‘Politics Incarnate’ in Roman warfare

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


This paper will discuss representations of the soldierly body in Roman literature and historiography, in order to discuss the nature of war as an embodied activity. In any military campaign, the ramifications of warfare are apparent in the destruction of architecture, landscape and national socio-political infrastructures, but above all in the damage sustained and actioned by soldier and civilian bodies (as recognised by Sallust, Hist. 3.48.27-8). Moreover, the soldierly body is just as significant a weapon as those arms it wields, and must be properly disciplined (inculcating a military habitus) in order to wage war successfully. I respond to the call of this conference to ‘challenge long held perceptions and assumptions’ by encouraging an approach to studying ancient warfare which is in dialogue with twenty-first century scholars of military sociology and critical military studies who argue that war is fundamentally embodied.

I will firstly introduce Kevin McSorley’s notion of battle as ‘politics incarnate’ (McSorley 2014, responding to Scarry 1985): the expectation to both inflict and sustain injury renders the individual body a protean product and producer of destruction (much like war itself). This methodology will be used to discuss how ancient texts can reveal the processes by which, firstly, the Roman citizen body is made ‘soldier’ through preparatory and transformational practices such as training and exposure to violence. Secondly, how especial instances of the soldier as wounder and/or wounded, in their literary contexts, fulfil particular political imperatives (cf. Livy 22.51, Luc. Pharsalia 4.539-81; Joseph. BJ. 3.522-31). The aim is to explore the advantages of approaching ancient warfare informed by modern, interdisciplinary perspectives, in the hope that it will spark dialogue concerning the ways that warfare has and continues to affect all aspects of human life.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 23 Nov 2019
EventWarfare in Antiquity : Perceptions, Realities and Reception in the 21st Century - King's College London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Nov 2019 → …


ConferenceWarfare in Antiquity
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period23/11/19 → …
Internet address


  • Warfare
  • Ancient History
  • Classical Studies
  • War Studies


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