"University work must be based on universalism and internationalism"

Francisco Pina Polo is a professor at the University of Zaragoza. He is an internationally renowned researcher of the history of the Late Republic of Rome, the operation of political practice and the institutional systems of politics, as well as the role of orators giving speeches to the public. He is a member of the classicist workshop simply referred to as the “School of Zaragoza” by the scholars of Classical Studies in Spain. An interview with a new honorary doctor of Eötvös University.

Dear Professor, would you kindly tell us please when and how got you became aware of the title doctor et professor honoris causa? What was your first reaction?
It was an absolute surprise, of course. No one expects to receive such an honour in their academic life, and from such a prestigious university as Eötvös Loránd University. I was first informed personally by Rector László Borhy, who explained the details of the award process. I would like to thank the rector personally for the time he took in conveying the news to me. My conversation with Professor Borhy made me think of the time I spent almost thirty years ago in Heidelberg, where the academic and personal origins of this honour are to be found. That was my first thought.

When and where did you finish your university studies? Who were your professors?
I studied at the University of Zaragoza, where I also obtained my doctorate in 1988. It is at that university that I have developed my academic life, although I have always tried to have an international dimension: in my opinion, university work must be based above all on universalism and internationalism, and this is the reason why I have not only published in my own language but also in German, English, French and Italian. My supervisor in Zaragoza was Professor Francisco Marco, from whom I learned not only scientific methodology, but also an honest attitude towards life and towards other people. But I have had the good fortune, both at the beginning of my career and thereafter to be able to work in Zaragoza with an excellent group of extraordinarily qualified and talented colleagues.

Within ancient history, which is your field of specialisation? How does it fit into ancient history on an international level?
I mainly work on the period of the Roman Republic, and in particular on the so-called Late Republic, both in Rome and in Hispania.

I am particularly interested in political and institutional aspects.

In this regard, I have published, among other topics, on oratory before the people and its political significance, certain offices such as the consulship and the quaestorship, and figures such as Cicero. With my work I have tried to contribute to the fruitful international debate that has taken place in recent decades on the democratic or aristocratic character of the Roman Republic and, in general, on the political culture of Rome.

Who were/who are the professors who influenced on your scientific career?
As I said before, in Zaragoza undoubtedly Professor Marco and my other colleagues in the department and in the Hiberus Research Group have influenced my scientific worldview. But I also had the great fortune to work throughout my life with excellent scholars who have been my teachers and masters. For various reasons I would like to mention above all Géza Alföldy (Heidelberg) and Sir Fergus Millar (Oxford).

Which are the universities abroad where you acquired experience as a scholar, guest lecturer or visiting professor?
During a significant part of my career I have worked closely with several German universities, including Heidelberg (Prof. Alföldy), Münster (Prof. Hahn), Dresden (Prof. Jehne) and Cologne (Prof. Hölkeskamp). In all of them I have undertaken research stays, given lectures and lessons, and collaborated in joint research projects. In the Anglo-Saxon world, my main collaboration has been with the Faculty of Classics at Oxford (Prof. Millar), where I have been a Visiting Research Fellow at Merton College (Prof. Prag). Finally, it was an extraordinary experience for me to be a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 2012 and 2014 – a fantastic place for work and personal growth, where I could work with Angelos Chaniotis, Heinrich von Staden and other colleagues. My cooperation in recent years with research in France has been equally fruitful, in particular with the University of Nanterre (Prof. Hurlet).

Which connections do you have to Hungary, Budapest and Eötvös Loránd University? When were you here for the first time?
I visited Budapest and its university for the first time in 1994. It was a kind of initiation trip to a country that I found fascinating. It was a very interesting time of political, economic and social change in the country. Subsequently, I have returned to Budapest many times and I have been able to follow the evolution of Hungary and the changes that have taken place as a member of the EU, just as has happened in Spain in recent decades.

Since 1994 I have maintained a constant relationship with Eötvös Loránd University,

I have given lectures and lessons there, additionally – and something that I think is very important – since the very beginning of the Erasmus programme we have maintained an exchange programme for both students and teachers that has allowed dozens of Spanish students to study in Budapest and vice versa. I am very proud of this relationship that fosters mutual understanding of our cultures.

Are there / were there important Hungarian ancient history academics who had a great influence on your career? Who put you in touch with them, with their works and academic activity?
As I mentioned earlier, I have worked mainly with the great Hungarian historian Géza Alföldy, who for decades was a professor in Heidelberg. For almost thirty years I have also been working with Prof. László Borhy and the Department of Classics and Archaeology in Budapest. I also met Prof. Borhy in Heidelberg, and since then we have maintained a regular scientific exchange which has resulted in collaborations in conferences and publications.

Who are the Hungarian ancient history academics you are currently in contact with?
At this point I would like to refer not so much to my personal relationships, which I have already mentioned, but instead to those of the Hiberus Research Group of the University of Zaragoza, which I  lead at the moment. In the last ten years, the Hiberus Group has carried out international research projects on Roman Religion and Magic in Antiquity under the direction of Prof. Marco in which some members of Eötvös Loránd University have taken part, as well as colleagues from Oxford and Chicago, among other universities. Among them I would like to mention in particular Professors László Borhy and György Németh.