University of Tasmania
whole_ReardonGail1997_thesis.pdf (12.55 MB)

Ignoble robbers : bandits and pirates in the Roman world

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posted on 2023-05-27, 18:35 authored by Reardon, GD
This thesis begins with an examination of the Roman definition of banditry and piracy in the law codes. The close association between war and banditry, despite the formal importance of the iustum bellum, is revealed by the descriptions and terminology of the surviving literary authorities. Piracy is often referred to as being 'maritime banditry', since it was regarded as differing little from banditry, except that it occurred on the ocean. The position of bandits and pirates in the criminal 'ranks' was the lowest, and thus to the Roman sources, latro was a strong term of abuse associated with great dishonour. The unpredictable tactics of bandits and pirates also prompted the attitude that they were akin to a force of nature, such as a storm, and were thus an unpreventable occurrence. The second chapter discusses Hobsbawm's theories of social banditry and their applicability to the bandits and pirates of the Roman period. An examination reveals that 'social bandits' were not an ancient phenomenon, and that there was no perception of them as such, and suggests that local populations did not regard them as 'Robin Hoods'. Local support for bandits and pirates seems to have been limited mainly to a smaller group composed of their 'partners in crime', who harboured them and received stolen goods. Those who became bandits and pirates, for example deserters and shepherds, are often cited as being driven to banditry for reasons of poverty, and their motivation was to support themselves. An analysis in chapter threee of the activities of the Bagaudae in the late empire reveals them to be bandits rather than rebellious peasants. The attitude of abhorrence towards these criminals is seen in the harsh punishment of their acts and the popular reaction to their deaths, as detailed in chapter four. The fact that a man was considered a bandit was seen as a justification for his death. Retribution through capital punishment could be carried out instantly, or in a number of ways after interrogation and torture, such as beheading or crucifixion. Infamous bandits' deaths played a further role as entertainment for the crowds. The placing of such prisoners in triumphal processions also testifies to the attraction for seeing these prisoners in a humiliated position. Finally, a combination of the factors mentioned above and the value of personal gloria and triumphs in the Roman ethos strongly influenced the response to policing banditry and piracy, as seen in an analysis of a number of Roman laws, battles in the provinces and wars against bandits and pirates. The evidence from the empire suggests that attitudes had not changed though methods of policing had improved.


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Copyright 1997 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1998. Includes bibliographical references

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