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Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History

Creating the Emperor's Image: Abstracts

From Augustus’ Shield to Theodora’s Church: Imperial Virtues, Inscriptions and Changing Discourses on Power in Late Antiquity

Arkadiy Avdokhin, King's College London

This paper purports to look at how the development of the set of imperial virtues celebrated in inscriptions (particularly in the eastern part of the empire) can be traced in late antiquity. The central question is to what extent the nascent and burgeoning Christian theology and wider contemporary discourse on the God-sanctioned imperial power penetrated the epigraphic record and reshaped it.

The representation of images of imperial power through visual means (numismatics and epigraphy) has usefully come in focus of recent studies (like C. Noreña’s Imperial Ideals in the Roman West: Representation, Circulation, Power). On the other hand, the birth and progress of the specifically Christian version of the Hellenistic concept of emperor as the representative of God with a very special link with the divine (famously formulated in Eusebius’ Tricennalian Oration in 335-36 AD and taken on by an unfailing flow of followers later) has long been studied as the foundation of the later Byzantine philosophy of power. However, the studies of the workings and implementation of these ideas through epigraphy have not been abundant.

Arguably, imperial pietas, while being a traditional Roman imperial virtue, was substantially expanded in the early Christian epigraphic discourse on emperors. The inscription on Constantine’s statue put up in Rome (as reported in Eusebius’ HE 9.9.11: “τούτῳ τῷ σωτηριώδει σημείῳ <…> τὴν πόλιν ὑμῶν ἀπὸ ζυγοῦ τοῦ τυράννου <…> ἠλευθέρωσα”) proclaimed the power of salvific cross as emperor’s ally; the Byzantine emperor in the 6th century came to be addressed as θεοστέφεος in inscriptions, which entered the official imperial titulature later. Inscriptional innovations, it would seem, were both informed by the theological and political discourses on imperial divine engagement and fed back into it in their turn.

In a nutshell, this paper looks at what possible routes could lead from Augustus’ four cardinal virtues in the clipeus virtutum to Justinian’s and Theodora’s Christian imperial piety in the inscription in the church of St Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople in 530s.

Opinio Populi de Caesaribus: Popular Perceptions of the Roman Emperor

Panayiotis Christoforou, Oxford University

In the modern age, our society places great importance on the opinions and perceptions of a wide array of people, be it for politics, social issues, advertising etc. The assertion that everyone’s opinions or thoughts matter on any given issue is a powerful one; and perhaps one that shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. The question then becomes about how to retroject this assertion into history, i.e find the opinions of people in periods of history where such data was not recorded. The easy answer would be oblivion. Their thoughts have been lost to history because they did not have any discernible impact on society, and were therefore rightfully lost. Or even that because they are lost, there is no point in any attempt to reconstruct them, being that it could be a red herring, leading down the road to speculation and pseudohistory.
However, this sells the interest of such subject material short. If we accept the premise of the workshop, that the Roman government, meaning the Senate and Emperor, took great care in how they disseminated their image, it suggests that they were indeed
sensitive to the ebbs and flows of opinion and popularity. Therefore, a society that engages in a dialogue of opinions is not so far-fetched, and therefore not an anachronistic retrojection of the social media age. Moreover, this serves to answer the other charge - that their opinions did not matter. In fact, they did seem to matter, and our sources repeatedly report reactions and thoughts of a wider population on the actions of the Emperors. Charges of bias and stylistic issues notwithstanding, there is evidence that can open up a thought-world of opinions from sections of society seen as largely silent and lost to history.
The purpose of my thesis is to collect and compile potential evidence from the ancient sources that point to a perception or opinion of the Emperor from a wider perspective. This will hopefully create a different image of the emperor; one that is constructed
from the mosaic of opinion that existed across the Roman Empire. The structure of this informal talk will be as follows: a short discussion on the sources and methods I am using, with a look at a couple of sources in particular to illustrate the point. As such, it is not exhaustive, but hopefully representative of the process and argument that will be used in the thesis.

Augustus and Aeneas: ideology in action?

Olivier Hekster, Radboud University Nijmegen

This paper will discuss the extent to which presentations of Aeneas from the time of Augustus can and should be seen as (reactions to) central ideological messages, and will explore the risks of such a 'political' reading of a wide variety of imagery and texts.

Local and imperial: imperial honorifics as a symbolic space for local competition

Monica Hellström, Columbia University and the Swedish Institute at Rome

I have studied honorific statues to emperors in Roman North Africa, and in particular the most prolific region in this respect, Northern Tunisia, in order to understand their agency and audiences. The debate usually swings between two positions - on the one hand, that imperial imagery was centrally created and promulgated, on the other that it was created by locals who strove to express their loyalty to the sovereign. It is tied in many ways to the debate on active or passive imperial policy. What I have found is that both parties – locals and central authorities – are involved, but not through direct communication.

To begin with the former, almost all imperial statues were raised by locals on local initiative, and, I will argue, with local aims and audiences. Many were raised as a munus to obtain local offices (usually aedilis or duumvir), a process which was not controlled by the imperial administration. Statues to divi, who could not themselves be the objects of loyalty,were raised as often as to living emperors. Imperial images, titles and priesthoods were tools with which to further the interests of a community and/or family within the local context: to provide a townwith imperial accoutrements was to elevate it, and, in extension, its elite families who would always be defined by the status of their origo.

Central authorities on their part were not indifferent to the process, but I will argue that most of their influence over it was indirect. Titles and images were chosen, but their application was not controlled and locals could add or distort. Severus and Caracalla paraded extremely long titles that would generate great visual impact, but the more excessive expressions (such as deus instead of divus) should be attributed to local minds. The spread of standardized images had less to do with central enforcement than the aims of the locals: if possible, one would choose an import from a fancy metropolitan shop. The social stratum involved had been around and knew their cultural codes.

Beyond their appearance, the use of the statues could be manipulated through opening or closing access. A reason for towns to boast imperial statues is that it proves they are prominent enough to be authorized to do so. To grant such rights freely is a means to instantly multiply visibility. Another is to increase the number of imperial personages to be depicted; for instance, the numerous statues to Septimius Severus and family do not represent as many discreet instances of dedication. Yet another is to allow imperial statues to be raised as munera. These measures do not require much active involvement, but have far-reaching effects on the number of imperial statues raised.

I would thus tone down the idea of this number as a measure of the popularity of an emperor. Africa and Septimius Severus is often argued as such a case, but his statue record explodes also in Latium and Campania, where he was decidedly impopular. Their existence is not due to ‘the people’ expressing enthusiasm for emperors, but elite families furthering their interests through a toolbox created by, and manipulated from, central quarters (if so inclined). To raise an imperial statue was neither a compulsion nor an expression of loyalty but a privilege to be petitioned for.

Exemplary Rome and the Tyranny of Constantius: nostalgia and subversion in Ammianus Marcellinus

Mark Humphries, Swansea University

Among the most celebrated ekphrases of Rome to survive from antiquity is that given by Ammianus Marcellinus in his account of the emperor Constantius II’s adventus to the city in April 357 (Amm. Marc. 16.10). The account, a fine example of the jewelled style of late-antique prose, stresses the grandeur of Rome’s ancient fabric, extolling buildings such as the Pantheon, Flavian amphitheatre, and, above all, Trajan’s Forum. Even so, problems with the account have been detected, not least in its silence on Christian churches. This is striking not only because churches will have been significant landmarks in the city at the time of Constantius’ visit, but also because Ammianus was himself writing his work at Rome at the end of the fourth century when the topographical prominence of the Church was increasing. Yet this is not the only remarkable silence in Ammianus’ account. Also noteworthy is his concentration on monuments erected in earlier periods of Roman history, under the Republic and Principate, to the exclusion of more recent additions. This is remarkable when we consider that some areas that feature in Ammianus’ description, such as the Forum Romanum, were heavily populated with late-antique monuments, particularly a number associated with Constantius II himself. This paper, by considering Ammianus’ account side-by-side with epigraphic evidence, will suggest that the historian’s silence on contemporary monuments serves a double purpose. In the first place, it aids his hostile characterisation of Constantius, who is repeatedly presented in Ammianus’ text as a negative foil to point up the virtues of his narrative’s hero, Julian (361-3). Secondly, it serves to contest notions of imperial legitimacy that were increasingly influential in the later fourth century, notably that emperors should devote their energies to defeating civil war enemies, and to place in their stead a more nostalgic ideal that the chief duty of emperors was to defeat foreign enemies.

Sacrificia domi militiaeque

Michael Koortbojian, Princeton University

In the urbs, Romans traditionally sacrificed capite velato, save for those circumstances (foreign gods, etc) that called for a ritus Graecus, practiced capite aperto. Perhaps the most glaring exception to this state of affairs was the sacrifice to Mars that accompanied the nuncupatio votorum, a rite performed in armor for a Roman divinity, capite aperto--despite its setting at the heart of the city (on the Capitol, or later, in the Temple of Mars Ultor). This was, however, an act that belonged, from a religious point of view, to the sphere of military action, and so the reversal of custom in the urban setting is comprehensible. Yet why did Roman commanders in the field sometimes sacrifice paludatus, capite aperto, and sometimes togatus, capite velato? The problem is vividly posed on Trajan’s column. A solution shall be offered, along with the several problems that solution nevertheless presents.

A bad public image? "Bad" emperors and their fans

Katja Kröss, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

“[…] plebs sordida et circo ac theatris sueta, simul deterrimi servorum, aut qui adesis bonis per dedecus Neronis alebantur, maesti et rumorum avidi” (Tac. hist. 1,4,3). It is quite obvious that with his famous sentence regarding the plebs sordida who worshipped Nero and therefore mourned his death Tacitus confirms the emperor’s bad image. However, whereas it’s still quite common to understand the plebs sordida as a definable group in Roman society, only two scholars (E. Flaig 1988, Ch. Badel 2006) have recognized Tacitus’ plebs sordida as what, as I prove in my Ph.D. thesis, she is: simply a moral category. Looking at a remarkable number of analog passages of bad fans in the narratives to Caligula, Nero and Vitellius, who haven’t yet been seen in this light, I go even further and argue that bad fans not only confirm the image of a bad emperor, but play a relevant part in constructing the bad image of an emperor, who isn’t that bad for a relevant part of the urban plebs and – in some cases – also for a not totally negligible number of members of the elite.

A Commemoration of Commemorations: the Res Gestae in the context of Augustan epigraphy

Gregory Rowe, University of Victoria

On the one hand, we regard the Res Gestae Divi Augusti as a form of autobiography ­ as an original and integral composition by Augustus ­ and we often assert that it is sui generis. On the other, we can cite dozens of monumental inscriptions and coin legends, as well as passages from literature, that predate the Res Gestae and anticipate its wording precisely. In this paper, I propose a new way of reading the Res Gestae.

Following standard epigraphical method, I look at the Res Gestae in the context of contemporary inscriptions, and argue 1) that the honours, benefactions, and military achievements catalogued in the Res Gestae had normally been expressed or commemorated in inscribed monuments already long before the Res Gestae was posted outside Augustus¹ Mausoleum; 2) that these earlier epigraphical commemorations should be seen as precedents for the Res Gestae in both content and form; and 3) that the Res Gestae itself should be seen as in large part reproducing the contents of senatorial decrees and other honours to Augustus.

The Senate and the creation of Augustan imagery on the Ara Pacis

Amy Russell, Durham University

The Ara Pacis Augustae is one of the most-studied monuments of the ancient world. It forms the centrepiece of any number of classes on the ‘Age of Augustus’ and graces the cover of hundreds of books. Its sculptural decoration, rich with symbolic imagery, is a key touchstone for interpretations of Augustan ideology. Yet this most Augustan of Augustan monuments was not commissioned by the princeps himself, but by decree of the Senate. This fact, well known but little explored, can help us enrich our understanding of the altar itself and of the events surrounding its commissioning in 13 BCE.

In this paper I ask what it would mean to take seriously the fact that the Ara Pacis is a senatorial monument. At the time of Augustus, the process by which the Senate used honours to the princeps as a way of negotiating its own position (explored by Lendon 1997; Roller 2001; Rowe 2002) was still evolving. The textual and epigraphic sources confirm that the Senate’s control over the decision of what honours to award was not a mirage: they could and did make decisions displeasing to the emperor. The honours they did award, including the Ara Pacis, were prescriptive as well as descriptive, and made claims about the importance of senatorial support for the continuing success of the Augustan regime. In this approach, the emperor becomes the primary audience, rather than the author, of honorific monuments, and imperial iconography and ideology are generated in a complicated and multidirectional process.

Pax Augusta or victoria Traiana? Hadrian's image between supply and demand

Christian Seebacher, Ruhr University Bochum

In a case study on Hadrian, this paper will demonstrate how each Roman princeps had to create a distinctive personal image within the patterns of the Roman principate in order to gain acceptance by the empire's status groups. The self-fashioning of imperial predecessors, their communicative modifications of the socio-political environment forced the new princeps to deal with these challenges. This area of conflict is exceedingly obvious in the principate of Hadrian who was faced with Trajan's image as optimus princeps, and who probably lacked a legitimating adoption. This paper will analyse how Hadrian confronted this problem and which actions he took to fulfill traditional and time-dependent expectations of the different groups. It will also demonstrate how Hadrian offered innovative modes of imperial communication. Moving away from Trajanic warfare and victoriousness, Hadrian referred to two concepts: first, the display of seemingly Greek aspects, second, the effort to appear as a new Augustus, propagating and offering a Golden Age of pax. Yet the new aim of absolute peace-keeping could threaten the essentially close relationship between the emperor and his troops. Examining the Hadrianic communication with this group – especially considering his travels, the monument of Lambaesis and the construction of Hadrian's Wall –, I will demonstrate how Hadrian had to frequently re-connect with Trajan's positive posthumous fame in the Roman army without giving up his personal image and political aims since he would otherwise have risked to be misinterpreted as ineffectively epigonal in comparison to the so-called optimus princeps. This paper will be concluded by a brief look on Antoninus Pius's image, whose emphasis on peace-keeping on the one hand and his continued stay in Rome (appreciated by the senatorial élite) on the other hand similarly reflects the ongoing relevance of imperial self-fashioning without neglecting the challenges established during the Hadrianic principate.

One princeps and many kings: How client kings helped to shape the image of the emperor

Julia Wilker, University of Pennsylvania

The development of the image of the emperor in the eastern provinces has been in the focus of modern scholarship for many decades. One aspect usually overlooked in these debates is the role of eastern client kings. Literary, archaeological, and epigraphic sources prove that many dynasts were highly active outside their respective realms. Continuing the tradition of their Hellenistic royal predecessors, they sponsored and adorned poleis and communities especially in Syria, Asia, and Achaea. However, client king euergetism was not only an anachronistic imitation of outdated traditions; instead, many of their benefactions are connected to honors of the emperor and the spread of the imperial cult in particular. This paper looks at some of the key evidence for this phenomenon, including examples from Nicopolis, Athens, and Berytus. A close analysis of the client kings’ benefactions, their declared and intended audience, and their reception in the provinces and in Rome reveals a complex triangular communication process that helped to shape the image of the princeps in the eastern empire. By upholding the tradition of royal euergetism, client kings maintained their elevated status as (actual or alleged) successors of the Hellenistic dynasties. As the primary honor was now redirected towards the emperor, the client kings avoided the risk of implying any competition with the new ruler in Rome but publicly reassured him of their loyalty. For the provincial audience, Augustus and the later principes were thus integrated into the ideological framework of royal Hellenistic traditions. However, the prominence of client ruler as euergetai enhanced the status of the emperor even further. Instead of simply assuming the place of the former Hellenistic kings, the princeps was presented as honored and revered by their descendants and successors. The involvement of the most distinguished client kings in the establishment of the imperial cult and imperial honors in the East thus ensured that the princeps was not perceived as just the next candidate in a long line of competing kings, but as a superior ruler whose power and eminence surpassed all previous forms of royal status and privilege.

The Making of a deus: Augustus in Propertius 4

Bobby Xinyue, University of Exeter

The religion, geography, history, and architectural monuments of Augustan Rome feature prominently in the fourth book of Propertius’ elegies. The book’s potential to shed new light on how elegiac poetry can integrate itself into the political debate and cultural activities of the Augustan age has been well observed by several recent studies. This paper aims to push this line of enquiry further by arguing that the poetry of Propertius is central to the creation of the image of Augustus as a god-in-waiting. In particular, I will suggest that the final poem of book 4 (elegy 4.11) anticipates the master-narrative of its age, the Res Gestae Divi Augusti, and proleptically tackles the debate surrounding the deification of Augustus.