Book Review: Crisis Management during the Roman Republic: The Role of Political Institutions in Emergencies


by Gregory K. Golden

Cambridge / New York: Cambridge University, 2013. Pp. xviii, 246. Notes, biblio., index. $95.00. ISBN: 1107032857

How the Romans Dealt with Disaster

Prof.  Golden (Rhode I. College) asks “What were the institutional mechanisms available to cope with crises under the Roman Republic?”  And he does an excellent job of answering it. 

Golden opens, appropriately, by first asking “What makes a crisis?”  He sorts through the Roman view of the varying degrees of threat that might arise, from the ultimate crisis of a Gallic invasion through slave rebellions, religious conspiracies, local insurrections, and so forth. 

Then, in several chapters he addresses the various traditional “tools” used to cope with crises.  There was the “dictator, a senior magistrate of proven ability granted literally total power to cope with a challenge.  In a dire military crisis the Senate, or a Dictator, could call for a tumultus, a levee en masse in which all citizen, at times even freedmen and resident aliens, and on a couple of unique occasions slaves, could be called up for military service.  There was also the iustitium, the total cessation of public business until the threat was resolved.  Late in the history of the Republic the Senate developed the “consultum ultimum” or "ultimate decree,” which authorized the consuls to “see to it that the state suffer no harm," which was primarily a tool to supress political discontent.  Golden also addresses some unique techniques adopted for particular specialized cases.

Golden concludes by reviewing the events that led to the collapse of the Republic, in large measure due to the failure of the traditional modes of crisis response.  Since his academic background is in Classics, Golden is much better grounded in the evidence than if this had been written by a political scientist, as he integrates the political, social, cultural, and military aspects of Roman crisis response very well.  Crisis Management During the Roman Republic is excellent work for those interested in the Roman Republic or the problem of governmental responses to crises.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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