Political Murder and Sacrifice

Zsuzsanna Várhelyi

in Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199738960
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918676 | DOI:
Political Murder and Sacrifice

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Zsuzsanna Várhelyi analyzes the Roman notion of sacrifice as it can be seen in the tentative sacrificial interpretations of politically high-stake murders in the late republican period. Starting with the killing of Tiberius Gracchus at the hands of Scipio Nasica, the pontifex maximus in Rome in 133 BCE, Roman political debates incorporated assumptions about what could constitute rightful religious acts. Adopting theoretical considerations from Giorgio Agamben’s study of homo sacer, a person turned ‘sacred’ who therefore falls outside the regular rules of human conduct, she suggests we examine these killings as part of the same zone of indistinction between sacrifice and homicide. This bloody period of killings, including many in religiously implicated ways, did not stop until under Julius Caesar and Augustus a close association emerged between the proper execution of power and the proper performance of sacrifice—a key part of the religious powers of the first emperor, Augustus.

Keywords: Roman sacrifice; human sacrifice; ritual murder; Agamben; homo sacer; emperor

Chapter.  8766 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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