Thursday, November 24, 2011

State Counter-Terrorism in Ancient Rome

State Counter-Terrorism in Ancient Rome: Toward a New Basis for the Diachronic Study of Terror

By Ricardo Apostol: An Interdisciplinary and International Conference – September, 2011 – Purdue University Abstract: 

According to both Dionysios of Halicarnassus and Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, in 460 BCE a rag-tag group of political exiles and rebellious slaves under the leadership of one Appius Herdonius occupied the Roman Capitol; after having slaughtered those who refused to join their cause, they sent out a list of demands: political exiles should be allowed to return; slaves must be freed; debts were to be abolished; and some redistribution of wealth would occur. If their demands were not met, they would join forces with foreign groups to overthrow the Roman state. Panic ensues in the city.

This (almost certainly apocryphal) story offers a textbook case of a literary depiction of terrorist activity in ancient Rome; yet what makes it truly invaluable as a case study is the wealth of information on the political circumstances surrounding the event, namely a years-long constitutional impasse between the Roman plebs and the aristocracy, during which the ruling class seized on any conflict (whether sedition or invasion) as an opportunity to call for unity and put off political reform. 

This, in turn, allows the researcher to model the category of terrorism not, as is traditionally done, in terms of content, but rather in terms of the structural role it plays within a socio-political system. As the paper will suggest, this structural or functional formulation may provide a better model for the diachronic study of terror than content-based approaches that rely on elements of definition grounded in modernity, such as “non-state agents”, “indiscriminate violence”, “political motivation”, and “media spectacle”.