Blame it on the Barbarians:
Ethnic Categorisation and Jingoism in the Cultural Memory of the Sack of Rome c.390BCE
Keywords:Gauls, Senones, Rome, Jingoism, Ethnicity, Cultural Memory, Prejudice
As with much of the early history of the Roman Republic, the Sack of Rome c.390BCE is known more from legend than verifiable historical fact and is subject to several varying retellings in later Latin and Greek literature. One of the key variations, however, lies in who, precisely, is responsible for the attack on the city. The majority of accounts place the blame on a largely undifferentiated mass of Gauls, recently arrived in the Italian peninsula from beyond the Alps. This conflict gives rise to a centuries-spanning cultural enmity between Rome and the Gallic race in total. However, the unusually detailed first century BCE accounts of Livy and Diodorus both attribute the attack to the Senones, a single group of Gauls already resident in northern Italy for several generations. Since this latter version appears better supported by archaeological and linguistic evidence, it seems that cultural memories of the Sack gradually became warped, and the guilt of the Senones was transferred to the entire ethnic category in which they were placed. This paper aims to examine how and why this change occurred and its relationship with the rhetoric of jingoism, ethnic prejudice, and demonization in both the ancient and modern worlds.
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