'A kingdom of iron and rust:' identity, legitimacy, and the performance of contentious politics in Rome (180-238CE). (2019)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsMacauley, Amanda Janeshow all
Of all the crises that Rome experienced during its long and illustrious history, arguably none was greater than the accumulation of external and internal conflicts during the third century CE. Most scholars date this crisis from the accession of Maximinus Thrax in 235CE, yet the processes that chipped away at the Augustan system of stable imperial authority were set into motion years earlier. In particular, the years between the accession of Commodus in 180CE and Gordian III in 238CE saw increasing authoritarian rule, demographic change and economic instability. During this time, Rome hosted a dramatic escalation of politically motivated violence, including riots, demonstrations, street battles, vandalism and repeated performances of popular justice rituals, as the city’s main political actors, the emperor, urban plebs, Senate, and Praetorian Guard, made public claims against each other using both established and innovative forms of collective action. The extreme was arrived at 238CE in the form of a revolutionary situation: a deep split in the control of the imperial regime’s coercive means during which every actor’s interests were at risk, prompting many of them to mobilise for action. Such extra-institutional, political activity is the hallmark of 'contentious politics,’ which will be the focus of this dissertation.
The clustering of collective action in Rome during this period tells us much about political engagement and exchange, and how shifting conceptions of imperial legitimacy and the polarisation of collective identities framed both support and resistance for imperial regimes. While previous works have shed valuable light on how social networks, political relationships and the symbolism of urban spaces aided mobilisation and the performance of Roman collective behaviour, the structures, processes, and mechanisms by which people publicly collaborated are less understood. This thesis seeks to identify and assess those very structures, processes, and mechanisms that facilitated the escalation of contentious political interaction in Rome between 180-238CE. Three key concepts form the basis of this study’s analysis: the formation and evolution of political actors, the political opportunity structures that both facilitated and constrained urban contentious behaviour, and the social and spatial aspects of the contentious performances and repertoires that defined Roman collective action.