Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.10.68 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.10.68

Olivier Devillers, Karin Sion-Jenkis (ed.), César sous Auguste. Scripta antiqua, 48​.   Bordeaux:  Ausonius Éditions​, 2012.  Pp. 264.  ISBN 9782356130716.  €25.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Thomas Biggs, Yale University (

This co-edited volume, the product of conferences held at The University of Bordeaux 3 in 2009 and 2010, presents a wide range of approaches to an often explored, but never comprehensively tackled, series of issues surrounding the heritage, reception, and memory of Caesar under Augustus. The editors and contributors rightfully refocus scholarly attention on the Augustan afterlife of Caesar at a time when memory studies, cultural history, and reception studies have provided the perspectives needed to expand upon such work. César sous Auguste is a worthy contribution, but by no means the final word on the various roles of Caesar during the Principate. Readers familiar with the work of Gowing 2005 and, now, Farrell and Nelis 2013, as well as the research coming out of the Memoria Romana project, may see this volume less as a potential catalyst than as a parallel development, which is at times disconnected from contemporary, especially Anglophone scholarship.1 Nonetheless, all scholars interested in the political, social, and cultural landscapes of the Roman world in the Late Republic and Principate will find aspects that invite consideration.

Although it is impossible to address all of the arguments of any work in a review, especially of a volume as wide- ranging as the present, I will attempt to sketch the argument of each paper. Readers will also be well advised to approach this volume through Jean-Michel Roddaz’ “Conclusion générale,” which summarizes each contribution. Karin Sion-Jenkis’ “Introduction historiographique” begins Section One (Problématique générale et approches thématiques) with an overview of historical scholarship connected to the central issues of the volume (mainly German, with due attention to Syme). This discussion leads fluidly into Martin Jehne’s tidy study, the only one in German, of historical continuity and Republican precedent (military, economic, social) in the differing autocratic self-constructions of Caesar and Augustus (“Die organisatorische Verankerung der Alleinherrschaft und die republikanische Tradition: von Caesar zu Augustus”).

In Paul Marius Martin’s piece “Octave, héritier de César. Enquête sur les sources historiographiques,” the will (testamentum) that bestowed both name and legacy on Octavian is closely scrutinized in relation to its social and legal implications, as is the language used by the Greek and Latin sources that discuss it. Notable is Martin’s focus on the fundamental ambiguity of the expression ‘Caesar’s heir’ and the role that Octavian’s propaganda and (ultimately) Augustan ideology played in suppressing that ambiguity to construct a self-serving conception of the adoption.

Marie-Claire Ferriès turns to Antony, the other main figure in the running to claim Caesar’s legacy, in “L’ombre de César dans la politique du consul Marc Antoine.” Her analysis of Antony’s use of Caesar and continuation (or split) from Caesarian policy during his consulship in 44 highlights how he ran a middle ground (“une troisième voie”) between adherence to the acta and Caesar’s intents (difficult to truly determine as they are) and the exploitation of their authority to justify his actions, especially in relation to veterans’ affairs, senatorial expansion, agrarian reform, and the divine status of the late dictator.

In “L’image de César dans les groupes statuaires julio-claudiens et le monnayage augustéen,” Jean-Charles Balty argues that Caesar, although present in Augustan statuary, does not appear to have been given a dynastic role. In relation to coinage, Balty contends that Caesar stopped appearing on the issues of Octavian (and Antony) at the legal end of the first period of the Triumvirate in 37 BCE and that he survived only in the legends of Octavian’s issues; Caesar’s name and divinity were now employed to designate his heir (IMP CAESAR DIVI F).

For Anne Bajard (“Le modèle de César dans les spectacles d’Auguste”), spectacles provided a forum in which it was not necessary for Augustus to distance himself from Caesar’s model – a problematic assertion. Within the substance of her analysis, Bajard focuses on specific and striking public displays reenacted by Augustus with established Caesarian precedent. Too much, however, of this short piece is spent on constructing one less than clear example from brief reports in Suetonius regarding the staging of plays per omnium linguarum histriones (Suet. Jul. 39.1.13; Aug. 43.1.6).

Section Two of the volume contains three works linked only by their focus on the provinces (Approches régionales). Stéphanie Guédon looks for continuity between Caesar and Augustus in the exploration of the edges of the empire, specifically Africa and the Garamantes (“Sur les pas de César en Afrique? La question de son influence sur l’exploration des confins africains sous Auguste”). Some attention is given to highlighting Caesarian interest in such intellectual/imperial enterprises and what could amount to the realization of this interest by the geographical and exploratory activities of Agrippa and Augustus. The majority of the paper focuses on Cornelius Balbus’ expedition in Africa, an interesting topic but not wholly appropriate for a volume on Caesar’s Augustan afterlife.

Laurent Bricault’s paper (“Le monnayage d’Auguste à Alexandrie) attempts to highlight aspects of Augustan rule in Egypt through numismatic analysis. Outside of specific points regarding the number of groups that make up the Augustan issues (of interest to specialists), a central argument which emerges is that Alexandrian coinage under Augustus followed Ptolemaic precedent, while also incorporating Roman imagery and the concept of diui filius to align Augustus with Pharaonic authorizing techniques.

Provincial reorganization and the role of cult in Asia, especially Ionia, form the material through which François Kirbihler highlights change and continuity (with weight on the former) between Caesar and Augustus (“César, Auguste et l’Asie: continuités et évolutions de deux politiques”). Analysis of personal image, as monarch or divinity, as well as specific policy (e.g. formation of Koina, grants of asylia) lead ultimately to some general conclusions: direct engagement with Caesar by Augustus in Asia is visible, but neither very marked nor the order of the day; even the seeds of Caesarian ruler-cult (hence its authorizing function for Augustus) were planted by Antony and the Triumvirate.

The third and final section of the volume deals with literature (Approches littéraires). In the one paper devoted to poetry (“Le(s) César(s) des poètes et la mémoire de la res publica”), Marie Ledentu explores the presence and presentation of Caesar in Vergil, Horace, and Propertius.2 She focuses largely on the way Caesar relates to the authority and legitimacy of Augustus via the poetic memory of divus Iulius, his political roles, and his military accomplishments (especially those abroad). The potentially subversive, or at least ambiguous, aspects of the poets’ presentation of the Princeps receive little consideration here; although Caesar himself in, e.g., Odes 1.2 and Satires 1.7, is read critically, he is largely approached in relation to Augustus’ hot and cold relationship with Caesarian ideology. In fact, Ledentu sees criticism of Caesar and Pompey as part of Augustan discourse; a fair point, but so too is praise of Pompey – one of many aspects of the Augustan poetic landscape’s engagement with the Republic that upsets easy distinctions.

Prose authors make up the rest of the volume. Bernard Mineo’s piece on Livy tackles the image of Caesar in the AUC (“Le César de Tite-Live était-il politiquement incorrect?”). The ancient conception of the Pompeian Livy is shown to be too reductive (Tacitus Annals 4. 34), and a Livian conception of Caesar is proposed that combines authorial admiration for his foreign conquests with what sometimes amounts to disgust with the overturning of time-honored Republican institutions.3 Yet the civil wars are consistently construed as a fated evil in contemporary literature (Vergil, Horace), hence, for Mineo, Caesar is not solely to blame for the destruction he brought forth and the ruins of the Republic are presented as the ashes from which the Augustan present rises.

In “César chez Nicolas de Damas. Essai de lecture aristotélicienne”, Guillaume Flamerie de Lachapelle analyzes the Bios Kaisaros of Nicolaus of Damsacus. He argues that Caesar is presented as a model for Octavian/Augustus to follow and (consistently) exceed, but an imperfect model constructed in a mode that aligns with Nicolaus’ Aristotelian outlook. Readers who do not accept that Aristotelian philosophy is the central way to approach Nicolaus’ comparisons of Caesar and Augustus will find many conclusions unconvincing.

Gianpaolo Urso’s study of Strabo rigorously explores the meaning of stasis, especially at 4.1.5 where the civil war is itself described as the stasis of Pompey against Caesar (“La stasis de Pompée: Strabon et la guerre civile”). Strabo elsewhere, from Remus to Antony, uses the word in relation to conflicts against the established order (189), and Urso sees this as Strabo’s own perspective. Of note is his analysis of anachronism and the retrospective influence of Augustan teleology; at 6.4.2, for example, the wars against the Hellenistic kings and Carthage are (impossibly) described as revolts/seditions against Rome. It follows then that Pompey’s actions were themselves a revolt against Rome and so too against the first Roman emperor, Caesar.

Isabelle Cogitore argues that Velleius Paterculus’ narratives of Caesar often follow the Commentarii and the Caesarian tradition, but were simultaneously influenced by Augustan rhetorical exercises focused on exemplarity and elaboration (“Le César de Velleius Paterculus: de reflets augustéens?”). While the attention given to one of the generic and social filters Caesar’s image would have passed through (his rhetorical reception) is a strength (“César passé par le creuset augustéen” (207)), the specific contours of rhetorical training under Augustus are not well defined and many of the examples are drawn from outside the period under analysis.

The last chapter is devoted to Tacitus, in which Olivier Devillers explores how Augustan ‘propaganda’ plays a role in this historian’s various depictions of Caesar (“Permanence et transformations du modèle augustéen: le César de Tacite”). The role of Caesar’s political, social, and military interactions with Gauls and Germans is set center stage and his exemplary value is shown to have complex and ambiguous interpretations both for characters and, so it follows, for imperial readers. Where continuity between Caesar and Augustus is emphasized (esp. concerning the civil wars), Devillers argues that Tacitus is at odds with Augustan ideology (212). Further, it is shown that Caesar the Republican commander, not emperor, is revived for his military exploits against the Gauls. Caesar is thus a model for imperial power, but a figure from the times of the Republic (diuus and dictator). Yet for Tacitus, there remains one all-powerful distinction between life under Caesar and under Augustus – under the former, hope still remained that libertas could be revived.

In sum, this well-produced volume is a welcome addition to the highly active and evolving scholarly debate on the afterlife of the Republic in Imperial thought, even if it largely employs traditional methodologies. One can only hope that more interdisciplinary work on the Augustan reception of Caesar soon emerges to complement César sous Auguste. ​


1.   Gowing is not cited, nor are other recent contributions such as Osgood. See A. Gowing Empire and Memory: The Representation of the Roman Republic in Imperial Culture (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005); J. Osgood, Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006); and J. Farrell and D. Nelis (edd.) Augustan Poetry and The Roman Republic (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013). For the Memoria Romana project, visit Beyond recent studies, the similar 1990 volume edited by Raaflaub and Toher is not present, and even key works in French and German are missing. For example, one thinks of Lyasse, whose 2008 article is however cited, the ‘Ausblick’ into the Augustan age (408-26) in Walter, or even the widely influential writings of Jan Assmann and Pierre Nora: K. A. Raaflaub and M. Toher (edd.) Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and His Principate (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990); E. Lyasse Le Principat et son fondateur. L'Utilisation de la référence à Auguste de Tibère à Trajan (Brussels, Éditions Latomus, 2008); U. Walter Memoria und res publica. Zur Geschichtskultur im republikanischen Rom. Studien zur Alten Geschichte, Band 1 (Frankfurt am Main, Verlag Antike, 2004).
2.   For Vergil, readers will want to consider the forthcoming book, A. M. Seider Memory in Vergil’sAeneid: Creating the Past (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2013). For Augustan poetry in general, M. Labate and G. Rosati (edd.) La Costruzione del Mito Augusteo (Heidelberg, Universitätsverlag Winter, 2013).
3.   Compare Masters’ conception of the relationship between poet and Caesar in Lucan’s Bellum Civile, a text largely absent from this volume. J. Masters, Poetry and Civil War in Lucan’s Bellum Civile (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992). ​

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