BMCR 2012.11.44

Der spätantike Konsulat. Paradosis, 53

, Der spätantike Konsulat. Paradosis, 53. Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg, 2012. xii, 314. ISBN 9783727817137 CHF 58.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

As the only magistracy which existed without interruptions from the Republican time to Late Antiquity, the consulate and its historical evolutions have always attracted the attention of the scholars. The Late Antique consulate is no new topic – to it were dedicated seminal studies by Chastagnol, but important contributions came also in more recent years, e.g. by Cecconi.1 Nonetheless a monographic synthesis of the characters assumed by this magistracy in Late Antiquity was still lacking, and in this sense Sguaitamatti’s book must be greeted as a very useful tool for all persons dealing with this period in their research.

After a short introduction (vii-xii), the first chapter (1-50) is dedicated to tracing the symbols and the honors connected with the consulate in Late Antiquity. Consuls had lost almost all politic functions, and it is therefore important to define what were the prerogatives of status or the legitimizing issues connected with their appointment, and why these should have been desirable. Sguaitamatti recognizes giving the year its name as the main feature of the Late Antique consulate, its sense and aim. If this is true (but naming the year and determining the time should not only be considered a social function, but also a symbolic one, defining order and allowing continuity), the idea that the consul had lost all possible other functions except giving his name to the year and organizing games (based on an overinterpretation of Mamertinus,2 whose honos sine labore is understood as “honor without work” rather than “without toil”, p. 71) seems excessively schematic.

The first chapter also analyzes the insignia of consular power (26-41). Since here many iconographic issues are at stake, it would have been useful to provide the book with more illustrations and with more explicit references to the few existing ones. In a third section the honors attributed to the consuls are analyzed: the enfranchisement of slaves, the presidency of the Senate and the concessions of honorary statues (41-49). This structure seems problematic: the first two points, even if surely honorary in nature, still represent functions attributed to the consuls, and do not share much with the very rapid and absolutely not complete analysis of the statues raised to them by other magistrates or communities.3

In the second chapter are analyzed rank and status of the consuls (51-91): the position of the consulate in the career, its relationship with the patriciate, its position in Late Antique hierarchy,4 but also the social profile of the consul and the competencies expected by consuls both with administrative and military background. Particularly this last topic should have opened the path to a systematic analysis concerning the criteria used in the recruitment of the consuls in the always changing balance of power between imperial court, Senate, army, bureaucracy, Church.

The author is not aware of the latest research concerning recruitment of magistrates and functionaries in the 4 th and 5 th century and its criteria5 and touches this point, which deserves much more attention, only from a functionalistic perspective in the third chapter (92-136), which deals with the relationship between Emperor and consul, when analyzing the imperial role in the choice of the consuls and therefore also the political use of such choices. At the end of this chapter the possibilities of cooperation or conflict between Emperor and consul are questioned, and the chances for a consul to act “independently” are defined as very small.

Chapter four (137-196) is dedicated to the celebrations of the consulate: the inauguration, the adventus, the organization of games, with attention to the Christianization of the ceremonies and to the separation of the roles of ordinary and suffect consuls, while the fifth and last chapter (197-244) deals with the consulates held by Emperor or members of the imperial family, which had a mostly legitimizing and stabilizing function (not by chance a new Emperor usually held the consulate in the first year after his inauguration). From this perspective is also analyzed the practice of granting the consulate to children from the imperial family. Particularly interesting is the analysis of the changing strategies in coupling (or not) members from the reigning dynasty with a second “private” consul, which correspond to different forms of self-representation of the Emperor and his family.

Once again, a broader contextualization not only from the perspective of dynastic stability but also of the role of the Emperor as consul in balancing the tensions between different groups and élites – very evident, e.g., in the choice of the cities in which the consulate was inaugurated6 – would have been here appropriate. A sixth short chapter (245-250) summarizes the results, and a set of very useful indices completes the book. Some misprints and many mistakes in the layout are not excessively disturbing.

Sguaitamatti’s work is in general a very useful publication, providing the reader with a synthesis of the problems connected to Late Antique consulate, an almost always up-to-date presentation of the relevant publications, a coherent and systematic interpretation of the social role of the consul and of the diachronic evolution of the consulate from the 4 th to the 6 th century, even if – as always with such synthetical works – the reader will not agree with the author on every single point.


1. A. Chastagnol, Observations sur le consulat suffect et la préture du Bas-Empire, in RH 219 (1958), 221-253; G. A. Cecconi, Lineamenti di storia del consolato tardoantico, in M. David (ed.), Eburnea diptycha, Bari 2007, 109-127.

2. Pan. Lat. 3 (XI), 2, 2.

3. For Late Antique statues is now available at the Oxford Database Last Statues of Antiquity

4. On this now S. Schmidt Hofner, Ehrensachen. Ranggesetzgebung, Elitenkonkurrenz und die Funktionen des Rechts in der Spätantike, in Chiron 40 (2010), 209-243.

5. See e.g. now M. G. Castello, Le segrete stanze del potere. I comites consistoriani e l’imperatore tardo antico, Roma 2012.

6. E.g. F. Carlà, Milan, Ravenna, Rome: Some Reflections on the Cult of the Saints and on Civic Politics in Late Antique Italy, in RSLR 46 (2010), 197-272.