Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.7.25


Alastair Small (ed.), Subject and Ruler: The Cult of the Ruling Power in Classical Antiquity. JRA Supplement 17. Ann Arbor, 1996. Pp. 264, 51 halftones, 30 figures. $89.50. ISBN 1-887829-17-2.


Reviewed by Kent J. Rigsby, Dept. of Classical Studies, Duke University, krigsby@acpub.duke.edu.

The volume contains the "papers presented at a conference held in The University of Alberta on April 13-15,1994, to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Duncan Fishwick." The papers number eighteen; a valuable listing of Fishwick's publications is provided first, and last a brief but useful index (largely of proper names and Greek and Latin terms). Most of the contributions, as befits the honorand, are devoted to the cult of the Roman emperors. And as befits the series, archeological material looms large; illustrations are numerous and clear.

Two authors address earlier matters and one later. E. Badian ("Alexander the Great between two thrones and Heaven: variations on an old theme") surveys what Alexander thought of himself during his reign, with comments on proskynesis and the "status" of isotheos. Peter Herz ("Hellenistische Könige. Zwischen griechischen Vorstellungen vom Königtum und Vorstellungen ihrer einheimischen Untertanen") stresses the differences between oriental monarchy and Greek, royal legitimacy based on dynasty versus victory, and studies the theme, in different Near Eastern states, of the king as the gods' agent for good. Earle Waugh ("Alexander in Islam: the sacred persona in Muslim rulership adab") assesses the figure of Alexander in Arabic literature as a model for the early caliphs.

On the Roman Empire, the largest number of papers have a regional focus. For the west there are contributions on Pompeii and Spain. John J. Dobbins ("The Imperial Cult Building in the forum at Pompeii") urges that the building conventionally called the Sanctuary of the Public Lares is later than the earthquake of 62 (as he argued at greater length in AJA 1994, and as Richardson had in 1988), and was for imperial cult; the latter case is weak -- to "evoke the imperial family" does not show the function of a building, and Richardson's theory of a library remains attractive. Alastair Small ("The shrine of the imperial family in the Macellum at Pompeii") likewise seeks to assign imperial cult to all three rooms at the back of the Macellum, chiefly from the evidence of statuary; he identifies two as Britannicus and Agrippina II and dates the whole to the beginning of Nero's reign. An appendix by Maria Kozakiewicz ("The headgear of the female statue") links the wreath and fillet with Pythagoreanism and mystery religions.

On Spain, Leonard A. Curchin ("Cult and Celt: indigenous participation in emperor worship in Central Spain") stresses the local roots and personnel of imperial cult in this part of Spain, noting as background the Celtic ideology of devotion to one's leader. I note that the divine epithet Augustus does not signal "syncretism" but rather the god's protection of the imperial house (see Nock, Essays 42-43). Robert Etienne ("Du nouveau sur les debuts du culte imperial municipal dans la peninsule iberique") seeks to establish dates in the Augustan period for temples at Emerita, Barcelona, and Ebura. Duncan Fishwick ("Four temples at Tarraco") astutely exploits recent archeological discoveries and literary testimonia in order to reconstruct the urban topography of imperial cult in Tarraco; he shows that Florus is not compelling evidence for a temple of Jupiter Ammon in the city, which opens the way to reassigning some important monuments.

Three papers on imperial cult in the Greek east are confined to the Julio-Claudian period. Michael C. Hoff ("The politics and architecture of the Athenian imperial cult") argues that the round temple of Roma and Augustus on the Acropolis (IG II2 3173) dates from the emperor's visit in 19 B.C., after his success with the Parthians, and thus joins the east vs. west theme of the Acropolis; as an archon is named (Areius), this thesis may eventually be testable. Athens' Sebasteion he sees as the Arcaded Building east of the Augustan market. Mary E. Hoskins-Walbank ("Evidence for the imperial cult in Julio-Claudian Corinth") of necessity looks chiefly to numismatic evidence, examining especially the problem of a temple of Gens Iulia seen on coins of the 30's; against Williams, she holds that Temple E was a Capitolium and canvasses other candidates to house the imperial cult, seeming to prefer a shared space in the Archaic Temple beside the forum, which seems unlikely. Joyce M. Reynolds ("Ruler-cult at Aphrodisias in the late Republic and under the Julio-Claudian emperors") mentions in the course of her survey several unpublished inscriptions (Gaius Caesar, n. 14; dedication of a bath, n. 25; statue of Domitian, n. 35; fragments that seem to concern birthday celebrations, discussed p. 49).

Only one paper, C. J. Simpson ("Caligula's cult: immolation, immortality, intent"), focusses on the intentions and psychology of an individual emperor. Two, arguably the most important and useful in the volume, address more systemic questions. Robert Turcan ("La promotion du sujet par le culte du souverain") notes the ways in which the imperial cult was a leveling force, treating participants of different rank equally, and then gathers from the minor arts evidence for private attention to the cult of emperors, revealing individual modes of involvement. Heidi Haenlein-Schaefer ("Die Ikonographie des Genius Augusti im Kompital- und Hauskult der frühen Kaiserzeit") catalogues and comments on the pictorial evidence from the compital cult altars and private domestic shrines lararia (primarily in Rome and Pompeii), arguing that in most of the private cults it is not the genius of the pater familias that is represented between the two lares but the Genius Augusti, marked above all by the toga praetextata.

The Egyptian contributions are only tangential to imperial cult. Tran tam Tinh ("Les empereurs romains versus Isis, Serapis") assesses the several emperors' reported attitudes to the Egyptian gods by comparison with the illustrations of their piety in Egyptian temples and with coin evidence. The first of these has little bearing on the question, as the temple decorations are not products of imperial policy or psychology but of local traditions and hopes. Marie-Odile Jentel ("Les representations des imperatrices romaines 'en Euthenia' sur les monnaies d'Alexandrie: concept moderne ou realite?") asks which empresses are "assimilated" to the figure of Euthenia (Abundance) on Alexandrian coins: Agrippina but not Livia.

A critique of the papers and prospect for future work is offered by Geza Alföldy; his appreciation of the importance of the imperial cult, as the most popular and universal religion in the Empire, is compelling, though brief. These paragraphs apart, the papers of Turcan and Haenlein-Schaefer offer the clearest vision of the popular appeal of the cult and the involvement of persons of all ranks. The same had been true of royal cult in the Hellenistic period (see L. Robert, Studies Welles [1966] 175 ff.).

For all the importance granted the cult of rulers in this volume, some defensiveness survives in various papers. It was not "an attempt to flatter, but rather the intent was to honor the emperor and recognize his power" (193) -- a distinction that some will find elusive, and an agenda that seems superfluous given the many other forms of honor available. The historical issues raised by ruler cult are more particular than the question of sincerity. Its more creative phase arguably lay earlier, in the Hellenistic age; the Roman period innovated especially elsewhere, spawning far more religious rivals to the universality of the worship of rulers than had existed before. We might view the successes of these rivals as testimony to a failing in imperial cult. The Greek and Roman backgrounds were different, as is well known: Greek gods received honor and so did Greek mortals, so that a transition was easy; Roman cult, with its frequent apotropaic logic, was not so accommodating. Bridging that divide was a major achievement of the imperial age.

These papers advance our knowledge of ruler cult in various ways specific and general. In their meticulous attention to material evidence and their critical spirit, they are a worthy tribute to Professor Fishwick.