Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Frank Stini, Plenum exiliis mare: Untersuchungen zum Exil in der römischen Kaiserzeit. Geographica Historica, Bd 27. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2011. Pp. 378. ISBN 9783515098946. €58.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen, University of Southern Denmark (tonnes@hist.sdu.dk)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Pollutae caerimoniae, magna adulteria; plenum exiliis mare, infecti caedibus scopuli: "holy things were desecrated, adultery widespread; the sea was swarming with exiles and its rocks stained with blood".1 Thus Tacitus characterizes the period of turmoil that followed the death of Nero. Exile looms large in the historical sources for the early and middle empire, partly because so many of those banished were celebrities – members of the imperial dynasty, literary personalities – and partly because, unlike those sentenced to harsher forms of punishment, exiles could and often did survive to describe their experiences.2

The present book, originally a Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Stuttgart, takes an approach described by its author as "geographical" in the sense of focusing on the spatial, social and – in so far as that is possible – quantitative aspects of banishment. Its major contribution is a profound and detailed study of the sources, producing a catalogue of individual cases of banishment over a period of c. 325 years.

After a brief introduction (ch. 1, p. 13-20) and an equally brief outline of previous research (ch. 2, p. 21-28), the first substantive chapter of the book (ch. 3, p. 29-54) traces the evolution of exile as a category within Roman law and society. Under the Republic, exile was no penalty in itself; rather, it was a means to avoid punishment – typically a capital sentence – by leaving the territory of Rome and ipso facto relinquishing one's rights as a Roman citizen. Only with the advent of the monarchy did forced banishment come into its own as a penalty imposed by the courts or by the ruler (p. 31-35).

The fourth chapter (p. 55-64) briefly addresses the quantitative problems involved. The number of exiles known by name and included in the catalogue, some 250 in all – an average of less than one per year – pale into quasi- insignificance beside the four thousand persons supposedly exiled to Sardinia within the single year AD 19.3 Furthermore, as the author himself points out, provincial governors had the authority to banish criminals to an island within their province, but such "provincial exiles" are virtually invisible in the sources.

In chapter 5 (p. 65-116) exiles are classified by groups, e.g., members of the imperial family; persons opposed to the regime; magistrates; astrologers; philosophers; etc. From here, we pass to chapter 6, the book's longest (p. 117- 188) where the author discusses the individual exile's experience of banishment and rehabilitation. This is followed by a shorter chapter on the spatial aspects of exile (p. 189-212) and a summing-up in chapter 8 (p. 213-218).

The last third of the book is taken up by a catalogue of all known exiles in alphabetical order. Although the author's survey is stated to commence from 43 BC (p. 19), the list includes Amatius who claimed to be a descendant of Gaius Marius and was banished from Italy by Julius Caesar in 45 BC (p. 222). Included are also those who were not themselves banished but accompanied a relative into exile, e.g., Egnatia Maximilla (p. 240), C. Sempronius Gracchus (p. 269), Q. Ovidius (p. 262) and Antistia (p. 224; misplaced in the alphabetical sequence). One might also have included the peculiar case of Tiberius on Rhodes, 6 BC-AD 2: though he left Rome of his own volition, Tiberius was not allowed to return, and some contemporaries considered him a de facto exile.4 The individual cases are summarized in tables arranged by chronology (p. 279-295) and place of banishment (p. 73; 297-299).

By any standard, Stini's book is an impressive and important contribution to our understanding of exile in the Roman world. Nonetheless, it is not without a few weak points. A minor defect but a major irritant is the absence of a system of cross-referencing from the geographical and chronological tables to the catalogue itself. For instance, in the geographical list (p. 297) we are told that Andros received exiles in 38/39 and 65, but to identify the individuals concerned, one has to pass via the geographical index, which gives more than fifteen page references for "Andros". The geographical table informs us that "Africa" was a destination for exiles between 193 and 211, but Africa is not found as a headword in the index of places. Using the chronological table as an intermediate stage it becomes possible to identify the emperor Macrinus as the only person exiled to Africa during this period; from here, one passes to the alphabetical catalogue only to learn that the source for Macrinus' exile is the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta.

On p. 21, the author notes that there has been a paradigm shift in the study of exile from the legal-historical approach of the nineteenth and early twentieth century to the present emphasis on the experience of exile as reflected in literature. He does not, however, address the concurrent paradigm shift in the historical study of Roman criminal law, where a systematic approach searching for clear rules and categories has been replaced by a more sociologically inspired analysis of a legal universe that was, in the words of Elizabeth Meyer, "deliberately arbitrary and enjoyably corrupt … old Sicily rather than modern Zurich".5

The first third of the book, chapters 1 through 5, reflect the former approach, categorizing, counting and systematizing different types of exile and exiles, identifying legal forms and procedures. With the transition to chapter 6, however, we pass through the looking-glass into a different world, where exile is imposed or alleviated according to the imperial whim, exiles recalled or murdered at the drop of a hat, and the individual cases often defy attempts at categorization and generalization.

On re-examination, the neat categories of the earlier chapters turn out to be less clear-cut than they appeared at first sight. In chapter 5, exiles were classified into boxes: "intimates of the imperial household", "opponents of the régime", "philosophers" and so on. The category "philosophers" includes Seneca and Dio Chrysostom. While the former was certainly a philosopher, there is nothing to indicate that he was banished as such. The scholarly consensus is that Seneca was exiled either because of a too close involvement with female members of the imperial family, because he was opposed to the régime, or possibly both; this is supported by Seneca's own statement that he had originally been sentenced to death: there was no capital penalty for being a philosopher.6 On his own account, Dio Chrysostom was exiled because of his close relationship with opponents of Domitian, not because of his philosophy (a vocation that he claims to have taken up only after his banishment).7

The author acknowledges that the names recorded in his catalogue reflect only a small fraction of the total exile population and do not make up a representative sample (p. 60-61), yet attempts to extrapolate "basic principles" (Grundsätze) which on closer examination turn out to be no more than e silentio inferences from the limited number of known cases. For instance, it is asserted that "without exception" banishment took place to a location within the empire and never to a border province (p. 177; 208). Given that tens of thousands of exiles remain unknown to posterity, this is surely a bold statement, which in any case is contradicted by Cassius Dio's statement (quoted p. 111, n. 252) that after the Varian disaster in AD 9, Gallic and German members of the Guard were relegated to islands while civilians were expelled from Rome;8 with nowhere else to go, the civilians would have to return to their homes – in the border provinces or outside the empire. Other examples from the author's catalogue include Antipas Herodes (p. 224) exiled to Lugdunum and Tiridates (p. 273) to Britain. Nor could the authorities prevent those banished from Rome and their native province from visiting a frontier province or travelling beyond the borders of the empire: Dio Chrysostom boasts of having done both during his exile.9

These minor criticisms, however, do not detract from the overall impression of this volume as a substantial contribution to the scholarly debate on the place of exile within Roman law and Roman history, as the natural point of departure for future investigations into the questions that it has raised.


1.   Tacitus, Histories 1.2.
2.   Jo-Marie Claassen, Displaced Persons: The Literature of Exile from Cicero to Boethius, London: Duckworth, 1999; Jan Felix Gaertner (ed.), Writing Exile: The Discourse of Displacement in Greco-Roman Antiquity and Beyond, Leiden: Brill, 2007.
3.   Tacitus, Annals, 2.85.4.
4.   Suetonius, Tiberius, 13.
5.   Elizabeth A. Meyer, Legitimacy and Law in the Roman World: Tabulae in Roman Belief and Practice, New York: Cambridge UP, 2004, 3.
6.   Seneca, Ad Polyb. 13.2.
7.   Dio Chrysostom, Orations 19.1; 19.11-12.
8.   Cassius Dio, 56.23.4.
9.   Dio Chrysostom, Orations 12.17-19.

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