Monumental losses: Confronting the aftermath of battle in Roman literature

Marian Makins, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation treats a group of Roman literary texts evoking 'after-battle spaces'—battlefields where hostilities have ceased, but corpses of Roman soldiers still cover the ground. The texts share certain characteristics, including vivid description, collective representation of casualties, and literary 'markedness.' I argue that the authors of these texts emphasize both the importance of resolving after-battle spaces and the near-impossibility of doing so successfully. I begin by tracing the appeal of the topos, along with its particular mode of expression, to a confluence of contextual factors creating unresolved social tensions. The need to honor the dead was strongly felt, but the types of battles that resulted in mass casualties and mistreatment of the fallen—defeats and civil war battles—were those the Roman cultural value system was least equipped to handle. Each chapter treats a different approach to confronting battlefield aftermath. Chapter 1 deals with a loose tradition of imagining encounters between after-battle spaces and military leaders with the authority to do something about them. Each encounter is presented as an interpretive challenge, highlighting the simultaneous urgency and difficulty of responding to these landscapes in a satisfactory way. Chapter 2 examines scenes depicting feminine interventions in after-battle spaces, specifically the topoi of the necromancer-witch and the female mourner. Epic poets harnessed these well-known stereotypes to dramatize the cyclical, self-perpetuating nature of civil discord. Chapter 3 then considers non-narrative evocations of battlefield aftermath in which poets use metaphor, allusion, and ambiguity to overwrite familiar landscapes as battlefields still marked by traces of Roman civil war. These texts challenge readers to contemplate a vision of the world in which consequences and casualties of past conflicts, even those buried by the dominant imperial narrative, still cry out for resolution. In the final analysis, Roman writers' self-reflective engagement with the after-battle topos reveals an ongoing struggle, played out in the arena of elite literary culture, to come to terms with cracks in the foundation of their society.

Subject Area

Classical studies|Classical Studies|Ancient history

Recommended Citation

Makins, Marian, "Monumental losses: Confronting the aftermath of battle in Roman literature" (2013). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3566315.