BMCR 2001.10.15

Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire

, Imperial ideology and provincial loyalty in the Roman Empire. Classics and contemporary thought ; 6. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. 1 online resource (xxi, 494 pages) : illustrations.. ISBN 9780520923720 $60.

I do apologize to the editor and to readers for the amount of time it has taken to write this review. The complexity of what Ando asserts means that each and every page is filled with a tremendous amount of primary evidence and secondary source citation. The reading has thus been very stimulating and thought provoking, but the sheer richness has also made it exhausting. In fairness, I should also admit that discussion of theoretical and philosophical constructs is not an area of my expertise and so scholars more qualified in this part of the discipline will doubtless wish to reach their own conclusions. There is little doubt, nonetheless, that this is an important book and that it will, as it deserves, be quoted by anyone and everyone researching and writing on the topic of why so many provincials in so many places came to have a fierce loyalty to Rome.

It is interesting and informative to quote the opening words of Ando’s (b. 1969) book, which curiously is chapter two since the introduction is styled chapter one:

No date identifies that moment when Rome ceased to rule her subjects through coercion and began to rely on their good will; no event marked the transformation of her empire from an aggregate of ethnic groups into a communis patria.

By contrast one should cite also the opening of Gibbon (b.1737):

If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.

The difference in approach and vision between these two statements succinctly encapsulates the distance between the two. This comparison is not gratuitous since Ando clearly is steeped not just in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire but equally in Gibbon’s influential essays. A deconstruction of the tenets and Georgian anachronisms of Gibbon dominates the first part of the book (Ancient and Modern Contexts, pp. 1-70—a metathesis since modern critics are discussed first) either directly (pp. 1-14) or implicitly when Ando examines other political thinkers since the time of Gibbon, among whom prominently are Weber, Bourdieu, Habermas and, Foucault.

It would seem that the first part of the book hinges on what one thinks about two interrelated issues: the constitutionality of the position of the emperor and the constitutional impact of events of the third century. For the former, one notes that the word charisma is statistically the most frequent word in the first part of the book and that charisma itself to some degree is a result and manifestation of a popular wish for stability (24); that is, not only are some leaders naturally charismatic but other leaders are cloaked with a sheen of charisma because the populace is desperately hoping for charisma. For the latter, Ando firmly places himself in opposition to Gibbon in styling the crisis of the third century ‘so-called’ (45) thereby minimizing (or at the very least reducing) the effect of a succession of short-lived emperors on the desire of the constituents of the Roman Empire to support its military and governmental machinery. In this, Ando calls often upon numismatics and inscriptions, two classes of evidence largely unknown to or ignored by Gibbon. This allows Ando to promote implicitly a continuity of charisma as the paramount dynastic principle and thus to consider that people living within the confines of the Empire were willing participants (his term is ‘ideological consciousness’) in continuing the existence of a state defined by ius civile and ius gentium since people continued to believe in the state’s ability and volition to be just towards its citizens.

In addition to numismatics and inscriptions, Ando relies heavily on imperial propaganda and writings of the Church Fathers and their pagan counterparts, to which should be added even some rabbinic material from the Midrash, categories of evidence exploited also in Ando’s other writings. The second section, Consensus and Communication, is perhaps the most interesting in the book. It is a demonstration through specific historical incidents and documents of how Rome wielded its imperium. Most riveting is a peek into the mechanics of the bureaucracy in the provinces. Here Ando’s sure touch for which inscriptions are the most revealing produces a lively dissection of otherwise dry material. In considering things such as, e.g., the rationale for copies, he finds significance in details most probably never think to ponder. He advances a strong case for local archives of a very great size and extent and (I think importantly) for fairly free and frequent consultation of those archives by citizens as well as magistrates. Ando deftly sidesteps the implicit issue of literacy by stating that “the imperial government did not expect that its subjects…would be literate; rather it demanded that they have access to a literate person” (101).

The author is much more concerned with the frequency and reliability of the transmission of information of all sorts and takes the refreshing view that the amount and kind of information is more important than its reliability. In this he cites the famous case of Constantius Chlorus, who maintained often that he, and not Julian, had been the victor at the battle of Strasbourg, a claim which the traditional privilege of an Augustus could support, and that he had personally been in the front ranks of battle, which was impossible since he was not there. Rather than dismissing the claims as patently false, Ando instead fastens upon how often and to how many delegations and cities Constantius tried to make fiction truth by sheer repetition; that is to say, consensus can and does exist independent of credence. The story of Eutherius, savvy principal agent of Julian, holds its own against any modern dirty tricks perpetrated against political opponents, and indeed it seems to have trumped Constantius’ own machinations. The rest of the section explores this phenomenon as a chief way in which the emperor rallied public opinion and as the main tool of imperial propaganda. The words consensus and socius, among others, which occur often in edicts and rescripts, are part in parcel of the working of the bureaucracy to achieve consensus by implying it already existed.

The third section, From Imperium to Patria, is probably the most significant in the book. It attempts to chart how Roman imperialism transformed itself into an orbis terrarum. Hadrian is credited with bringing imperial policy into alignment with provincial sentiment (278), thus setting in motion constitutional and institutional adjustments which continued throughout the rest of the Roman empire. The focus in this section, as in the book as a whole, is on the decurial or political class, and “provincial”, as used by Ando, particularly for the second and third centuries when the west was for the most part militarily quiet, means Greeks of Anatolia and the Near East; little mention is made of communities on the littoral of Africa or Egypt. The shift that Ando sees, then, should be viewed through the prism of the philhellenism of Hadrian and the Antonines and the near-continual presence in the East of the Roman emperor, especially from the late second century through the fourth century. In this regard Ando’s detailed disquisition (278-303) on victory/ Victoria becomes pivotal since he would argue that the prestige and status of the emperor relied in part upon popular acceptance of him as the custodian of victory, a symbol often associated with the emperor in shrines to Roma et Augustus. The relationship put forward by Ando is that the guardian of victory had imperium and auspicium and that in turn the holder of these two religious/military/political prerogatives stood as the intermediary between the state and the gods, who only ultimately conferred success or failure. The virtus of the emperor, therefore, is considered not in terms of personal military or political prowess but rather in terms of successful mediation with the gods on behalf of the state. Realpolitic demanded that this receive physical commemoration in imperial art, grants of citizenship, and municipal euergetism.

The short and succinct conclusion (406-12) has whetted my appetite to revisit some of the political writings of Cicero, particularly the De legibus. Ando does not himself make the suggestion, but his use of Cicero opens up the possibility that pursuit of a syllogism of Plato’s Republic and Laws to Cicero’s Republic and Laws might be timely and widely applicable. What he does leave for the reader as his final word is a re-assertion of his core belief that the bond which held together the Roman social fabric was empire-wide shared ritual observances, both religious and political, anchored in “a constructed harmony of domination and obedience” (409) ensuring justice largely because “the charismatic power of the imperial office guaranteed the orderly functioning of the Roman bureaucracy” (410).

Ando’s control of the massive bibliography of his subject is all embracing and masterful. He is clearly aware, for example, how recent work by Rose has diminished the value of earlier studies by Hannestad, and he has recognized the degree to which Alcock’s more recent publications have reversed some of her own earlier views, something which she has herself stated publicly. The now fully discredited thesis of Luttwak is only referenced; Garnsey and Saller are wholly ignored in favor of Wallace Hadrill and Hopkins, whose views are very congenial to the author. The only bibliography which might have further supported Ando’s thesis, or perhaps caused him to soften some assertions, are very recent writings by Ball, Boatwright, Kaegi, and Kleiner, which could not have been known to the author at the time of his writing. Synthesis of these studies with the achievement of Ando promises to advance and enliven the field even further.