The Invention of Imperial Sovereignty

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter discusses the nature of sovereignty through a reconsideration of the transition from Republic to Empire. Augustus claimed that his regime was founded on a restoration of the res publica. Much modern historiography sees him as the first Roman emperor. Modern historiography has interpreted this paradox through the question of sovereignty. The argument here presented seeks to demythologise sovereignty by seeing it as an expression of the concentration of a nexus of social powers. I view the sovereign as the holder of multiple sources of power rather that sovereignty being a power in itself. This makes the sovereign a useful analytical concept since it designates a social persona. Sovereignty becomes a descriptive portmanteau term for the powers concentrated on the sovereign. These powers are not ‘last instance’ powers but quotidian in their relationship to the citizen and shifting in their relationship to socio-political actors and institutions. The sovereign thus emerges within a particular historical conjunction, which we can understand in the analysis of the triumviral and Augustan periods and not as theological or foundational element in the state.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSovereignty in a Global Perspective
EditorsChristopher Smith
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherBritish Academy
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780197267127
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2022

Publication series

NameProceedings of the British Academy
PublisherBritish Academy by Oxford University Press
ISSN (Print)0068-1202


  • Augustus
  • Sovereignty
  • Schmitt
  • Agamben

Cite this