Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.01.09 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.01.09

Elisabeth Buchet, Tibur et Rome: l'integration d'une cité latine. Histoires.   Dijon:  Éditions Universitaires de Dijon, 2015.  Pp. 282; 12 p. of plates.  ISBN 9782364411401.  €22.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Elizabeth Palazzolo, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (

Tibur et Rome, based on the author’s 2011 doctoral thesis, provides a thorough and coherent synthesis of the historical, archaeological, and literary source material for Tibur from the city’s origins until the early Roman Empire, and demonstrates the potential benefits of approaching identity and cultural change in areas of Roman conquest as a question of both history and memory.1 As Buchet notes, there has been no comprehensive study of Tibur (modern Tivoli), and the goal of her project is to provide such a synthesis of the city and its inhabitants.

The book begins with a succinct introduction summarizing the history of scholarship on Tibur, defining the objectives and limits of Buchet’s inquiry, and addressing a few overarching issues (namely, scholarly debate about the concepts of “Romanization” and cultural identity). For Buchet, the issue of “Romanization,” insofar as it applies to the study of Tibur’s integration, is fundamentally a problem of vocabulary, and she is willing to admit the term for convenience’s sake to describe the range of “changements culturels, politiques, juridiques, sociaux, économiques ... qui peuvent être liés aux interactions entre Rome et Tibur” (15). However, Buchet specifies that characteristics of the relationship between Tibur and Rome should not be applied to other cities; in addition to noting arguments against a standardized process of cultural change across Roman territories, she also outlines several reasons why Tibur’s relationship with Rome is exceptional among Italian cities, and even within Latium. Other than this introductory discussion of terminology, the author does not engage extensively with theoretical work on cultural change and identity, or with scholarship addressing these issues elsewhere in the Roman world, and explicitly limits the scope of her investigation to Tibur. The only notable absence from this overview is scholarship on the concept of memory in the ancient world (see discussion below).

The remainder of the book is divided into two sections, “Histoire” and “Mémoire”; the author specifies that history will be taken to encompass “tous les éléments qui permettent de retracer les relations” between the cities from Tibur’s origins to the Augustan era, while the section on memory will examine “comment l’identité de Tibur est mise en scène” by both Tiburtines and Romans (20).

The first section, “Histoire,” begins with an overview of the geology and topography of the Tiburtine region, then proceeds chronologically through the evidence to compose a narrative of historical events, divided into two periods: from the earliest evidence for prehistoric occupation up to the Roman victory over the Latins in 338 BCE, and from 338 BCE through the end of the Republic, encompassing Rome’s gradual integration of Tibur and its inhabitants. The treatment of Tibur’s history ends with the beginning of the Empire, at which point, according to Buchet, “l’histoire de Tibur se retrouve donc comme absorbée par celle de Rome” and there is no longer a separate narrative of Tiburtine history (125). This first section of the book primarily provides synthesis, with an excursus for extended discussion at some particularly complex points—for example, the inscription recording a senatus consultum of 159 BCE addressing the Tiburtines, or the evidence for Tibur’s allegiance during the civil wars at the end of the Republic.

In the second section, “Mémoire,” Buchet examines recurring elements in depictions of Tibur as evidence for how the city was conceptualized by both Tiburtines and Romans. The first subsection addresses the memory of Tibur’s origins through divergent mythological traditions of its foundation. The second, and longest, subsection focuses on “religious memory” through the cults of Tibur; a substantial portion is dedicated to the most significant Tiburtine cult site in the late Republican period, the sanctuary of Hercules Victor, and the god’s worship in Tibur. The final subsection analyzes the literary memory of Tibur through poetic depictions, which gradually develop a consistent image of the city as an archetypal locus amoenus, aligning closely with its ongoing role in the Empire as a site of elite suburban leisure.

The brief “Conclusion générale” serves to conclude both the final subsection, on the literary memory of Tibur, and the volume as a whole. While this allows a return to the introduction’s opening theme—Tibur as a romantic site of poetic inspiration—in contrast to the more complex image of Tibur’s identity and relationship with Rome developed over the course of the book, the conclusion ultimately seems too short to permit a full synthesis of the entire work. The overarching questions brought up in the introduction are explored in much greater detail in the second half of the book, and the conclusion’s brevity does not allow the implications of arguments made over the course of this section to be connected to one another.

The idea of using memory to look at cultural identity is briefly addressed in the introduction, but it is in the book’s second section that Buchet’s approach to the source material, and the benefits of this approach, become clear. Earlier, the author defines identity as encompassing “tout ce qui fait une communauté,” and gives foundation myths and religion as examples of elements that are harder to track than legal or political status, but whose relationship to identity is nevertheless apparent (18). In this second section, Buchet uses a background of shared memory to draw connections across a wide range of sources, which are all understood as stemming from a society with access to that memory. The cult of Hercules Victor provides good examples of this approach: literary descriptions of the cult and iconographic representations are analyzed to consider what a connection with the god might have signified in antiquity, and Buchet is then able to discuss what magistrates named in inscriptions from Hercules’ sanctuary might be signaling (both to other Tiburtines and to Romans) by associating themselves with the cult, and what the city might have been communicating through the monumentalization of the temple complex. The concept of memory therefore offers a way of approaching identity even when the absence of literary sources preserving Tiburtine perspectives presents a substantial hurdle.

It would have been interesting to see discussion of how the author envisions the interaction between history and memory, particularly after she has connected a variety of cultural artifacts—from religious practices to poetic compositions—to shared memories of the past. The relationship between identity and memory comes up repeatedly in the second half of the book: Buchet explores how different Tiburtine foundation myths could have been employed to assert common origins with Rome (135-6) and how the transformation of the nymph Albunea into a sibyl may have been related to “romanizing” the goddess and placing her under the supervision of Roman religious institutions (167-8), among other examples. The relationship between historical memory and the establishment of the historiographic record, which provides a substantial portion of the sources for the first section of the book, could be productively discussed in light of this interest in the identity and motivation of different parties contributing to the memory of Tibur.

Occasionally, it seems that the decision to separate the historical narrative from the concept of memory may have limited discussion of the historiographic source material. In several episodes in the first section of the book, Buchet briefly brings up the relationship between history and historiography: for example, she raises the possibility that Livy’s explanation of the declaration of war against Tibur in 361 BCE might be “un choix littéraire ... destiné à donner du relief à un épisode dont les causes restent obscures” (56), and notes places in the 4th century BCE narrative where she says Livy seems to be minimizing the Tiburtine threat against Rome (52-3). While the structure of this first section might have prevented extended discussion, mentioning the idea that Livy’s narrative has been shaped by specific motivations raises a variety of questions that are not explored further. When one of these Livian episodes (an unsuccessful nighttime attack on Rome by the Tiburtines in 359 BCE) comes up again in the second section in the context of religious memory, Buchet analyzes the narrative in detail and suggests that some problems with the episode as we have it could indicate it was reworked for a particular purpose by Livy or his sources (218-22). The author proposes two possible explanations for this reworking: one relates to the origins of a ritual from Hercules Victor’s cult, but Buchet suggests that this narrative may also be intended to emphasize connections between Tiburtines and Gauls, while simultaneously mocking the Tiburtine threat as insignificant. This raises the possibility that the historical narrative of the Roman-Tiburtine relationship in the 4th century BCE might require more investigation of the source material, which dates to centuries after the events reported, and the ways in which the changing memory of Tibur could have shaped the development of the historiography. This second discussion does not contradict the first section of the book, as the author states she does not believe this understanding of Livy’s narrative requires denying the historical reality of some battle fought against the Tiburtines in the vicinity of Rome. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to revisit the historical narrative of Tibur and Rome’s conflicts and explore how the conclusions reached in the second half of the book complicate the narrative in the first half, once Buchet has established memory as a framework for examining divergent representations of Tibur’s past.

The absence of scholarship on cultural or collective memory is felt in the second half of the book; since this section is explicitly framed in terms of the memory of Tibur, it is surprising not to see references to existing work on how memory operated in the Roman world. While Buchet engages with some related ideas in the introductory discussion of cultural identity, she does not directly address scholarship on memory, and it is not present in the bibliography. Although none of this scholarship focuses on the specific historical situation of Tibur, it investigates many of the same questions discussed in Buchet’s work or suggested by her conclusions, and would provide interesting parallels for the development and evolution of the memory of Tibur.2

Ultimately, this comprehensive study of Tibur’s complex interactions with Rome provides a nuanced picture of the early phases of a relationship that would end with the city remembered primarily as the site of luxurious villas for Roman emperors. Buchet incorporates an enormous variety of source material, but clear summaries and extensive footnotes make the discussion accessible to a range of readers with different areas of expertise. There are few errors, and those that appear do not overly impede the reader.3 Beyond the narrative of Tibur’s history, Buchet also offers an example of how the concept of memory can be used to approach cultural identity in areas of Roman conquest even when textual sources do not preserve the direct testimony of non-Roman communities, and how very different types of evidence can be understood in relation to a background of shared memory.


1.   Tibur et Rome: étude des processus d'intégration d'une cité latine, Université Paris-Sorbonne.
2.   To give a very limited sample, questions of memory similar to those discussed by Buchet are found in Seider 2013 (Memory in Vergil’s Aeneid: Creating the Past), Gallia 2012 (Remembering the Roman Republic: Culture, Politics and History under the Principate), Eckardt 2004 (“Remembering and forgetting in the Roman provinces”), and Alcock 2002 (Archaeologies of the Greek Past: Landscapes, Monuments, and Memories).
3.   For example, page 117 note 3 and page 118 note 5 should both cite Sertorius 26.4 (following the Teubner edition’s numbering, which appears to be used in the other footnotes); on page 190 note 2, the incomplete third citation from Martial should read 7.13.3; page 244 note 3 should refer to Odes 3.4.23 rather than 2.4.23. One error appears a few times in the bibliography (but not elsewhere in the text): in the title of Alcock 2007, “landscape” is misprinted as “lanincape,” and the same error appears in Cifani 2002 and Patterson 2006; similarly, “friendship” becomes “frieninhip” in the title of Patterson’s contribution to Jehne and Pfeilschifter (eds.) 2006.

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