BMCR 2007.07.45

La “crise” de l’Empire romain de Marc Aurèle à Constantin. Mutations, continuités, ruptures

, , , , La "crise" de l'Empire romain de Marc Aurèle à Constantin : mutations, continuités, ruptures. Passé-présent. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, DL 2006. 1 vol. (715 p.) : ill., couv. ill. en coul. ; 24 cm.. ISBN 2840504650 €40.00.

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

The wide selection of essays within the present volume forms part of the work of the Centre Gustave Glotz, an exceptionally long-lived French administrative unit of research. Part of its programme between 1999 and 2004 ran under the title which has been transferred to the book, and the majority of papers presented at various occasions during that programme — sometimes more than one essay per author — have found their way inside.

The editors have done their best to provide as much coherence as this general programme allowed. Three main lines of approach serve to group the contributions: the changing expressions of imperial ideology, in the widest sense, and some political repercussions thereof; Rome and the provinces; words, imagery, and situations of crisis from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine. A few further mini-series inside the collection can be made out: on persecutors and Christian martyrs (Richard, Christol (2), Ménard), the notion of Rome’s eternity (Quet (2), Benoist), and Gallienus and his panegyrics throughout the empire (Scheid, Christol (1), Allard). The epoch under scrutiny is that “very long third century” from AD 161/180 to 337 which forms the starting point for most French scholarship today, rather than the more traditional interval of 192/235-284. This chronological approach, as well as the quotation marks in the book’s very title, stand for a viewpoint which perceives far more transformation than collapse. Nonetheless, the fundamental issue of whether there actually was a crisis is seldom raised (with the exception of Chausson’s rather general contribution), and a factual approach prevails, as does a transparent and accessible language.

Numismatic and epigraphic studies are not predominant but account for many convincing results, including Grandvallet’s study of minute changes in attributes on imperial coinsand Biagi’s discussion ofan unusual milestone and its importance for the Eastern turmoils of 268-70. Hugoniot’s prosopography of the ordo decurionum of Carthage will serve as a future reference, just as Huysé Loriot on the Roman territories in the so-called Res gestae divi Saporis, valuable not least for the notes on its discovery and linguistics.1 As for the literary evidence, Quet (1) gives a close reading of Aelius Aristides and not only presents a more precise date for the speech in question but also points out how perfectly it is tailored to Marcus Aurelius’ self-perception and principles of governance. Another thorough study of oratory (Christol (1)) centres on addresses to Gallienus.

Although a few contributions appear to be mere postscripts to earlier publications, most contributions are far more substantial. Most ambitious and stimulating appears, all in all, Quet (2), who intends to grasp a changing notion of time itself,based on a small but high-quality group of mosaics that were patently meant to induce learned debate among their viewers— on some very choice versions of mythology, for instance — and, in Quet’s opinion, mirror a cyclic concept of eternity which extended to the administration and public servants of the Roman Empire. Not often do archaeology and questions of Late Roman philosophy and mentality blend that closely.

In several cases, though, there are traces of carelessness regarding written sources. Daguet-Gagey’s p. 72 is hardly more than an embellished version of Cassius Dio; likewise she retells the Vita Caracallae on the end of Fulvius Plautianus but does not ask any embarrassing questions, which is the wrong sort of respect when facing the Historia Augusta. Neither Daguet-Gagey nor Martin (on Maximinus Thrax) has used Zimmermann’s crucial study on Herodian and on his near-total dependence on Cassius Dio before the 230s; Martin has furthermore not consulted Lippold’s commentary on the Vita Maximini, a treasure trove despite its maverick assumptions regarding the HA‘s date and character.2 While some sort of language barrier may be supposed in both cases, the same cannot possibly apply to Allard whose piece on Aurelian’s crudelitas makes no apparent use whatsoever of Paschoud’s priceless annotations.3 All of the volume’s contributors seem to use Chastagnol’s handy 1994 HA translation, exclusively and only one page at a time, even where the fuller commentaries of the Budé edition are available. As a result, much has been lost in terms of succinctness and (sometimes) insight: Chastagnol’s well-founded warnings often hide in his introduction and prefaces, and research has indeed continued since then.4

The consequences of such neglect are best seen in Molin’s first study on the notion of imperial severitas, otherwise thorough and rich in material. Molin contends, based on the HA vitae of the second and third centuries, that the imperial virtue in question lost its positive connotation between the reigns of Hadrian and Pertinaxbut regained some of its earlier standing under Septimius Severus. Ample use is made of the notorious secondary HA vitae and the fanciful Alexander Severus, with hardly a word on their reliability —apart from the caution that there is “un doute sur l’historicité des anecdotes” of the Vita Avidii Cassii (199 note 152). In fact, they are undiluted fiction, and given the HA author’s repeated puns on the severitas of the Severi, that treacherous source itself blasts much of Molin’s hypothesis: all data on severitas are therefore pushed firmly back to the very end of the fourth century.5 A hundred and twenty years after Dessau the old habit of quoting HA evidence without any previous cross-checking and out of context ought to be, at long last, abolished.

French and English summaries are provided for all but a few papers. Many important passages from the sources are also given in translations which are virtually always reliable. (p.79 ll. 5-7 are missing in the translation below; 220, second translation l. 8: after “pleurs” add “muets”). Separate bibliographies follow each paper — obviously the right decision, given the gamut of themes. The book presents itself in a shape both affordable and beautiful, although the Sorbonne Press graphic designers have had their flight of fancy: the headers (shifted to the margins) and all annotations are set without serifs while the texts proper have them, which brings some optical unrest to the pages. Furthermore, the colour reproduction of the Philippopolis Aion mosaic on the cover, a vital enrichment of Quet’s paper, turns out a good deal smaller than it should be.

There are some misprints in the Latin and Greek (e.g. p. 79 l. 2 “osident” read “obsident”; 193 l. 22 “Pedianus” read “Pedanius”; 266, Greek quot. l. 3: missing colon after δεόμεθα; 458 par. 1 l. 1 “traditum” read “traditam”; 556 l. 1 ” νεανιόκοι” read ” νεανίσκοι“; 558 par. 1 last l. “quinquenalia” read “quinquennalia”). References to German literature are more often compromised (171, Merten 1968: “Herrschenfeste” read “Herrscherfeste”; 414, Noeldecken 1886: “Prosatire” read “Prosasatire”; 494, Speidel 1980: “Himmelgot” read “Himmelsgott”; 575, Schoerner 2003: “unter Zurungen” read “Untersuchungen”). This may well be symptomatic; matching evidence of declining proficiency in French could easily be found in some German papers and bibliographies. The luxury to thin out one’s reading lists — and the modes of thought involved — by a language or two cannot be afforded in the Classics, and the uphill fight against students’ (and scholars’) groans must continue, on both banks of the Rhine and beyond, so that advanced and complex matters such as La “crise” de l’empire romain do not become inaccessible to fellow specialists, to the detriment of all.


Andrea Giardina, Préface

Marie-Henriette Quet, Avant-propos


Stéphane Benoist, “Images des dieux, images des hommes. Réflexions sur le ‘culte impérial’ au IIIe siècle”

Anne Daguet-Gagny, “C. Fuluius Plautianus, hostis publicus, Rome, 205-208 après J.-C.”

Jean-Pierre Martin, “L’image de Maximin le Thrace dans Hérodien”

Michel Christol, “L’éloge de l’empereur Gallien, défenseur et protecteur de l’Empire”

Claire Grandvallet, “Haste ou sceptre long? La difficile identification d’un attribut de l’empereur combattant en numismatique (235-268 après J.-C.)”

Valérie Allard, “Aurélien, Restitutor orbis et triomphateur”; “La crudelitas d’Aurélien”

Michel Molin, ” Seueritas, une valeur politique romaine en échec au IIIe siècle”

Antony Hostein, ” Lacrimae principis. Les larmes du Prince devant la cité affligée”


Marie-Henriette Quet, “Appel d’Aelius Aristide à Marc Aurèle et Commode après la déstruction de Smyrne (177/8 après J.-C.)”

Anna Heller, “Titulatures de cités et contrôle du pouvoir central: le cas de la troisième néocorie d’Éphèse”

Philip Huyse and Xavier Loriot, “Commentaire à deux voix de l’inscription dite des ‘ Res Gestae Divi Saporis‘”

Marie Drew-Bear, “Patriotisme local et relations avec Rome à Hermoupolis Magna, sous le règne de Gallien”

Solange Biagi, “La fidélité d’une cité grecque, φίλη καὶ σύμμαχοι Ῥωμαίων : un miliaire de Sagalassos et les raids barbares sur la Pamphylie sous le règne de Claude II”

Sylvia Sinapi, “La ville de Rome dans les Panégyriques latins : fragments d’un discours de rupture des Tétrarques à Constantin”

Christophe Hugoniot, ” Decuriones splendidissimae Coloniae Karthaginis : les décurions de Carthage au IIIe siècle”

François Richard, “Romains et pouvoir romain dans l’ Histoire ecclésiastique et les Martyrs de Palestine d’Eusèbe de Césarée”


Michel Molin, “Mots, images et situations de crise dans la dernière décade de Dion Cassius d’après les Epitomai de Xiphilin”

Michel Christol, “Cyprien de Carthage et la crise de l’Empire romain”

Mihai Popescu, La renaissance du culte dolichénien en Dacie à l’époque de Gordien III”

Hélène Ménard, “La persecution de Dèce d’après le récit de la Passio Sancti Saturnini : ‘ Vinxit ad tauri latus iniugati plebs furibunda‘”

Marie-Henriette Quet, “La mosaïque dite d’ Aiôn et les Chronoi d’Antioche: Une invite à reflechir aux notions de Temps et d’Éternité dans la pars graeca de l’Empire, des Sévères à Constantin”

Éric Morvillez, “Mise en scène des choix culturels et du statut social des élites d’Occident dans leurs domus et villae (IIe-IVe siècles)”

François Chausson, “Du sablier à l’encrier: scansions chronologiques et écriture de l’histoire”

Michel Christol, Conclusion.


1. On Loriot p. 337 and n. 50: The “Pitanete lochos” which Caracalla allegedly wanted to revive (Hdn. 4,8,3) looks very much like a case of antiquarian one-upmanship on Herodian’s part, namely to best his source Cass. Dio 78 (77), 7,1f. concerning the new Macedonian phalanx. Herodian had, of course, read his Herodotus (9,53) and Thucydides (1,20).

2. A. Lippold, Kommentar zur Vita Maximini duo der Historia Augusta.. (Antiquitas 4.3.1.) Bonn (Habelt) 1991; M. Zimmermann, Kaiser und Ereignis. Studien zum Geschichtswerk Herodians. (Vestigia 52.) Munich (C. H. Beck) 1999.

3. F. Paschoud (ed.), Histoire Auguste V.1: Vies d’Aurélien et de Tacite, Paris (Les Belles Lettres) 1996. See esp. his index p. 335 on issues of “sévérité”.

4. Martin p. 103 n. 54 cites A. Chastagnol (ed.), Histoire Auguste. Les empereurs romains des IIe et IIIe siècles, Paris (Laffont) 1994, 542-643 (read: 642-643) in order to dismiss the very existence of Enmann’s Kaisergeschichte. Chastagnol thought otherwise; see p. LXIX-LXXI of his introduction. The missing Migne number of Augustine’s Enarrationes in psalmos (on p. 429), by the way, is 37.

5. On the Cassius see Chastagnol loc. cit. 1994, p. 189-191 with further literature.