Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.07.02

Churchill on Davies on Orlin.   Response to 1999.01.11

Response by J. Bradford Churchill, University of Colorado at Boulder (

I would like to append the following to J. P. Davies' fine review of Eric Orlin's monograph Temples, Religion and Politics in the Roman Republic (Leiden: 1997).

My concern is with Chapter Four, "The Construction," which makes several arguments or claims which I believe are insupportable: 1) that the Romans cared little for the distinction between praeda and manubiae; 2) that "legalistic" arguments trying to recover the distinction are thus misguided; 3) that Roman generals can be said to have "owned" manubiae; and 4) that Roman temples were rarely built from manubiae.

The fact, which Orlin rightly points out (p. 117), that there was confusion about the definition of manubiae at a time when the term was no longer important (the second century CE), and that it is not easy to see the distinction in earlier sources, does not show that the Romans had no consistent idea of what the terms meant. There may never be absolute consensus, but there are other facts which may help us to a plausible reconstruction of the distinction which was in effect during the Republic (readers may judge for themselves my attempt forthcoming in the 1999 volume of TAPA).

Orlin argues that the only restrictions on generals' use of booty were traditional, and thus could be ignored at will (which merely begs the question, since many who ignored them suffered dire political and legal consequences). He adds very little argument to justify the conclusion (previously advanced by I. Shatzman, Historia 21 [1972] 177-205 and K.-H. Vogel, RE 22.1, cols. 1200-1213, s.v. "praeda"); he misuses (as Shatzman already had) the one piece of evidence he adduces (p. 120-21, 122) to support the conclusion that a general "owned" manubiae. Pliny (Nat. 34.93) wrote of a statue of Hercules which bore three separate tags (tituli): L. Luculli imperatoris de manubiis; pupillum Luculli ex S.C. dedicasse; T. Septimium Sabinum aed. cur. ex privato in publicum restituisse. Orlin writes (p. 121): "That Lucullus himself did not dedicate the statue is significant, for it indicates that he considered the statue to be his own property; he did not need to make a public dedication." On the contrary, all it shows is that the statue came from manubiae won under his auspices, and that it was later dedicated in public. Orlin goes on (p. 121): "By itself, this inscription is sufficient to confound our notions of public and private property in Rome, and to frustrate any attempt to declare manubiae the exclusive property of either the individual or the state." Actually, it provides support for the (at least technical) public ownership of manubiae, because the object kept popping up in public, and at least once by an act of official advice from the senate.

Faulty logic also vitiates much of Orlin's argument about the building of temples. He argues almost entirely from silence. There are only five temples from the Republican period which we can positively confirm were actually constructed (as opposed to simply decorated) with manubiae. Therefore, he reasons (pp. 134-5), temples were not typically built with manubiae. But the fact that no one recorded the source of funding for a particular project cannot be taken to prove that it was not funded from manubiae (his Appendix 1, pp. 199-202, tabulates the data and shows, for one thing, that we know the funding source of very few temples). Furthermore, Orlin segregates the temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum Iulium (dedicated in 46), and all subsequent temples built or rebuilt from manubiae, as in the Imperial tradition and thus useless for the understanding of Republican practices. If there were no evidence for building of temples from manubiae prior to the temple of Venus Genetrix, it would be possible to suggest, but hardly to prove, that this was an innovation. As it stands, the evidence militates against so schematic a distinction.

In those cases where duumviri aedi locandae were appointed to let the contract for a temple, Orlin assumes repeatedly (pp. 152-3) that the only funds they could draw upon were public funds from the treasury. But he gives no positive reason to doubt that they could have prevailed upon the magistrate who had originally vowed the temple to donate manubiae if he had any reserved for the purpose, and perhaps some of his own funds, in addition; Orlin himself concedes (p. 153 n. 148) that one set of duumviri might have gotten some funds (though not manubiae in that case) from the man who had made the vow to build the temple.

Especially problematic is Orlin's criticism of a passage of Pliny which would militate against his argument. Pliny (Nat. 7.97) wrote that Pompey dedicated a shrine to Minerva ex manubiis, and quoted an inscription. Orlin claims (p. 133) that Pliny was wrong to say that the shrine was built ex manubiis, and to suggest that the inscription had anything to do with the shrine's construction. Pliny does not say where he found the inscription, but its wording (Cn. Pompeius Magnus imperator ... votum merito Minervae) is consistent with either Pliny's or Orlin's interpretation; votum either refers to the delubrum or to some offering left there. In any case, if Pliny thought it plausible that the shrine was built from manubiae, that is enough to cast a shadow on Orlin's argument. Pliny had no reason to try to deceive his audience on this point and was comfortable with the inference. Since there is no positive reason to doubt that manubiae were routinely used in temple-construction, it is hazardous to dismiss Pliny's belief.

Orlin's arguments on this question have proven to my satisfaction that neither manubiae nor public funds were exclusive sources of funding or material for the construction of temples. It bears mentioning that this conclusion is entirely consonant with Orlin's thesis that the Senate and Roman People had a vested interest in all public building projects and that magistrates could not act entirely independently. But manubiae did not have to be private property for that to be the case, nor did temples have to be built almost exclusively from the aerarium. Orlin's admirable diligence has paid dividends: while his use of the evidence in this chapter was excessively dogmatic, he has advanced our knowledge by collecting it and raising new questions.

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