)

Spartan supremacy: A 'ktema es aei'?
Reconstructing Lakedaimonian expectations of Sparta's enduring ascendancy

This paper aims to consider Spartan unfulfilled expectations - namely, it will explore the idea that, until their defeat at Leuctra, the Spartans would generally have expected their far-famed military prowess and their widening dominion over other Greek poleis - supported by the eunomia of the 'Lycurgan' constitution, and the good sense on which they prided themselves - to endure for the forseeable future.
Although explicit statements of such a belief may not be readily found in our sources, one could argue that Spartan attitudes and behaviour on a number of occasions betray an implicit assumption that they did not (for the most part) expect their endeavours to fail, or their actions to bring meaningful retribution from other Greek states.  The Tegea affair (Hdt. I.66), Sthenelaidas' attitude in Thucydides' debate over the immediate necessity of war (I.86-7), and Spartan cavalier treatment of other poleis after the Peloponnesian War, might be adduced as examples.  One could also consider Sparta's traditional 'interventionism' (firstly with regard to tyrant-toppling, then in their privileging of oligarchies [cf.Thuc.1.18-19]), and Spartan lack of qualms in issuing ultimata - even when the recipients were Persian Kings (e.g. Hdt. I.152-3, VIII.114).
However, many of our ancient sources on Sparta which were written after Sparta's defeat by Thebes (Aristotle's Politics being a prime example) are coloured by hindsight in such a way that they present Sparta's decline as a foregone conclusion, thus encouraging us to overlook the value of reconstructing a point at which Sparta's loss of hegemony and status as the Greek military polis par excellence could have been utterly unthinkable.



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