BMCR 2020.10.38

The alternative Augustan age

, , , The alternative Augustan age. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. xvi, 394 p.. ISBN 9780190901400 $85.00.

[The Table of contents is listed below.]

This collection of nineteen brisk contributions originated as Sydney’s ‘Not the bimillennium’ conference (p.xiii), powered but far from dominated by ‘the fabulous Australian contingent of Roman historians’ (p.266n.), with a supporting cast of Americans plus divers Europeans (x 7 : 5 : 7). Its alter ego, conveniently from ‘the other place’, might seem to be Galinsky’s U. S.-centred Companion (Karl Galinsky, The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus. Cambridge. 2005: BMCR 2006.07.26), but that was designed as a series-format teaching manual, and owns a panoramic range of cultural-historical takes; whereas The Alternative sticks closer to an Ancient-History inflection, looking to turn over habitual perspectives on a set of in-the-main regular topics, and so, finally, ‘provocatively overturn standard views’ (p.9).

[NB Superscript numbers refer to the t. o. c. ad calcem.]

The Introductory editorial1 sets our scene as post-polarized (almost wrote ‘bi-partisan’: remember those days?), so intractable, cleavage between the cliché headings. Not much by way of Theorizing here or ahead (the historian’s task, p.46, a spot of deconstruction, p.203, philosophy of history, p.233), for most all the essays deal in detail. Two new pieces of evidence are highlighted (Eck’s6 bronze lex municipalis Troesmensium attesting a pre-promulgation early stage—5CE—in the drive towards the lex Papia Poppaea, and Welch’s18 recent (1982) fragments of a shield from the Ostia temple of Roma and Augustus). I do wish folks wouldn’t state that Livy’s AVC ‘ended … in 9BCE’ (p.3), but then I wish RGDA wasn’t presented as an ‘Augustan’ text).

Now. How to decentre Augustan Rome, re-focalise The Age? Not my way, obviously! I.e. to read through Georgics ~ Aeneid and Horatian lyric, parse Propertius’ oeuvre, give Tibullus his due, track Ovid urbi et ubique. (Yes, I do know. Poesie gets at most 2/19 here vs. 4/16 in Galinsky.) Instead, yes indeed, there are other strictly contemporary media, and besides the epigraphy (esp. Hopwood5, Welch18), the numismatics provides stand-out features (Goldman-Petri13, Welch18). But brave encounters with Suetonius snippets and Dio episodes, besides Velleius and Elder Pliny lemmata, fuel a good many renovation projects, so expect plenty of ‘perhaps’ and ‘would seem to be’ modulation. I’ll say at once that the pledge of the volume to promote deviance, or at any rate, difference, is honoured, and you’d be right to read Other Ages of Augustus, so welcome intratextual clash and expect at least some element of outrage. To be commended, and appreciated, at once is the valedictory prompt from the eds. toward prime topics unaddressed (pp.10-11).

For those on the look-out for prosopographical gems I would star Welch’s18 Antistii Vetus and Reginus, but besides that favourite Missing Person, Osgood’s10 Statilius Taurus, and Hopwood’s5 anon. host of the Laudatio Turiae, there’s just ‘not enough prosopographic evidence to reconstruct their careers’ (p.139); so back to those stand-bys Maecenas, Augustus, Virgil … Agrippa, Plancus … and Pollio, aka Odes 1.1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 2.1. The pick here are Mitchell’s11 Plancus and Allen’s7 Pollio, but Horace’s opening triumvirate and the follow-up, Pyrrha-Agrippa-Plancus in that order, vindicate how much a pirouetting writer can insinuate about ‘Team Augustus’ (p.13).

The stages in the poets’ staggered publication records, tied to Big Moments—of the triple triumph and its immediate successors, the restoration of consular elections and associated shenanigans, the ludi saeculares, the Princesses and the Poet exile sequence—also tilt towards intra-periodization of The(se) Age(s), which do indeed frame several contributions: the early 20s’ spike in initiatives (Cowan3, Welch18) and heating autocracy creep through the 20’s (Lange8, Havener9, Hillard19); the hotspot early teens (Pettinger4, Eck6, Osgood10, Goldman-Petri13, Hay14, Welch18, Hillard19, Russell20); the pater patriae sphragis in 2BCE (Hillard19, Russell20); the crackdown of 6-9CE (Eck6). As ever, then, ‘Late Augustan Rome’ lags.

Meantime, alii alia

1. ShapinGus:
Morrell2 traces Pompey and Cato providing precedence for Augustus’ manipulation with (mal-)administration. (Could the lex Pompeia of ‘sole consul’ 52 really smoothe impressions of continuity? Would anyone swallow ‘senatorial provinces’?)

Cowan3 then probes between Verrius Flaccus and Velleius for the formularization of the fixing of Rome as between senate and Augustus, and for slippage in its meaning. (When was ‘the republic stood back up’ [the phrase found first in the Laud. Tur., p.38]? The spring of Sestius’ cos. suff., sings Horace.) Pettinger4 explores Dio’s account of fiendishly Byzantine mass senatorial expurgation looking to see where senate or Augustus were and weren’t ‘in control’, sniffing out the same bloc of ‘reformers’ as behind the rest of the crackdown of 19-18 (p.62).

Cut to Welch’s18 stand-out piece tracking Augustus’ c. v. award as a ‘vision of leadership’ maquette: from the precipitant crisis of legitimation brokered between senate (‘and p. r.‘) and honorand, through minute shifting between the symmetrically inscribed civilis wording: ‘S | PQUE R | IMP CAES DIV F AVG || COS VIII DEDIT CLVP || VIRT CLEM | IVSTIT PIETAT ERGA | DEOS PATRIAMQUE‘ and the pared version with PIETATIS undefined (RGDA 34.2), allowing militant-victor construal as (if) ‘ERGA PARENTEM’, i.e. ‘VLTIO’. With secure installation Might hardens the escutcheon to VIRTVTIS simpliciter, and in come blanking of SPQR and incursive victory and apotheosis paraphernalia. Watch the slide from first among citizens to autocrat, the writing on the escudo.

Russell20 and Hillard19 cross perspectives on the dynamics of Augustan politicking over the versions of the pater patriae melodrama in Suetonius and Dio: ‘consensus ritual’ kultchur ~ ‘self-infantilization’ tr*mpery. Russell20 works through reasons to rate being a senator, from patterns of dumb uncooperation through clubificatory exclusivity evolving across the phases of the Age, where Hillard19 catches the quasi-religious orgone of crowd hysteria moulding regressive personality cult, as ‘The People willed its subordination’ (p.324). This convergent dyad fully realises the project (though ‘Horace serv[ing] to guide’ us to how ‘the wider populace felt’ is never going to fly, p.316).

But for the huzzah of a last tr*mp rally, expatiate from ex nostro [saecul]o at RGDA 8.5 …: for sure, saecular discourse winds up centring as the Augustan ceremonial pageant to end all, but Hay14 sets out how it had been, and stayed, a baggy monster both containing and failing to contain ‘many other alternative ages [sic]’ (p.230).

2. FoldinintoGus:
Lange8 watches through Dio the last (eight) non-imperial family triumphatores serve up subordination to their c.-in-c., as last of the IIIviri, and so each time ‘only at the sufferance of the dynast’ (p.128).

Osgood’s10 Statilius Taurus owns his triumph (p.154), and his Balbus, his family originating in ultimate Gades, rounds off the sequence by celebrating his conquest of the Garamantian world’s end too, as if really in command: Africa kept on through the next reign providing senators with victories (only: there were other ways to shine: praefectura urbi, for one).

In tandem with these senatorial wind-downs, that unprecedented post-Ptolemaic invention, the Prefecture of Egypt, went off messily with a bang called Gallus before this parody officialdom was finessed, subsumed within meo iussu et auspicio (RGDA 26.5, p.145): Strabo is how Havener9 can tell us of L. Aelius Gallus and P. Petronius marching past the end of the world; thereafter, routinized official oblivion.

More of the same in Goldman-Petri’s13 enthralling sequence of moneyers at Rome year-by-year in the teens, the last to mint a name for themselves, either side of Augustus’ absence in Spain: Antistius Vetus, cos. suff. in 30, made a patrician in 29, portrays Himself, ‘Priest-y, “The-One-Who-Stands-In-Front-[Of-Himself/Augustus]’, as the ‘Living Link with Gabii veteres‘ originary treaty with Rome as p. R.’, after the regifugium of Sextus Tarquinius, whose elimination there initiated the res publica libera … . Antistius Reginus then emblazons his name round the instrumenta sacra that surround ‘Augustus’ on more coinage of Vetus, evoking the rightful ‘Kings’, of Roman Alba, whence Gabii. And fade.

3. ResistinGus:
On the receiving end are those senators who blocked marriage legislation floated through a whole generation of blockage, only terminated in the concerted raft of interventions realised between 5 and 9CE: swingeing evidence wielded by Eck6, with Dio detailed informant and pithy Suetonius precisely right; but Augustus bosses this essay as no other (‘Augustus did not reckon with being confronted …’, p.84, ‘… to be traced back to Augustus himself’, p.90, etc.).

4. ResentinGus:
The sole slot for interpersonal, familial, Rome, is Hopwood’s5 laudator, heart set on leaving the estate to his beloved, but caught in the snare of ‘Fate’, aka those same marriage laws. A recrimination, that is, from otherwise occluded ‘social history’.

5. BlindsidinGus:
Tan’s12 Agrippa can, you might think, only notionally be displacing focus Augustus: ‘… precisely what Augustus needed’ (p.196)? A sketch shows him self-inventing as something of a second Pompey, setting tone, and trends, but ineluctably, this ‘unAugustus’ alternative, so extravagantly endorsed as Endorser of The Firm, ‘need[ed] to be married into the Julii, or killed’ (p.197).

We can still centre ‘the Roman world’, otherwise, ‘from Plancus’ perspective’ (‘by visiting his mausoleum on the promontory at Gaeta: … a success story’, p.181), and feel the collusion (with Pollio) we have slipped into when misreading the seruire temporibus badge pinned to his name as (if =) ‘time-server’, rather than ‘survivor’ (pp.169-71). Mitchell11 can see him ‘making Caesar’s the winning, or the “right” side’ (p.179: ditto Messalla? And Dellius?! And totus mundus …).

6. EludinGus:
For successful negotiator of hardening autocracy, try Allen’s7 Pollio, who ‘may’ ‘perhaps’ have developed a ‘man of culture’ profile as his (cosmo-)politics, effectual in the flattery implied by Augustus’ emulation and tr*mping of his globalist autarchy, and no less in the squelching effected by his eventual ‘rebuttal’ (p.112).

Pollio, too, is Roller’s17 star-turn in the pumped-up centumviral court scene somewhat compensating for deflation of political oratory venues.

According to LeDoze15, ‘Augustus was only associated with a movement that found its culmination with his principate’; Maecenas and his poets ‘linked civic ambition to their artistic ambitions’; no ‘need[] to imagine them being used for the benefit of the princeps‘ (pp.231, 237, 246). Loose talk of Livy and the poets as ‘close to Maecenas’ (pp.234, 235) just won’t cut it: to be fair, the topic is too intractable for a brisk essay, and we should head for the 306pp. version (Mécène: ombres et flamboyances, Paris. BMCR 2015.05.05).

7. SubvertinGus:
‘A Romanized Gaul … the Gaul who conquered Rome’ (pp.264-5). Yes, Virgil, in Cenomania corner. Herbert-Brown’s16Virgil, who puts the Gauls ‘on top’, of the Shield, above Octavian ‘in the middle’, with Capitol over Palatine, emblazoning for those with eyes to see (no, not ‘unwitting’ Aeneas <or Augustus>) ‘Virgil’s Gallic partisanship’ (p.256) with every Cyclopean trick in the epic. But Rome was ever in crisis, so still is, in the Shield’s a-smelting para-narrative as in the Aeneid‘s; you just have to slog on and carry that weight, fight the good fight against Fake News, with its near-thing Hoax of ?inceptive/conative? tension: does Galli …arcem … tenebant | tr*mp (‘replace’, p.250) Manlius arcis | Capitolia celsa tenebat | (8.657 ~ 653-4) or is Fate in swing state at tipping-point, in the balance? ‘An alternative vantage point’ (p.247), indeed.

Table of Contents

1. Hannah Mitchell and the eds., ‘The alternative Augustan Age’, 1-11
2. Morrell, ‘Augustus as magpie’, 12-26
3. Eleanor Cowan, ‘Hopes and aspirations: res publica, leges et iura, and alternatives at Rome’, 27-45
4. Andrew Pettinger, ‘Rebuilding Romulus’ senate: the lectio senatus of 18 bce’, 46-62
5. Bronwyn Hopwood, ‘The good wife: fate, fortune, and familia in Augustan Rome’, 63-77
6. Werner Eck, ‘At magnus Caesar, and yet! Social resistance against Augustan legislation’, 78-95
7. Joel Allen, ‘C. Asinius Pollio and the politics of cosmopolitanism’, 96-112
8. Carsten Hjort Lange, ‘For Rome or for Augustus? Triumphs beyond the imperial family in the post-civil-war period’, 113-129
9. Wolfgang Havener, ‘Egyptian victories: the praefectus Aegypti and the presentation of military success in the Age of Augustus’, 130-46
10. Osgood, ‘African alternatives’, 147-62
11. Mitchell, ‘The reputation of L. Munatius Plancus and the idea of “serving the times”‘, 163-81
12. James Tan, ‘How do you solve a problem like Marcus Agrippa?”, 182-98
13. Megan Goldman-Petri, ‘Acting “R/republican” under Augustus: the coin types of the gens Antistia‘, 199-215
14. Paul Hay, ‘Saecular discourse: qualitative periodization in first-century-bce Rome’, 216-30
15. Philippe le Doze, ‘Maecenas and the Augustan poets: the background of a cultural ambition’, 231-46
16. Geraldine Herbert-Brown, ‘Gauls on top: provincials ruling Rome on the shield of Aeneas’, 247-65
17. Matthew Roller, ‘The rise of the centumviral court in the Age of Augustus: an alternative arena of aristocratic competition’, 266-81
18. Welch, ‘Shields of virtue(s)’, 282-304
19. Tom Hillard, ‘The popular reception of Augustus and the self-infantilization of Rome’s citizenry’, 305-24
20. Amy Russell, ‘Inventing the imperial senate’, 325-342
Bibliography, 343-80
Index, 381-94