Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Lennart Gilhaus, Statue und Status: Statuen als Repräsentationsmedien der städtischen Eliten im kaiserzeitlichen Nordafrika. Antiquitas. Reihe 1, Abhandlungen zur Alten Geschichte, Bd. 66. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 2015. Pp. viii, 432. ISBN 9783774939738. €89.00.

Reviewed by Cristina Murer, Freie Universität Berlin (cristina.murer@fu-berlin.de)

Version at BMCR home site

This book by L. Gilhaus discusses the representational behaviour of elites in the cities of Africa Proconsularis from 31 BC until AD 284. It is based on a doctoral dissertation submitted in spring 2015 at the University of Bonn. The book asks for whom, where, when, why, and by whom honorific statues were set up, and explores the extent to which this material delivers new insights on the social order, political interactions, and mobility of elites during the imperial period. The main sources consulted are the inscriptions of honorific statues set up for emperors and elites, since with few exceptions (a total of 21 commemorated freeborn and slaves) only these social groups were granted such honours. With this epigraphical approach the book builds on important earlier works in the field.1 The author is right to note, in the introduction, that even though statue-base inscriptions from Africa Proconsularis are discussed in detail in local epigraphical studies, hers is the first larger overview for the region.

The book is divided into four chapters. Following a general introduction (Chapter 1), Chapter 2 discusses the definition of elites, and Chapter 3 the development of cities in Africa Proconsularis from the Hellenistic period until the 3rd century AD. Then follows the main chapter of the book, divided into two parts, on the epigraphical sources for honorific statues (4.1) and the places where honorific statues were set up (4.2). Almost all of the statue-base inscriptions cited in this chapter are collected in logically organized tables at the end of the book. Following a top-down hierarchical structure, the first part of the main chapter starts with the discussion of statues set up for emperors (4.1.2), followed by statues for high office holders (4.1.3); for patroni (4.1.4); for senators (4.1.5); for equites (4.1.6); for members of the decurial order (4.1.7); and statues for freeborn and slaves (4.1.8). On the basis of the epigraphical sources discussed here, Gilhaus stresses the important role of the ordo decurionum within each town as a supervisory body for the erection of statues, especially when statues were set up for emperors (p. 160). Several statistical charts clarify the author's convincing discussion of the rise and fall of the epigraphic (i.e. statuary) habit in Africa Proconsularis. Gilhaus shows that very few statues were set up in the first century AD, and that the practice of setting up statues increased throughout the second century and reached a clear peak during the reign of Septimius Severus (p. 162). Even though all this sounds convincing and confirms earlier research,2 it is surprising that the problem of the reuse of older statue bases is never addressed—even though newer publications deal with this important problem. Therefore the reader always wonders whether the apparent scarcity of first-century statue bases might not result, at least in part, from later reuse processes, as I. Tantillo and F. Bigi recently showed in the case of Leptis Magna. 3 Moreover, the towns with a better preservation situation and whose statue bases have been included in epigraphic corpora (for example, Leptis Magna) stand in contrast to other cities that lack such good preservation or publication conditions. All these factors have a strong influence on the epigraphical statistics. Some critical comments on these factors should therefore have been made by the author—they would not have contradicted the arguments in general, but made the discussion more up to date and plausible. Also, the consideration of statues and portraits would in some places have helped to sharpen the conclusions drawn within this chapter: although the author is technically correct that no statue inscription provides evidence for honorific statues for emperors from the first century in Sabratha (p. 55), preserved statues and portraits of emperors from the forum area of the same town do. Most surprising is why, without any further explanation, the statue-base inscriptions for female members of the imperial family are omitted.

The second part of the main chapter (4.2) is dedicated to space and representation. The focus is on honorific statues set up in fora (4.2.2), theatres (4.2.3), bath buildings (4.2.4), market buildings (4.2.5), and temples (4.2.6), since most of the epigraphical material under discussion derives from these contexts. The epigraphical material is therefore confronted with its actual urban environment, which is a very fruitful approach.

On fora, the most prominent display space for statues within a Roman town, the author begins with a detailed overview of the statue bases found in the fora of Leptis Magna, followed by discussion of finds from the fora of Sabratha, Sufetula and Uchi Maius. He points out that mainly statues of emperors were set up by the ordo decurionum in North African fora (pp. 200–206), and that many more honorific statues were dedicated to members of the supralocal elite (especially high officeholders) than statues for members of the local elite (pp. 203f.). One wonders why, given the author's acknowledgement that most of the statue bases are no longer in situ, he does not apply this point to many of the bases he concentrates on: for example, it is determined, without providing any archaeological proof, that twelve statue bases were certainly found in situ in the forum of Sufetula (p. 190), even though this forum space in particular underwent vast transformation in Late Antiquity.4

Next, the honorific statues set up in the theatres of Leptis Magna, Carthage, Madauros and Thugga are discussed. The author has chosen very important and interesting contexts, since many statue bases and even portrait statues were found within these compounds. But unfortunately, several conclusions in this section result from problematic methodology or even, in parts, inaccurate data. For example, the theatre of Leptis Magna is neither the earliest nor the largest theatre in North Africa as suggested in the introduction to this chapter (p. 206; older and larger theatres are known from Utica and Cherchel). The statue of Vibia Sabina as Diana/Venus from the theatre of Leptis Magna is not a portrait statue of the empress, and it is also not the custom to represent empresses as Diana as the author suggests (p. 211). The over-life-sized statue of Septimius Severus does not represent him as Heracles (p. 212), and contrary to the author's opinion, no such sculptural representations of Septimius Severus are known.5

Then comes discussion of the epigraphical and sculptural finds from baths, market buildings, and temples. Again, many very important but problematic sculptural assemblages have been selected by the author, notably those from the Hadrianic Baths of Leptis Magna, the Antonine Baths at Carthage, and the temple of Apollo at Bulla Regia. In all three cases, much of the sculpture recovered was transferred there only in Late Antiquity or even later.6 Thus, the sculptural and epigraphical finds do not represent—as the author repeatedly suggests (pp. 238, 291)—the original sculptural program of the buildings. Furthermore, the finds from the temple of Apollo at Bulla Regia are not complete (many epigraphical finds are not mentioned), and the statue described as Marcus Aurelius from the Serapis Temple from Leptis Magna (p. 264) is not a statue of the emperor but a private portrait statue.7

More general criticisms include, in addition to the volume's high price and tiny, poor-quality maps, the unusually harsh tone it adopts regarding past scholarship (primarily in the footnotes), which can become distracting and bothersome to the reader, particularly because at times it is wrong or inappropriate. For example, the allegation (p. 307, n. 15) that M. Højte made a methodological mistake to include statue inscriptions from honorific arches in his catalogue of statue inscriptions of emperors is unjustified,8 since honorific arches originally functioned as statue carriers, as other specialists in the field have repeatedly stressed.9 Further, Gilhaus often criticizes how incomplete other epigraphical or sculptural corpora are, when he himself has failed to integrate the statue bases of imperial women into his own corpus. The harsh criticism of P. Veyne's and G. Alföldy's works on Roman society in the introduction seems somewhat unnecessary, since no updated viewpoint or or fresh attempt at discussion follows (pp. 12–16). In general, one would have wished for the author to have been guided by somewhat less conservative and more up to date perspectives on, and methodological approaches to, this exciting field of study.

These reservations aside, the book delivers important insights into the functioning of elite society at the local level, the actions of and interactions between local notables and imperial-level officials and grandees, and the possibilities for advancement that could transform the former into the latter. It is very clearly written, and consequently also easily comprehensible for non-native German speakers. Of special interest is its account of the rise of wealthy North African families from the equestrian into the senatorial order, especially from the later second century onwards. Gilhaus' study reminds us, again, of just how much statue bases have revealed about the internal workings of provincial cities, and the notables who shaped those cities in both physical and institutional terms.


1.   For example: G. Alföldy, "Bildprogramme in den römischen Städten des Conventus Tarraconensis. Das Zeugnis der Statuenpostamente", in Homenaje a García Bellido IV, Compultum 118, 1979, 177–275; C. Witschel, "Die Entwicklung der Gesellschaft von Timgad im 2. bis 4. Jh. n. Chr.", Klio 77, 1995, 266–331; M. Corbier, "Les familles clarissimes d'Afrique proconsulaire (Ier–IIIe siècle)", in Atti del Colloquio Internazionale AIEGL su epigrafia e ordine senatorio, Roma, 14–20 maggio 1981 (Rome, 1982), 685–754.
2.   R. MacMullen, "The Epigraphic Habit in the Roman Empire", AJP 103, 1982, 233–246; C. Witschel, Krise – Rezession – Stagnation? Der Westen des römischen Reiches im 3. Jahrhundert n. Chr. (Frankfurt, 1999).
3.   I. Tantillo – F. Bigi (eds.), Leptis Magna. Una città e le sue iscrizioni in epoca tardoromana (Cassino, 2010).
4.   A. Leone, Changing Townscapes in North Africa from Late Antiquity to the Arab Conquest (Bari, 2007), 153, Tab. 11 (with further references on the Late Antique transformation of the forum space).
5.   A. Lichtenberger, Severus Pius Augustus: Studien zur sakralen Repräsentation und Rezeption der Herrschaft des Septimius Severus und seiner Familie (193-211 n. Chr.) (Leiden, 2011), 83.
6.   A. Leone, The End of the Pagan City: Religion, Economy, and Urbanism in Late Antique North Africa (Oxford, 2013); C. Lepelley, "Le musée des statues divines: la volonté de sauvegarder le patrimoine artistique païen a l'époque théodosienne", CahArch 42, 1994, 5–15.
7.   L. Buccino, "Ritratti di Leptis Magna: modelli, produzione, contesto tra la dinastia flavia e gli Antonini", LibSt 45, 2014, 23.
8.   J. M. Højte, Roman Imperial Statue Bases from Augustus to Commodus (Aarhus, 2005).
9.   See H. von Hesberg, "Bogenmonumente der frühen Kaiserzeit und des 2. Jahrhunderts n. Chr. Vom Ehrenbogen zum Festtor", in H. von Hesberg, H. J. Schalles, and P. Zanker (eds.), Die römische Stadt im 2. Jahrhundert n. Chr. Der Funktionswandel des öffentlichen Raumes (Cologne, 1992), 277–299.

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