Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.06.28

Silvia Orlandi, Epigrafia anfiteatrale dell'occidente romano. VI. Roma. Anfiteatri e strutture annesse con una nuova edizione e commento delle iscrizioni del Colosseo. Vetera, 15.   Roma:  Quasar, 2004.  Pp. 600; pls. 28.  ISBN 978-88-7140-265-9.  €84.00 (pb).  



Reviewed by R.T. Scott, Bryn Mawr College (dscott@brynmawr.edu)
Word count: 833 words

Fate was unkind to two of the leading researchers on Roman gladiators in the later twentieth century, George Ville and Patrizia Sabbatini Tumolesi, both of whom died prematurely. Yet Tumolesi, before her untimely death in 1995, had set in motion and seen the first fruits of a program of research and publication on res gladiatoriae throughout Italy and the western Roman provinces that has kept its momentum. This study by Silvia Orlandi is the most recent in the series and deals almost exclusively with some 326 inscriptions, carved and painted, and graffiti relating to the Flavian amphitheater. The amphitheater of Statilius Taurus is mentioned only in connection with the possible elogium of Taurus, probably found during the construction of the Tiber embankments and acquired by the National Museum of Rome in 1902, and there is nothing relevant to the amphitheatrum castrense.

A dozen inscriptions relate to the history of the building from its creation under Vespasian and Titus and document repairs made as late as the fifth century CE. The vast majority (290), however, refer to the allotment of seating space for members of the senatorial aristocracy, their clients and guests, members of the equestrian and lesser orders, including foreigners, over a comparable time span. A considerable number was registered early on in CIL VI, benefiting especially from the careful attentions of Huelsen, Mommsen and Lanciani among others, and they have been selectively re-studied with profit in the years since. But Orlandi has now produced a new edition of this and much previously unpublished material that is remarkable for its clarity of exposition, richness of detail, and critical rigor.

On good grounds she has excluded fourteen inscriptions previously associated with the amphitheater and re-examined every surviving stone to improve readings on blocks that were re-used with new inscriptions cut on their faces over the centuries. The value of performing such patient autopsy was recently -- and sensationally -- demonstrated by Geza Alföldi (ZPE 109 (1995), 195), who was able to recover beneath a much later inscription much of the text of one originally in bronze letters commemorating the construction of the amphitheater by Vespasian and Titus from spoil taken in the Jewish war. These are CIL VI 40454 a (Flavian) and 1763 (Theodosius II and Valentinian III, 425-450 AD) Fittingly, Alföldi has provided an introduction to the work that allows the reader to appreciate just how much time and effort were required for its execution.

Orlandi has considerably refined the distinction made by Huelsen between an older and a more recent, that is to say later, group of senatorial names. A broad chronological distinction may be made between them, the first dating from the end of the third century/beginning of the fourth century CE, containing108 names, and a second dating from the end of the fourth century to the beginning of the sixth century CE, containing 211. She goes on to show that within this group there are particular concentrations of names from the first half of the fourth century, again from the closing decades of the fourth century, and finally at the end of the fifth and beginning of the sixth centuries CE. They correspond historically, as she notes, to the re-emergence of the senate as an administrative and political entity in the age of Constantine, the period of Gratian and Theodosius, and the rule of Odoacer and Theodoric.

There are consequences in these results for the second volume of the PLRE as well as for Chastagnol's view of the composition of the senate in the fifth century. Some sixty-four names recorded in the Prosopography on the basis of earlier readings of these stones have now to be removed, while a number of fifth-century senators must be restored to the fourth. In some instances new material has made it possible to document the rise or endurance of certain families, but here the author shows commendable caution.

Although the blocks on which the names were successively inscribed have been collected from a variety of locations within the area of the amphitheater, senatorial seats were located on the corona of the podium above the arena proper, and this proximity to the spectacula clearly remained important until the collapse of the western empire and the Roman senate itself. Other objects, such as the consular diptychs and the contorniates, fit this pattern of what Orlandi terms senatorial self-representation in the late empire, even as contestation increased between traditionalists and Christians over the nature and control of what went on in the amphitheater. She also rightly emphasizes that what is striking about the maintenance of the epigraphic habit there is its public character, something that was irresistibly vanishing elsewhere in the late antique city.

Orlandi's teacher, Silvio Panciera, is fond of reminding his students that the real task of the epigraphist is to study not inscriptions but the world that has created them. In this splendid and authoritative volume Silvia Orlandi has done just this with great credit to him and to the memory of Patrizia Sabbatini Tumolesi.

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