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Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice$
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Jennifer Wright Knust and Zsuzsanna Varhelyi

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199738960

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738960.001.0001

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Political Murder and Sacrifice

Political Murder and Sacrifice

From Roman Republic to Empire

(p.125) 6 Political Murder and Sacrifice
Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice

Zsuzsanna Várhelyi

Oxford University Press

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

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