Thursday, June 16, 2016


Audrey Bertrand, La religion publique des colonies dans l'Italie républicaine et impériale (Italie médio-adriatique, IIIe S. AV. N. È.-IIe S. DE N. È.). Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, 365. Rome: École française de Rome, 2015. Pp. ix, 621. ISBN 9782728309832. €54.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Françoise Van Haeperen, Université catholique de Louvain (

Version at BMCR home site

This book was developed from a doctoral dissertation defended at the « Ecole pratique des hautes études » (Paris) in 2009. It aims to analyze the impact of the colonial status on the religious landscape and the functioning of public religion in a series of cities. It thus intends to contribute to a better understanding of the colonial status. The study focuses on sixteen colonies of mid-Adriatic Italy, from Ariminum in the north to Hadria in the south, which were established between the beginning of the third century BC and the beginning of the third century AD, including several colonial foundations and refoundations in the central decades of the first century BC. Thirteen of them are Roman colonies (colonia civium Romanorum): Pisaurum, Fanum Fortunae, Sena Gallica, Aesis, Ancona, Auximum, Potentia, Heluia Ricina, Falerio Picenus, Vrbs Saluia, Asculum Picenum, Interamna Praetutiorum, and Castrum Nouum; three are Latin colonies: Hadria, Ariminum, and Firmum Picenum.

The research is based on a twofold approach. First, the author takes a topographical and urbanistic perspective in order to restore the religious landscape of the mid-Adriatic colonies: this approach is primarily founded on the places of worship, their architectural form and their insertion in the urban framework, but also on the relationships they establish among themselves or with other buildings, creating a sort of urban syntax. A corpus of the public places of worship in these colonies is given in the appendix and serves as a basis for the investigation. For each city, Bertrand systematically presents the archaeological evidence (structures, architectural ornaments, sculpture—of gods, emperors etc—, votive deposits, and equipment) as well as the epigraphic and literary texts. Secondly, state religion is viewed through a legal and institutional lens. The aim is to understand how the public religion of the colonies worked and what rules were followed in the organization of their sacra publica. The author does not limit herself to this successful twofold approach. She is also sensitive to the issues of identity and symbolic dimension and wishes to highlight the contribution of public religion to the expression and internalization of the colonial belonging.

The book consists of nine chapters. The first presents the chronology and forms of Roman colonization in the mid-Adriadic from the beginning of the third century BC to the end of the Republic. The main issues addressed here are the forms of colonization used by the Senate to administer the conquered territories, the terms and conditions of the foundation, and contexts in which the colonies developed.

The second chapter deals with the legal framework of the colonial foundations, whether Roman or Latin. The author focuses on the candidates for departure and on the organization of worship within the colonies through the lens of the Roman prescriptions. She underlines the organization of public religion as it appears in the lex coloniae Genetiuae Vrsonensis. Contrary to J. Rüpke's emphasis on the distance between norms in force in Rome and those in its colony, the author shows that the colony's religious organization proves consistent with the Roman model and reflects the structure of the state religion of Rome: all colonial public religious activities are taking place under the law in force in the Vrbs. « In this sense, the echo that the developments of the Roman religious sphere find in the colonial founding charter clearly underscores the validity of the Roman model in grasping the religion of the colonies » (p. 94).1

The next three chapters focus on the installation of sacra publica in the colonies immediately after their establishment (Chapter 3: Roman colonies; chapter 4: Latin colonies; chapter 5: foundations and refoundations during the first century BC).

Bertrand examines how the first pantheon of these cities was built, between the model imported from Rome by the settlers and the local context characterized by the presence of indigenous places of worship. The author analyzes carefully these various forces when the colony was established and then shows that the foundation charters (leges datae) played a role in standardization. These charters seem to have forced the colonies to establish public worship of the Capitoline triad. Despite the shortcomings of the evidence, it appears that in four out of the five colonies where the Capitoline worship is epigraphically attested, a monumental temple was also present. On the basis of these results, it is therefore necessary to reconsider the very cautious conclusions of J. Crawley Quinn and A. Wilson about the identification of Capitols and their relationship to the colonial status of the cities where they are attested, at least in Italy.2

The foundation charters of the colonies enabled the founders to make their mark on the colonial religious landscape. Bertrand demonstrates the key role the founding triumuiri assumed in spreading the Roman model at the architectural and cultic level. On the other hand, the inclusion of indigenous places of worship in the sacra publica was certainly possible. The analysis of the religious landscape that emerged shortly after the establishment of the colonies highlights a wide range of variations according to local contexts. However, behind this heterogeneity similar issues emerge in the construction of colonial religious pantheons. The founders and the decurions have to develop a public religion articulated around a pantheon that would protect and preserve the city through time. This religious landscape also contributed to the creation of a shared civic identity combining Roman cults, private devotions of the settlers but also local deities.

In chapter 6, the author proposes a diachronic analysis of the colonies' religious landscape. Particular attention is given to the temporalities specific to each of them, to the agents and to the favourable moments for religious buildings: did these coincide with the changing of the urban landscape? With demographic growth, patronage relationships between settlers and members of the Roman aristocracy were strengthened and contributed to the acquisition of these buildings by the cities including places of worship, which reinforced the urban dignitas.

Relationships between Rome and its colonies become more discernible in the first century BC, thanks to more evidence. In this context, the author sheds light on a little known phenomenon: the spread of Caesar worship in the Italian colonies. Would this cult have been introduced following an injunction from the Senate of Rome, as suggested by the lex Rufrena, which seems to have prescribed the Italian colonies and municipia to erect statues to the diuus Julius? After a close examination of the evidence and context, Bertrand concludes that the lex Rufrena appears to have motivated the decision on the part of Italian cities to install a statue of the diuus in all the temples of Rome. Although the cult nature of the erected statues is not certain, the lex presented by the tribune Rufrenus contributed in practice to the introduction of Caesar's worship in the public religion of the Italian cities. Subsequently, during the Augustan period, the colonies proved to be both starting points and instruments of Augustus' religious restoration.

The next two chapters are designed as two 'close-ups', which zoom in on two well-documented phenomena in the colonies. In chapter 7, the author examines the structures of public religion with special attention given to the priesthoods within the colonies. The structures of the colonies' public religion reflect that of Rome without reproducing it identically, with a large presence of priestly colleges of pontiffs and augurs. The analysis of priests' recruitment demonstrates that they came mostly from the elite of these cities. The fact that members of the Roman elite could be priests in a colony is mainly explained by the traditional links of patronage, family or land that bound them to the city.

Chapter 8 deals with the imperial cult. The author first focuses on the priests: flamines, priests, and those who are gathered under the generic name of Augustales from R. Duthoy's study.3 Bertrand then considers the places of the imperial cult and re-evaluates its monumental forms. The spatial extent of dynastic honors takes not only the form of monumental temples (which were relatively rare), but also that of more diverse arrangements (statues and altars or spaces in other buildings like basilicas or theatres). Furthermore it appears clear that the imperial cult does not gradually displace other forms of worship. In its evolution it does not take the form of an endless inflation nor does it suggest progressive invasion of urban spaces.

The last chapter addresses the colonial identity, which is elaborated especially around the constitution and development of the religious landscape. Shortly after the installation of a colony, cults, ritual practices, temples but also the entire urban setting contribute to the manifestation of colonial and Roman identity of the city. The sometimes hostile neighbourhood makes more significant the need to affirm this. If the singularity of colonies seems to fade after the Social War and the municipalization process of Italy that followed, the triumviral and Augustan periods are characterized by an enhancement of colonial status, with the colonization program designed to install veterans. Moreover, the Augustan program of religious restoration makes the colonies an instrument of the takeover of prestigious Italian sanctuaries and therefore reinforces their special position among the cities of Italy. For elites, colonial status represents symbolic capital to develop. The compliance of the religious landscape of their city to the Roman model is a way to achieve it.

A rich corpus of sources can be found at the end of the book. Note the presence of several indexes, which are very helpful (sources index, topographical and geographical index; deities' names index). Sixteen colour plates allow the reader to visualize the topography of the colonies considered by the author.

This very valuable book, which takes into account all available documentation, sheds new light on the public religion of sixteen mid-Adriatic colonies. The results of this investigation will be of interest for more than just specialists. They will prove fundamental for any researcher working on the colonies (be these Roman or Latin) or on Roman religion. This book demonstrates the relevance of a topographical, urbanistic and legal approach in order to understand the sacra publica of the colonies, at the moment of their foundation or on the long term.


1.   See also her previous article in Revue de l'histoire des religions, 2010, p. 591-608.
2.   J. Crawley Quinn and A. Wilson, "Capitolia", in JRS, 103, 2013, p. 117-173.
3.   F. Van Haeperen, "Origine et fonctions des augustales (12 av. n.è.-37). Nouvelles hypothèses", in L'Antiquité Classique, 85, 2016, p. 127-155 (in press). I argue that the Augustales were far from being priests of the imperial cult or 'quasi-officials' devoid of real functions but they may be regarded as responsible for the ludi Augustales, which were created in Rome and rapidly disseminated in Italy and in the Empire.

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