115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Keeping Up Appearances: Pietas at the End of the Republic 

Bryan Natali, St. Mary's University

The correspondence between Cicero and M. Plancus on the eve of the siege of Mutina presents an elaborate display of the language and posturing that accompanied societal expectations of obligation and reciprocity. These exchanges show the power and limitations of the concept of pietas as it functioned at the end of the Roman Republic.


Keeping Up Appearances: Pietas at the End of the Republic

The purpose of this paper will be to examine the expression of the idea of pietas and the nature of its connectedness with key political and military developments of the late Roman Republic. The intention is to show the means by which an indigenous Roman religious concept with roots in religion and the family came to function as a political tool. The nature and characteristics of pietas will be shown to be marked by obligation and reciprocal duty in keeping with Roman pragmatism. A deeply pragmatic aspect will be demonstrated to be the defining characteristic of pietas. The common underlying virtues of which pietas is comprised may be seen as cultural and social concepts of the greatest relevance.

Cicero depicts pietas as contingent upon a developed sense of gratitude, one that subsequently produces the obligation of reciprocity showing pietas as a potent marker of interpersonal relationships which permeated the public and the private and combined the two. This gives rise to the difficulties associated with the execution of the duties of an ideal when faced with the realities of Roman political life. The tension between the pragmatic and the idealistic is visible in the person of L. Munatius Plancus. Plancus represents a new breed of man in the Late Republic, loyal as far as opportunism will take him, dangerous to enemy and ally alike, and despised by his contemporaries. Plancus’ personality exhibits not just tensions between its adoption of pietas, between its pragmatic and the idealistic aspects, but also in regard to notions of responsibility and the obligation to reciprocal beneficia. The exchanges between these two men display an elaborate usage of the language of obligation and a resort to the inducements and admonishments that came to function in the language of that obligation. This provides the context in which fides from Plancus was to be reciprocated with consilium, studium, officium, opera, labor, and diligentia from Cicero and his Republican associates. 

The understanding of pietas to emerge, however, will show it functioning in a manner creating internal inconsistencies that Romans faced in regard to the demands of pietas. These demands are played out amid the backdrop of the obligations, often competing ones, within the Roman patron/clientela system, also governed by expressions of pietas.The exchanges between Cicero and Plancus display a tension between the idealistic and pragmatic modes of pietas. Incentives were offered to Plancus on behalf of the Republic through the paternal figure of Cicero, who represented the “good men” (Boni) of the state. Plancus, for his part, represents the shifting loyalties and opportunism at the end of the Republic and the rise of a pragmatic pietas


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