BMCR 2003.07.37

Layers of Loyalty in Latin Panegyric: AD 289-307

, Layers of loyalty in Latin panegyric, AD 289-307. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. xv, 237 pages : illustrations, map ; 23 cm. ISBN 0199249180 $65.00.

This is the first monograph in English devoted to the Panegyrici Latini, the so-called ‘Gallic corpus’ of twelve Latin panegyrics compiled some time after 389 CE. Based on the author’s 1997 St. Andrews’ Ph.D. thesis, it is a study of the compact group of five panegyrics delivered between 289-307, the period of the ‘Dyarchy’ and ‘Tetrarchy’, to Maximian, Constantius I, Constantine and an unnamed high official, probably a provincial governor. They number X, XI, VIII, IX and VII in the manuscript order. All but one, possibly two, are anonymous.

The book consists of a wide-ranging 25-page Introduction, followed by separate chapters devoted to each of the five speeches, a succinct Conclusion, and an Appendix on the authorship of Pan. X and XI. The author explains that his work is ‘neither an historical or literary commentary, but an appraisal of the relationships between the texts and the circumstances of their delivery’ (vii). Each chapter has an historical introduction to its Pan., setting out its date, place and circumstances of delivery, and giving a brief statement of its structure and contents. This is followed by a closer analysis of the text, in which Rees clarifies the political context of each speech, the challenges each orator faced, and the strategies he adopted to address them. He discusses matters of style and comments on the speakers’ literary debts and adaptations. In addition, he ranges well beyond the texts to engage, inter alia, with contemporary numismatic and sculptural evidence, which sometimes jibes with the panegyrics, but by no means always.

The Introduction is an artfully constructed progression. ‘In Late Antiquity, emperors were everywhere’ (1). Illustration of their physical ubiquity — in 290, Rees calculates, Diocletian travelled c. 3500 miles, an average of 10 a day! — leads nicely into discussion of adventus, the various occasions giving rise to panegyric, adulators’ attributions of victory to absent emperors, addresses to those absent emperors (e.g. Nazarius’), and the notion of their divine omnipresence, which bespeaks their metaphysical praesentia before the orator (vide infra). Rees then moves to consideration of the corpus as a whole (19ff.), its composition and character.

A unifying and original theme of the book is Rees’s identification of the particular challenge to the panegyrist posed by the establishment of collegiate government. In most cases, the speaker found himself addressing only one of the college of emperors, but he did so in the most public and formal of settings. As a consequence there were delicate political considerations. ‘A tension could arise’ (25), which is encapsulated by the enigmatic title of the book, ‘Layers of Loyalty’. How was the orator to cope with the competing claims to praise of the princeps praesens on the one hand, and absent rulers, or the college in general, on the other? Despite a lingering perception that ‘all panegyrics are the same’,1 Rees demonstrates that very different strategies are employed by the various speakers. While a speaker is bound to favour the ruler on the spot to some degree at least, his imperial colleague(s) may obtain a generous share of praise — or be virtually ignored. It is a nice question what degree of significance one attaches to the results of such a study in individual instances, as we shall see. But whatever the specific conclusions, it is an approach that can only enhance our understanding of the diplomatic difficulties involved in the composition of this tricky genre.

What determines the speaker’s strategies? To what extent do they reflect the wishes and ideology of the ruler(s)? To what extent do they represent the independent judgment of the individual speaker? As the above paragraph makes clear, and the title of his book implies, Rees accords the panegyrists much greater freedom of expression than does a competing view that regards them more beholden to the court. He sees them as essentially independent, though well informed, and sometimes specifically briefed, about official matters. I think this is right. The biographical information the (mostly) anonymous speakers furnish us indicates that they were not in imperial employment at the time they delivered their speeches but were, many of them, closely connected to the schools of rhetoric in Gaul. As Rees comments, ‘they were not the men best placed to broadcast official or propagandistic lines’ (24).2

Rees has introduced his method of gauging the ‘Layers of Loyalty’ in a recently published article3 but spells it out sufficiently for comprehension in his monograph. Modes of address (as well as content) are vitally important to his analysis. Direct address of an emperor may be ‘literal’, the emperor being actually present, or ‘metaphysical’, when the orator addresses an emperor or emperors in absentia (cf. 14, 37-38, 104, and passim). Use of the singular or plural second person forms marks the shifts. In this corpus at least, it can nearly always be concluded that a tu or tuus refers to the emperor who is present, but a plural will often extend to a distant colleague, or a wider college. The two forms of address may be tabulated, and the ‘layers of loyalty’ thus quantified.

The proportions of each mode in a speech contribute to the overall judgement about the measure of loyalty accorded the various rulers by the orator in question. For instance, in Pan. X (289), the subject of Ch. 1, the speaker has to determine what meed of praise to award the imperator praesens, Maximian, what to Diocletian, the ‘senior’ ruler, then in the Balkans or beyond. But not only that: there was the novelty of a college of two unrelated rulers, the so-called ‘Dyarchy’. Something must be said about their relationship, which is not surprisingly described as concordia. A like dilemma faced the panegyrist of XI(3), of 291, (Ch. 2), thought by some to be the same man. But his strategy is different. ‘The ratio between the literal and metaphysical modes of address’ is roughly 8:3 in the earlier speech, 1:7 in the later (73). Readily conceding that the subtleties of political support can’t be measured by such means alone, Rees nevertheless is quite justified in concluding that the latter speech displays far greater interest in the ‘Dyarchic’ college than the former. Whether this points to different authorship or developments in the ‘global’ political situation is another question.

Rees regards it as ‘hazardous to speculate’ whether the disjunction he finds in Pan. X between praise of Maximian and praise of the ‘Dyarchy’ reflects any breakdown in the relationship between the two rulers (67). Rather, he concludes sensibly that the fact that Maximian was the more immediate source of patronage for the Gauls is a more likely explanation of the Pan.’s character than any such tension, or, indeed, sinister design of Maximian.

The intriguing question of the authorship of these two panegyrics is examined in further detail in an Appendix (193-204). This shows Rees at his best. In it, he weighs up meticulously the palaeographical, biographical, thematic and stylistic evidence. There are original contributions: e.g. he offers a new reading of the title of Pan. XI(3) in the best MS — memor for Mynors’ memet — and his collocation of stylistic evidence forms an unassailable argument for the intimate connection between the two speeches. If they did not have a single author, we can at least say that ‘XI(3) adopts, reworks, and redirects too many features of X(2) to have been written independently’ (204). This, I venture, is as far as anyone will be able to go.

The subject of Ch. 3, Pan. VIII(4), delivered in 297, introduces new complexities. There is now a college of four emperors, though not a Tetrarchic ‘system’ (98), and consequently a more intricate web of invocations; more artful diplomacy is required. This orator maintains a careful balance between the literal and metaphysical modes of address, between praise of Constantius Caesar, who is present, and his far-flung colleagues. A novelty emerges, ‘ the singular metaphysical address’ (118), first used of Maximian, the western Augustus.

Rees explores the speaker’s use of cosmological quaternities, which provide a pervasive and powerful political metaphor for the Tetrarchy in this panegyric, and the theme of healing light. He argues from the Arras Medallion and other examples ‘that panegyric and coins adopted similar strategies and motifs in their presentation of the emperor’ (114) but leaves the question of priority aside. Noting that the signa Iovius and Herculius are mentioned only once in the speech, and that there are no accompanying myths of Jupiter and Hercules, he makes the astute observation that their potential for differentiating between and characterising emperors had ‘evaporated’ with the transition from Dyarchy to Tetrarchy: there were now two of each (122).

Chs. 4 and 5, devoted to Pan. IX(5) and VII(6), are approached in the same way and effectively, but, while I found little to object to therein, I must confess to being rather less engaged by them. Perhaps I flagged, or it may be that the element of repetition rendered inevitable by the approach had a dulling effect.

In Ch. 4 the essentially panegyrical nature of Eumenius’ speech (133-134) is defended, and his capacity for fantastical inventiveness admired (143-144, on the imagined adventus of all the Tetrarchs at 9.2). Rees argues that Eumenius is ultimately successful in harmonising individual praise of Constantius with his insistence on the unity of the Tetrarchic college.

Ch. 5 has, and needs, a long historical introduction. The only speech of the five delivered in the presence of more than one emperor, it reflects the political tensions of the day. A speech celebrating a marriage and a promotion might seem to write itself, but Maximian’s reappearance on the scene posed a grave embarrassment: relations between the various imperial courts ‘were clearly very fractious’ (183). The panegyrist responds to the considerable rhetorical and diplomatic challenges in a parochial way, glossing over absent parties, and veering between remarkable candour and deafening silences. Unsurprisingly, ‘(t)here is no attempt to negotiate a balance between loyalties to present and absent parties’ (183).

A succinct, not to say dense, Conclusion (185-192) follows. Beautifully written, as is the book as a whole, it acknowledges the ‘reality gaps’ in the panegyrics while at the same time giving a sympathetic picture of the ‘agility’ of the genre and the skill of its Gallic practitioners.

While Rees is not writing a systematic, sentence by sentence, commentary on the panegyrics, he manages to cover a great deal of ground. He is both alive to the most intriguing historical issues and sensitive to the literary aspects of the speeches. In addition to providing his own characterisations of them, he offers judicious corrections of, and supplements to, the most recent scholarship on the corpus.4 Although on occasions the book bears traces of its genesis as a thesis in the earnest pursuit of a point, it is a most welcome addition to its subject.

A few specific items:

4, 29, 63-64, 81 and passim: throughout the book Rees is inclined to speak of the ‘Dyarchy’ as if it were a given, a recognised system of government rather than something that evolved. The term is a convenient shorthand, but I miss the kind of cautionary remarks that he devotes to the ‘Tetrarchy'(98) — though see 32-33.

62ff.: Rees seldom dodges cruces, but while he has an excellent section on Pan.X’s use of the iconography and language of marriage in praising the concordia of Maximian and Diocletian, he is less interested in the enigmatic reference to an actual marriage alliance between the two (X 11.4). But the omission may be defended by his warning that he is not writing an historical commentary.

77-79: an arresting discussion of the erotic imagery and language used by the speaker to describe the meeting in Milan between Diocletian and Maximian (Pan.XI 12). ‘The political Tête à tête is presented as a lovers’ tryst’ (79).

88-89 (and cf. 64-65): in noting the absence from the Pan.’s discussion of the extent of Roman rule of references to frontiers or barbarian incursions Rees might have cited U. Asche, Roms Weltherrschaftsidee und Aussenpolitik in der Spätantike im Spiegel der Panegyrici Latini, Bonn, 1983).

95 n.3: Rees misrepresents slightly W. Seston, Dioclétien et la Tétrarchie (Paris, 1946), who argued (92-94) that Galerius (only) was elevated on May 21.


1. R.R.R. Smith, ‘The Public Image of Licinius I: Portrait Sculpture and Imperial Ideology in the Early Fourth Century’, JRS LXXXV (1997), esp. 194ff. Smith suggests that these panegyrics ‘are for the most part synthetic one-fits-all descriptions of the ideal emperor of the early fourth century’.

2. The question is judiciously discussed, 23-24. Note, too, the formulation in his Conclusion (187). The speakers were certainly aware of trends in government policy, but this ‘is not to label them functionaries in imperial propaganda machinery, but alert and practical operators’.

3. ‘Talking to the Tetrarchs: The Dynamics of Vocative Address’, in C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History, XI (Coll. Latomus, Brussels, 2001)

4. E.g. C.E.V. Nixon and B.S. Rodgers, In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1994).