Photo: Lasse Edwartz ©

Dulce et decorum – to die for the fatherland in ancient Greece and Rome

Culture and languages

Professorial Lecture. Professor Ida Östenberg, Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg.

19 May 2022
15:15 - 16:30
Sal C350, Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6

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The lecture is followed by light refreshments and hors d’oeuvre.
Department of Historical Studies

Ida Östenberg is professor in the field of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Gothenburg since 2021.

In this lecture, Ida Östenberg will analyse and discuss the difference in the Greek and Roman view, while also providing examples of how the ancient ideas have been used and misused in other wars, historical and present. 


The Roman poet Horace (Horatius) famously wrote Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s fatherland’, an expression that Wilfred Owen, poet and soldier during the First World War, called ‘the old lie’. However, my research suggests that Horace’s verse did not, contrary to the common opinion, represent a traditional Roman view. In Rome, victory was the only acceptable outcome. Thus, Rome as a society did not celebrate their fallen, nor did they bury them with honours. Instead, in my view, Horace gives voice to a Greek view that lauded the fallen youth and treated them as heroes. I believe further that Cicero was instrumental in introducing the concept in late Republican Rome, and that the idea was exploited by the novel imperial dynastic family, to make sense of the premature deaths of several young male members.  


Video (1.36)
Ida Östenberg