Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Luca Maurizi, Il cursus honorum senatorio da Augusto a Traiano: sviluppi formali e stilistici nell' epigrafia latina e greca. Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum, 130 2013. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica / The Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, 2013. Pp. 324. ISBN 9789516533943. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Matthäus Heil, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (heil@bbaw.de)

Version at BMCR home site


Not all books are intended for the general reader. Certainly this is true for the work under review—Luca Maurizi's doctorial dissertation, submitted in Helsinki. It focuses on a strictly limited area of research, a peculiarity in epigraphy concerning Roman senators. Under the emperors in nearly every inscription in honor or memory of a senator, the sequence of his public offices (cursus honorum), his priesthoods, military decorations etc. were expansively enumerated. This habit commenced already under Augustus and reached its elaborated form at the beginning of the second century A.D. In many instances (though not in all) the texts of the inscriptions were drafted by the honored senators themselves.1 The information conveyed by this sort of monument is the major source for prosopographical knowledge of the elites of this era. Yet, Maurizi doesn't propose to write another historical or sociological study on the imperial senate, as has been done already many times. Instead, he addresses the necessary preliminaries, the sources themselves—or more exactly, an aspect of the sources: the form in which the senatorial honors are presented, i.e. the literary structure and composition of the inscribed texts (he isn't interested in the complete monuments). Furthermore, he restricts himself to a limited period: not to the one and a half centuries when inscriptions with full cursus honorum were most usual, but to the period from Augustus to Trajan when the habit was developing into maturity.

In point of fact, even this narrow field has already been studied by several scholars, but here it is scrutinized systematically and in great detail with utmost accuracy. The core of the study is a comprehensive, complete, and up-to-date collection of all relevant inscriptions now known (395 texts), which are presented in short form in an appendix (pp. 213-288). The book itself can be seen as a commentary on this corpus—a commentary which also takes into account all the relevant scholarly literature.

Maurizi's primary intention is simply to register what can be observed when carefully scanning these texts. So, he often counts the frequency of the phenomena he observes and he presents his figures and percentages in many tables and diagrams. Consequently the book as a whole is arranged according to groups of observations. Although the author also tries to explain what he sees, remarks of this kind are interspersed in passages devoted to description, rather than being gathered and organized in a systematic treatment of background and causes.

The opening chapters (pp. 1-42) explain the design of the study, describe the chronological distribution of the inscriptions and discuss those text that just give a selection of senatorial honors, which Maurizi identifies as a transitional form of the Early Empire. Then in a central part (pp. 43-132) he discusses the general patterns of rendering a cursus honorum: senatorial honors are presented in ascending or descending order or sometimes "structured," as he says, i.e. putting together honors of the same type (but this last one hardly is a pattern, as each of those inscriptions has its own structure). Here he also addresses priesthoods, military decorations, extraordinary promotions, and patronates, items that had no normative place in a senatorial career. He adds an important chapter on omissions—for comparing a large number of inscriptions gives clear evidence that the authors or masons sometimes simply forgot an important item. In a second central part (pp. 133- 204) the author turns to way the individual honors were rendered, which was quite uniform. Special attention is paid to legations in the service of the emperor: here similar titles referred to very different offices. Maurizi furthermore dedicates a chapter to the inscriptions in Greek. The habit of enumerating senatorial honors originated in Latin epigraphy, but the practice was later observed also in Greek inscriptions for Roman senators. Here we find many unusual terms, which seems due to an imperfect cultural transfer, as Maurizi supposes. The résumé is very short (pp. 205-210). The last part of the book (pp. 211-324) consists of the appendix already mentioned, a bibliography, and very extensive indexes.

Owing to its accuracy and its completeness the book can serve as a kind of manual for inscriptions containing a senatorial cursus honorum. Although many details in these texts have received detailed attention by experts in the past, Maurizi offers a systematic, independent and thorough review of all evidence and scholarly literature. Beyond these aspects of overview, Maurizi has interpretive and historical ambitions of his own, which are realized only in part. Certainly the book will be helpful for restoring damaged senatorial inscriptions (cf. p. 205). But the author himself admits that 'stylistic' criteria can give only soft arguments for dating inscriptions (p. 209 sq.). He also is concerned about the credibility of the information contained in these texts (p. 2; 210), but considerations of formal and stylistic matters alone hardly support firm conclusions. The problem often lies with unusual features in the text, in which case it can be very difficult to discern what is mere wording and what reflects anomalies in a senatorial career, unless, of course, there is additional evidence. Maurizi also takes a glance at the senators and the men who put up the inscriptions for them. One of his aims was to elucidate their separate roles in composing the texts (p. 208 sq.), but due to the internal organization of the book he just offers some dispersed (but useful) hints. Finally, he aspires to point out the use of these inscriptions for the "autorappresentazione" (image building) of the senators (p. 4; 205), but by the same reasons he doesn't come to a clear and coherent view. It merits observation, too, that the overall pattern of historical development remains somewhat foggy in his presentation.

It should be stressed that Maurizi does have enough—though dispersed—material and ideas also for a deeper historical study beyond textual issues. But mainly it is left to the reader to draw conclusions. So there is room for further research. Luca Maurizi's book certainly will be useful for the knowledge of technical details of inscriptions for Roman senators as well as a starting point for further work.


1.   W. Eck, "'Tituli honorarii', curriculum vitae und Selbstdarstellung in der Hohen Kaiserzeit," in: H. Solin et al. (eds.), Acta colloquii epigraphici latini Helsingiae, 3. - 6. sept. 1991 habiti, Helsinki 1995, 211-237, reprinted in W. Eck, Monument und Inschrift, ed. by W. Ameling, J. Heinrichs, Berlin 2010, 143-174; see also W. Eck, "There are no cursus honorum inscriptions. The function of the cursus honorum in epigraphic communication," Scripta Classica Israelica 28 (2009), 79-92.

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