Family or Faction?

Posted on 13 November 2017

Talk: Gregory Gilles (KCL), “Family or Faction? Using Cicero’s Letters to Map the Political, Social and Familial Relationships Between Senators During the Civil War of 49-45BC” “.


Date: Monday, 13 November 2017

Time: starting at 17:00 c.t. (i.e. 17:15)

Venue: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Gebäude Hausvogteiplatz (Raum 0319). Address: Hausvogteipl. 5-7, 10117 Berlin map


The civil war between Gaius Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (49-45 BC) has inevitably been categorised as the downfall of the Roman Republic. It eventually affected every Roman citizen and would ultimately shape the course of events that led to the creation of the first principate. Although this struggle for power has been well documented, and argued from various political angles, relatively few historians have debated the affiliations and/or support that these two aspiring autocrats would have needed in order to secure victory. The aim of this paper is to highlight these lesser discussed affiliations by using social network analysis to scrutinise Marcus Tullius Cicero’s letters so as to map the political, social and familial connections between Roman Senators at the time of the civil war. It is hoped that mapping such networks will enable patterns of relatedness to emerge and to distinguish whether Senators chose familial connections or political factions when deciding to support either Pompey or Caesar.

One of the most central problems for historians has to do with the question of social order and how individuals interacted and related with one another in order to form effective and enduring societies. Social network theory offers a coherent approach for examining numerous social phenomena, from the spread of cultural innovations to the rise and fall of different political institutions. As social network analysis produces an alternate view, where the attributes of individuals are less important than their relationships and ties with other actors within the network, its use on static historical texts can provide new insights and reinterpretations on the connections between the individuals discussed in these texts.

This study will use epistolary data to identify variable shifts in Cicero’s social and political networks with an aim to correlating these patterns with statements about the political affiliations of certain principal actors within the networks. Firstly, Cicero’s letters will be contextualised by briefly discussing the events leading to the civil war of 49-45 BC and its eventual outcome. This will then be followed by the methodology used in this study, along with its results. The resulting network maps will be discussed on a year-by-year status, as well as a combined collection covering the entirety of the study. Lastly, an analysis and appraisal of the suitability of social network analysis on historical texts, will be discussed.

As social network theory provides a common ground for investigating connectivity and facilitating analysis of very large datasets of varying degree of completeness, its accessibility and use must not only be limited to archaeological sites and artefacts. Historians from all fields, whether classical or modern, must be increasingly encouraged to consider this form of systematic analysis in their studies of social groups and political systems. This study aims to facilitate this by detailing how social network analysis can be used to scrutinise static historical texts.