Foucault, Sovereignty, and Governmentality in the Roman Republic


  • Dean Hammer Franklin and Marshall College



Res publica, sovereignty, governmentality, liberty, neo-Romanism


The originality of Foucault’s work lies in part in how he reverses the question of power, asking not how power is held and imposed, but how it is produced. In both his discussion of sovereignty and governmentality, though, Foucault skips over the res publica; a form of political organization that fits neither Foucault’s characterization of sovereignty nor the care of the self. I extend Foucault’s discussion to identify a ratio of government around the discipline of ownership by which the res publica was made intelligible, its relations understood, and its logic organized. I end by suggesting some implications for neo-Roman interpretations of liberty as non-domination.


Alan Watson, International Law in Archaic Rome: War and Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993)

Alan Watson, The Law of Property in the Later Roman Republic (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968)

Aldo Schiavone, "Classi e politica in una società precapitalistica: il caso della Roa repubblicana" in Quaderni di storia 9 (1977)

Alexander P. d'Entrèves, The Notion of the State: An Introduction to Political Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967)

Andrew Alföldi, "Hasta-Summa Imperii: The Spear as Embodiment of Sovereignty in Rome" in American Journal of Archaeology 63 (1) (1959)

Andrew Lintott, Imperium Romanum: Politics and Administration (London: Routledge, 1993)

Andrew Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Andrew Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic, 43, 200. Sovereignty as exception: Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, translated by Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005)

Andrew W. Neal, "Cutting Off the King's Head: Foucault's Society Must Be Defended and the Problem of Sovereignty" in Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 29 (4) (2004)

Benjamin Straumann, "Constitutional Thought in the Late Roman Republic" in History of Political Thought 32 (2) (2011)

Caroline Williamson, The Laws of the Roman People: Public Law in the Expansion and Decline of the Roman Republic (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005)

Chaim Wirszubski, Libertas as a Political Idea at Rome during the Late Republic and Early Principate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950)

Clifford Ando, "Aliens, Ambassadors, and the Integrity of the Empire" in Law and History Review 26 (3) (2008)

Clifford Ando, Law, Language, and Empire in the Roman Tradition (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011)

Coleman Phillipson, The International Law and Custom of Ancient Greece and Rome. 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1911)

D. J. Bederman, International Law in Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Daniel J. Kapust, Republicanism, Rhetoric, and Roman Political Thought: Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Dean Hammer, "Thinking Comparatively About Participatory Communities" in A Companion to Greek Democracy and the Roman Republic, edited by Dean Hammer (Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)

Dean Hammer, Roman Political Thought and the Modern Theoretical Imagination (Norman, 2008)

Dean Hammer, Roman Political Thought: From Cicero to Augustine, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Elaine Fantham, "Aequabilitas in Cicero's Political Theory and the Greek Tradition of Proportional Justice" in Classical Quarterly 23 (1973)

Fergus Millar, The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic (Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press, 1998)

Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 285-87; also Michel Foucault, "The Subject and Power" in Critical Inquiry 8 (4) (1982)

Foucault, The Subject and Power, 789. See also Hannah Arendt, "On Violence" in Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972)

Francis de Zulueta, "The New Fragments of Gaius. Part II: Societas ercto non cito" in The Journal of Roman Studies 25: (1935)

Francis de Zulueta, The Institutes of Gaius. 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946)

Gaius, Institutiones, 3.154; David Daube, "Societas as Consensual Contract" in The Cambridge Law Journal 6 (3) (1938)

Georges Dumézil, Mitra-Varuna: An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty. 2nd edition (New York: Zone Books, 1988)

Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, translated by S. Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988)

Henrik Mouritsen, "The Incongruence of Power: The Roman Constitution in Theory and Practice" in A Companion to Greek Democracy and the Roman Republic, edited by D. Hammer, (Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)

Henrik Mouritsen, Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

J.-L. Ferrary, "Les origines de la loi de majesté à Rome." Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1983)

Joy Connolly, The State of Speech: Rhetoric and Political Thought in Ancient Rome (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007)

K. A. Raaflaub, The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004)

Karl Galinsky, Augustan Culture: An Interpretive Introduction (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996)

Lily Ross Taylor, The Voting Districts of the Roman Republic: The Thirty-five Urban and Rural Tribes (Rome: American Academy in Rome, 1960)

M. P. Nilsson, "The Introduction of Hoplite Tactics at Rome: Its Date and Its Consequences" in The Journal of Roman Studies 19 (1929)

Malcolm Schofield, "Cicero's Definition of Res Publica" in Cicero the Philosopher, edited by J.G.F. Powell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

Malcolm Schofield, Saving the City: Philosopher-kings and Other Classical Paradigms (London: Routledge, 1999)

Martin Loughlin, "Ten Tenets of Sovereignty" in Sovereignty in Transition: Essays in European Law, edited by N. Walker (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2003)

Mary Jaeger, "Agriculture and Identity in Roman Myth" in A Companion to Greek Democracy and the Roman Republic, edited by Dean Hammer, (Oxford and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015)

Melissa Lane, The Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015)

Michel Foucault, "An Aesthetics of Existence" in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, edited by L.D. Kritzman, (New York: Routledge, 1988)

Michel Foucault, "Two Lectures" in Power/ Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, edited by C. Gordon, 78-108 (Brighton: Harvester Press)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage, 1979)

Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, edited by Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980)

Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78 (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

Michel Foucault, Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-76, edited by M. Bertani, A. Fontana, F. Ewald and D. Macey (New York: Picador, 2003)

Michel Foucault, The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1982-1983, translated by Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-1982. 1st edition (New York: Picador, 2005)

Michèle Lowrie, Writing, Performance, and Authority in Augustan Rome, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Nadia Urbinati, "Competing for Liberty: The Republican Critique of Democracy" in American Political Science Review 106, (2012)

Neal Wood, Cicero's Social and Political Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988)

P. A. Brunt, "The Army and the Land in the Roman Revolution" in The Journal of Roman Studies 52 (1962)

P. A. Brunt, The Fall of the Roman Republic and Related Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)

Patchen Markell, "The Insufficiency of Non-Domination" in Political Theory 36 (1) (2008)

Philip Pettit, "Democracy, Electoral and Contestatory" in Nomos 42 (2000)

Philip Pettit, "Freedom as Antipower" in Ethics 106 (3) (1996)

Philip Pettit, A Theory of Freedom: From the Psychology to the Politics of Agency (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)

Philip Pettit, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Quentin Skinner "The State" in Political Innovation and Conceptual Change, edited by T. Ball, J. Farr and R. Hanson, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

Quentin Skinner, "A Genealogy of the Modern State" Proceedings of the British Academy, 162 (2009)

Quentin Skinner, "A Third Concept of Liberty" in Proceedings of the British Academy 117 (2002)

Quentin Skinner, "Political Philosophy" in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, edited by C.B. Schmitt, Q. Skinner and E. Kessler, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)

Quentin Skinner, "Rethinking Political Liberty" in History Workshop Journal 61 (2006)

Quentin Skinner, "The Sovereign State: A Genealogy" in Sovereignty in Fragments: The Past, Present and Future of a Contested Concept, edited by H. Kalmo and Q. Skinner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Quentin Skinner, Liberty Before Liberalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics. Vol. 2: Renaissance Virtues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Richard A. Bauman, The Crimen Maiestatis in the Roman Republic and Augustan Principate. (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1967)

Richard Heinze, "Auctoritas" in Hermes 60 (3) (1929)

Theodor Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, edited by K.J. Marquardt (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1887-1888)

Valentina Arena, Libertas and the Practice of Politics in the Late Roman Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Yan Thomas, "L'institution de la Majesté" in Revue de synthèse 112 (3-4) (1991)




How to Cite

Hammer, D. (2017). Foucault, Sovereignty, and Governmentality in the Roman Republic. Foucault Studies, (22), 49–71.



Special Issue on Foucault and Roman Antiquity: Foucault's Rome