Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.05.10

Richard Hingley (ed.), Images of Rome: Perceptions of Ancient Rome in Europe and the United States in the Modern Age.   Portsmouth, RI:  JRA Supplementary Series 44, 2001.  ISBN 1-887829-44-X.  $39.75.  

Contributors: S. Babic, S.L. Dyson, W. Hessing, R. Hingley, A. King, G. Mora, M. Struck and N. Terrenato

Reviewed by Stephen Harrison, Corpus Christi College, Oxford (
Word count: 1893 words

This stimulating collection of papers in English on the modern reception of Rome, from a generally (but by no means exclusively) archaeological viewpoint, is edited by the author of the excellent Roman Officers and English Gentlemen (2000). It argues in general (in the apt words of its last contributor, p.170) that "attitudes to the past are continuously and actively shaped by the contemporary intentions of various social actors" and opens up a number of the many different ways in which Rome has been constructed and reconstructed to serve many different historical and ideological agendas. Chronologically, the volume extends from the Renaissance (with occasional earlier forays) to the present, geographically within Europe from the UK to Serbia with a chapter on the USA. Most of the relatively brief chapters have a survey element, some interest in the historiography of national archaeology and good bibliographies for further work.

The introduction by the editor (7-22) makes perhaps the key point, that modern cultures in presenting images of Rome are "creating cultural ancestry" (7), and rightly suggests that Rome is often appropriated for a rhetoric of Romanisation through which one's own culture can be defined as Romanising and therefore civilised. He also argues attractively that students of ancient cultures "need to engage with outmoded popular images of Rome" (12), images which two chapters in the book document through evidence taken from modern schoolchildren, and questions the Eurocentric cultural dominance which a continuous rhetoric of Romanisation has created; his emphasis on the role of archaeology in nationalist and imperialist agendas can be fruitfully applied to any classical discipline in its particular social context.

Gloria Mora in the first major chapter (23-55) looks at the reception of Rome in 16-18C Spain, pointing out that for much of this period Sicily and Naples were ruled by Spain and that it was the future Charles III of Spain who was the prime sponsor for the first excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 1738 (at a time when the ruins of Merida were as yet uninvestigated). Her main interests are in collectors and collections of sculptures and antiquities, in the translation of architectural treatises (especially Vitruvius), and in travels to Italy by architects and artists (including Francesco d'Ollanda, friend of Michelangelo). There is full and fascinating information here, which opens up many avenues: the reviewer would like to know more in particular about how this firm interest in Roman material culture interacted with the equally firm interest in Roman literary culture in this Golden Age period, both in classicising Spanish literature (e.g. Garcilaso de la Vega) and in some of the remarkable Latin scholarship (e.g. Juan Luis de la Cerda).

Stephen Dyson contributes a relatively short chapter on Rome in America (57-69), which serves as a useful introduction to the topic. As it is largely concerned with classicising architecture, it is particularly unfortunate that it has no illustrations (contrast the eighteen of the previous chapter), e.g. of the old Penn Station in New York, based on the Baths of Caracalla. As in most chapters, there is reflection on the national history of Roman archaeology, here of course centered about the figure of Charles Eliot Norton, a key figure in the foundation of both the American Institute of Archaeology and the American School in Athens. Again, this introduction stimulates thoughts of further topics for investigation -- how far "colonial" architecture could be perceived as Roman as well as Greek, the tradition of the triumphal arch in the USA (e.g. that in Washington Square in New York), and whether the characteristically American monumental sculptures of Mt. Rushmore and Stone Mountain had Roman overtones.

Nicola Terrenato's thoughtful chapter on Italy (71-89) again lays emphasis on the need for scholarly deconstruction to influence popular views and thus to engender an appropriately contemporary perspective on Rome: "only by dissecting the biases and agendas underpinning the idea of Rome that we have inherited, mainly from Romantic scholarship, can we begin to shape an image that is truly our own, and appropriate to our overall historical needs" (72). He shows that it was only in the 18C that the reception of Rome became a coherent element in Italian culture, and that it could be a battle-ground between post-Renaissance municipalism, constructing Rome as a loose federal power congenial to independent city-states, and the centralised nationalism of the Resorgimento, authorising dirigisme by supposed Roman precedent. Once again a thumbnail national history of archaeology is traced, from Fascist appropriation (especially of Augustus and his monuments) through post-war Euro-communism and the cult of the Italic resistors of Rome to the strong emergence of local history, reflecting the relative weakness of central government. Most fascinating perhaps is the survey of Roman schoolchildren (virtually on the site of Veii!), who show clear Romantic/19C bias in their view of the Romans as militarily strong and impressive conquerors and builders. The key point here (central for the volume as a whole, as already stressed above) is that the cultural framework of Rome is a passive element, "freely shaped to fit current ideological needs" (87), and the consequent duty of scholars to make their own contribution for the present rather than employ unreflectively the preconceptions of the past.

Manuela Struck (91-112) gives us a German perspective, opening with a rapid summary of the Romanness of the Holy Roman Empire before turning to the history of Roman reception in Germany from the time of Goethe, focussing especially on the figure of Arminius, Hermann the German. The material on the latter is particularly interesting (especially his convenient re-invention as enemy not of Rome but of France); it would have been worth noting that praise for him as a liberator goes back to Tacitus (Annals 2.88), just as the Germania of Tacitus and its role in the work of the Ahnenerbe (the Nazi research institute on German origins) would have been an interesting addition to the limited Nazi material here (which can however be easily pursued further through the excellent bibliography). Wilhelm II's imperialising interest in Roman archaeology was countered by greater Nazi interest in its anti-Roman Teutonic counterpart (e.g. Himmler's excavations of a supposed Germanic sanctuary in the Teutonberger Wald in 1934) and by inevitable Marxist underplaying in the post-war GDR (occupying of course the part of Germany never under Roman rule), leading to a more relaxed and balanced approach in the modern post-reunification state. Once again a modern school survey provides information of interesting cultural specificity: like the Italian children, the Germans saw Romans as highly military and powerful, but unlike them laid emphasis on their technological inventiveness, recreating Rome in the image of the land of the BMW.

Arminius' iconic prominence here is matched by the role of Vercingetorix in Antony King's following chapter on France (113-25). After showing how interest in the more republican Gauls emerged as a reaction to the search of the ancien régime for Frankish aristocratic origins, he tells how Napoleon III in his excavations at Alesia faced the dilemma of seeking association either (like Napoleon I) with the imperial and victorious Caesar or with the defeated French nationalist Vercingetorix (V.), and recounts the ideological tussle over V. between the Vichy collaborationist government (seeing him as predecessor of Pétain) and the Free French (seeing him as liberating resistance fighter). All this of course of the man presented by Caesar in Book 7 of the Gallic War (naturally with some bias) as an ambitious, devious and murderous career politician The modern preference for Asterix over V. as an icon of Gallic resistance is nicely explored, especially the inverted Waterloo joke of Astérix chez les Belges, where Caesar (= Napoleon) is defeated by Asterix (= Wellington?). Given the previous prominence of Vercingetorix in this chapter, it would have been splendid to include the picture from the beginning of Astérix le Gaulois in which V. defiantly surrenders to Caesar, bruising the Roman's feet by throwing his weapons down, both amusing and a clear indication that Asterix is to be seen as a (better?) successor to V.

The next chapter by Willfried Hessing (127-43) turns to the Netherlands and the "Batavian myth". The Batavians (originating in the region between Rotterdam and Nijmegen) were prominent in the Roman armies but most famous for their revolt in AD 69 under their leader Iulius Civilis (narrated in Books 4 and 5 of Tacitus' Histories). This revolt was naturally used as a paradigm for subsequent Dutch revolts, both William the Silent's successful rising against Spanish rule (a parallel stressed by Rembrandt in his Oath of Civilis, originally painted for the Amsterdam Stadthuis) and the less durable Batavian Republic of the Patriots in 1795-1806. The 19C lost interest in the Batavians, but they have made a comeback in modern Dutch regionalism through W.J.H. Willems' Romans and Batavians (1986), and are interestingly preserved as doughty opponents of the Romans in school textbooks and the like. Here there is much stimulating material; it would have fascinating to venture more into the relationship between the tough, ascetic and independent Batavi and modern Dutch self-imaging.

Hingley himself (145-65) gives a potted version of his stimulating 2000 book (which appeared between the original conference and this volume) on English reception of Rome in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His analysis of Haverfield's influential arguments on Romanisation exposes their simple narrative of barbarians civilised through contact with superior culture (Britons become Romans, in effect). This tellingly exposes the explicit parallel between Roman Britain and British India and the conveniently implied necessity of submission to and assimilation with the cultural hegemony of an occupying power: "the Romans had passed their own civilisation on to Britain so that England could in turn civilise the people of its own empire". The projection of Britain as a mixed and vigorous island race is fascinatingly seen as resisting the "pure Teutonic" model in order to differentiate Britain from its then enemy Germany.

Finally, Stasa Babic discusses Serbia (168-82) with its interestingly contemporary nationalism, stressing the liminal role of the Balkans between East and West and their tendency to disappear in the scholarly gap between the two; post-colonial theory is aptly applied in this identification of the Balkan subaltern, Serbia as "other" as well as "neither one nor the other", shown for example in the 19C Austrian archaeologist Felix Kanitz's view of the Serbs as noble savages. This liminality is nicely symbolised in Trajan's Danube bridge between Serbia and Romania, just as Serbia's relative neglect of its Roman heritage (owing to modern Slav nationalism) is shown by the much better care taken by the Romanising Romanians of their end of the bridge. She concludes by pointing to the Serbian classical links best known to conventional classicists, those between the Serbian oral epics and those of Homer so famously investigated by Milman Parry and Albert Lord, stressing that this shows a Hellenic and eastward-looking preference in the Janus-like liminality of Serbian culture.

Overall, this is an illuminating book which fully succeeds in opening up different national perspectives on images of Rome as well as in foregrounding the major methodological issues implicated more generally in the business of classical reception. There is a good balance between information, analysis and theoretical reflection, though some pieces are naturally more ideologically sophisticated than others, and the relatively wide coverage within Europe offers revealing opportunities for instructive comparison and contrast between diverse constructions and perceptions of Roman cultural ancestry.

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