Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.11.19 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.11.19

Mirella Romero Recio (ed.), El legado de los emperadores hispanos. Historia y geografía, 348.   Sevilla:  Editorial Universidad de Sevilla, 2018.  Pp. 221.  ISBN 9788447228386.  €13,00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Fernando Wulff Alonso, University of Málaga (

Table of Contents
[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The commemoration of Trajan’s death and Hadrian’ rise to power in the year 117 has produced an interesting quantity and quality of exhibitions and conferences. It is not surprising, given the origin of both emperors, that some of these conferences occurred in Spain. One of these conferences resulted in this book, and was coordinated by Mirella Romero and organized by one of the few Spanish institutions dedicated to historiography, the Julio Caro Baroja Institute of the Carlos III University of Madrid.

A glance at the index discloses the theme of the book: the historiographical role of the two emperors across time. This theme is highlighted by Mirella Romero in her Introduction: the different perceptions of both emperors from Antiquity on, with Trajan as optimus princeps and Hadrian in a secondary position, the brilliant and renovator Trajan opposed to his ambiguous successor. The "Christianization" of Trajan and his reputation from the Middle Ages onwards is based on this inherited twofold perception. The book, despite the disjointed examination imposed by the variety of contributors and topics, supports this view more generally and, in particular, in Spanish scholarship up to the 20th century.

The book presents a tradition in which the tears of Gregory the Great save Trajan from his inevitable condemnation as a pagan, despite his persecutions of Christians (see Alvar and Fuente in this volume). We also find him as a key reference in the Policraticus by John de Salisbury and in Christine de Pizan, and as a character in Dante (see Fuente). These uses of a tradition for Trajan continue in the Renaissance, with expression in operas and paintings of the eighteenth century that particularly pertains to Spain, where he is defined as a "Spanish monarch" (see Romero in this volume).

In the case of Hadrian, we have perspectives of his relationship with Greece based on ancient sources and his own artistic tastes (see Calandra). There is also a paper on his relationship with Egyptian religion, and on the possible religious models behind his policies, with an interesting critique of the concept of "religion" as used by some modern researchers (see Muñiz). We also have a paper on the treatment of Hadrian in late French humanism, represented by commentators of the Historia Augusta (see Ballesteros), which claims for the Historia Augusta a global reading in a humanistic fashion, rather than a fragmented reading based on the presumption of multiple sources. The volume also includes a reflection on the limits of current studies on an emperor and an era that overflows with sources and, perhaps, publications (see Cortés).

The volume includes treatments of the two emperors together too: an analysis of their appearance in the archeological works from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries in Spain (see Salas), and another about their importance to two authors central to the political construction of Andalusian identity (see Lozano). Finally, there is a search for their tradition in Italica with an excellent study of archaeological historiography from a particular site (see Beltrán).

The book is an interesting example of cultural history, showing the maturity of studies on the classical tradition in Europe, and in Spain in particular. Studies of Spanish culture from the XVI century on — a country which has not occupied a hegemonic place in European culture since the 18th century — allow a view that is alternative to studies deriving from the more or less hegemonic cultures.

From this perspective, we could also consider what Spanish culture did from the 16th century on with the fact that two of the most important emperors of Rome were born on its soil. Mirella Romero (p. 11) raises a first response: there is recognition of the "Spanish" emperors, but there are also limitations due to the fact that the Romans were invaders of Spain. That is, there is a discourse on the valuation of Rome and its role, but also another, dominant one, that exalts the "Spanish" resistance against Rome as a foreign presence. This ambivalence marks, in fact, not only the Spanish perspective, but a wider European one.

We could add that the Romans, as both invaders and civilizers, were destined to disappear so that a Hispanic essence could continue until the present. This is a model that is dominant in the interpretation of Spanish history from the unity of the Catholic monarchs until the 20th century. The narrative of a history of Spain demanded the continuity of the Spanish identity from antiquity to the present. It is perhaps regrettable that this view is not present in all the contributions of the book, which could have helped to contextualize texts that speak to both the greed of foreigners that invade Spain (Salas, p 178) and to what was gained, and lost, from incorporation into the Roman Empire (Salas, p. 186). Rome removed the independence of Iberians, but gave them, for example, culture and peace. This dichotomy is apparent both in Spain and in Europe from the 16th century onwards

The case of the construction of the Andalusian identity could also have won from this perspective (Lozano). The Basque model of Sabino Arana at the end of the 19th century appropriates the Spanish model of invasions/ continuity adding a racist projection, by defending the isolation and independence of the Basques, that is, an essence that comes pure to a present free of previous invasions and racial contaminations.

In contrast, the presentation of the Andalusian culture as cultivated, hospitable and open, therefore destined to combine with equals (Romans or Muslims), is another rereading of the old Spanish perspective that accepts the blending of cultures. Andalusia returning in emperors what it received from Rome (Lozano, p. 218) is a good example of that model. This Andalusian construction is based on a perspective of the continuity of its culture from antiquity on and, as such, it is identical to the Spanish perspective, and even that of Basques. But there is another perspective: culture remains through fusion with others, not from isolation. In particular, the papers by Lozano and Salas could have improved with this perspective, but with a greater use of the abundant bibliography on Spanish and Andalusian historiography.

Most of the studies in this volume point to ongoing research. When Cortés Copete (p. 130) points out that "Hadrian and his intellectual environment created a discourse on the empire and the integration of the diversity of the cultures of their peoples capable of becoming the engine of political and historical change" (the reviewer’s translation), the reader cannot but accept the need for works that develop this idea (despite the fact that the brevity of the article and its somewhat abrupt end concerning the invention of the history of the Scipio’s Italica by Hadrian does not contribute to the main thesis as it should). The same can be said of the contribution from Ballesteros, where the paper’s focus on the famous anecdote of Marcus Aurelius and Faustina Minor distract from the call to a more ambitious treatment of the Historia Augusta following the example of late French humanist exegetes.

In any case, as indicated, this is above all a book of great interest for the perspectives it offers. The focus is coherent enough, although it might have benefited from a paper on gender issues and their constants in time: for example, how rumors about Pompeia Plotina's relationship with Hadrian or his homosexuality and relationship with Antinous have determined Hadrian's views over time would have been a useful contribution (see Salas pp. 187 and 201, for example).

Table of Contents

1. Mirella Romero Recio, Introducción. El legado de los emperadores hispanos, 9-12.
2. Jaime Alvar, La cristianización de Trajano, 13-24.
3. María Jesús Fuente Pérez, Un emperador en el taller: Construcción y reconstrucción de la figura de Trajano a lo largo de la Edad Media, 25-47.
4. Mirella Romero Recio, Trajano. De gobernante ideal a personaje dramático en el España del siglo XVIII, 49-66.
5. Elena Calandra, Athenensium studia moresque hausit. L’immagine della Grecia nella storiografia su Adriano, 67-79.
6. Elena Muñiz Grijalvo, Adriano y la religión egipcia. Perspectivas pasadas y presentes, 81-95.
7. Juan R. Ballesteros, El jardín y el monstruo: La Historia Augusta y el emperador Adriano en el Humanismo, 97-123.
8. Juan Manuel Cortes Copete, Adriano en la encrucijada. Historia e Historiografía, antiguas y modernas, 125-151.
9. José Beltrán Fortes, La arqueología de Itálica de época de Trajano y Adriano, 153-176.
10. Jesús de la Ascensión Salas Álvarez, Los emperadores hispanos en las obras españolas de Arqueología desde mediados del siglo XIX a mediados del XX, 177-204.
11. Fernando Lozano Gómez, Los emperadores hispanos en los orígenes del nacionalismo andaluz: los casos de Joaquín Guichot y Blas Infante, 205-221.
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