Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.06.29

M.G.L. Cooley (ed.), The Age of Augustus. Lactor 17.   London:  The London Association of Classical Teachers, 2003.  Pp. 416.  ISBN 0-903625-30-X.  £13.00.  

Reviewed by Noreen Humble, University College Cork (
Word count: 1719 words

This book, #17 in the well-established LACTOR series, contains a collection of source material on the Age of Augustus and is primarily aimed at UK A-level students (final-year high school students) with the additional hope that it may also be suitable for undergraduates studying Augustus (p.9).

I should state at the outset that I am interested in the book as a resource for undergraduate students and am not in any way qualified to judge its applicability for UK A-level students. In particular my interest in it stems from teaching an undergraduate course on Art and Architecture in Augustan Rome in the hope that it may prove a useful resource for my students since the OUP/OU source book Rome in the Augustan Age (K. Chisholm & J. Ferguson, eds) appears to be in print no longer.

The book divides the material into two main sections: part 1 by source, part 2 by theme. In addition the following ancillary material is included at the beginning: bibliography and abbreviations, preface, notes on literary sources (i.e. mini-biographies of the primary literary figures), notes on coinage, a guide to monetary values, a short two-page glossary of terms (Latin words, definitions of magistracies, etc.), and three maps showing first the extent of the empire during Augustus' reign, then the distribution of the legions in AD 14, and, finally, a map of the major structures in the city of Rome. Other material for negotiating the collection is to be found at the end: a concordance (divided by literary sources, coins and inscriptions), three indices (person, place, theme) and family trees.

Included in the first section (By Source) are: (A) the Res Gestae, (B) a list of consuls from 31 BC to AD 14, (C) a collection of material from various Fasti, (D) the preface to Livy's History along with the summaries for books 133-142 which cover the years of Augustus' reign, (E) Velleius Paterculus 2.88-124, (F) Tacitus Annals 1.1-15, and (G) selections from the Augustan poets: Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Antipater, and Crinagoras. Suetonius' Life of Augustus and Cassius Dio on Augustus are not included on the grounds that they are easily available elsewhere.

Part two is divided into 10 thematic groups. Generally included in each section is a brief introduction explaining the rationale behind choosing the particular source material included.

Section H, Triumvirate and Principate, has little, in fact, on the triumviral period (on the grounds that comprehensiveness in this area is outside the scope of the book). The focus is on Octavian's remodelling of himself into princeps and the sources are presented chronologically within this theme (from being Caesar's heir to receiving the title pater patriae). Section J, Imperial Family, is a collection of material grouped by individuals related to Augustus starting with Julius Caesar and ending with Agrippa Postumus (Agrippa himself is relegated to Section T). Section K, Rome and Italy, deals primarily with building works and civic enhancement in Rome and Italy under Augustus, the majority of the sources focussing on Rome.

Section L, Religion, takes a brief look at some of Augustus' focus on republican traditions, emperor worship in Rome and throughout the Empire, as well as a substantial amount on the Ludi Saeculares of 17 BC. Section M, Administration of the Empire, has sections on Egypt, Gaul, Spain, friendly kingdoms on the margins of the Empire, Judaea, the Greek East, Romanisation, controls on provincial governors, and honours given by the provincials to Romans. Section N, War and Expansion, after a look at the Fasti Triumphales, has brief sections on Africa, the Alps, Arabia, Armenia, the Balkans, Britain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Parthia, and Thrace.

The division of Section P, Conspiracies, Scandals, Free Speech, is set up exactly as its title suggests. Section R, Maecenas and the Arts, presents material on Maecenas, Lives of Horace and Virgil, and a grouping called Culture and the Arts (with entries on, e.g., Pollio's Library, Vitruvius' preface and Games). Section S, Social Legislation, starts with some helpful notes on legal sources followed by material on such matters as marriage, inheritance, guardianship, adultery and manumission. Finally, Section T, Augustan Society, appears to focus on the social order, with passages on Agrippa, various matters concerning senators in general, the equestrian order, status distinctions in public, making the emperor heir, the Laudatio Turiae and a few funerary inscriptions of individuals, and some passages on the freedman Licinius.

Overall the source material is impressively diverse (literary, epigraphical, numismatic, papyrological). There are throughout helpful explanatory notes accompanying most passages, and introductory notes to groups of passages. Nor do the notes always shy away from noting scholarly controversies. Translations (checked at random) appear sound.

It is inevitable that some will quibble about the material included and the organisation of the material presented, but given the vast array of material we have left for the period under discussion, I think the editor has done a fine job of drawing on a wide variety of sources to illustrate diverse aspects of Augustus' reign and influence. (I would be overjoyed to teach students at University who had been taught with this sourcebook in school.) In addition, in the preface (and on p.228) there is a promise of a website with visual material to complement the text. Such a website would add enormously to the book's usefulness, but as of the date of this review no such website has appeared.

The hope is that the book will be useful to undergraduates. On the whole I am certain it will be. Most undergraduates, outside England at any rate, will not have had much prior exposure to this topic. I will certainly make use of it for my own students.

There are a few things, however, that could be done to improve the ancillary and supporting material which would enhance the usefulness of the collection in a further edition.

(1) The bibliography and abbreviations on p.7 is simply a list of abbreviations. Helpful bibliography is provided randomly throughout the book and a note of that might be made here. In fact, a general bibliography, while probably not particularly relevant for A-level students, would be useful for undergraduates.

(2) The notes on literary sources (pp. 10-11) could stand a little more attention. More could have been said about why some of them are important for the period of Augustus (e.g. Josephus and Macrobius, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, the two Senecas, Valerius Maximus), and something on Suetonius and Cassius Dio would be useful as they are mentioned throughout.

(3) The maps could be a great deal more helpful. The first, of the Roman Empire in the time of Augustus, is completely confusing, suggesting as it does that Britannia and Mauretania are provinces. Also there is a curious mixture of Latin and English names used. The third, of Rome itself, strangely includes buildings which post-date Augustus (e.g. the Domus Aurea).

(4) Cross-referencing is not entirely consistent, or at least it is not clear what policy was followed on this front, as the degree to which it is done varies widely. For example, the first mention in the book of the crown of oak leaves awarded Augustus is at RG 34.2. Nothing further is said in the note on that passage about the significance of this. At C5 (a calendar entry) there is some explanation and the reader is directed to H14, 20 & 21 (but not to RG 34.2). H21 has no cross-references at all, H14 has the RG passage and H20 lists the other three plus H23, H32 and the RG passage. In none of these is there a reference to H31, where there is another mention of the oak leaves (the note here sending the reader only to H20). In the index under 'civic crown' four of the above entries are absent (C5, H14, H23, H31) and four others not alluded to in any of the above passages are mentioned (G54, J23, L10, T28; only one of which, J23, mentions other passages H14, 20). None of the entries, therefore, not even that of the index, contains the full list of cross-references. It would thus be very difficult for a student to locate all the references (if indeed there are not more than these). A further minor problem (which could cause confusion) is inconsistency in naming: e.g. the index says 'Great Drain' while the text it refers to (K3) says 'Great Sewer'.

(5) There are rather a lot of inconsistencies in the style of presenting material. Several examples follow: (a) on pages 54, 58 and 82-3 the introductory material on the three historians is printed in different fonts and with different style headings; (b) the references to the Res Gestae should have been noted in bold to match references to all the other passages translated in the book; (c) in section M the subheadings inexplicably change font size on p.304 and are, hence, more difficult to locate; (d) Sections M and R have no introductory notes unlike other sections and Section S's introductory note is stated as such and presented in a different font size.

(6) The indices might have been a bit fuller too. For example, Pliny NH 22.6-8 is translated in the note on H14 but is not noted in the index of passages which seems strictly limited to the primary passages chosen. See also Dio 53.1-20 in the introduction to H18-25.

Typos appear few. Those I have noticed are: (a) H16 purports to be from Livy book 135, but this should read book 133; (b) p.221 J59 says 'Artagerae' while J60 says 'Artagira'; (c) p.229 the note on K3 concerning The Ballot Office notes that it was completed by Agrippa in 7 BC, but this should read Augustus; (d) p.234 the Basilica Aemilia-Paulli in most source books appears as Basilica Aemilia or Basilica Paulli (e.g. see Platner and Richardson) and since it is referred to as Basilica Paulli by Augustan age (and later) authors perhaps that name should prevail to avoid confusion; (e) p.237 on the Elogia, 1st line of the note reads 'Romans general' instead of 'Roman generals'; (f) p.239 on K26, the title does not make it clear whether the statues are of Alexander himself or that they belonged to him; (g) p.312 something is missing from the entry N2f; (h) p.320 in N23 the Armenian king's name is spelled 'Artaxias', in N24 'Artaxes'.

Read Latest
Index for 2004
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:29:21, Friday, 03 April 2009