Monday, January 17, 2011


Tullio Spagnuolo Vigorita, Casta domus: un seminario sulla legislazione matrimoniale augustea. Terza edizione. Napoli: Jovene editore, 2010. Pp. xv, 188. ISBN 9788824319218. €18.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Lien Foubert, Radboud University Nijmegen (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Tullio Spagnuolo Vigorita's third edition of Casta Domus, like the earlier editions of 1998 and 2001, is intended to offer students an introduction to the Augustan marriage laws. Basing his monograph on a Roman law seminar, the author sets out to treat Augustus' social legislation of 18-17 B.C., the Lex Iulia de maritandis ordinibus and the Lex Iulia de adulteriis, together with the Lex Papia Poppaea of A.D. 9 in its historical context. The focus of the monograph lies on the impact of the legislation on the Roman elite with special regard to its effects on the imperial family. The author pays attention to the representation of the marriage laws in the works of poets such as Propertius and Horace, from whom the phrase casta domus derives (Hor. Odes 4.5.21), and highlights the misfortunes of famous victims such as Ovid, Julia Maior and Julia Minor. In discussing the charges of adultery that were made against these figures, the author offers no new evidence, but the fact that he reckons with the many uncertainties which the literary sources leave us with regard to these episodes makes for a welcome change from those studies that too readily apply the word 'conspiracy'. On several occasions, Spagnuolo Vigorita lingers over problems concerning the chronology of the laws. Basing his argument on a well-known reference from the works of Propertius (2.7: "Surely Cynthia rejoiced that the law has been repealed which made us both weep long in the past when it was decreed, for fear it should sever us.", translation by E. Fantham, Julia Augusti , London – New York, 2006, p. 37), Spagnuolo Vigorita maintains 28-27 B.C. as the starting point of Augustus' social program. A study by Ernst Badian ('A phantom marriage law', Philologus 129 (1985), pp. 82-98), has had a large impact on scholarly debates on this passage and its significance for dating Augustus' social legislation. Badian identifies the law mentioned by Propertius as part of a set of triumviral laws, which was then repealed by Augustus in 28 B.C. Spagnuolo Vigorita refutes this hypothesis and at the same time nuances his own chronological framework by stating that neither Propertius nor other literary sources allow for the existence of an actual matrimonial law – nor even the design for one – as early as 28-27 B.C. The sources, however, do indicate that the long process of conceptualizing Augustus' social legislation started during this period. The arguments of Badian are only partly met in the author's monograph, though he refers to his earlier work for a more detailed discussion of the passages that are at the basis of Badian's hypothesis ( Beneficium lenitatis nostrae: conflitto di interessi e munificenza imperiale in una costituzione di Costantino , 1987).

The newly added preface does not provide a clear motivation for this third edition, and one might wonder whether the author himself thought it necessary at all. New to this edition is the inclusion of a status quaestionis which incorporates the most recent studies on Augustus' social legislation and chiefly takes the form of a critical reaction to the study by Ernst Badian mentioned above. On several occasions, however, the author advises the intended student reader to skip this initial section (e.g. preface 2009 and p. 1). The layout of the monograph seems to reflect the author's reluctance, for the initial section is numbered as zero and the footnotes in this section are indicated differently (with letters instead of numbers). In addition, the reader has to struggle through 3 different prefaces (one for each edition), while puzzling out how the edition of 2001 differs from that of 1998, and the one of 2009 from those before. The least one can say is that this new edition does not constitute a coherent whole.

The first part of the book (pp. 1-83) consists of 24 sections which discuss the impact of the marriage laws on the Augustan elite along chronological lines. The footnotes that accompany the text merely contain references to the relevant ancient sources, which are included in the second part of the monograph (pp. 85-175). As the author states in one of the prefaces, references in the footnotes are intended to provide an answer to students' frequently asked questions and to facilitate discussions during lectures. A selective bibliography is provided in the end of the book. As stated, the second part of the book offers a list of both literary and epigraphical sources, in Latin as well as Greek, with the author's own translations in Italian. This appendix emerges as the most user-friendly part of Spagnuolo Vigorita's study. The accompanying notes provide students and teachers with the necessary background to interpret the excerpts (e.g. a short biography of the ancient author), and indications as to where the passages are used to support Spagnuolo Vigorita's arguments in the first part add to the monograph's potential as a textbook. Finally, an index of proper names and a simplified stemma of the Julio-Claudian family facilitate use by the reader even more.

Spagnuolo Vigorita' monograph is clearly intended for students and teachers, as the note accompanying the stemma of the Julio-Claudians makes clear: "La tavola che segue non ha pretese scientifiche, ma intende solo offrire agli studenti un'immagine visiva delle probabili relazioni (parentela, coniugio, affinità, adozione) tra alcuni dei personaggi menzionati nel libro." In some instances, however, the author indicates that he also sees Casta Domus as a useful instrument for the scholarly expert (cf. preface 2001: "Questo seminario nasce dalla speranza di riuscire a comunicare agli studenti – e, perché no? agli studiosi – l'entusiasmo per quegli scritti e per la lezione di metodo in essi praticata."). The language of the book, however, will make it less accessible to students outside of Italy. Teachers who can work through the dense language and the juridical jargon will find in Casta Domus a useful instrument to prepare their lectures. On the whole, although a scholarly audience was only incidental according to the original purpose of the author, it is precisely this audience that will recognise the value of this monograph the most.

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