Vir Bonus: Political Masculinity from the Republic to the Principate

Date of Award

July 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Craige B. Champion


manliness, masculinity, Roman politics, vir bonus, virility

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


“Vir Bonus: Political Masculinity from the Republic to the Principate” argues that political participation was the bedrock of Roman masculinity. Traditional analyses that center on penetrative sexual protocol, personal rivalries, and military aggression overlook obligations of political life, where republican principles moderated more assertive qualities. In deliberations in the Senate, at social gatherings, and on military campaign, displays of consensus with other men informed social discourse and built elite comradery. I use literary sources and inscriptions that offer censorious or affirmative appraisal of male behavior from the Middle and Late Republic (ca. 300 – 31 BCE) to the Principate or Early Empire (31 BCE – ca. 100 CE), and assert that the vir bonus or “good man,” the Roman persona of male aristocratic excellence, modulated imperatives for personal distinction and military violence with political cooperation and moral exemplarity. While the advent of one-man rule in the Empire transformed actual political power, I argue that ideals forged in the Republic were adapted to the new climate and provided a coherent model of masculinity for emperor and senator alike. Scholars often paint a picture of Republic and Principate as distinct landscapes, but I show that enduring ideals of male self-fashioning constitute an important continuity.

And yet, Rome remained a man’s world. Only some participated in politics and obtained auctoritas and gravitas, the prestigious cultural rewards for the vir bonus, who stood at the apex of society. Others – slaves, freedmen, foreigners, and women – were foreclosed access to these prizes, and thus to political power. I therefore further maintain that even a cooperative and necessarily moral masculinity which fostered bonds between men still furthered male authority.


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