Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Jesper Majbom Madsen, Roger Rees (ed.), Roman Rule in Greek and Latin Writing: Double Vision. Impact of Empire, 18. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2014. Pp. vi, 303. ISBN 9789004277380. €125.00.

Reviewed by James Uden, Boston University (

Version at BMCR home site


'The extent of Greek and Roman integration and affiliation' from the Flavians to the Severans is the subject of this volume, which has its origins in a 2009 conference jointly organized by scholars at the University of Southern Denmark and the University of St Andrews. The Empire of the second and third centuries saw the proliferation of new, multifaceted civic identities. Often presenting themselves simultaneously as insiders and outsiders to Imperial power, authors of the period were strategic in emphasizing different aspects of their identity according to the rhetorical contexts of their work. The papers in this volume show a desire to move beyond simple ideas of Greek opposition or assent, though traces of that rhetoric still remain. Instead, the contributors stress the 'double' or even 'triple' vision with which Roman power was viewed by Greek and Latin writers, and the ways in which links to provincial identities were maintained and expressed. The theme of multiple contemporary perspectives on Roman power is more evident in some papers than others, but the book as a whole is a salutary reminder of the dynamic interaction of Imperial Greek and Latin writing in the second and third centuries, and the need to move beyond straightforward notions of 'Greek' or 'Roman' in a period when these identities had become increasingly open to redefinition.1

After a broad and informative introduction, co-editor Jesper Majbom Madsen, in his chapter 'Patriotism and Ambitions', examines the various ways in which intellectuals writing in Greek depicted themselves as integrated within the Roman civic elite. Madsen rightly rejects the easy assumption that critical allusions to Roman power in Imperial Greek texts necessarily represent opposition to Rome. As Madsen shows, critiques of aspects of Roman governance by Dio Chrysostom, Cassius Dio, and Plutarch, far from being motivated exclusively by the authors' linguistic or cultural 'Greekness', are demonstrably similar to critiques by the Latin authors Pliny and Tacitus. Ewen Bowie balances this picture by drawing attention to an area of civic life in which there did remain a clear sense of cultural separation. His chapter 'Becoming Wolf, Staying Sheep'—the title is a half-rhymed allusion to Greg Woolf's 'Becoming Roman, Staying Greek'2—uses epigraphic evidence to demonstrate the rarity of neoi from the Greek East pursuing military careers in the Roman army. Despite ample evidence of recruiting in Greece in the second and third centuries (albeit in special situations), the number of 'Eastern' elite individuals attested in Roman equestrian military posts is strikingly low. Bowie also demonstrates the paucity of references to elite Greeks in the Roman army in the writings of Plutarch, Aelius Aristides, and Philostratus. Instead, he argues, the conventional Greek desire to demonstrate arete found expression not in military valor, but in the local and pan-Hellenic athletic competitions that proliferated in this period. Bowie's clear analysis of difficult material, in the longest chapter in the book, represents a substantial contribution to the cultural and military history of the second and third centuries.

John Moles' earliest foray into Early Christian studies ten years ago began with a tentative awareness of the 'hazards' of moving between disciplines, and the modest admission that the author has no 'professional competence in New Testament studies'.3 Now his work is replete with references to an impressive series of studies in the field. 'Accommodation, Opposition or Other? Luke-Acts' Stance Towards Rome' usefully summarizes and expands upon his previous work, examining parallels between the preface of Luke-Acts and Classical historiography, and then analyzing the text's references to Roman institutions and political ideas.4 Ultimately, Moles concludes that 'Luke-Acts' stance towards Rome is radically different from anything in contemporary Greek literature or thought' (p.104), even though earlier in the article he had stated that Luke-Acts 'resonates challengingly with the Classical texts considered elsewhere in the volume'. It is a shame that there is not more dialogue between chapters in the book in order to make such resonances more explicit. Rhiannon Ash's provocative chapter, 'Fractured Vision: Josephus and Tacitus on Triumph and Civil War', also considers the perspective of an outsider to Rome. In the only chapter explicitly concerned with vision, Ash shows how a nuanced reading of Josephus' narrative of the Flavian Triumph at Bellum Judaicum 7.121-162 suggests a deep sensitivity to Jewish suffering behind the 'superficially jingoistic and pro-Roman account'. No less than in the canonical ekphraseis of Homer and Vergil, the choice to highlight particular aspects of this political spectacle indirectly reveals the attitudes and emotions of the viewer.

The Latin chapters are varied in focus. Co-editor Roger Rees observes the lack of linguistic Grecisms or allusions to Greek authors or personalities in Pliny's Panegyricus. He argues that Pliny constructs his vision of Trajan in Latinate terms, both in opposition to contemporary, more cosmopolitan models of Roman self-fashioning, and as a programmatic rejection of Hellenistic models of praise speech. Bruce Gibson examines Tacitus' 'complex dialogue' with past historiographical accounts of Polybius and Livy in his depiction of Greek diplomacy in the Annals. Jill Harries' fascinating chapter finds a 'triple vision' in the writings of the early third-century Roman jurist Ulpian. Born in Tyre, Ulpian shows a distinctively empathetic consideration of the dignity and honor of provincial peoples in his writings on the responsibilities of the proconsul in the provinces. As an exponent of Roman law, Ulpian was also an 'insider' to Roman power, and yet his integration of Greek terms into his Latin text attests an equally inclusive willingness to communicate to Greek speakers. Harries' chapter ends with a particularly nuanced description of the delicate balancing of identity performed by provincial authors in this period. 'By being more 'Roman' than most Romans', Harries argues, 'Ulpian the lawyer could bypass suggestions that, as a Tyrian, he must somehow fall short as a 'Greek'' (p. 209).

Joseph A. Howley's chapter, "Heus tu, rhetorisce: Gellius, Cicero, Plutarch, and Roman Study Abroad', fills a surprising gap in scholarship. Previous studies of Romans finishing their education with sojourns in Greece limited their focus to the late Republican and Augustan periods. But there is abundant evidence from the second century, and Howley's chapter examines in detail accounts of Romans' Attic education in Apuleius, Plutarch, and, particularly, Aulus Gellius. Study abroad is both a structural literary motif in Gellius' work, and an opportunity to comment skeptically on the 'correct' Roman approach to Greek learning. No less than in contemporary versions of studying abroad—as Howley makes clear with well-chosen excerpts from modern sociological studies—a period of schooling overseas was a test of a student's cultural self-awareness. Gellius' narratives of Roman students in Greece judge their ability to act with decorum, in a situation and place where differences in power could become uncomfortably clear.

Three further papers examine Greek perspectives on Rome. Jason König examines the much-discussed preface of Philostratus' Lives of the Sophists. His focus is not on issues of prosopography or dating, but on the literary subtlety of Philostratus' harmonizing of Hellenic literary culture and Roman political commitment. As the Lives progress, the author also draws attention to points of strain in the relationship between sophists and emperors, and König's subtle account of the powerplays between the literary and political elite in Philostratus' work forms an effective companion piece to Madsen's broader chapter on similar material.5 Jesper Carlsen examines possible allusions to Rome in Arrian's Anabasis, which is well-covered ground, although this treatment of the topic is appealingly straightforward. More contentious is Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen's examination of 'Herodian on Greek and Roman Failings'. Herodian's current 'market value' as a historian may be low, as Bekker-Nielsen puts it in his introductory paragraph, but this chapter appears at the same time as Adam Kemezis' compelling and detailed examination of Herodian's Rome in his Greek Narratives of the Roman Empire under the Severans (Cambridge 2014). The two studies are worth reading together. For Kemezis, Herodian applies the superficial sheen of Antonine-style historiography to the chaotic events of the Severan present, and this tension between stability and chaos creates the impression of historical actors who are rhetorically and politically ineffective, alienated from their own time. Bekker-Nielsen's simpler Herodian criticizes both Greece and Rome from a specifically Hellenic subject position. From a brief survey of Herodian's speeches and through instructive parallels with Dio Chrysostom, Bekker-Nielsen articulates a specifically Greek political sensibility for Herodian: a horror of stasis and of urban rivalry between Greek cities, and an implicit ideal of virtuous imperial rule familiar from Dio's Kingship Orations.

Much of the previous work on literature in the second and third centuries has been directed towards the Second Sophistic as a Greek cultural and aesthetic movement in the Roman Empire. It is striking, then, that in Roman Rule in Greek and Latin Writing the phrase 'Second Sophistic' occurs so rarely. This is evidence perhaps of a current desire to move past parochial narratives of elite Hellenic continuity, and of an attempt to develop more culturally and linguistically varied models of Imperial literary cultures.6 In this respect, the chapters by Moles on Luke-Acts and Ash on Josephus strike me as particularly useful, though the interaction between classicizing texts and Christian and Jewish texts from this period is certainly an area in which research could expand. Poetry has also typically been marginalized in accounts of Imperial literary culture, and it gets scant space here, as does prose fiction. Nonetheless, this well-produced volume7 offers ample evidence of the continuing vitality of research into the various literary cultures of the second and third centuries. The 'double vision' of the title represents not a blurring of focus, but a multiplicity of perspectives on life as a Roman Greek—or a Greek Roman—in the Imperial period.


1.   Also important in this respect is the work of another innovative St Andrews initiative, the research group 'Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian' (Literary Interactions).
2.   G. Woolf, 'Becoming Roman, Staying Greek: Culture, Identity, and the Civilizing Process in the Roman East', PCPS 40: 116-143.
3.   J. Moles, 'Cynic Influence Upon First-Century Judaism and Early Christianity?', in B. McGing & J. Mossman (eds) The Limits of Ancient Biography (Swansea, 2006), 89-116; quotes at p. 89, 91.
4.   Moles' command of the formidable bibliography is impressive, but, on the ways in which Luke-Acts responds to Roman notions of Empire, see also L. Nasrallah, Christian Responses to Roman Art and Architecture: The Second-Century Church amid the Spaces of Empire (Cambridge, 2010), 87-118.
5.   The time-lag to publication probably accounts for the omission of any reference in the volume to K. Eshleman, The Social World of Intellectuals in the Roman Empire: Sophists, Philosophers, and Christians (Cambridge, 2012).
6.   On this project, see T. Whitmarsh, Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism (Berkeley 2013).
7.   Typographical errors are not excessive; I counted eleven. There is no index locorum. The index covers only the names of places and people, but some broader entries on themes and ideas would have been helpful.

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