The Memories of the Pompeii from the 1st Century BC to the 3rd Century AD.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Pompeius Magnus lived his life in one the most tumultuous periods in Roman history. From the outset, he was a participant in the upheaval caused by the civil war between those who supported Gaius Marius and Lucius Sulla, which overshadowed Roman politics for decades. Although Pompeius was a minor figure at the time, his rapid ascent to pre-eminence within the Roman establishment quickly made his role in these years gain a greater level of scrutiny than was perhaps warranted. Subsequently, he attained still further renown in the civil war fought between himself and Julius Caesar that set in motion the events that culminated in the imposition of an autocracy under Caesar’s successor Octavian/Augustus and naturally formed the narrative for the foundation myth of the new ruling dynasty.

Similarly, Pompeius’ sons were also a part of the monumental events of the civil war against Caesar, and later Sextus Pompeius became one of the key leaders in the civil war against the successors to Caesar that saw the ascendancy of Octavian. The memory of Sextus was influenced to an extent by his relationship to his father but also enhanced by his own role in the war. The version of Sextus that has survived in both the contemporary histories and those that followed later was largely formed by Octavian and his followers during the war and in the immediate aftermath when the conflict formed a part of the foundation myth of the ‘rebranded’ Augustus.

This thesis examines the memory of Pompeius and his sons in the historiography of the Roman world to the third century AD. Memory and its application in the development of cultural narratives is a fascinating area of study that is as relevant now as it is for the ancient world. History is full of examples where the narrative of events was changed or altered for various purposes. Then, as now, the narrative of momentous events was particularly susceptible to editing by those who wish to gain from a particular version of history. Sometimes these events are linked to such extreme changes to the established system within a country that they also become part of a founding narrative or myth for the new regime, as was the case in the first century BC.

The choice of the third century AD as a stopping point is due to the nature of the sources and the evolution of the narrative, the last largely intact accounts of Pompeius’ life come from the Greek authors ending with Dio writing in the 200s AD. These accounts are long enough to allow the exploration their interaction with the existing narrative and the judgements of this era on the evolution of memories from the preceding centuries. Another reason is that these Greek authors also preserve the longest accounts of Sextus’ memory too, which allow for a detailed comparison.

To examine the construction of these memories, this thesis is divided into four parts along thematic lines: the first discusses the images of Pompeius that were created in his own lifetime by the historians of the Sullan period and contemporary authors such as Cicero, Caesar, and Pompeius himself. This will examine how they influenced the memory that was perpetuated both during his lifetime and passed down in the collective memory to be picked up by later authors. The second part examines the death of Pompeius, which became a key aspect of his memory, and how this affected his contemporaries and how they reassessed his memory in the light of his demise. The third part explores how Pompeius’ memory was understood and used by authors of the imperial period, particularly the Greek authors, when they looked back at the period and retrospectively applied their knowledge of what had subsequently occurred to the memories of that time. The fourth and final chapter will dissect the memory of Sextus, who, while tied to the memory of his father, also became the subject of a greater hostile historical tradition and was also affected by what almost amounted to a form of memory sanction. Unlike the chapters on his father, this chapter will examine the whole range of Sextus’ memory due to the relative disparity of lifetimes and imbalance in source quantity.
Date of Award1 Apr 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorHenrik Mouritsen (Supervisor) & Dominic Rathbone (Supervisor)

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