BMCR 2004.07.31

The World of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene: Royal Scholarship on Rome’s African Frontier

, The world of Juba II and Kleopatra Selene : royal scholarship on Rome's African frontier. Routledge classical monographs. New York and London: Routledge, 2003. 1 online resource (xvi, 335 pages) : illustrations, maps.. ISBN 0203321928. £60.00.

After decades of neglect, the last few years have seen a minor outbreak of monographs on Hellenistic and early Roman Africa.1 Duane Roller’s study of the client kings of Mauretania — the first in English — is a welcome addition to the list: its judicious combination of material and literary evidence (not a feature of other recent books) makes for a rewarding exercise in cultural and political history. Although the book is focused on the career and scholarship of Juba II, son of Juba I of Numidia and king of Mauretania 25 BCE-23 CE, it is by no means a traditional biography: Roller clarifies the importance of this neglected figure, “the most learned of all kings” according to Plutarch (Sert. 9.5), by tackling topics as diverse as Arabian geography and Augustan court culture. Like Juba himself, Roller is primarily interested in the periphery, and his book does a great deal to illuminate the southern periphery of the early Roman empire.

The book falls into four major sections, on the earlier history of the region, the upbringing of Juba and his future wife Kleopatra Selene at Rome, the kingdom of Mauretania under Juba and his son Ptolemaios, and Juba’s scholarly output. I will deal with each in turn, pausing at some length over the third, which raises interesting questions of cultural change and interaction.

The chapters on Africa’s pre-Roman kingdoms could stand alone as a convenient English-language summary and bibliographical guide for students. Chapter 1 discusses the Numidian kingdoms from the tribal coalitions of the fourth century through the reigns of Massinissa and Jugurtha to that of Juba I, whose coalition with the Pompeians and subsequent suicide led Caesar to annex the kingdom in 46 BCE and remove the king’s young children to Rome. Chapter 2 moves west to discuss the geography, history and rulers of Mauretania in the same period. Although the emphasis here is on political history, Roller notes the cultural and diplomatic links between the Numidian and Hellenistic kings, especially the Ptolemies, and the increasingly Roman inflection of Numidia’s basically Hellenistic culture.

The focus then shifts to Rome, and to biography. The third chapter treats the little that is known about the younger Juba’s youth and education, and consists in the main of imaginative conjecture about the future king’s friends, advisers and teachers. Here Roller provides a useful survey of contemporary scholars and scholarship, as well as an unusual angle on Augustan court culture. In chapter 4 he gives the same treatment to Juba’s fellow foster-child Kleopatra Selene, herself daughter of Kleopatra VII of Egypt and Mark Antony. The generous level of speculation in these chapters is refreshing, though not always entirely convincing: do Strabo’s occasional references to Juba, for instance, necessarily “indicate strong friendship” (69)?

The third section deals with the short political and cultural history of Juba’s kingdom, which was larger than all the other Roman client kingdoms combined. Judea and Herod the Great (the subject of Roller’s last monograph) provide a frequent and useful point of reference here, illustrating the differences as well as the similarities between client kingship and Roman imperialism in East and West.2

Roller admits at the beginning of Chapter 5 that “astonishingly little detail is preserved about the sixty-five years of the Mauretanian client kingdom” (91); nonetheless, further extrapolation produces a coherent, if not conclusive, history from Octavian’s colonial foundations to the death of Juba’s son Ptolemaios at the hands of Caligula in 39 CE. Military conflict is the major theme and was the result, according to Roller, of friction between pastoralists and the increasing number of agriculturalists in the lowlands, as well as of Roman taxation and conscription.3 Juba adopted Roman military models and even the imperial conceit of a palace guard, but never managed to neutralise the threat from the south. Conversely, the kingdom’s economic and commercial affairs — including the export of grain, garum and purple dye — were highly successful under Juba, and were largely unaffected by the continuing military problems.

Chapter 6 focuses on culture, art and religion, and on Juba’s capitals at Iol Caesarea and Volubilis. Roller paints a vivid picture of a multicultural, multilingual court adapting Italian, Ptolemaic and Numidian models, and suggests that Juba adopted a policy of conscious “Romanization”, making Caesarea “a version of Rome itself that had all the physical characteristics of the imperial city”. As a result, “Romans could take comfort that the kings were visibly effective in their romanizing, and the kings in that they were an integral part of the empire and that their kingdoms manifested the latest Roman cultural phenomena” (131). But are other interpretations possible? There was diplomatic contact, of course, and also imperial cult, but the direct cultural influence of Augustan Rome on Mauretanian cities is harder to document.

The main problem is that “the physical evidence for the Augustan period at Caesarea is scant” and therefore “it is virtually impossible to make the necessary narrow distinction between the construction program of the client kingdom, before AD 40, and that of the Roman province immediately thereafter” (121). Although Roller dates several ‘Roman’ features at Caesarea (including a theatre, amphitheatre and aqueduct) to Juba’s reign, the criteria are stylistic or otherwise fragile. There is “compelling circumstantial evidence”, for instance, that the aqueduct “dates from the client monarchy, as provision of an adequate water supply was not only an Augustan priority within Rome but an essential part of an important city” (128).

On the other hand, if the Augustan dating of these monuments is secure, another possibility suggests itself. Roller refers to architectural models from Rome and from other client kingdoms such as Judea, but these are not the only ones. An earlier theatre, for example, can be found closer to home at Utica, dating from before the civil war and built in a similar form.4 Juba was not necessarily imitating and playing to Rome (alone), but (also) engaging in cultural dialogue or competition with another major African city. Or perhaps cultural phenomena were more widespread. Although there is a lot of evidence for typically ‘Augustan’ building techniques and architectural sculpture in the cities of Mauretania, it is useful to compare Woolf’s account of cultural change in Gaul in the same period, in which he argues that “Gaul was not recruited to a new cultural order, so much as convulsed by a cultural revolution that also affected Italy and all the provinces in this period”.5

In any case, Juba was not the only Mauretanian monarch sending messages through material culture. Roller convincingly demonstrates Kleopatra Selene’s emphasis on her Egyptian and Ptolemaic heritage, including the decision to name her son Ptolemaios and the Egyptian imagery on her coins, and suggests that this is part of her pretension to “continue the Ptolemaic dynasty and nullify its deposing in 30 BC”. Architectural references to Alexandria and Egypt are particularly striking: the plan of Caesarea (120) shows that the physical topography of that city closely resembled that of Alexandria, and the new monarchs seem to have capitalized on this coincidence through the construction of a palace, a library, an Isaeum, and even a lighthouse in a parallel position.

The fourth and final part of the book deals for the most part with Juba’s scholarship and its enthusiastic reception by authors including Pliny, Plutarch and Athenaios. Roller reconstructs the likely form and content of the individual works, speculates on their sources and relative chronology, and draws attention in particular to their Augustan themes and subjects. As well as “juvenilia” on topics including Roman history, linguistics, painting, music and theatre (chapter 7), there were major works on Africa (chapter 8) and Arabia (chapter 10), which between them described the world south of the Mediterranean from India to the Canary Islands. Roller argues that Juba was especially interested in the links between Mauretania and Kleopatra Selene’s Egypt, to the extent of locating the source of the Nile in the Atlas mountains, as well as in links between Africa and Italy. In addition, Juba provides important information on local flora and fauna, including the now extinct North African elephant, who quite rightly receives more attention in the fragments on Africa than any other subject. We learn that this beast prayed, understood human speech, could rescue its comrades from traps by building ramps out of branches and rocks, and on at least one occasion lived for 400 years.

A couple of short chapters tie up loose ends. The work on Arabia was written for Gaius Caesar, and in chapter 9 Roller discusses Gaius’s eastern expedition in general, and in particular Juba’s service on it. Chapter 11 deals with the later history of the family, including Juba’s second marriage, to Glaphyra of Kappadokia, and the accession, reign and death of his son Ptolemaios. Finally, a short epilogue summarises the later reception of Juba’s dynasty and scholarship, and three appendices provide a list of the known fragments of Juba, a set of family trees, and some reflections on the institution of client kingship.

Client kingship is a good place to finish, since as well as adding depth to our understanding of this fascinating region and its rulers, The World of Juba II makes a substantial contribution to the scholarship on client kings. It will give students of this phenomenon much to think about, from practical questions such as how Mauretania was ruled during the five or six years when Juba was carrying out his scholarly research in the East, to more ideological ones, such as whether we can indeed distinguish a category of “virtual client kings” (93), unconfirmed by the Roman government. Most interestingly, perhaps, were client kings in fact supposed to uphold Rome’s political and cultural interests? And if client kings did introduce elements of ‘Roman’ culture to their courts and cities, was this one of their “major responsibilities” to Rome (270), or was it their personal choice, dictated by local factors, of little or no interest to the imperial power? It is telling that Mauretania was “one of the few parts of the Roman empire Augustus never saw, and with no record of a visit by any prominent Roman” (161).

The book is well produced, although some of the landscape photos lack contrast. I have just a couple of minor quibbles: Sallust is not the first author to use ‘Numidia’ as a toponym (41 n.4): for that, see Polybius 36.16.7 (‘Nomadia’); and the Medracen is not the location of a Numidian tomb (130), but the name of the tomb itself (from the plural of Madres, whom Ibn Khaldoun said was one of the two ancestors of the Berbers 6).


1. J. Alexandropoulos Les monnaies de l’Afrique antique: 400 av. J.-C. – 40 ap. J.-C (Toulouse, 2000); E. Storm, Numidien im Aufbruch (Stuttgart, 2001); S. Bullo, Provincia Africa: Le città e il territorio dalla caduta di Cartagine a Nerone (Rome, 2002).

2. D. W. Roller, The Building Program of Herod the Great (Berkeley, 1998).

3. See also Bruce Hitchner’s analysis of Orosius’s claim that the campaign of 6 CE was a response to Gaetulians “who were wandering rather widely” (6.21.18): “This passage carries with it the implication that such movements were not the norm. I suggest that what we are observing here is evidence of irregular transhumance on the part of these tribes perhaps in response to unstable conditions.” (R. B. Hitchner, “Image and Reality: The Changing Face of Pastoralism in the Tunisian High Steppe” in J. Carlsen (ed.) Landuse in the Roman Empire (Rome, 1994), 32).

4. Caes. Bell. Civ. 2.25 for the date. There may also have been a republican amphitheatre at Utica; for references see Bullo 2002 (note 1 above), 95 n.256. It has often been thought that there was a theatre in early Roman Carthage as well, not least because Virgil mentions one being built in Dido’s Carthage ( Aen. 1.427f). Although unsystematic excavations at the theatre have found nothing earlier than the second century CE, Rakob suggests that these represent an expansion of a building dating from the colony’s foundation (F. Rakob, “The making of Augustan Carthage” in E. Fentress (ed.), Romanization and the City (Portsmouth, R. I., 2000), 75).

5. G. Woolf, “Beyond Romans and natives” in World Archaeology 28 (1997), 346.

6. G. Camps, Monuments et rites funéraires protohistoriques: aux origines de la Berberie (Paris, 1961), 201 n.8.