Talking about Roman Emperors: Understanding Imperial Rumour and Gossip from the Principate to Late Antiquity

  • Davenport, Caillan (Primary Chief Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details


This project will analyze the function and significance of rumour and gossip about Roman emperors from the reign of Augustus through to late antiquity. Rumour is an important sociological phenomenon which has been under-studied by historians of imperial Rome. It is unofficial information which emerges as an attempt to explain ambiguous situations about which there is no verifiable information, or when the information that is received is not considered trustworthy. In his seminal study Improvised News, Tamotsu Shibutani observed that rumours ‘are usually a better index of the preoccupations of a public than most other forms of verbalisation’. The types of rumour about emperors thus act as an excellent indication of the political discourse of Roman people. Gossip is an equally important phenomenon which has largely been studied only from the perspective of emperor’s sex lives. But gossip about emperors also serves a political purpose, acting as a way of undercutting the public image of the emperor.
Effective start/end date1/12/1931/05/21