Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Marco Maiuro, Res Caesaris: ricerche sulla propriet√† imperiale nel Principato. Pragmateiai, 23. Bari: Edipuglia, 2012. Pp. 480. ISBN 9788872286555. €70.00.

Reviewed by Myles McCallum, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia (myles.mccallum@smu.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

[The reviewer offers his sincere apologies for the lateness of the review.]

Maiuro's recent book is a detailed examination of the economic significance of imperial properties, primarily in Italy, that developed out of his PhD dissertation. This includes discussion of the means whereby emperors expanded their patrimonium, the importance of imperial properties to the Roman economy, the significance of these properties to the exploitation of Italy's resources and to Italy's real estate market, the social and political role imperial estates likely played within Italy, and the geographical distribution pattern of imperial estates throughout Italy.

The book is divided into three sections, "La terra e i cesari", "Il patromonio imperiale in Italia", and, "Repertorio dei contesti topografici", to which are added six appendices. Section one traces the historic development and economic function of imperial estates, primarily as seen through epigraphic and legal sources. In doing so, it lays the groundwork for the second section by defining a number of important terms such as patrimonium, fiscus, and bona caduca, among others. It also examines the means whereby emperors were able to expand their patrimonium, the transfer of property among members of Rome's senatorial and equestrian elite (as well as wealthy imperial freedmen) and the imperial patrimonium, how frequently such property may have changed hands, the effects all this may have had on the real estate market, and what these patterns of land transfer inform us about the social and political relations between the emperor and the amici caesaris. Throughout section one, it is evident that Mauiro owes an intellectual debt to the work of Lo Cascio, in particular his 2000 book. 1 That said, important novel contributions are made in the discussion of the relationship between the emperor and his closest associates, principally the inner circle of amici caesaris and the high-level imperial freedmen who occupied important administrative offices. Maiuro observes, certainly correctly, that emperors gave elements of their patrimonium only to these closest associates, and that they, in turn, appear to be the only people who could similarly add to this patrimonium through gifts, which were most frequently the same lands that they or an ancestor had received from an emperor previously. The rate at which emperors accrued property and expanded their patrimonium from other sources, including confiscations, legacies, and the like, is also calculated. This includes a thoughtful examination of the social significance of landed wealth as part of the elite's value system, and how this perhaps guided its exchange. He concludes that this value system acted as a moral imperative for so-called good emperors to use their patrimonium appropriately for the benefit of their subjects. The real meat of this section, however, rests in the proposition that imperial estates (as well as those owned by members of the Senatorial aristocracy) were potentially of less economic importance than most historians have allowed. This conclusion is based upon Mauiro's calculation that at any given period, the emperor's patrimonium accounted for no more than ca. 5% of the total amount of land available throughout the empire.

The second section, Il patrimonio imperiale in Italia, investigates the economic and social significance of imperial properties within rural Italy. This includes an estimation of the level of capital investment in such properties, the basic elements of villa and domanial agricultural organization in Italy, geographical patterning of imperial properties, the role of the emperor as an economic actor, and the effects of the presence of imperial properties on nearby communities and private property owners. At its core, section two presents a detailed analysis of the geographical distribution of imperial estates within Italy. The premise that, due to the institutional development of Italy, the primary means whereby the emperor could engage politically with his Italian subjects was through his network of imperial estates, underpins much of this section. The epigraphic record of Italy is the primary dataset drawn upon, although there is some discussion of other types of textual data as well as archaeological evidence for imperial properties, all of which is presented in greater detail in section three. Maiuro identifies a clear patterning of imperial estates within Italy, with such properties clustered in the Roman campagna, along the Tyrrhenian coast of west-central Italy, in Campania, throughout the Tiber Valley, in the Tavoliere of Puglia, and along the northern Adriatic coast, including the area of Istria. Maiuro proposes that this patterning, particularly along the Tyrrhenian coast, is evidence for a certain level of economic organization and planning by the fisc, and may indicate a degree of overarching economic policy and planning on the part of the imperial administration. The evidence from elsewhere in Italy, he suggests, indicates that this pattern may also be seen in relation to urban centers that were part of the alimentary system, and with respect to the supply of Rome's armies on the frontier. He also suggests that the imperial ownership of estates involved in the production of wool, wine, and wood may have influenced the markets for these products. To focus on a single example, his discussion of the possible influence of court tastes in wine on the market for grands crus, and the relationship between their consumption at court and their production on imperial estates is very stimulating. In the final analysis, while Maiuro proposes at the end of section one that the relatively small amount of land controlled by the fisc suggests a limited economic role or importance, the location and organization of the imperial properties within Italy (and, by extension, throughout the empire), may have helped boost the significance of these properties and their produce to the overall economy, in part by influencing consumption patterns, but also through the development of economic infrastructure and supply patterns.

The third section, [Repertorio dei contesti topografici] is essentially a gazetteer of all known (as of 2012) imperial properties throughout Italy, including the Po River valley, arranged by Augustan region. It contains the data on which Maiuro's arguments about the significance of the geographical distribution of imperial properties throughout Italy in section two is based. As is explained clearly throughout, some of these properties can be pinpointed with greater accuracy than others, and the descriptions of the properties with a precise geographical provenience generally are presented in greater detail. Excellent and very useful lists of known inscriptions and textual references indicating imperial ownership are provided for each entry, where possible. A brief summary of the relevant archaeological data for each entry is also presented when appropriate.

The six appendices (Callistrato e l'esperibilita della delazione fiscal, Densita epigrafica e [familia Caesaris], Horti, praetoriani, villae, palatia, [Surveys] e demografia in Italia, Un approccio quantitativo per il suburbia, and I bolli laterizi e il presunto monopolio imperiale nella produzione laterizia) present in greater detail some of the datasets that Maiuro draws on in the first two sections of the book, such as the fragmentary passage from Callistratus' de iure fisci. In all cases, the various appendices provide a more detailed and nuanced treatment of this data than is seen in sections one and two.

Overall, this is an extremely important contribution to the study of imperial estates, particularly in Italy and one worthy of serious attention. The breadth of the discussion in section one is considerable, the level and quality of synthesis excellent, the observations about the geographical factors affecting the location of imperial properties in section two are thoughtful and should prove to be highly influential, and the gazetteer of imperial estates in section 3 is an essential resource for anyone interested in studying such estates in Italy. In an attempt to broaden discussion about the role of imperial estates in the economic system of the Roman Empire, both sections one and two acknowledge and engage with important elements of the New Institutional Economics in a constructive and intelligent manner. This is clearly welcome and builds constructively on the aforementioned work of Lo Cascio, among others. With respect to section three, the considerable and up-to-date bibliography related to the archaeological investigation of imperial estates, including the Villa Magna excavations in part directed by Maiuro, for some may justify entirely the purchase of this book. With respect to the archaeological data, it is about time that it served to inform discussions about imperial properties.

Certain elements of the volume, however, could be improved. First, section one, for those who do not have a good working knowledge of the Roman legal sources or understand the modeling of historical populations based on the life-tables (here, specifically the West 6 Life-Table Model), can be a bit of a slog. The organization of this section might have been improved through the inclusion of clearer yet concise subsection introductions, or by breaking it down from 128 pages into a few smaller, more easily digested sections. Maiuro addresses this issue by creating what might be termed technical asides. Discussions of highly technical data or data analysis are frequently presented in a smaller font size with reduced margins so that it appears physically distinct from the overall narrative, but this makes reading at times confusing.

In contrast, section two could be a bit longer and present a more detailed analysis of the significance of many of the geographical trends noted. For example, with respect to the extension of imperial patronage, Maiuro's observations about the transfer of properties from the Volusii Saturnini in the territory of Lucus Feroniae to the emperor and its effects are extremely interesting. At the same time, this discussion could be expanded to include the significance for the institutional history of Italy and the possible recasting of social and economic networks in the Tiber Valley. The same could be said for Maiuro's engaging analysis of the historical development of imperial estates along the Tyrrhenian coast of south Etruria and northern Latium and their role in facilitating the supply of Rome. The proposition that these properties and their associated port facilities were part of a network of ports from Centumcellae to Puteoli that supplied the annona and consumer demand in the capital seems highly likely. More detailed discussion of the mechanisms of this supply would be welcome and would likely strengthen Maiuro's argument.

Another minor issue has to do with the treatment of the archaeological data. While their inclusion, mostly in the form of excavation data, is welcome, a more systematic and rigorous approach could have been taken in their presentation and analysis.

Perhaps the greatest weakness with respect to sections two and three is the complete lack of visuals. Presumably this stems from a decision to reduce the production costs of the book. Regardless, maps indicating the location or conjectured locations of known imperial properties could have reduced the size of section three and made the spatial elements of sections one and two easier to comprehend. Similarly, it is much easier to see geographical patterns through the effective use of maps. To further complicate the presentation of the geographical factors, throughout section three Maiuro describes the location of imperial properties with reference to what many might consider obscure toponyms found on the IGM 1:25,000 series topographic maps of Italy. In this case, a map might well be worth more than a thousand words.

In the final analysis, the strengths of Maiuro's text far outweigh its weaknesses, and observations presented therein will do much to generate and advance current discussion of the economic role played by imperial estates among both historians and archaeologists.


1.   Lo Cascio, E. (2000) Il princeps e il suo impero. Studi di storia amministrativa e finanziaria romana. Bari: Edipuglia

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