Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.3.06


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Word count: words


1.   F. Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World (Ithaca and London 1977); R. Saller, Personal Patronage under the Early Empire (Cambridge 1982).  

2.   There was, of course, no one Greek or Latin word for our 'honor'. A rich vocabulary, in fact, described this cognitive territory. L. provides an excellent [quot ]lexicon of honour[quot ] as an appendix (pp. 272-279), there discussing the ranges of meaning for words such as gloria, decus, fama, honos, auctoritas, splendor, time, axiwma, doxa. It should be noted that throughout his text, L. simply uses the English 'honour;' but, wherever necessary, he provides the original Greek or Latin word.  

3.   Valuable contributions (aside from the items listed by L., p. 9 n. 33) regarding constitutionality and the imperial governmental structure are also to be had from: J. Bleicken, "Prinzipat und Republik. Überlegungen zum Charakter des römischen Kaisertums[quot ] Sitzungsberichte der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft an der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main 27 (1991) 77-94; J. A. Crook, [quot ]Political history, 30 B.C. to A.D. 14[quot ] and [quot ]Augustus: power, authority, achievement[quot ] in CAH X, 2nd ed. (Cambridge 1996) 70-146; K. Galinsky, Augustan Culture. An Interpretive Introduction (Princeton 1996) 10-79. Also excellent on the nature of the new imperial government is A. Lintott, Imperium Romanum. Politics and Administration (London and New York 1993) 111-128.  

4.   L. seems inclined to equate closely the emperor's power (in the present sense) with military power. See, e.g., p. 173. And while he is absolutely right, in that various ancient authors do just this, there is other evidence that demonstrates, I think, the broader sweep of imperial power. A cogent example might be the famous Scaptopara inscription. There, some Thracian villagers ask Gordian III for assistance in keeping soldiers off their backs. They say that previous appeals to the governor have not brought sufficient help; thus, a plea to the emperor himself, whose [quot ]sacred words[quot ] are expected to save them. The words that in fact came told the people from Scaptopara to have the governor appoint a judge to resolve their problems; yet, these words were inscribed with some ceremony by these petitioners. There is no military threat involved here, nor are the emperor's words themselves in the least grandiose or forceful. Nevertheless, the simple weight of imperial auctoritas borne by these simple words meant a great deal to some rural villagers. Nor do I think that the Scaptoparenes merely considered themselves honored by this rescript, or to be doing a special honor to Gordian by having it inscribed. Rather, their hope, in inscribing Gordian's response, was to demonstrate that the imperial might somehow stood with them, even if it did not provide the ultimate solution to their troubles. Doing honor, or being honored, must have been a secondary concern at best. For this inscription, see now K. Hallof, [quot ]Die Inschrift von Skaptopara. Neue Dokumente und neue Lesungen[quot ] Chiron 24 (1994) 405-441.  

5.   Note, for example, that L. explains the decision to worship an emperor in terms of, [quot ] deference to the emperor's honour and reciprocation for his favours [quot ] (p. 163). I would again argue, though, that the very bulk of an emperor's power (which, again, initially came to him automatically) was what ultimately caused him to be treated as a god. In this regard, the comments of E. Bickerman, [quot ]Consecratio[quot ] in Le culte des souverains dans l'Empire romain. Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique XIX (Geneva 1973) 1-25 are still quite valuable. Cf. more recently J. Ferguson, [quot ]Ruler Worship[quot ] in J. Wacher (ed.), The Roman World II (London and New York 1987) 778.  

6.   That elevation to the purple gave immediate and impressive power, regardless of anything and everything else -- and that this power led to honors --, is nicely demonstrated by an inscription from Diana in Numidia (CIL VIII 4598 = ILS 463). There, on the architrave of a triumphal arch, was cut an inscription, ordered by the res publica upon the decree of the decurions; it honors the emperor Macrinus, who is called providentissimus and sanctissimus. Now, this man came to the throne as an equestrian, i.e., without the honorific pedigree expected of an emperor. He had also been involved in the murder of his predecessor. Nevertheless, the people of Diana saw fit to cut this inscription. Clearly they intended to honor their new prince; but, I would argue that they desired to do so because of his (now) immense power, and not because they thought him especially worthy (in any sense that had to do with Roman honor) of being honored.  

7.   For interpretation in this vein, see Th. Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht II 2, 3rd ed. (Berlin 1877) 842-844.  

8.   L. sees this possible objection, but argues that soldiers sometimes disagreed with their commanders regarding whom to support as emperor, and thus killed the officers. The examples he provides, though, might not carry the weight of the argument. Tac., Hist. 3.13-14: A. Caecina Alienus, serving Vitellius as general, attempts to trick his troops into joining the fleet at Ravenna in declaring for Vespasian. The troops realize what is going on, and will not cooperate. Tac., Hist. 4.27: The officer corps along the lower Rhine is secretly pro-Flavian, whereas the soldiers are steadfast in their loyalty to Vitellius. Dio 78.32.4: When Elagabalus is put up, Macrinus' praetorian prefect, Ulpius Julianus, leads some troops against those supporting the Syrian. The troops under the prefect, however, desert to the other side. Note also that before the secret was revealed in 68/69, Seneca thought Claudius to have demonstrated that empire was better maintained by favors (beneficia) than by arms: Sen., Dial. 11.12.3.  

9.   See generally P. Garnsey and R. Saller, The Roman Empire. Economy, Society and Culture (Berkeley 1987) chpt. 2 (entitled [quot ]Government without bureaucracy[quot ]); and for a fairly recent follow-up to the work of Saller on patronage, see P. Leunissen, [quot ]Conventions of Patronage in Senatorial Careers under the Principate[quot ] Chiron 23 (1993) 101-120. A. Wallace-Hadrill, [quot ]The Imperial Court[quot ] in CAH X, 2nd ed. (Cambridge 1996) 283-308 is excellent on the various ways that social concerns affected the overall working of the imperial court. On the administration of the provinces, there is a brief but splendid account (which sees the social side of things) by G. Burton, in J. Wacher (ed.), The Roman World I (London and New York 1987) 439. I have recently tried myself to show how this kind of thinking affected the administration of justice under the early empire: M. Peachin, Iudex vice Caesaris. Deputy Emperors and the Administration of Justice during the Principate (Stuttgart 1996) 33-79.  

10.   One thinks here also of, e.g., A. Wallace-Hadrill, [quot ]Civilis Princeps. Between Citizen and King[quot ] JRS 72 (1982) 32-48, laying out the Roman feeling that, effectively, the best emperor was he who best pretended not to be emperor.  

11.   Aside from the quibbles already raised (having mainly to do with L.'s presentation of the relationship between honor and raw power), it seems to me that there is not much to criticize in this book; and where complaint can be registered, it is minor. There is, for example, some repetition of argument, which might have been eliminated. That would have made the book a bit shorter, its argument tighter and perhaps more easily followed. For those interested in models based on other societies, and the like, there will be little here. On the other hand, L. works after the fashion of his 'Doktorvater' (Ramsay MacMullen) -- the arguments are massively documented. I have spot-checked references to ancient sources, and found no real mistakes. With regard to p. 34 n. 16, it may be noted that Cicero calls Roscius' father not just splendidus, but splendidus et gratiosus. And Sen., Ben. 4.30.2-3 appears to be a mistake for 3.30.2-3 (p. 64 n. 166). In the bibliography, the book on the fasti of Roman Britain, attributed to Eric Birley, was in fact written by the son, Anthony.

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