Political assassination in the late Roman Empire. Towards a new approach to studying state power and weakness in ancient Europe and the mediterranean

Start - End 
2020 - 2023 (ongoing)
Department of History
Research Focus 



This research project concerns the political role and impact of assassination in the Late Roman Empire. The killing of
human beings, and above all the judgement of its legitimacy, is a prerogative that governments have tried to claim as
early as the third millennium BCE when our earliest written sources appear in the Ancient Near East. Until the 18th century, most governments in Europe did not possess what we now regard as police forces. As a result, the tackling of most lowkey crime was usually relegated to self-help or to the community level. Yet the unlawful killing of people and its punishment was always a concern for governments or communities, no matter how small or large their bureaucratic apparatus. It should come as no surprise then that murder has always had a special place in the study of the history of crime and violence. The prevalence of murder can even be considered a significant index for the strength or weakness of state authority. This becomes even more so when murder becomes assassination, i.e. the killing of prominent figures for political gain. Western parliamentary democracies are still fundamentally vulnerable to the fallout of (attempted) political murder. My project focuses on Late Roman assassination, in contrast to legally sanctioned executions, to make a major contribution to our understanding of state formation or contraction within Empires.