Usages of the Past in Roman Historiography

Conference abstract

The conference will revolve around two major questions: firstly, the question of how Roman historians conceptualised the past, and, secondly, how they used, and manipulated, it. The first, broader, perspective encourages us to ask
how different Roman historians understood and conceptualised historical change: in short, how can we uncover their unstated assumptions about the passing of time, which terms are crucial in their philosophy of history, and how can an understanding of their portrayal of the past help us understand what they expected from the future? The second, more narrow, perspective encourages us to deal conscientiously with the literary and rhetorical nature of historiography: what are the possible functions of specific historical digressions within a historical narrative, and how did Roman historians use events described in earlier texts to colour and give meaning to the events they described themselves?

The aim of the conference is to approach such questions regarding the major historians of the Late Roman Republic and Early Roman Empire: Sallust, Velleius Paterculus, Livy, and Tacitus. The theme of the conference will thus open possibilities to connect with other major strands of current scholarship: the question of truth vs. rhetoric, the self-presentation of Roman historians, the political context in which they wrote, and the role of historical (and other) digressions within their text.