Weeping for the Res Publica. Tears in Roman political culture

Project: Dissertation

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History


  • Ancient Rome, The Roman Republic, Late Republic, Rome, The Roman Empire, historiography, History of emotions, Tears, Weeping, Mourning, Grief, Pietas, Clementia, Virtue, Latin literature, Greek literature, Ancient Greece, Greece, Ancient History, Classics, Virtus, Genre, Rhetoric, Oratory, Cicero, Tacitus, Livy, Latin historiography, Greek historiography, The Roman emperor


The thesis explores the meaning and function of tears in Roman political culture during the Republic and the Early Empire in various historical settings: mourning, the law court, and in different political contexts where power, authority, and subjection were expressed or exercised. This is carried through by reading representations of weeping in Greek and Latin literary works in different genres, written by different authors. The study demonstrates that while tears and weeping were a common occurrence in Roman politics, the appropriateness and meaning of tears varied by literary context and variables in the historical context (like status, gender, and communicative context). The study also discusses the question of change over and time and argues that the advent of the Emperor impacted weeping and that both an increased appreciation of tears as well as self-control were available as responses for the elite.

Layman's description

My dissertation explores the significance of tears and weeping in the politics of Ancient Rome. I ask the questions about where, when, and how Romans wept in various political settings: the funeral and mourning, the law court, and in political contexts in a more narrow sense, like in diplomacy, in Senate or before soldiers. As a method, I study how weeping is described in different genres and authors. The study demonstrates that while tears were surprisingly often and that they were appreciated, the appropriateness and significance of tears varied between different literary and historical contexts and variables like status. For example, it could be problematic to weep for a close relative, while it was relatively unproblematic to weep in the law court. I also discuss the impact made by the advent of the emperor and monarchy on the function of tears -- the Roman elite could now express their status both by weeping "excessively" and by self-control, that is by checking their tears.
Short titleWeeping for the Res Publica
Effective start/end date2010/09/012018/05/04