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Cassius Dio's Speech of Agrippa: A Realistic Alternative to Imperial Government?*

  • Paul Mckechnie


In Dio's debate on constitutions, set in 29 B.C., the speech favouring democracy occupies chapters 2–13 of book 52, and the speech urging monarchy runs from 14–40: most of this speech, indeed the main content of the whole book, is a detailed set of proposals for the administration of the Roman Empire, written with a view to being applicable in the writer's own time, more than two hundred years after the dramatic date of the debate. the dramatic date of the debate. Millar calls these chapters ‘a political pamphlet’, and suggests that Dio abandoned an earlier plan to fit them in to book 52. There is evidence, though, that the book was planned in its present form, but for the lacuna between chapters 13 and 14, and that the relatively brief speech of Agrippa was composed not as part of what was intended to be a balanced debate (balanced in terms of length, with point answering point in the rival speeches), but as a brief preliminary piece in explicit and implicit contrast and opposition to the ideology of the speech which forms the main thesis of the book; in a coherently planned debate, Dio states first the case for democracy in order to provoke the reader to question whether it could have been put into action – whether it is realistic.



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1. Millar, F.A Study of Cassius Dio (Oxford, 1964), p. 107.

2. Polybius 6. 1–18, especially 6. 11. 11–13.

3. F. Millar, op. cit., pp. 104–5.

4. 52.5.1; 52.9.1; 52.9.3; 52.9.5; 52.11.1; 52.13.6.

5. Herodotus 1.59.5 mentions the rule in describing the exception: ‘they became not δυρøóρυι for Peisistratus, but κορυνηøóροι.'

6. Herodotus 3.80.1.

7. F. Millar, op. cit., pp. 105–6.

* This essay was judged best overall in the Greece & Rome Jubilee Essay Competition.


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