UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The father of his country, being a brief study of the intersection of fatherhood and the rhetoric of state power in the late Republic and early Principate of Rome Buchanan, Marshall Calvin


This thesis explores the intersection of the Roman conception of the state’s authority and the notion of fatherhood during the late Republic and early Principate. Its general conclusion is that the state’s authority in both periods was conceived of, in varying degrees, as patria potestas, which is the statutorily granted but legally unfettered power of the pater familias (Roman male head of household) over his dependents and property. It draws this conclusion first by defining fatherhood primarily in terms of patria potestas. It then examines two key works of the Republican statesman Cicero. In his De Re Publica, Cicero proposes the state as a transcendent institution whose justification is the human capacity to use reason (ratio). But both in this work and in the later De Officiis, he also formulates an account of the state that links it to patria potestas. I term these two types of state the civic patria and natal patria respectively. The close association of the two models of statehood is exemplified by the title which Cicero coined in 63 B.C., ‘Pater Patriae’ (“father of the fatherland,” sometimes also ‘Parens Patriae,’ “parent of the fatherland”). Prefatory to examining the state’s authority under the Principate, this thesis briefly considers the change in the relationship between state and family under the reign of Augustus. It finds that, from c. 23 B.C., the household of Augustus gradually became identical with the state, and Augustus ruled the empire as a pater familias with patria potestas. Finally, taking Seneca as an imperial analog to Cicero, this thesis analyzes Seneca’s panegyric and kingship treatise addressed to Nero, De Clementia. It finds that Seneca can portray the childless emperor as a father because his power as emperor is conceived as being one and the same with patria potestas. The emperor’s role as national pater familias defines his relation in three key areas: with the laws, the universal order, and his people.

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