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Single Combat in the Roman Republic*

  • S. P. Oakley (a1)

In his discussion of Roman military institutions Polybius described how the desire for fame might inspire Roman soldiers to heroic feats of bravery, including single combat: (6.54.3–4) τ⋯ δ⋯ μέγιστον, οἱ νέοι παρορμ⋯νται πρ⋯ς τ⋯ π⋯ν ὑπομένειν ὑπ⋯ρ τ⋯ν κοιν⋯ν πραγμάτων χάριν το⋯ τυχεῖν τ⋯ς συνακολουθούσης τοῖς ⋯γαθοῖς τ⋯ν ⋯νδρ⋯ν εὐκλείας. πίστιν δ' ἔχει τ⋯ λεγόμενον ⋯κ τούτων. πολλο⋯ μ⋯ν γ⋯ρ ⋯μονο-μάχησαν ⋯κουσίως Ῥωμαίων ὑπ⋯ρ τ⋯ς τ⋯ν ὅλων κρίσεως κτλ. Modern scholars, however, have taken little notice of this remark and some have tried to belittle the importance of single combat at Rome. Thus G. Dumézil alleged that the Romans fought few single combats and that this was significant for their outlook upon war, while R. Bloch described the duels in the seventh book of Livy as ‘un mode de combat absolument étranger à la tradition romaine, mail auquel les Romains ont été contraints par les habitudes et par les défis des Celtes’. W. V. Harris is the only scholar to have understood the importance of monomachy in the Roman Republic, but even he has not assembled all the evidence necessary for an accurate assessment of the phenomenon. This essay is intended to provide a full treatment and thus to make some contribution in a limited but interesting area to our understanding of Roman attitudes to warfare. I have included a list and discussion of all instances of single combat from the Roman Republic which I have discovered and have argued that the custom continued from prehistoric times at least to 45 b.c.

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J. P. Small , AJA 78 (1974), 4954

E. D. Rawson , CQ 29 (1979), 339

A. H. Keane , Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 13 (1884), 207

S. J. De Vries , Journal of Biblical Literature 92 (1973), 2336

A. M. Snodgrass , JHS 85 (1965), 110–22

P. Cartledge , JHS 97 (1977), 1127

M. Lüthi , Journal of the Folklore Institute 4 (1967), 316

B. D. Shaw , Past and Present 105 (1984), 352

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The Classical Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0009-8388
  • EISSN: 1471-6844
  • URL: /core/journals/classical-quarterly
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