Classical Quarterly 36 (02):478- (1986)

In recent years many historians have rightly emphasised aggressive imperialism as a key element in Roman political life in the Middle and Late Republic. This has led to reconsideration of the significance of the ‘just war’ theory associated with the college of fetiales. ‘On the basis of this fetial law of the Roman people, it can be understood that no war is justified unless it is waged after compensation has been demanded , or the war has been announced in advance and formally proclaimed.’ Earlier this century, scholars were happy to accept that this ‘fetial law’ implied that the Romans never initiated wars of aggression but fought only if they felt they were the aggrieved party. Scullard believed that ‘…in fact Roman religious law did not countenance wars of aggression designed to gain new territory’ ; for Tenney Frank, ‘ the Roman mos maiorum did not recognise the right of aggression or a desire for more territory as just causes for war. That the institution was observed in good faith for centuries there can be no doubt.’ Recent scholars have been more sceptical. Harris sees the activities of the fetiales primarily as a psychological mechanism for assuaging the guilt feelings which even Romans will have been unable to escape when initiating totally unjustified wars of aggression: ‘the significance of the fetial procedure for declaring war was solely psychological’. Other writers have gone further in stressing its mystificatory and propaganda function. Our scepticism about the efficacy of ‘fetial law’ in restraining the Romans' belligerence should be accompanied by a re-evaluation of our evidence regarding the fetiales and what they actually did. Such a re-evaluation will not affect our picture of the Romans of the Middle and Late Republic as aggressive and militaristic, but we may have to revise our views on how the fetiales fit into that picture. This paper makes no claim to analyse exhaustively every piece of evidence which might throw some light on the fetiales, let alone every interpretation to be found in the secondary literature; but it may be worthwhile to reconsider the main types of operations which the fetiales are said by our ancient sources to have been involved in
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DOI 10.1017/S0009838800012210
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Augustus, the Poets, and the Spolia Opima.S. J. Harrison - 1989 - Classical Quarterly 39 (2):408-414.

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