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The Ruler's House

Contesting Power and Privacy in Julio-Claudian Rome

Harriet Fertik

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How Romans used the world of the house to interpret and interrogate the role of the emperor.

The Julio-Claudian dynasty, beginning with the rise of Augustus in the late first century BCE and ending with the death of Nero in 68 CE, was the first ruling family of the Roman Empire. Elite Romans had always used domestic space to assert and promote their authority, but what was different about the emperor's house? In The Ruler's House, Harriet Fertik considers how the emperor's household and the space he called home shaped Roman conceptions of power and one-man rule.

While previous studies of power…

How Romans used the world of the house to interpret and interrogate the role of the emperor.

The Julio-Claudian dynasty, beginning with the rise of Augustus in the late first century BCE and ending with the death of Nero in 68 CE, was the first ruling family of the Roman Empire. Elite Romans had always used domestic space to assert and promote their authority, but what was different about the emperor's house? In The Ruler's House, Harriet Fertik considers how the emperor's household and the space he called home shaped Roman conceptions of power and one-man rule.

While previous studies of power and privacy in Julio-Claudian Rome have emphasized the emperor's intrusions into the private lives of his fellow elites, this book focuses on Roman ideas of the ruler's lack of privacy. Fertik argues that houses were spaces that Romans used to contest power and to confront the contingency of their own and others' claims to rule. Describing how the Julio-Claudian period provoked anxieties not only about the ruler's power but also about his vulnerability, she reveals that the ruler's house offered a point of entry for reflecting on the interdependence and intimacy of ruler and ruled.

Fertik explores the world of the Roman house, from family bonds and elite self-display to bodily functions and relations between masters and slaves. She draws on a wide range of sources, including epic and tragedy, historiography and philosophy, and art and architecture, and she investigates shared conceptions of power in elite literature and everyday life in Roman Pompeii. Examining political culture and thought in early imperial Rome, The Ruler's House confronts the fragility of one-man rule.

Reviews

Reviews

Fertik's study offers many such insights....[Her] writing is always clear, her literary analyses are always convincing....This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of Julio-Claudian Rome.

In The Ruler's House, Harriet Fertik addresses a puzzle central to Roman political thought—how the Romans navigated the profound transformations produced by one-man rule—in an original way with a focus on the household as a site of conflict and anxiety over power, privacy, and status. Fertik's study is a valuable contribution to cross-disciplinary studies of Roman political and social thought.

From the imperial family's lofty struggles for dominance to the lowly maintenance of bodily functions within domestic space, Fertik surveys multiple and surprising ways the house—its members, its functions, its architecture—channeled power in the early Roman Empire. Compelling and accessible, The Ruler's House examines competing drives to display and privacy that continue to resonate today.

The Ruler's House provides a valuable and well-documented account of how domestic space functioned as a locus of power and vulnerability during the early Roman Empire. Fertik engages with an impressive range of literature and material culture to demonstrate how Romans of varying degrees of wealth and power negotiated the seemingly dichotomous realms of public and private, ruler and ruled, and seeing and being seen within their own households as well as within that of the imperial family.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
256
ISBN
9781421432892
Illustration Description
9 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1 Playing House: New Families and New Rulers in Lucan's Bellum Civile
Chapter 2 Contest and Control in the Emperor's House
Chapter 3 Where to See the Emperor

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Chapter 1 Playing House: New Families and New Rulers in Lucan's Bellum Civile
Chapter 2 Contest and Control in the Emperor's House
Chapter 3 Where to See the Emperor: Augustus and Nero in Rome
Chapter 4 Exposing the Ruler: Seneca on Visibility and Complicity
Chapter 5 Interdependence and Intimacy: Power at Home in Roman Pompeii
Chapter 6 Bathing, Dining, and Digesting with the Ruler
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Harriet Fertik

Harriet Fertik is an assistant professor of classics at the University of New Hampshire.