Wednesday, March 14, 2018


M. G. L. Cooley (ed.), The Flavians. Lactor, 20. London: London Association of Classical Teachers, 2015. Pp. 425. ISBN 9780903625388. $27.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Claire Stocks, Newcastle University (

Version at BMCR home site

This volume on the Flavians, edited by M. G. L. Cooley (with contributions by A. E. Cooley, M. H. Crawford, T. Edwards, A. Harker, and B. W. J. G. Wilson), offers an important contribution to the field of Flavian studies. It brings together major textual evidence from the period, including literary and epigraphic sources (and well as numismatic evidence), and is in the same accessible format as other volumes in the LACTOR series.

Following the format that he employed in LACTORs 17 and 19,1 Cooley aims primarily (p. 10) 'to provide source material for students of the Roman Empire under the Flavian Emperors'; the organisation of the book, which is impressive, adheres to that aim as Cooley structures his material in a manner that caters for students of political history who focus on the Roman emperors (thus following the current A-level syllabus in Roman History). As was the case with LACTORs 17 and 19, Cooley divides his material into two parts. Part 1 (Sources) focuses on a selection of source material either from, or on, the period that includes the work of Josephus as well as Juvenal (pp. 1-137). Part 2 (Themes) contains the majority of material in this volume (pp. 138-395) and focuses on the 'Imperial Family', 'Rome and Italy', 'Religion', 'Administration of Empire', 'War and Expansion', 'Conspiracies, Revolts, and Scandals', 'Popular Entertainment', 'Literature, Arts, and Culture', 'Society', 'Panegyric and Invective', and 'the Upper Classes'. Such themes, together with the detailed concordances and indexes at the back, add to the accessibility of this volume, making it easy for those students who wish simply to 'dip' into it, as well as maintaining the interest of those who have the perseverance to read it through from start to finish.

Those wishing to study the Flavians (69 – 96 CE) benefit from a large amount of textual material that survives either directly from this period or in the decades thereafter. It would have been easy, therefore, for Cooley to lose sight of the 'big picture' amidst such an abundance of sources, but his simple, yet comprehensive thematic approach in Part 2—which extends to multiple subsections within Sections H-U—allows us to view these fragmentary insights into the Flavian world as a largely coherent narrative. The result is a body of material that speaks of a dynasty trying to establish itself after civil upheaval and to connect itself to the Julio-Claudian past.

As with other LACTOR volumes, so this one contains guides for Cooley's target audience: a summary of authors from the period (pp. 11-13), a glossary of terms (pp. 16-18), maps of the empire and city (pp. 19-20), and even a guide to monetary values under the Flavians (p. 15), which includes, amusingly, the price for a cup of wine in a bar.

The sources that Cooley chooses to focus on in Part 1 are varied, including poetic (Juvenal) and historiographical (Josephus and Cassius Dio) texts as well as the Acts of the Arval Brothers (Acta Fratrum Arvalium) and consular lists (Fasti Consulares). Despite having to negotiate his way through texts that reflect widely varying objectives on the part of their authors, Cooley handles the sources in a sensitive manner that shows consideration not just of the historical, but even the literary merit, of a text (notably Section G on Juvenal Satire IV). In the case of Sections A-D and G in particular, each excerpt is accompanied by detailed notes. Cooley is not averse to using modern references to help his reader understand the material, noting for example on C18 ('General character of Titus' reign') in reference to Cassius Dio's comment that Titus' short reign offered him little opportunity to make mistakes, that this can be compared to the two-year, two-month, 'honeymoon period' of George W. Bush (p. 75n85).

Part 2 includes a similarly vibrant variety of textual material from across the Flavian period, again accompanied by detailed notes. There is also a sample of busts and numismatic evidence, particularly useful given the Flavians' clear penchant for using their coinage to promote imperial themes.2 The sections in Part 2 offer scope for thinking about different aspects of the Flavian period; section K, on 'Rome and Italy', for example, illustrates what the Flavians achieved in terms of their building programme, including what they achieved beyond the immediate confines of Rome. Section U extends the focus beyond the emperors themselves to focus on the upper classes of the period (including Pliny the Younger, U33a-f). Scattered throughout these thematic sections are signs of the damnatio that came into play after Domitian's death (e.g., L68, M23, N65, R35, U19), although this is not given undue focus by Cooley, who dedicates only one small sub-section to it (T31-38).

As good as this volume is, it is not exhaustive. Considering that it focuses on the Flavians, it might seem surprising that there is very little material from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Cooley's reasoning for this is made clear at the start: this volume is not intended to be a sourcebook on social history, but rather is a political history focused on the emperors. The fact that such material is not included is a pity, therefore, but the exclusion is justifiable when we consider the target audience of this volume.3

I could quibble with the fact that not all of the authors who appear in this volume are listed in the summary of the authors and sources at the start. There is, for example, no mention of Silius Italicus and Valerius Flaccus, although several of the texts from Martial that appear later in the volume refer to Silius and Cooley uses excerpts from both authors in Part Two (Silius Italicus at H62 and Valerius Flaccus at R4). I could also quibble with some of the notes. It seems a bit harsh, for example, to describe J10h, an excerpt from Pliny the Younger's Panegyric to Trajan, as 'almost worthless' simply because of its excessive denigration of Domitian; even though Cooley means this from a historical, rather than a literary viewpoint, nevertheless such a text has socio-political value in so far as it illustrates the lengths to which those who achieved political prominence under Domitian would go to realign themselves with the new imperial order. Also, although Cooley deals sensitively with the more literary material, there is still a tendency on rare occasions to 'read' poetic works too literally. K47, for example, in which Statius describes the banqueting hall of Domitian's Palace (Silvae 4.2.18-31), appears to have been read by Cooley as a literal description of the decoration of the Palace, despite clear allusions to fictional palaces in the works of Statius' literary predecessors, notably the palace of Latinus in Aeneid 7 (170-72).4

Despite these very minor quibbles, this volume is without doubt a worthy addition to the LACTOR series. The wealth and variety of material is excellent, and Cooley shows a near flawless approach in his handling of it. Whilst there have been a flurry of publications on the Flavian period of late, these have often been literary in focus or more general companions to the age (most recently the edited volume by Andrew Zissos).5 A volume that deals with a variety of textual evidence is a welcome addition, therefore, not least because the sheer volume of epigraphic material from the Flavian period, which covered inscriptions in bronze to stamps on loaves of bread, are (as Cooley notes, p. 14) 'far more representative of Roman life than literary texts which were produced by and for the upper classes'. This volume thus offers a valuable insight into multiple layers of Flavian society and culture.


1.   M. G. L. Cooley (ed) (2013) The Age of Augustus. The London Association of Classical Teachers, 2nd Edition. LACTOR 17 and M. G. L. Cooley (ed) (2011) Tiberius to Nero. The London Association of Classical Teachers. LACTOR 19.
2.   On the Flavians' use of coinage to promote imperial themes see, especially, I. A. Carradice and T. V. Buttrey (2007) Roman Imperial Coinage. Vol. 2, part 1; second fully revised edition, from AD 69-96; Vespasian to Domitian. London: Spink.
3.   There is already a wide range of material on Pompeii and Herculaneum, of course, that Cooley's target audience could consult if it wished. This includes A. E. Cooley and M. G. L. Cooley (2014) Pompeii and Herculaneum: a sourcebook. Second edition. London: Routledge.
4.   On this allusion, see, for example, M. A. Malamud (2007) 'A Spectacular Feast: Silvae 4.2', Arethusa 40: 233-244.
5.   A. Zissos (ed.), (2016) A Companion to the Age of Imperial Rome. Chichester; Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

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