Arcana Imperii: Roman political intelligence, counterintelligence, and covert action in the Mid-Republic




Perley, Sara

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The general scholarly conception of Roman military and political intelligence is that it was so poor as to be virtually non-existent, that Roman armies and officials blundered through their affairs and their world with little understanding or appreciation of the utility and importance of intelligence about their friends, foes, and neighbours. Some scholars who address the growth of the Roman empire make assumptions about intelligence usage; those who investigate intelligence practices more closely tend to focus on military intelligence or intelligence over long periods of Roman history. The conclusion usually reached is that the Roman state valued and practiced intelligence very poorly. There are no studies that focus specifically on political intelligence, and none that focuses on a specific period of Roman history. This study aims to illuminate the realities of Roman political intelligence for the period of the mid-republic, and attempts to provide a more nuanced understanding of Rome’s appreciation for and use of intelligence techniques in their international relations. Analysis of ancient sources reveals that the Roman understanding of the intelligence was neither as dire nor unsophisticated as current scholarly consensus would have us believe. While political intelligence endeavours often failed or from hindsight might appear inadequate, when examined in their historical context intelligence efforts were in fact suitable for Roman needs. Roman officials protected their state through counterintelligence, developed preliminary cultural dossiers through foreknowledge, undertook concerted efforts to gain more specific intelligence prior to major international interactions, and on occasion engaged in covert activities to improve their position and ensure their national security. This is indicative of an attitude toward the broader Mediterranean world they inhabited, and their place in that world which was neither blindly aggressive nor defensive, that was neither passive nor opportunistic, but that was considered, sophisticated, and appreciative of the complexities of the Mediterranean international system.



Intelligence, Middle Republican Rome, Imperialism, Covert Action, Counterintelligence, Mid-Republic, Rome




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