Roundtable Religious Identity and Violence in Ancient Warfare

AHA Session 189
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 208 (Hynes Convention Center)
Michael G. Seaman, DePauw University
Sponsored by the AHA Working Group on Religion, Peace, and Violence

Session Abstract

This session attempts to shed light on how religious identity was used in a variety of settings in the Classical world as a mechanism both to restrain violence and, conversely, to engender it.  The Greeks and Romans undertook warfare quite frequently and did not usually hesitate to employ violence against the defeated when they deemed it necessary, even committing what might be termed today as war atrocities. It appears to be the case, however, that some Greek generals who considered themselves religious (by ancient Greek standards) felt that such violence was unjustified.  Our first speaker explores the question of whether a strong religious identity of these commanding officers had any bearing on the treatment of a vanquished enemy.  Romans, on the other hand, often saw religious identity, particularly that of zealots, as a possible locus of resistance. Our second presenter argues that the strong religious identity perceived in certain Jews was interpreted by the Romans as a serious threat and subsequently dealt with uncharacteristically harshly.  Lastly, our third speaker utilizes recent work sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency to determine how claims of religious identity among Jewish pirates helped the Romans determine whether the bandits in the First Jewish War were engaging in criminal activity or political resistance.

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