The Augustan Principate and the Emergence of Biopolitics: A Comparative Historical Perspective

  • Shreyaa Bhatt Royal Holloway, University of London
Keywords: Sovereignty, Augustus, Tacitus, Agamben, , Auctoritas, Biopolitics, Security.


This paper uses Foucault’s concepts “discipline” and “biopower” to expose the complexity of power relations in Augustan Rome and its historiography. Focusing on Augustus’ Res Gestae and Tacitus’ Annales, I argue that the absolute sovereignty of the emperor did not preclude the advancement of techniques to classify, hierarchize and normalize individuals, nor did Imperial sovereignty work against the development of a discourse about the enhancement and protection of the population. By demonstrating the conceptual and historical relevancy of Foucault’s modern power triad of “sovereignty-discipline-government” to first century CE Rome, the paper suggests that biopolitical societies have a far more extensive history than the one said to have started around the turn of the eighteenth century.


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