Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Wolfgang Havener, Imperator Augustus: die diskursive Konstituierung der militärischen persona des ersten römischen Princeps. Studies in ancient monarchies, 4​. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2016. Pp. 424. ISBN 9783515112208. €69.00.

Reviewed by John Rich, University of Nottingham (john.rich@nottingham.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site

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In this erudite and densely argued monograph, Havener seeks to show how Augustus' 'military persona', his presentation in the role of commander and victor, was constructed. In Havener's view, his military persona was of central importance for Augustus, since his power was based on control of the military apparatus and the prestige arising from military success (33). Havener's concern, however, is not with Augustus' relationship with the army itself, but with his military persona at Rome, and he argues that this was not simply developed by Augustus, but constructed through complex interaction between him and the senatorial elite.

After his introduction and a brief chapter on Caesar's military persona, Havener passes to a lengthy chapter on Octavian's role as 'commander, leader, war-ender' during the triumviral years and in his final civil victories (51-150). Attention is paid here both to the poets' responses to civil war and its ending by Octavian and to Octavian's own presentation of his achievement through the triple triumph of 29 BC and associated commemorations. Havener focuses especially on the celebration of the Actium victory, rightly rebutting Gurval's attempt to minimize the significance attached to it, but he has surprisingly little to say about the no less important commemorations of the final victory at Alexandria.1

Havener draws a distinction between the poets' view of the ending of the civil wars and that of Octavian himself: for the poets his victory was merely the means to the end of restoring internal peace, whereas for Octavian it was an end in itself and the resulting establishment of internal peace was of value simply as securing the acceptance of his supremacy by the inhabitants of the empire (147-8). However, Havener's interpretation of Octavian's stance rests heavily on two questionable claims about the triple triumph.2 (i) Dio (51.21.9) tells us that the magistrates, who normally led triumphal processions, instead took their place behind Octavian along with the other senators who had served under him. Havener takes this as symbolic of Octavian's military supremacy (118-21). However, a simpler explanation (rejected by Havener on insufficient grounds) seems preferable: they took this place simply because they had been among the more than 700 senators who had displayed their loyalty to Octavian's cause by serving with him at Actium (RG 25.2).3 (ii) Dio also tells us that an effigy of Cleopatra on her deathbed was carried in the final triumph, for the victory in Egypt. Havener (107-9, 114-6) concludes that this triumph was over Cleopatra and so, although the taboo on civil war triumphs was respected by not naming him, it was implicitly understood that it was Antony whose defeat was commemorated in the second triumph, for the Actium victory. However, it seems unlikely that contemporaries would have interpreted the triumphs in this way, since both campaigns were evidently against the same enemy, namely the foreign queen Cleopatra and her Roman associate, both of whom were finally defeated only at Alexandria. Dio in fact speaks of the Actium triumph as voted 'as against Cleopatra' (51.19.1, misinterpreted at 135 n.413). Havener seeks support from the Amiternum Fasti, where the Actium war is listed as cum M. Antonio, but similar entries, naming his successive Roman opponents, survive from these Fasti for most of Octavian's civil wars from Mutina on, and so can tell us nothing about how his triumphs were perceived.4

The fourth chapter deals with another aspect of the civil war period, namely how Augustus presented and justified his conduct in his own public statements (151-192). Havener argues for a shift from his Autobiography, where Augustus emphasized the avenging of Caesar and his youthful leadership of the soldiers, to the Res Gestae, where he stressed instead his defence of the republic. Unfortunately, this analysis depends on the consensus established by Jacoby that the Autobiography was the main source for Nicolaus of Damascus' Bios Kaisaros and can be reconstructed from that work. Havener's interpretation presses even Nicolaus' text too hard, since what survives of his work breaks off as early as the raising of the private army in late 44. In any case, as Mark Toher has shown, there is no good reason to suppose that Nicolaus used the Autobiography as his main source, and so the remnants of the Bios Kaisaros cannot be used as evidence for reconstructing that work.5

The remaining three chapters deal with the period of Augustus' sole rule. Chapter 5 (193-252) is devoted to the formula parta victoriis pax, which Havener regards, in the wording of the chapter title, as a '"Grundbegriff" Augusteischer Herrschaftssemantik': this perhaps puts excessive weight on a phrase which in fact occurs only once, in Augustus' reference to the closures of Janus (RG 13). The chapter examines the part played by this peace/victories complex both in the Res Gestae itself and in various earlier manifestations. For Havener, the Res Gestae celebrates both internal peace through the ending of civil war and external pacification through victories, and this balance had evolved as a result of extended exchanges between the Augustus and the senatorial elite, in which public outputs showing greater stress on peace can be attributed to senatorial initiatives (as with the PAX cistophori or the Ara Pacis), while Augustus himself tended to lay more exclusive stress on his victories (as in his Forum). There is much to agree with here. Thus Havener is certainly right to stress the greater overall prominence of victory rather than peace in Augustan ideology, a point already made by earlier scholars such as Gruen, in a paper which he frequently cites.6 On the Ara Pacis he could have strengthened his case further by considering an apparent change of plan, perhaps prompted by Augustus: according to Dio (54.25.3), the senate in 13 BC decreed an altar in the Curia; if this location had been retained, the senators at their meetings would thereafter have paid cult to Peace as well as Victory, but in the event Victory remained the sole recipient. Nonetheless, Havener's analysis does seem somewhat one-sided. He does not, for instance, acknowledge that, in the section of the Res Gestae dealing with external successes, Augustus gives as much prominence to his diplomatic as to his military achievements, and he makes only brief reference (198, 206) to the programme of pacification which Augustus adopted as the justification for the division of the provinces and which, in my view, served as one of the principal drivers of his external policies.7

In Chapter 6 Havener turns to the Parthian settlement of 20 BC. Augustus' choice of a diplomatic solution instead of the expected war of conquest might seem at odds with his persona as a great victor, but Havener argues that Augustus responded by having his success celebrated in terms of military victory, as by the cuirassed Prima Porta statue, the Parthian arch, on which he was shown riding in a triumphal chariot, and the temple of Mars Ultor, built to house the recovered standards just as Romulus had founded the temple of Jupiter Feretrius to hold his spolia opima. There is much truth in this, but Augustus could not simply pretend that the settlement had been achieved by force of arms, and the commemorations were in fact rather more nuanced than Havener allows. Horace, who had earlier repeatedly called for a Parthian war, now turned to celebrating Augustus' success in diplomacy and war alike, claiming that he had extended the Romans' rule to the ends of the earth, with the likes of the Parthians, Scythians and Indians all ready to do their bidding (Carm. Saec. 53-60, etc.). Havener holds that the arches decreed at Rome in honour of Augustus' Actium and Parthian successes were both built, and interprets them as expressions of his military persona. However, his various treatments (135-9, 266-9, 343) never fully engage with the much discussed problem that only one such arch can be identified, next to the temple of Divus Julius. In my view, the most attractive solution remains that only the Actium arch was actually erected and Augustus declined the proffered Parthian arch, but agreed that some modifications should be made to the Actium arch to commemorate the Parthian settlement.8 These changes will not have included the triumphal chariot, an integral part of the original Actium monument.

The long seventh chapter (277-362) is devoted to Augustus' 'Triumphpolitik'. Topics discussed include Augustus' refusal of further triumphs after 29, his concerns about exceptional conduct by commanders like Crassus and Gallus, and the ending of senatorial triumphs and their replacement by ornamenta triumphalia. Havener makes a convincing case that the cessation of senatorial triumphs after Balbus' in 19 BC was not imposed by a direct prohibition, but a protracted development, to which he regards both Augustus and the senators themselves as contributing.

The final chapter summarizes Havener's conclusions and briefly compares Augustus' military stance with those of his successors.

Havener has produced a remarkably thorough and subtly argued study of an important subject, and his work will be a valuable resource on numerous aspects of Augustus' reign. However, at times he tends to press his argument too hard, and his overall conception is thus in some respects too one-sided. The presentation of Augustus as a great commander and conqueror was certainly important for both the emperor himself and his subjects. However, Havener's interpretation tends to underplay other dynamics which were no less important, for example Augustus' continuing need to show himself as a civilis princeps and so a restrained recipient of honours, and to justify his exceptional provincial command by implementing his promised programme of pacification.

The book has been well produced but has no illustrations, a regrettable omission in view of the extensive discussion of monuments, coins and artworks.


1.   R. A. Gurval, Actium and Augustus: The Politics and Emotions of Civil War (Ann Arbor, 1995) passim
2.   See also Havener's earlier statement at C. H. Lange and F. J. Vervaet (eds), The Roman Republican Triumph beyond the Spectacle (Rome, 2014), 172-5.
3.   C. H. Lange, Res Publica Constituta: Actium, Apollo and the Accomplishment of the Triumviral Assignment (Leiden/Boston, 2009), 155; F. J. Vervaet, 'On the order of appearance in Imperator Caesar's third triumph (15 August 29 CE)', Latomus 70 (2011), 96-102.
4.   On the civil war entries in the Fasti Amiternini see now C. H. Lange, Triumphs in the Age of Civil War: The Late Republic and the Adaptability of Triumphal Tradition (London, 2016), 133-8.
5.   M. Toher, 'Divining a lost text: Augustus' autobiography and the Βίος Καίσαρος of Nicolaus of Damascus', in C.J. Smith and A. Powell (eds), The Lost Memoirs of Augustus and the Development of Roman Autobiography (Swansea, 2009), 125-44; C.J. Smith, in T. J. Cornell et al., The Fragments of the Roman Historians (Oxford, 2013), 1.460. Havener notes Toher's paper (154 n. 19), but does not acknowledge its full implications for his argument.
6.   E. S. Gruen, 'Augustus and the ideology of war and peace', in R. Winkes (ed.), The Age of Augustus (Providence, 1985), 51-72.
7.   See further 'Augustus, war and peace', in J. Edmondson (ed.), Augustus (Edinburgh, 2009), 137-64.
8.   'Augustus's Parthian honours, the temple of Mars Ultor and the arch in the Forum Romanum', PBSR 66 (1998), 71-128, at 97-115. ​

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