Monday, June 20, 2011


Alfredina Storchi Marino, Giovanna Daniela Merola (ed.), Interventi imperiali in campo economico e sociale: da Augusto al Tardoantico. Pragmateiai 18. Bari: Edipuglia, 2009. Pp. 293. ISBN 9788872285831. €50.00.

Reviewed by Saskia T. Roselaar, The University of Reading (

Version at BMCR home site

[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The articles collected in this volume are the proceedings of a conference held in September 2009 as part of the larger research project 'Strategie e linee programmatiche della politica imperiale da Augusto al tardo antico'. As Elio Lo Cascio sets out in the introduction, the aim of the project is to investigate in more detail the economic and social policy of the Roman Empire, and the role of respective emperors in regard to the creation of general policy. It has been generally accepted since Millar's The Emperor in the Roman World (1977) that emperors mostly acted reactively, responding to specific events or requests, rather than taking a proactive role in governing, at least until the creation of late antique imperial bureaucracy. The papers in this volume attempt to modify this view by showing that in many areas of the economy and society there was in fact a general policy through the reigns of successive emperors. This will bring to light, according to Lo Cascio, three main conclusions: firstly that there was no difference between the Roman economy and that of other preindustrial societies; secondly that the Roman economy was driven by the quest for profit, and lastly that the economy was not static but showed periods of growth and decline. The papers in this volume all contribute to these three hypotheses, although some do so more than others.

The first article, by Stefano Genovesi, investigates Augustus' policy towards the mines in Germania. Genovesi argues that the exploitation of natural resources was a major priority, as shown by the fact that military camps were located close to mining areas and that soldiers were used as miners during the first decades of exploitation. The products of the imperial mines were sold by the fiscus on the free market. A comparison with the tabulae Vipascenses shows that in later periods the actual working of the mines was rented out to coloni, who were closely controlled by government officials.

Mining is also the subject of Cristina Serafino's paper. She shows that the pay received by the various types of miners was strictly administered by the state. Thus isolated mining areas like Mons Claudianus in Egypt formed 'enclaves' in which the usual rules of the free market did not apply, because they were under state control.

Giovanna Merola discusses the tax policy of the Roman state. A study of customs regulations in various towns in the province Asia and the territory of the Lycian League shows that regional policy was aimed at making trade between regions attractive by preventing the payment of double customs dues. This shows that local authorities had considerable freedom of action in this respect, although she does not explain whether and how they communicated with the Roman state to arrive at these regulations. Roman laws such as the lex portus Asiae show that encouraging trade by preventing double taxation was also the usual policy of the Roman state, although is not made clear whether this policy remained the same throughout the Imperial period.

Lavinia De Rosa analyses the frequency of aqueduct building under the Empire. She argues that the building of aqueducts by emperors mainly served as an example for local magistrates; most locally financed works in Italy were carried out in the Julio-Claudian period, which also saw the largest imperial involvement. Most Augustan aqueducts were located in veteran colonies or in strategically or economically important locations; the main imperial goal can be identified as stabilizing such important towns.

Nero's monetary policy is the subject of Joaquín de la Hoz Montoya's paper. It was always a prime concern for emperors to be seen as the ultimate patron, especially to the legions, and the timely payment of army wages was critical to the popularity of an emperor. Around 63-64 the coinage, including the denarius, was reformed; it declined in weight and contained less silver per coin. This made it possible to realign it with the Alexandrian tetradrachma, since both types now contained equal amounts of silver per coin. This, Montoya argues, shows a clear imperial policy: firstly, the emperor aimed at encouraging trade between different regions by making it easier to exchange different types of coin. Also, the reform was necessary to retain the loyalty of new legions that were sent to the Armenian wars. Armies in the East were usually paid in tetradrachms, which were treated as equivalent to the denarius; however, new legions sent to the region would have realized they received money that was worth less than the equal amount in denarii, and therefore might have revolted.

Salvatore Martino and Dario Nappo argue that economic considerations played a major role in Eastern policy in the second century. Trade with the Middle and Far East brought in large revenues, and the state was eager to encourage and protect such trade. It also attempted to reduce the power of the Parthian empire, which imposed large taxes on traders passing through its territory, thus raising the prices of goods in the West. Small military garrisons were stationed throughout the area, with the aim of making sure the major trade routes remained safe.

Patrizia Arena debates the question of whether an imperial policy existed with regard to public ceremonies and rituals. She demonstrates that from Augustus onwards many Republican public ceremonies were appropriated by the imperial house, which monopolized the use, for example, of the triumph. Each emperor tried to insert himself and his family into the history of Rome and thus create new imperial mythology. Ceremonies like public funerals, games, salutationes, and the pompa circensis served to legitimize imperial rule and broadcast the message of a unified but hierarchical society, based on harmony and concordia.

Mauro De Nardis discusses imperial policy towards lands held by Italian communities, especially the subseciva, pieces of land which were not assigned to individuals at the time of a colony's foundation, but remained under town control. As time progressed, these lands came to be considered similar to imperial ager publicus, and therefore under the control of the emperor. Vespasian re-assigned some of it to the respective towns, while other lands were sold. Thus the treatment of these lands shows the degree to which individual towns had lost their independence in relation to central government.

Imperial policy towards natural disasters is investigated by Alfredina Storchi Marino. A rather lengthy digression on the value of natural disasters as omens leads into a discussion of the reaction of emperors to such events. Many emperors granted benefits to towns that had suffered, such as gifts of money or suspension of taxes. For this they were often honoured by the cities as 'saviours' and 'benefactors'. Although Tiberius rationalized the response to disasters and usually sent out a commission of senators to investigate the situation, there does not seem to have been a general imperial policy: the assistance offered by the emperor could vary widely, and although Storchi Marino concludes that imperial policy showed continuity, her examples make clear that a large measure of variation occurred in the way emperors dealt with natural disasters.

Eliodoro Savino discusses in more detail an example of imperial reaction to natural disaster. He argues that Nero was present at Pompeii when the earthquake of AD 63 occurred, and was therefore especially concerned about the fate of the survivors; furthermore, his wife Poppaea had close family relations in the town. He donated large sums of money to help with rebuilding, and possibly renewed Pompeii's status as a colonia. However, after the fire of Rome in 64 and Poppaea's death a year later, Nero's interest in Pompeii waned, and no further assistance was given.

Late Antiquity is discussed only by Gianluca Soricelli. He argues against the theory that the creation of provinces in Italy was partially a response to the earthquake of AD 346 and that it aimed at restoring the economy and the functioning of towns as service centres. Although the emperor was honoured as restorer by many cities, the actual impact of the earthquake on Samnite economy and civic life seems limited, and this does not warrant the conclusion that the province was created in response to it.

The volume ends with three short conclusions by Arnaldo Marcone, Jean-Jacques Aubert, and Kai Ruffing. Both Marcone and Ruffing conclude that emperors often did act reactively rather than with a predetermined policy but that in a remarkable number of cases a well-defined policy motivated emperors' actions. However, Aubert points out the difficulty of creating a long-term policy: for example, Nero's monetary reform seemed sensible at the time, but eventually led to the dissatisfaction of the legions who saw their buying power reduced in comparison to the previous denarii, and this contributed to Nero's downfall.

Some general points should be made: firstly, as is often the case with conference volumes, not all papers are closely related to the general topic. Some contributors, for example Savino and De Nardis, discuss only one emperor, without explaining whether their actions were part of a larger policy, and not all of the many papers focused on very specialized subjects discuss the larger theme of the book. Secondly, the title does not quite cover the contents: late Antiquity is only discussed in one paper. Thirdly, the three hypotheses posited by Lo Cascio are not addressed in the papers or in the conclusions, and the articles do not provide sufficient evidence for Lo Cascio's theses.

Finally, the theory that emperors were generally proactive is not always convincingly argued. Although we can identify sophisticated, well designed systems in many financial matters, which often show a surprising level of uniformity throughout the Empire, it is not clear when such systems were first created and how they continued to work throughout the reign of successive emperors. Was there a bureaucratic system that maintained continuity no matter who was occupying the throne? Were these bureaucrats civilians (e.g. local magistrates complying with Empire-wide regulations) or was much of the administration carried out by provincial governors, with the army functioning partly as administrative assistants? To what extent were emperors themselves involved in the details of administration. For example, Montoya credits Nero with the monetary reform that took place during his reign, but it remains questionable how much of this policy was actually devised by Nero himself. Did he really personally set out the details of the reform, and if not, then who else might have been responsible? Furthermore, on the basis of what information were emperors and their staff able to analyze the problems and respond effectively?

Still, these papers give striking indications that the role of the emperor, and the imperial administration in general, deserve further investigation.

Table of Contents

Elio Lo Cascio, Introduzione, 5-11

Stefano Genovesi, L'amministrazione dei metalla di proprietà del princeps in età augustea: fonti archeologiche ed epigrafiche a confronto, 13-42

Cristina Serafino, Cave, miniere, salari: il caso del Mons Claudianus, 43-53

Giovanna Daniela Merola, Roma ebbe una politica doganale? Portoria e commerci nell'impero romano, 55-78

Lavinia De Rosa, Il ruolo degli acquedotti nella politica imperiale in Italia, 79-95

Joaquín de la Hoz Montoya, Oro y plata en la política monetaria de Nerón, 97-120

Salvatore Martino e Dario Nappo, La politica orientale tra Traiano e Marco Aurelio, 121-141

Patrizia Arena, Si può parlare di una politica imperiale nel campo di rituali e cerimonie?, 143-164

Mauro De Nardis, Princeps, territorium civitatis e veterani nell'Italia altoimperiale, 165-182

Alfredina Storchi Marino, Munificentia principis e calamità naturali, 183-224

Eliodoro Savino, Nerone, Pompei e il terremoto del 63 d.C., 225-244

Gianluca Soricelli, La provincia del Samnium e il terremoto del 346 d.C., 245-262

Arnaldo Marcone, Jean-Jacques Aubert, Kai Ruffing, Conclusioni, 265-275

Index of Sources, 277-291

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