Digitising the Prosopography of the Roman Republic

Maggie Robb (KCL)

Institute of Classical Studies Digital Seminar 2012

Friday July 13th at 16:30, in Room G37, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

The history of the Roman republic is the history of a highly competitive aristocratic elite, which oversaw Rome’s remarkable transformation from middling Italian city-state to ruler of a world empire. This project seeks to enhance our understanding of the structure and dynamics of this elite, including its familial composition, office-holding patterns, and internal hierarchies. The importance of these questions has long been recognised and a great deal of the basic information about the prosopography of the Roman elite has already been collated in various scholarly works. However, because of the sheer scale and complexity of the material it has not yet been practicable to subject it to a comprehensive analysis that integrates multiple, interrelated factors such as individual ‘career’ patterns, family continuity, cross-familial links, and connections with elite families outside the office-holding group. It is only with the arrival of digital technology this has become a possibility and simply by applying such tools to the material the project will break important new ground.

A searchable digital database comprising all known members of the republican elite will open up radically new opportunities for revisiting old questions as well as asking entirely new ones that have not previously been considered, mostly on grounds of feasibility. The project sets out to analyse in much greater depth than has previously been possible the structure of public careers, the success or failure of family lines, as well as the influence of the lateral connections that existed between aristocratic families. A significant new departure for the project will be the application of a more holistic approach to the Roman elite as a whole, which extended well beyond the leading families of the nobility. Although these have naturally attracted most scholarly attention, they cannot be viewed in isolation. It is impossible to make sense of the composition of the elite without taking into account not only the lower ranks of the senate but also the fluid boundaries that existed between the two highest orders, the senatorial and the equestrian. These groups were closely integrated socially and for the first time the project seeks to map systematically the links, e.g. through marriage, that bound them together and the movements that happened between them. These studies will help us examine the question whether the office-holding elite constituted a ‘class’ and how large it may have been.


The seminar will be followed by wine and refreshments.

Audio recording of seminar (MP3)

Presentation (PDF)