BMCR 2020.05.05

Album senatorum. Vol. I and Vol. II

, Album senatorum. Vol. I, Senatores ab Septimi Severi aetate usque ad Alexandrum Severum (193–235 AD). Rozprawy i Studia t. (MXLIV) 970. Szczecin: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego, 2017. Pp. 398. ISBN 9788379721252
, Album senatorum. Vol. II, Senators of the Severan Period (193–235 AD): A Prosopographic Study. Rozprawy i Studia - Uniwersytet Szczeciński, 993. Szczecin: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego, 2018. Pp. 168. ISBN 9788379721634

In 1952, Guido Barbieri published his monumental L’albo senatorio da Settimio Severo a Carino (193–285), in which he collected all senators then known and analyzed the prosopographic records. He distinguished between “senatori certi o probabili”, including also senators named in the often unreliable Historia Augusta (HA), and “senatori incerti”—the latter category meaning persons whose senatorial status in the specific period is doubtful. Since he divided the period under consideration into three sections (Severus–Caracalla, Macrinus–Severus Alexander, Maximinus Thrax–Carinus) but numbered consecutively, senators who were active over a longer period are listed twice or thrice. For the Severan period, Barbieri recognized a total of 1408 senators (885 certain and 523 uncertain ones).

65 years later, Danuta Okoń, a renowned scholar for prosopography under the Severan dynasty,[1] has published a two-volume study which updates and re-evaluates the material.[2] Okoń slightly adapts Barbieri’s method in distinguishing “senatores certi” (19–273) and “senatores probabiles” (274–366) which corresponds to Barbieri’s “senatori incerti”. The prosopographic entries (written in Latin)[3] are arranged alphabetically by gentile names,[4] followed by the persons whose names are unknown (Anonymi). Okoń lists 1682 senators in total of which 1196 assuredly active 193–235; the increase, compared to Barbieri’s list, reflects the growth of epigraphic findings since the early 1950s.[5]

In the foreword of volume one, written in English, French, and Polish, Okoń exposes the principles of her book (7–18). For the sake of brevity, the only bibliographical references in the prosopographic entries are the second edition of the Prosopographia Imperii Romani (PIR²) and Barbieri’s work. At the end of the volume, there is a detailed bibliography (367–396), which is not referred to in the entries, since Okoń will “not engage in polemics with the literature” (8). The entries provide all data known from inscriptions or literary sources and are occasionally commented on critically. Inconsistencies in the spelling of offices or towns aim “at bringing the biographies closer to the content of the sources that constitute their basis” (9); if possible, the origins of the senators are given. The evaluation of the biographic and career data are subject of the second volume.

However, there are serious objections to Okoń’s methodical approach, which will be briefly outlined here. First of all, Barbieri had included persons only known from the highly problematic HA. While the enumeration of those 42 senators who fell victim to Septimius Severus is largely reliable,[6] persons named in the Life of Alexander Severus (and other biographies of the so-called secondary lives) have to be treated with extreme caution. In an earlier article, Okoń had explained her use of the HA (“research premise”) as she will “not forgo any source, especially one which offers such a wealth of details”; while “finding the HA to be an important source in the reconstructions of Severan repressions“[7] is an acceptable approach, the later Lives must be evaluated much more critically. One understands why Okoń did not grab the opportunity to improve Barbieri’s criteria and to differentiate between “senatores certi” (those appearing in inscriptions and Cassius Dio, e.g. the important passage in which he named many senators who had suffered death at the hands of Macrinus and his successor Elagabalus in 217/218[8], or even Severus’s persecution victims in the HA), “senatores probabiles” (possibly of Severan date), and “senatores incerti” (persons of the dubious lives of the HA). Source criticism, however, is the only way to distinguish historically accurate information from inventions, especially with regard to theHA. A few examples shall illustrate Okoń’s problematic utilization of the HA.

Severus Alexander refused the salutation of Septimius Arabianus (no. 913) who had been charged with stealing but was later acquitted (AS 18,3–4). The whole story is dubious, but Okoń seems to accept its historicity and states on Arabianus’s status: “veri simile non senator, sed libertus, ad equitatem promotus”, with his origo “incerta”. However, her interpretation is totally incomprehensible with the statements of the HA (if they were accepted as true). Firstly, “he came with the senators to pay his respects to the Emperor” which means that he was one of them. Secondly, Arabianus’s cognomen points to the region of origin; when sighting Arabianus, the Emperor evokes Marnas, the city-god of Gaza, thus alluding to Arabianus’s birthplace.

Ovinius Camillus (no. 771), the would-be usurper under Severus Alexander, is a “senator antiquae familiae”; however, the story concerning his usurpation told in the HA (AS 48) is classified as “narratio ficta” (191). Therefore, a reader unfamiliar with the problems associated with the HA might conclude that the person himself is historical and only the events are fictional; this is strengthened by Okoń herself as she rightly remarks “Ovinii frequentes erant saec. III”.

At the end of the Life of Alexander Severus, the HA (AS 68,1) enumerates eight counselors of the Emperor. Two of the persons mentioned, the well-known jurists Domitius Ulpianus and Iulius Paulus, are not included by Okoń because they were of equestrian rank. The remaining six, however, are accepted as senators, although none of them is attested elsewhere and, more importantly, their existence is not beyond doubt (probably except Catilius Severus, no. 255), but this not always made clear in Okoń’s statements.[9]

Secondly, Okoń follows Barbieri in including the pueri clarissimi (“sons of senators”), mostly known from an inscription documenting the Secular Games of 204 AD. Although their noble ancestry predestined those pueri clarissimi for a senatorial career, it cannot be excluded that they died before reaching the proper age for a seat in the senate. For this reason, already in 1973, W. Eck had clearly criticized the inclusion of this group among the senators.[10] In my opinion, it would be best to include this group into the “senatores probabiles”.

In the following, I present some remarks (mainly to persons mentioned in the HA) to Okoń’s list which make no claim to completeness.

No. 6: In 1983, K. Dietz proposed to supplement the name of the governor of Raetia named in two building inscriptions from Aalen to Scribonius Acutianus.[11]

No. 185/1268: Bo[—] is a misreading and has therefore to be deleted.[12]

No. 168: Aurunculeius Cornelianus’s origo is not “incerta” but very probable Praeneste.[13]

No. 707: Although Masticius Fabianus’s name is either regarded a fabrication or, as Okoń puts it, “falsum esse videtur”, there is at least one epigraphic testimony for this unique nomen gentile.[14] In an earlier essay, Okoń herself had proposed to identify him with a certain Maesius (no. 669) whose name was eradicated from an inscription in Carnuntum.[15]

No. 770: The full name of the governor of Cilicia is Ostorius Euhodianus.[16]

No. 785–789; 791: The HA (S 13,6) names as Severus’s victims six members of the family of the usurper Pescennius Niger; their cognomina are “probabiliter fictum”. Nevertheless, Okoń believes in the historicity of these persons, as she had stated elsewhere.[17] However, since Pescennius Niger entered the Senate as an equestrian and thus a homo novus, such a multitude of Pescenii who were executed as senators by Severus can hardly be assumed.

No. 1294: While Catulus, the grandfather of Severus Alexander’s wife, is regarded as a possible senator of Severan times Memmia’s father Sulpicius is missing. Both of them are wholly fictitious.[18]

No. 1493: According to a letter, cited in the HA (ClA 7,5), Pescennius Princus was an infant son of Severus’s co-emperor Clodius Albinus (who has no entry in Okoń’s prosopography); his inclusion in the “senatores probabiles”– albeit “nomen fictum”—is warranted because “probabile est ut Albinus liberos habuit”. However, already the name proves him to be pure fiction;[19] why Okoń opts for Hadrumetum (Albinus’s hometown) or Brixia as place of origin remains obscure.

The second volume sums up and analyzes the data from volume one. In the first chapter (“Numbers of Senators”, 9–21), Okoń rightly rejects the mainstream assumption that the senate of Severan Rome only comprised of 600 senators. Even if her list has to be purged of erroneous entries, a total of 1000 senate members fits the evidence better than the classical number. The second chapter (22–29) is devoted to “The Origo of Senators”. For more than the half of the senators at least their territorial origo can be ascertained; senators from North Africa and the Eastern provinces made up the majority of the senate. However, Okoń’s analysis also shows that newcomers from these regions had a longer way to go compared with careers of established families (“The Social Origin of Senators”, 30–37). The remaining three chapters discuss the career models and the conditions required. Three appendices list the homines novi, the origines of the senators, and all gentes, represented in the senate.

Okoń updates the prosopographic information available since Barbieri’s monumental opus and evaluates the statistical data anew. For this, she deserves the highest appreciation. However, her uncritical approach to the HA, the unwillingness to improve Barbieri’s distinctions, and the refusal to discuss or even cite literature in the entries (understandable for the sake of brevity) slightly diminish the value of her work.


[1] E.g. Septimius Severus et senatores: Septimius Severus’ personal policy towards senators in the light of prosopographic research (193–211 A.D.), Szczecin 2012; Imperatores Severi et senatores: The history of imperial personnel policy, Szczecin 2013.

[2] For the timespan from 235 to 284, see now N. Hächler, Kontinuität und Wandel des Senatorenstandes im Zeitalter der Soldatenkaiser. Prosopographische Untersuchungen zu Zusammensetzung, Funktion und Bedeutung des amplissimus ordo zwischen 235–284 n. Chr., Leiden 2019.

[3] There are few typos (e.g. no. 22: ύπατκή instead of ὑπατική; no. 686: Ostienso for Ostiensi; no. 790: mortus for mortuus; no. 899: Anononi; orienatlis instead of Antonini; orientalis), the phrase ministri Arvalorum (no. 1202) has to be corrected to ministri Arvalium; in some cases, the numberings of Barbieri and the PIR² are faulty.

[4] While “incerti” U and V are treated as the same letter, in “incerti” U antecedes V.

[5] Cf. G. Alföldy, Septimius Severus und der Senat, BJ 168, 1968, 112–160 who studied the prosopography of the senators for Septimius Severus’s reign.

[6] HA S 13; Cass. Dio 76 (75),8,3–4 speaks of 29 senators killed by Septimius Severus after the defeat and death of his rival Clodius Albinus in 197 but names only one.

[7] Septimius Severus et senatores once again: a debate with Cesare Letta, Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University. History2016, issue 4, 174–185, here 176.

[8] Cass. Dio 80 (79), 3–7.

[9] No.s 15; 19 (“existentia eius non confirmata est”); 348; 430; 865 („fortasse figura ficta“); they are also included in the “List of New Senators of the Severan Period” (vol. 2: Appendix I).

[10] Sozialstruktur des römischen Senatorenstandes der hohen Kaiserzeit und statistische Methode. Chiron 3, 1973, 375–394, here 384.

[11] Die Erneuerung des Limeskastells Aalen vom Jahr 208 n. Chr., Acta Praehistorica et Archaeologica 25, 1993, 243–252, here 243–244. Although Okoń cites PIR² S 258 as reference she ignores that the lexical entry accepts Scribonius.

[12] J. Scheid, Commentarii fratrum Arvalium qui supersunt. Les copies épigraphiques des protocoles annuels de la confrérie arvale (21 av.–304 ap. J.-C.), Rome 1998, 338 no. 115, l. 17.

[13] Alföldy (n. 5) 136.

[14] M. Besnier, Inscriptions et monuments figurés de Lambèse et de Tébessa, MEFR 17, 1897, 441–465, here 446–449, no. 3, l. 8: C. Masticius Saturninus. This inscription from Lambaesis, a dedication of cavalrymen (set probably under Septimius Severus or Caracalla), even escaped the attention of Alföldy (n. 5) 147.

[15] Okoń (n. 7) 176.

[16] M. Vitale/N. Hächler, Anmerkungen zu einem Statthalter der Provinz Cilicia-Isauria-Lycaonia und zu den städtischen Titeln von Tarsos in einer neuen Inschrift aus der Zeit von Severus Alexander, ZPE 199, 2016, 264–270.

[17] Okoń (n. 7) 17: “… but scarcely would any researcher disagree that Severus did away with the families of adversaries in the bid for imperial purple (regardless of the accuracy of cognomina contained in HA)”.

[18] HA AS 20,3; Severus Alexander’s wife is attested in inscriptions and coins (her father is no. 900).

[19] Moreover, the children and the wife of Albinus were killed after the Battle of Lugdunum (HA S 11,9).