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Civic Monuments and the Augustales in Roman Italy

April 2017 (121.2)

Book Review

Civic Monuments and the Augustales in Roman Italy

By Margaret L. Laird. Pp. xvii + 349, figs. 100. Cambridge University Press, New York 2015. $99.99. ISBN 978-1-107-00822-9 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This book focuses on a defined body of material culture from the first and second centuries C.E.: the inscribed monuments of the Augustales in Italy. These were the monuments of men (and a few women) who were financially as well-to-do as the traditional elite of their communities but lacked the legal right to participate in municipal government (most were freedmen). These monuments were part of the urban fabric of every Italian town, presenting the modern scholar with an opportunity to see the contributions and responses of one element of a complex society to other elements and to itself. The author discusses these monuments in three categories (funerary, meeting places, and public) and uses case studies to illustrate their variety and purposes. The case studies include the funerary monuments around the Herculaneum Gate at Pompeii (with special attention to that of Naevoleia Tyche), the “Collegio” of the Augustales at Herculaneum, the “Sacello” of the Augustales at Misenum, the statues of Julio-Claudian family members put up by L. Mammius Maximus in the porticus at Herculaneum, and the paving projects of two freedmen at Iulia Concordia (modern Concordia Sagittaria in the Veneto). Each section is prefaced by broader discussions. In the funerary section, the physical construct of funerary inscriptions (the choice and placement of the abbreviated name of the group) and the use of symbols (bisellium, sella curulis, fasces) on funerary monuments are discussed. In the meeting places portion, the distinction between public imperial cult and the meeting halls of the Augustales is emphasized. In the public section, the habit of putting up statues precedes a discussion of other municipal embellishments. The book is full of detail and demonstrates the value of an interdisciplinary (epigraphic, archaeological, and art historical) approach.

Although the case studies are well chosen, the number of inscribed monuments pertaining to this social group is large and not as homogeneous as we have traditionally thought (see, most recently, H. Mouritsen, The Freedman in the Roman World [Cambridge 2011] 252–61; see also H. Mouritsen, “Honores libertini: Augustales and Seviri in Italy,” Hephaistos 24 [2006] 237–48). Here the book lacks a clear presentation of the parameters of the complete data set that it discusses. A brief numerical introduction and a few charts showing the relative quantities and categories, as well as the geography and chronology, of such monuments would have been welcome. The reader is left to wonder: How many inscribed monuments have figural parts? Are these parts reliefs or statues? How many bases for imperial statues were set up by Augustales? How many bases were for statues of their peers? How many are civic projects? Which cities have the largest testimonials of monuments? And which era produced the greatest number of testimonials?

The interdisciplinary approach emphasizes that earlier studies have focused too much on one category of evidence or have assumed the main function of the Augustales was the imperial cult. In general, this creates a level of expectation for this study (in terms of approach, depth, and result) from which it falls short. The author speculates about subtle distinctions within this class, but we are left with a social group of men (with a few female exceptions) that functions in the same way as the ruling class: they inscribe their careers on funerary monuments; they place tombs on the same road; they erect statues to the emperors, more commonly to their peers, and often also to the gods; and they finance public works.

Some aspects of the compelling case studies might have been treated more fully. The name Cassia C. f. Victoria (206) is rightly stressed because the woman presents herself as freeborn and because the relief features flying Victories, but the origins of the name itself remain unexplored. An inscription preserving a few letters of a Julio-Claudian family member (…]DIO CAESARI[…|…]STI GERMAN[...) set up by Mammius Maximus is restored as Nero without caveat (298). The aims and possible collaborations of A. Bruttius Secundus, PRAEF ARCHIT, are discussed, but his title makes it only into a footnote (255). The bases of the “Sacello” are assumed to have been excavated as they fell, but no mention is made of when they fell. That the statue of one of the lifetime presidents of the “Sacello,” honored in 102 C.E., was replaced by a statue of Asclepius is noted without comment (171). And what happened between 222 C.E. (the latest dated inscription) and 1968, when the complex was excavated? To answer questions of this sort, of course, the book would have needed to be much longer.

The content and expression might also have been more focused and effective. Awkward English choices and inconsistencies are at times distracting, and internal references and illustrations are not user friendly. For example, the author lists texts for the “Sacello” (and why this term?) in Misenum in the appendix as inscriptions 1–24 but refers to the “Sacello” bases by another numerical system (bases 1–13); the explanation in appendix 1 is late and confusing. In a section on Mammius Maximus, she notes that scholars have privileged textual examination and illustrates the texts but gives no reconstruction of the statuary that Mammius dedicated. Figure 87, squeezed vertically and illegibly at the outside of the page, attempts to provide an architectural context for the group but shows other statues and not one of Mammius’ inscriptions.

Yet the book contains and seeks to cover a broad range of topics: letter cutting, imperial cult, Roman practices of honorific statuary, town planning, and archaeological history, to name a few. It contains much of interest and presents together a body of material that merits this attention. It is commendable in its ambition and determination to situate correctly the visual output of a group, more often studied for its sociohistoric value, within its larger context: the urban landscape of Roman Italy in the first and second centuries.

Julia Lenaghan
Department of Classics
Oxford University

Book Review of Civic Monuments and the Augustales in Roman Italy, by Margaret L. Laird

Reviewed by Julia Lenaghan

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 2 (April 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1212.Lenaghan

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