Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Frédéric Hurlet, Bernard Mineo (ed.), Le principat d'Auguste: réalités et représentations du pouvoir autour de la Res publica restituta. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2009. Pp. 352. ISBN 9782753509528. €19.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Nadejda Popov-Reynolds, Florida Gulf Coast University

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Like shoes and accessories, some emperors may go in and out of fashion in modern scholarship.1 Augustus, however, is always on view. The bibliography on Augustus is immense, and continues to grow.2 For instance, just as I began reading the present volume, a review of Philip Hardie's newly-edited collection arrived in my email box.3 And yet, there is still much more that can be said about the Age of Augustus, as demonstrated by this ambitious collection of sixteen papers (plus a concluding summary essay) on the concept of the Res publica restituta in the Augustan Age and beyond. The papers, all but two of them by French scholars, derive from a conference on the Res publica restituta, which took place at the Université de Nantes in June 2007. The timing of the collection is appropriate. While the Augustan Res publica restituta has previously received ample attention in scholarship, the most recent detailed treatment of the topic is already ten years old.4

The papers in the present volume are grouped into four thematic sections. The first two sections--on the concept of the Res publica restituta between reality and fiction, and on the Res publica restituta in official state discourse--address historical and art-historical questions. The final (and much shorter) two sections of the book turn to the portrayal of the Res publica restituta in Augustan poetry and Roman historiography respectively.

Opening the first section, Spannagel argues that Octavian had acted as a princeps and viewed himself as such from the very beginning of his political career in 44/43 BC, as opposed to the traditional belief from Mommsen onwards that the new regime started in 28/27 BC. Spannagel's argument is intriguing but ultimately unprovable, as it rests on his nuanced interpretation of Augustus' description of the early days of his career in the Res Gestae.

Vervaet's paper treats a related problem--the official position of Augustus in the transitional years 31-27 BC. Through the examination of Augustus' career as a triumvir, he convincingly argues that, by remaining sole triumvir until 27 BC, Augustus used that office as a crucial step in consolidating his power.

The chapters by Hurlet and Le Doze consider respectively the new Augustan aristocracy and Maecenas within the context of the Res publica restituta. Le Doze focuses on Maecenas' mysterious retirement from politics in 23/22 BC, and argues against the attribution of his retirement to a fall from grace following an involvement in Murena's conspiracy against Augustus. Instead, Le Doze sees this voluntary retirement as a crucial step taken under the auspices of Augustus himself. By giving up a formal political career, Maecenas acquired a more powerful, informal role in the new regime.

In the following chapter, Scheid presents a re-evaluation of Augustan religious restorations. Noting that the most significant of these were carried out between 36 and 27 BCE, and around 12 BCE, Scheid questions the motive behind them. He argues that Augustus presented the restorations to the public as crucial for the success of the state and as reparations of earlier religious negligence and oversight. Subsequently, the religious restorations provided immediate positive response to Augustus on the part of the public.

In the final chapter of this section, Tarpin considers Augustus' reforms of the Triumph. Surpringly and unfortunately, Tarpin does not appear to be aware of Mary Beard's recent book on the Roman Triumph, and covers much of the same ground.5

The first and last of the papers in the second part of the volume focus on the numismatic evidence for the Res publica restituta. Suspène considers the coinage of Augustus and its attempts to carefully adapt Republican coinage motifs without entirely breaking ties with them, while Rosso analyzes the coinage of Vespasian, who cleverly chose to represent himself in his coinage as a new Augustus. Especially intriguing is Rosso's discussion of the adaptation and use in Vespasianic coinage of the victory at Actium, so prominent in Augustan coinage. She argues convincingly that Vespasian modeled on Actium the references in his coinage to his own victories in the Jewish war.

Also in this section is Gros' paper on the architecture of the Augustan house on the Palatine, and Sauron's paper on the construction of the Augustan myth. The latter provides a concise re-evaluation of mythological topoi in Augustan art, with the predictable conclusion that Augustus wanted to be portrayed and viewed as a new Aeneas.

The three essays in the third section of the volume, on the Res publica restituta in Augustan poetry, are devoted to the trifecta of the official poets of the Augustan regime--Horace, Ovid, and Vergil. Martin argues through a reading of the legend of Cipus in Met. XV.565-621 that Ovid believed and, moreover, openly expressed in his poetry the belief that the Republic was never actually restored by Augustus. Martin sees Ovid as challenging Augustus' self-styling as divi filius, and portraying him as nothing more than a king. His conclusion, however, that Augustus and Tiberius indeed read the Cipus episode this way, and that this is the reason why Ovid was never recalled from Tomi, does seem somewhat far-fetched.

Citroni's essay on Horace and Deremetz's on Vergil are more general than Martin's, and concern themselves with simpler questions--in fact, the issues considered in these two papers appear overly simplistic. For instance, Deremetz's essay poses two questions in connection with Vergil and the Res publica restituta. First, does the concept of the Res publica restituta appear in Vergil's work or not? And second, how is Augustus' power portrayed in Vergil's work? Deremetz' insightful answers, however, abundantly make up for the overly simplistic questions. Through an analysis of the verb "restituere" in Vergil and the Augustan poets, he concludes that, while the poets always use the term in a positive sense of restoring life or health, there are no clear instances where the poets clearly intend for it to be interpreted as a political double-entendre. As for the second question, Deremetz argues that Vergil draws on Hesiod in his portrayal of Augustus. Augustus is modeled on the Hesiodic Zeus, while Augustus' relationship with the poet himself is modeled on that of Zeus and Apollo in Greek mythology: they are, respectively, the guarantor of the world and the unveiler of the ruler's secrets.

The three essays in the final section of the volume examine the portrayal of the Res publica restituta in Imperial historiography. In his essay on Livy, Mineo cautiously attempts to figure out whether Livy approved or disapproved of Augustus' dynastic aspirations. He concludes that Livy was hoping that Augustus would become a new Camillus, rather than a new Romulus. At the same time, while Livy was worried about the restoration of the monarchy under Augustus, he certainly believed that Augustan peace was better than a Republican civil war.

Devillers' essay on Tacitus is a fascinating, albeit rather self-indulgent, exercise in speculation. He gathers together the references to Augustus in the first three books of the Annales in order to determine Augustus' role in Tacitus' approach to historiography. Specifically, Devillers is interested in reconciling two contradictory statements in the Annales: Tacitus' decision in I.1.2 to begin the work with the events surrounding the death of Augustus, and his promise in III.24 to write a history of the Augustan period later on in life. He concludes with the theory that Tacitus was intending to write such a work, and intended to begin it with the Battle of Philippi.

The final essay, Freyburger-Galland's analysis of the Res publica restituta in the work of Dio Cassius, is arguably the most philologically oriented in the volume. Through an in-depth analysis of several key passages in Dio Cassius, Freyburger-Galland notes that for Dio the Res publica restituta carries a different sense than for the majority of Roman authors, since for Dio Res publica specifically implied the rule of the senate. Given this definition, Dio's attitude towards the Augustan Res publica restituta becomes clear. Dio, writing with the benefit of hindsight, had no illusions about Augustus' monarchical aims and motives, and used the terms monarchia and monarchêsthai in connection with Augustus on several occasions in his work.

Overall, the essays in the volume are uniformly well connected to the topic of the conference. The degree of original contribution, however, varies dramatically from essay to essay.

I would like to conclude with a couple of notes on presentation and esthetics. The quality of the editing is superb, with virtually no typographical errors. The footnotes, however, are set in an unusually small font, potentially discouraging all but the most near-sighted reader. The quality of the images in the book--all of them black-and-white--varies dramatically. While some images are clear, viewing others is an exercise in frustration (e.g., the oddly-lighted photograph of the Arch of Titus on page 140, and the fuzzy image of a coin on page 214). Another serious problem is the low quality of the binding. The volume is a cheaply bound paperback. Thus it would not fare well under extensive use--a pity, since this is a book that deserves to be added to any university library collection.

Last but not least, a major critiicism: the lack of any indices (e.g., of key terms and people, as well as of primary sources) and the absence of bibliographies both at the end of individual chapters and at the end of the volume makes the book infinitely less user-friendly. There is simply no way at all of looking up quickly a specific issue or source related to the theme of the volume.

Table of Contents

Part I: La Res publica restituta entre réalité et fiction

1. Martin Spannagel, Annos undeviginti natus…Die Rückführung von Augustus' Principat auf die Jahre 44/43 v. Chr.

2. Frederick J. Vervaet, In What Capacity did Caesar Octavianus Restitute the Republic?

3. Frédéric Hurlet, L'aristocratie augustéenne et la Res publica restituta

4. Philippe Le Doze, Aux origins d'une retraite politique: Mécène et la Res publica restituta

5. John Scheid, Les restaurations religieuses d'Octavien/Auguste

6. Michel Tarpin, Le triomphe d'Auguste: heritage de la République ou revolution?

Part II: La Res publica restituta dans le discours official

7. Arnaud Suspène, Aspects numismatiques de la Res publica restituta augustéenne

8. Pierre Gros, Les limites d'un compromis historique: de la domus vitruvienne à la maison augustéenne du Palatin

9. Gilles Sauron, Du triumvirat au début du principat: la construction du mythe augustéen

10. Emmanuelle Rosso, Le theme de la Res publica restituta dans le monnayage de Vespasien: pérennité du 'modèle augustéen' entre citations, réinterprétations et dévoiements

Part III: La Res publica restituta dans la poésie d'époque augustéenne

11. Mario Citroni, Res publica restituta et la répresentation du pouvoir augustéen dans l'oeuvre d'Horace

12. Paul M. Martin, Res publica non restituta. La réponse d'Ovide: la legende de Cipus

13. Alain Deremetz, La Res publica restituta dans l'oeuvre de Virgile

Part IV: La Res publica restituta dans l'historiographie antique

14. Bernard Mineo, La Res publica restituta livienne: un pari sur l'avenir

15. Olivier Devillers, Sed aliorum exitus, simul cetera illius aetatis, memorabo (Ann., III,24,2). Le règne d'Auguste et le projet historiographique de Tacite

16. Marie-Laure Freyburger-Galland, Res publica restituta chez Dion Cassius

17. Jean-Louis Ferrary, Conclusions


1.   For instance, the bibliography on Caligula and Claudius is much sparser in recent years than it was in the 1980's and 1990's.
2.   For a bibliography of key works on Augustus through 2005, see K. Galinsky (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus (Cambridge 2005).
3.   P. Hardie (ed.), Paradox and the Marvellous in Augustan Literature and Culture (Oxford/New York 2009).
4.   K. Sion-Jenkis, Von der Republik zum Prinzipat: Ursachen für den Verfassungswandel in Rom im historischen Denken der Antike (Stuttgart 2000), which argues that the notion of the Res publica restituta was nothing but a fiction already in the eyes of contemporary authors. Also of note is the chapter on the subject in K. Galinsky, Augustan Culture: an Interpretive Introduction (Princeton 1995). . Finally, no discussion of the historical context of the Augustan Res publica restituta could be complete without a reference to R. Syme's monumental Roman Revolution (Oxford 1939), and E. Gruen's counter-argument in The Last Generation of the Roman Republic (Berkeley 1995). See also the responses to Syme by Galsterer, Linderski, and Yavetz in K. Raaflaub and M. Toher (eds.), Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and his Principate (Berkeley 1993).
5.   M. Beard, The Roman Triumph (Harvard 2007).

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