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Les mythes fondateurs de Rome: Images et politique dans l’Occident romain

Les mythes fondateurs de Rome: Images et politique dans l’Occident romain

By Alexandra Dardenay (Antiqua 13). Pp. 260, figs. 115, color pls. 24. Picard, Paris 2010. €44. ISBN 978-2-7084-0866-2 (paper).


Rome's soccer fans today, cheering "Give it to 'em, wolves," wave banners adorned with Romulus, Remus, and their feral nurse. Aeneas, the hero of the other founding legend of Rome, has left less of a mark on popular culture, but his act of filial piety in carrying his father to safety is mirrored among Christians by St. Christopher. The imagery of Romulus and Aeneas and the meanings of these images in the Roman world form the subject of this volume, which is based on the author's doctoral thesis. Romulus came to typify bellica virtus, while the figure of Aeneas was forever the pius Aeneas of Vergil. The book begins with general discussions of development of the stories surrounding Aeneas and Romulus, followed by their role as propaganda, both national and as promoted by the great Roman families. The end of the first century B.C.E. sees the appearance of these themes in the decoration of major buildings. The Augustan era is especially rich in this respect, less so the succeeding phases of Imperial Rome. The second half of the book is given over to the diffusion of these imperial ornamental programs outside the capital and their appearance in the private sphere.

Carruba's monograph of 2006 (La Lupa Capitolina: Un bronzo medioevale [Rome]) has cleared the way for Dardenay to sidestep the Capitoline Wolf, a statue that for so long has seemed to be vaguely Etruscan and certainly archaic or archaizing. Carruba's main argument is that a one-piece casting of this size does not match the ancient practice of casting various parts of a large bronze figure in separate molds. (Reaction from fans cheering for the traditional date has been swift and is to be found among the papers collected in G. Bartolini, ed., La Lupa Romana: Nuove prospettive di studio [Rome 2010]; further considerations and technical evidence can be found in M.R. Alföldi, E. Formigli, and S. Fried, eds., Die Römische Wölfin: Ein antikes monument stürtz von seinem Sockel [Stuttgart 2011]). A mirror from Praeneste now in the Antiquario Comunale at Rome thus leads off the representations of the wolf and twins. (The engraved decoration has been considered a modern forgery, but Dardenay rightly accepts it as genuine.) There is a full cast of accompanying figures. Faunus-Lupercus and Faustulus (or Latinus) flank the central group, while above them, Rhea Silvia appears together with a reclining male figure clothed only in a cape knotted around his shoulders and a petasos. This is unlikely to be Mars, but not all versions of the Rhea Silvia legend, as Dionysius of Halicarnassus reports (1.77), concurred as to the paternity of the twins, and Dardenay is determined to maintain the Romulean reference of the scene despite attempts that have been made to interpret it differently. Behind the iconography of the wolf and twins are Greek prototypes, notably the scene of the nursing of Telephos by a deer. A statue representing the wolf and twins was dedicated by the aediles Quintus and Gnaeus Ogulnius in 296 B.C.E. (Livy 10.23.11). The same Quintus, now consul, is mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his famous passage (HN 33–34) dating the introduction of silver coinage at Rome to 269. Among the earliest Roman silver coins is a didrachm with the head of Hercules and on the reverse the wolf and twins. Dardenay associates this coin with the Ogulnii and the statuary dedication (52–5). This position is open to two objections. First, Pliny the Elder wrote as though the denarius had been introduced in 269. This is clearly wrong; the denarius was first issued during the Second Punic War. Second, the "Ogulnian" didrachms do not stand first in the Roman silver coinage. They were preceded by two other issues, as is shown by the slightly reduced weight standard of the Hercules/wolf-and-twins pieces. (For these and related matters, see R.R. Holloway, "The Romano-Campanian Coinage," in T. Hackens, ed., The Age of Pyrrhus [Providence, R.I., and Louvain-la-Neuve 1992] 225–35.)

Aeneas' flight from Troy, carrying his father to safety, has a well-documented history in Attic vase painting, but in Italy, the Attic model—father clinging to his son's back—was largely avoided in favor of a scheme with Anchises seated on Aeneas' shoulder.

Both foundation legends, and other episodes of Rome's legendary age, were evoked on coinages of Republican moneyers, but none is especially prominent. The beginnings of Rome, however, were represented on the long frieze of the Basilica Aemilia. Dardenay prefers a date before the fire of 14 B.C.E., attributing the sculptures to the activity of M. Aemilius Lepidus after the Social War. The historical scenes, she argues, were accompanied by representations of cult observances related to them—thus, the Rape of the Sabines paired with the Matronalia. Dardenay also identifies Rhea Silvia, the exposure of the twins, Romulus and Remus undertaking the founding of the city, the building of the walls of Rome, the Consualia, the battle of Romulus and Acron of Caenena, and the punishment of Tarpeia.

Aeneas comes into his own with Julius Caesar, who was intent on emphasizing the imagery of his Trojan ancestry. In the aftermath of his assassination, Romulus, assumed into heaven as a god, became a prototype of the newly divinized dictator. It is to Augustus and first to the Ara Pacis Augustae that one must look for the consummation of this dynastic imagery. On the altar, Dardenay makes a radical revision to the interpretation of the fragmentary panel commonly restored as Mars and a shepherd at the Lupercal, although no traces of the rocky hillside or of the wolf and twins are preserved. Instead, she calls on the evidence of the Ara Casali in the Vatican to suggest that this is a scene of Mars advancing on the sleeping Rhea Silvia, with Somnus looking on (96–102). She also turns her attention to the much-discussed Tellus/Italia relief showing a maternal kourotrophos seated between two wind spirits while a cow reclines and sheep graze below. Dardenay's interpretation of the central figure is Leto holding Apollo and Artemis. Although an Apolline motif would be in keeping with the imagery of the Ara Pacis, it is well to recall the suggestion made simultaneously by two American scholars, that the figure is Venus, Lucretius' Aeneadum genetrix and mother of all nature (A. Booth, "Venus on the Ara Pacis," Latomus 25 [1966] 873–79; G.K. Galinsky, "Venus on a Relief on the Ara Pacis Augustae," AJA 70 [1966] 223–43).

In the vast program honoring Rome and her ruler made in the Forum of Augustus, Aeneas and Romulus played equal parts. Dardenay, following Jean Gagé, makes a good case for seeing reproductions of the images of the two heroes, who dominated the hemicycles to left and right of the colonnaded court of the forum, in the paintings of the facade of the Fullonica of Fabius Ululitremulus at Pompeii (88, 95). The two images are Aeneas fleeing Troy with his son Ascanius and his father, Anchises, on his shoulder and Romulus bearing a trophy with the arms of King Acron. The author is helped in this hypothesis by the Ascanius from an Aeneas group at Merida in Spain, where there seems to have been a complex with statuary of the founders and summi viri modeled on the images of the Forum of Augustus at Rome.

Following the reign of Augustus, such representations of the myths of the founders fall into disuse. In the sphere of official imperial art, an exception may be found in the image of a pediment, that of the Temple of Gens Flavia, if the relief of which portions are preserved in the Terme and in the Vatican (ex-Lateran collections) does in fact show this building. Mars and Rhea Silvia made an appearance in the Domus Aurea (here an illustration of the lost fresco would have been helpful but may be supplied by referring to Gersht and Mucznik ("Mars and Rhea Silvia," Gerion 6 [1988] 117–33, fig. 4; see also LIMC 2[1]:550, no. 392). At Ostia, the basilica frieze extends the theme of the founders to include Camillus, the restorer of Rome after the Gallic sack.

The images of Romulus and Aeneas had a long life under the empire in the private sphere, and they appear with some frequency along the trunk roads that spread out across the western and Balkan provinces. In part, they identify the dedicator or occupant of a tomb with Rome; but more than that, they denote rebirth (wolf and twins) and celestial bliss (Mars and Rhea Silvia). The twins also stand for the eternity of Rome. And the appearance of these images on modest objects, such as lamps, shows that they could be lucky charms as well.

The format of this book is large and handsome. The color plates are excellent, although the black-and-white illustrations in the text often do not reach the same quality. But the author is to be commended for following the trail of the images of the founders of Rome across the centuries of Roman art so successfully.

R. Ross Holloway
Department of Art
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599

Book Review of Les mythes fondateurs de Rome: Images et politique dans l'Occident romain, by Alexandra Dardenay

Reviewed by R. Ross Holloway

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 1 (January 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1161.Holloway

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