Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Janet M. Atwill

Committee Members

Lisa King, Russel Hirst, Edward Caudill


This dissertation examines the connection between rhetoric and military culture in the early Roman Empire. Despite obvious references to the military and martial virtues, little scholarly attention has been directed to exploring the possibilities located within this connection. This dissertation is an alternative cultural history of rhetorical theory and pedagogy that draws on close reading and philology, as well as performance and metaphor theory. In building on the cultural history of Rome, I introduce a concept of “military virtue” that expands on understandings of the Roman notion of virtus (virtue) found in recent scholarship. Since virtue in the ancient world is both embodied and enacted, military virtue, as this dissertation presents it, is informed by theories of performance and gender. Since tradition is propagated through education, I will also explore the rhetorical education system at Rome during the late Republic and early Empire giving special attention to how teachers modeled a certain culturally accepted character for their students. In addition to the physical models of teachers, students interacted with historical, mythical, and cultural models of character through rhetorical exercises. Through close readings and philological analyses of culturally important texts such as the epics of Homer, the Aeneid, and Roman historians, this dissertation will show instances of military virtue and explore the ways it was habituated through rhetorical education. Along with the physical work of rhetorical education, military virtue can also be found in rhetorical treatises. By using metaphor theory and close reading to examine the conceptualization of rhetoric as martial in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria and the anonymous Rhetorica ad Herennium, I will show how, even at the level of theory, military virtue and character informed a cultural understanding of what an orator should be. This dissertation speaks to several conversations about ancient Roman culture and the history of rhetoric, including discussions of virtue, education, ethics, and the importance of rhetoric as a sustaining or disruptive cultural force

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