Saturday, December 3, 2011


Antonio Caballos Rufino, Sabine Lefebvre (ed.), Roma generadora de identidades: la experiencia hispana. Collection de la Casa de Velázquez, 123. Madrid: Casa de Velázquez/Universidad de Sevilla, 2011. Pp. 434. ISBN 9788496820517. €34.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Leonard Curchin, University of Waterloo (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Cultural identity has become something of a growth industry in the study of ancient history.1 This trend is a healthy corrective to the previous practice of characterizing provincial peoples as "barbarians" or "natives," pejorative terms that imply racial inferiority. The present collection of essays represents the acta of a colloquium celebrated in Seville in 2008. While dealing largely with the Hispanic provinces, it also contains papers treating Italy (Wulff Alonso), Noricum (Hainzmann) and the Roman provinces generally (Le Roux, Dardenay, Haensch). The editors' introduction states that the object of this publication is to "contribuir al estudio del proceso de paulatina generación de la provincia," adding that Spain in particular is a "laboratorio de análisis…en los procesos de aculturación". The process of "becoming Roman" in Spain, i.e. constructing an identity, was indeed gradual ("paulatina"), occupying at least two centuries. Moreover, as co-editor Caballos Rufino explains (187), we must recognize that identity is a phenomenon both of self-definition and of external recognition: it was one thing for Spaniards to see themselves as Romans, another for the latter to accept them as Romans rather than Hispani. The title of the volume, which intimates that Rome generated identities, tells only half the story, obscuring the role of indigenous peoples in identifying themselves (or not) with the Romans. Felicitously, this other half is amply explored in many of the contributions.

The papers fall into three main categories: provincial versus other forms of identity; identity in specific Hispanic provinces; and visual manifestations of identity.

Le Roux emphasizes that, while "identity" is a modern rather than Roman notion, individuals did identify themselves (as is evident from inscriptions) by name and sometimes by origo. The name in particular may be Latin or indigenous, and may (or may not) display the tria nomina proper to Roman citizens. Integration with Roman culture implies acceptance of Roman values. However, as Wulff Alonso points out, "Roman" identity is not a rigid or pristine concept, since Roman culture itself involved the assimilation of Etruscan, Italic and Greek elements; and Rome's integration of various Italian peoples was not always harmonious, as witness the Social War. Ironically, the frustrated desire of the subject allies to become Roman citizens led them to turn against the very people they emulated.

Pina Polo reminds us that Spain in the time of the Republic was not a macropolitical entity that could be annexed wholesale like the Hellenistic kingdoms, but an array of disparate chiefdoms whose conquest occupied nearly two centuries. The Iberian Peninsula as a whole did not become an administrative reality until Augustus, and even then was organized not as a single province but as three (Baetica, Lusitania, Tarraconensis). The pacification of this fragmented territory involved a destructuring of the indigenous social system and the introduction of the Roman urban model. For instance, as Chic García indicates, Hispanic communities issuing coinage are clearly identified as towns, not chiefdoms. Hierarchies of power within and among the various communities did not disappear, though they were absorbed into an even larger sphere, that of the province. Local and regional mentalities continued to prevail. Yet, despite its lack of ethno-political cohesiveness, as Beltrán Lloris shows, the Romans conceived of Spain as a geographic unity, regarding its inhabitants as Hispani and portraying Hispania as a goddess on coins. As another example of unity, he sees the Hispanic origin of some senators in the late first and early second centuries as a "reforzamiento mutuo" against the dominance of Italians (73). But there is no evidence that Spanish senators voted together as a bloc, and while they may have represented Spain numerically in the Senate, these ambitious individuals were not representatives of the Spanish people. Their success does show, however, that it was possible for provincials to identify with the highest stratum of Roman society.

Turning to the second category we find that Hispanic provincials, individually and collectively, tended to identify themselves with Rome (as the universal patria), with Hispania generally, or with their own city, but rarely with their particular province. The very notion of a province was a novelty for Spaniards, who had hitherto thought of themselves as members of a chiefdom or principality. Although Haensch argues that the concilia provinciae were the best vehicle for forging a provincial identity, it was not normal for a Spaniard to label himself as, for instance, "Baeticus". Still less would he express identification with his juridical district (conventus), for which Gordón Peral finds no epigraphic attestations. Indeed, the four conventus of Baetica are mentioned solely by the elder Pliny who, as a provincial procurator, took an interest in such administrative details. However, as Navarro Caballos shows from inscriptions, some individuals in areas remote from the Mediterranean still identified themselves with an indigenous ethnic group, e.g. Celtiber, Cantaber or Asturius. The case of "Lusitanus" – an origo, not a cognomen – as Lefebvre points out, is ambiguous: does it refer to ethnic origin or to a province? There is no clear answer, and all the attested examples were found outside of Lusitania. Hainzmann identifies a similar problem with the designation "natione Norico" (again found only outside the region in question), which could allude to either the Roman province or the pre-Roman kingdom. In Baetica, as Melchor Gil documents, some members of the elite became "supralocal," extending their influence (in the form of magistracies or benefactions) to cities other than their origo, sometimes holding office in more than one. Thus they could claim multiple local identities.

In delimiting provincial borders, the Romans often respected ethnic boundaries, as Marcos demonstrates in the case of the Vettones, whose territorial limits (as far as we can reconstruct them) defined the eastern extent of Lusitania. She examines the role of the frontier as a determinant border in organizing the province and establishing its cultural identity. Caballos Rufino considers Baetica as a spacial referent of identity, viewing the division of Spain into provinces as an instrument of domination, by which the collective identity of the province was superimposed on a number of smaller identities of peoples (civitates). Navarro Santana underlines the difficulty of creating a provincial identity in Tarraconensis: as the largest province of the empire, it was not a cohesive unit but embraced two discrete regions, the east coast and the north-west. (He might better have posited a threefold division, giving due recognition to Celtiberia as the central region of this province.) There is a clear behavioural difference between these regions, in terms of the degree of urbanism and the number of inscriptions. The provincial capital, Tarraco, attracted elites from outlying communities who acquired the prestige of becoming flamines provinciae Hispaniae Citerioris. Navarro Santana argues that the romanization of the north-west was considerably facilitated by its being linked to the rest of Tarraconensis, rather than forming a separate province. The paper by Brassous is somewhat eccentric, as the "identity" it deals with is not personal identity but the identification of the capital cities of the Diocletianic provinces; in particular, the thorny problem of whether the Late Roman capital of Baetica was Corduba or Hispalis, and whether that of Carthaginensis was Carthago Nova or Toletum. The capitals appear in fact to have moved, though at an undetermined date.

Finally, there are two essays on visual manifestations of identity. Images contributed in a variety of ways to the idea of an integrated empire in the minds of the provincials, according to Reyes Domínguez, serving as transmitters of cultural values from Rome to the periphery. He shows, for instance, how togate statues helped construct an identity based on the prestige of citizenship and civic honour. Other new forms of iconography introduced by the Romans and readily adopted by Spaniards included busts and mosaics, documenting the spread of classical values (and of immigrant artists). Identifying with Rome also meant identifying with the tradition of Rome's founding. To this end, Dardenay examines Hispano-Roman artistic representations on statuary, mosaics and lamps of Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, the Laurentine sow, and the wolf suckling the twins. By her estimate, the legend of Rome's founding was more enthusiastically propagated by local elites in Hispania than anywhere else in the empire.

Many of the papers rehearse similar ideas: the slow conquest of Spain and its consequent uneven assimilation; the romanizing influence of Italian soldiers, colonists and traders, particularly in Baetica and the east coast; the attraction of Romanitas to members of the indigenous elite; the role of urbanism in forging a Roman mentality and behaviour; the imposition of provincial borders to create artificial administrative divisions which did not correspond to indigenous tradition, and to which people felt no particular affinity. One is left with the impression of an identity crisis, with individual Spaniards torn between their allegiance to chiefdom, city, province, and Rome itself. As Chic García (231) points out, which nation (as opposed to state) you belong to is an emotional decision; and, as Le Roux explains (14), everyone is free to choose an identity. In this regard, far from Rome being a "generadora de identidades," it can be said that provincials generated their own identities. Yet, undeniably, the influence of Rome was the catalyst that motivated them to do this, and it certainly required Rome's permission for them to become Roman citizens and legally adopt the tria nomina. Whether the modern construct of "identity" can legitimately be applied to the ancient world will continue to be debated; but for those interested in exploring Roman provincial identities, this volume provides ample food for thought.

Table of Contents

Patrick Le Roux, "Identités civiques, identités provinciales dans l'Empire romain," pp. 7-19
Fernando Wulff Alonso, "Hablando de identidades: reflexiones historiográficas sobre Italia entre la República y el Imperio," pp. 21-37
Francisco Pina Polo, "Etnia, ciudad y provincia en la Hispania republicana," pp. 39-53
Francisco Beltrán Lloris, "... 'Et sola omnivm provinciarvm vires svam postqvam victa est intellexit.' Una aproximación a Hispania como referente identitario en el mundo romano," pp. 55-77
Alexandra Dardenay, "La diffusion iconographique des mythes fondateurs de Rome dans l'Occident romain: spécificités hispaniques," pp. 79-96
Rudolf Haensch, "L'attitude des gouverneurs envers leurs provinces," pp. 97-106
Milagros Navarro Caballero, "Grupo, cultura y territorio: referencias onomásticas 'identitarias' de los celtíberos y de los restantes pueblos del norte de la Citerior," pp. 107-140
Francisco J. Navarro Santana, "El gobierno de la Tarraconense y la identidad provincial," pp. 141-152
Sabine Lefebvre, "Onomastique et identité provinciale: le cas de 'Lusitanus'," pp. 153-170
Susana Marcos, "Espace géographique, espace politique: la frontière provinciale lusitanienne, une limite déterminante?," pp. 171-184
Antonio Caballos Rufino, "La Bética como referente identificador en la documentación epigráfica," pp. 185- 207
Myriam A. Gordón Peral, "Estructura funcional y vertebración provincial: el conventus Hispaliensis," pp. 209-224
Genaro Chic García, "Los elementos económicos en la integración de la provincia Bética," pp. 225-265
Enrique Melchor Gil, "Elites supralocales en la Bética: entre la civitas y la provincia," pp. 267-300
Aarón A. Reyes Domínguez, "La imagen como soporte de difusión ideológica en la provincia," pp. 301-320
Manfred Hainzmann, " 'Provinz-Identität' und 'nationale' Identität: das Beispiel Noricums," pp. 321-336
Laurent Brassous, "L'identification des capitales administratives du diocèse des Espagnes," pp. 337-353
Bibliography, pp. 359-412
Summaries in Spanish, French and English, pp. 413-434


1.  See recently E.S. Gruen (ed.), Cultural Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean: Issues and Debates (Los Angeles, 2010); A. Coşkun, H. Heinen and S. Pfeiffer (ed.), Identität und Zugehörigkeit im Osten der griechisch- römischen Welt (Frankfurt, 2010).

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