Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.11.18

Nikos Kokkinos, Antonia Augusta: Portrait of a Great Roman Lady. Originally published in 1992 by Routledge.   London:  Libri, 2002.  Pp. 290.  ISBN 1-901965-05-08.  £17.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Susan Sorek, University of Wales, Lampeter (
Word count: 933 words

The review by Greg Rowe, Queen's College, Oxford, of the original work, published in 1992, can be read in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (94.05.14). There the reader can find a summary of the content and purpose of the book and an evaluation of its place in current scholarship. In summary Rowe says that, 'K. hopes his book will serve as a model for future studies of ancient figures, and it deserves to be used in this way. It will also stimulate thought on the nature and extent of women's power in the ancient world'.

The new paperback edition affords an opportunity to the author for a review of the new evidence which has presented itself since the original work was completed; especially new finds in the field of epigraphy and iconography. Rather than undertake a major re-write of the book to include this new evidence the author, has, quite rightly, included a final Review Chapter (pp.241-275) to the work. This chapter consists of several sections; including reflections on critical reviews on the original work, overlooked literary evidence, followed by an evaluation of the most recent epigraphic, iconographic and numismatic evidence, which the author places into context.

The first section highlights both the positive and negative reviews of the original work, although it must be stressed that on the whole the reviews were positive. In this section, the author deals constructively with any major criticisms of his original work and gives balanced arguments regarding some specific points of contention. K makes some valuable statements regarding Campbell's defence of Tacitus' judgements (p. 244), highlighting the fact that there are scholars who will still defend these judgements despite external evidence to the contrary. This section is very stimulating, as it is a rare occurrence that an author gets an opportunity to address their critics and stimulate debate on contentious issues. K responds well to Campbell's Classical Review 47 [1994] lack of enthusiasm about K's 'enumerative' approach to the subject matter (see pp.244-5) and provides some stimulating remarks that highlight the biases that are still to be found in modern historical works, leading to many misinterpretations of ancient sources.

In the following section K goes on to add one or to pieces of evidence that he omitted from his original work, emphasising the 'real power' of a Roman woman during this period, by citing the story of Calvia Crispinilla, a woman who was not even a member of the ruling family, which provides a useful and illuminating insight into the potential for real power that women of this period could have. This section is followed by an overview of the most recent work carried out in the field of studies relating to women's role in the ancient world.

The original literary sources are also increased. Ovid Tristia (4.2.11-14) could hint at Antonia, and Ex Ponto (2.2.69-74), where Ovid, in a letter to his friend Messalinus, mentions a 'pious daughter in law', which K says is a possible reference to Antonia. Although these missed sources are only minor additions to the substantial body of evidence that has already been amassed in favour of Antonia, they are nevertheless useful trifles to the overall picture of Antonia's reputation and standing amongst her peers.

However, it is the major discovery of the decree of the Senate on Piso, SC de Pisone that deserves special mention. In the original work K did not have the opportunity to take this into account, a fact remarked upon by Rowe in the last line of his review. The decree, of which one copy containing 176 lines is almost complete, does mention Antonia as well as her daughter Livia. The relevant section can be read on p.258 and bears testimony to K's original evaluation of the high esteem in which Antonia was held by the Senate. The dating of the decree was also anticipated by K in his original work (p.38), a fact that has, sadly, not been acknowledged by subsequent authorities on the decree (Eck et al.).

In addition, there is further epigraphical evidence from fragments retrieved from the Forum of Augustus and Messene in the Peloponnese; the latter, as K points out, belongs to a period from which little evidence for Antonia could be gathered (AD 14, on the death of Augustus, and honouring the new emperor Tiberius), and therefore the mention of her is a very welcome edition.

As K says, it is possible to achieve something close to a biography, or at least a reflective biography, and this is borne out by the number of recent publications dealing with other imperial women of first century AD Rome, for example, Barrett Agrippina (London 1996), Wood Imperial Women (Leiden 1999) and more recently Barrett Livia (Yale 2002).

Little needs to be added to the original review by Rowe, except to say that the new evidence presented in this volume lends further weight to K's original work. The mainstay of the book must lie in the masterly way that a variety of source material has been handled with such precision to afford a more realistic glimpse into an aspect of Roman life hitherto only hinted at. This volume still remains a leader in the field of women's studies in the ancient world despite the more recent volumes on Imperial women that have emerged. In paperback it now becomes more accessible to students of ancient history who would do well to avail themselves of a copy. The key to the future of ancient studies lies in such 'enumerative' approaches to the evaluation of ancient sources; hopefully this will be the first of many such endeavours.

Read Latest
Index for 2003
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:56, Friday, 03 April 2009