Tuesday, December 18, 2018


Lee L. Brice, Daniëlle Slootjes (ed.), Aspects of Ancient Institutions and Geography: Studies in Honor of Richard J.A. Talbert. Impact of Empire, 19. Leiden: Brill, 2014. Pp. 354. ISBN 9789004283718. €138.00.

Reviewed by Laurent J. Cases, Universtà degli Studi di Pavia (laurent.cases@unipv.it)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Part of a wider series titled Impact of Empire, published by Brill, this volume contains essays written by former students and colleagues of Richard J.A. Talbert. As with all Festschriften, the volume begins with a thorough introduction of its real topic: Richard J. A. Talbert. Lee L. Brice and Daniëlle Slootjes regale the reader with Talbert's intellectual peregrinations in a chapter called "Chaps and Maps." Brice and Slootjes organized this chapter around the two themes that organized and framed Talbert's research, chaps and maps, and a thorough interest in primary sources and teaching. Talbert's first book, Timoleon and the Revival of Greek Sicily (Cambridge, 1971), emphasized the importance of Timoleon and the subsequent economic and political revival of Sicily. His second book, The Senate of Imperial Rome (Princeton, 1984), received the Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. This first systematic analysis of the functioning of the imperial Senate deeply altered the perception of the imperial Senate, from a stooge of an omnipotent emperor, to a corporation with very real responsibilities and its own set of procedures. Moving away from "chaps," Talbert engaged with ancient geography, culminating with his monumental edition, the Barrington Atlas of the Ancient World (Princeton, 2000), and continuing with a crucially important work on the Peutinger Map, Rome's World Reconsidered (Cambridge, 2010). Talbert's interest in teaching is identified by his involvement in the masterful textbook, edited with others,1 The Romans: from Village to Empire. Another one of Talbert's important achievement is the Pleiades "gazette," briefly mentioned (p.6), but used throughout the volume for illustrations (see p.9 for a list). There follows, as is traditional, Talbert's extensive bibliography made up of some 200 entries.

The volume is divided into two broad sections, based on Talbert's principal interests identified in the introductory essay: institutions and geography. The broadness of the themes is matched by the breadth of the sources analyzed. Indeed, they cover the entirety of Greco-Roman antiquity. Part I contains nine chapters. It begins with Philip A. Stadter's article, which focuses on Plutarch's interest in the cursus honorum, and its evolution in the Parallel Lives. Stadter's article is followed by Jonathan Scott Perry's historiographical essay on the lex Iulia de senatu habendo, which emphasizes Talbert's influence on late-twentieth century scholarship on the topic. Leanne Bablitz' contribution investigates the rhetorical use of trials in Tacitus' Annals. Combining traditional textual analysis with quantitative data made by compiling the number of lines devoted to trials by book, Bablitz argues that Tacitus' description of trials cannot be ascribed only to imperial persecutions of individuals; but they also must be part of Tacitus' motivation to manipulate the reader's emotions and predispose the reader to render a particular judgment of an emperor. Sarah E. Bond then provides an interesting exposé of the role that the curia played in Roman politics from its foundation as the curia Cornelia, to its afterlife in Late Antiquity. Bond's article ably demonstrates that the curia was, first and foremost, a communication tool: the issue of the removal of the altar of victory, for example, was a problem of legitimacy conferred, in part, by the status that the curia Iulia still played in Late Antiquity. Lee L. Brice's article follows, demonstrating that, after a mutiny, forgiveness was as important in restoring order as the punishment. The contribution of the late Garrett G. Fagan explores a topic directly related to his second book, The Lure of the Arena (Cambridge, 2011). Fagan recasts the ludus as a place with its own social rules, which allowed the development of a camaraderie (brought about by the constant close-quarter living) but nevertheless strengthened the ability to kill one's partner in the arena. Werner Eck then considers the spread of honorific statues in Syria Palaestina, showing how they served as a mode of communication between an individual and the Roman administration. Christopher J. Furhman proposes a fresh if damning reappraisal of Dio Chrysostom's behavior, by focusing on his role as a local statesman in his city of Prusa: he was not simply the victim of slander by enemies, rather, he strong-armed his opponents into agreeing to a deeply unpopular project. Finally, Daniëlle Slootjes' article provides a fitting end (chronologically) to this section in addition to a smooth transition to the next section (geography). She poses a hitherto unasked question: how did provincials respond to the creation of the dioceses? The answer is that, in the fourth century, they had not yet integrated the dioceses in their understanding of the world.2

The second half of the book is devoted to Talbert's other research interest, geography. The first contribution by Cheryl L. Golden illustrates the relationship between polis and geographical knowledge in Thucydides. The second contribution, by F.S. Naiden, makes an interesting and compelling argument: Alexander's peregrinations were not strategic; on the contrary, Alexander was simply ill-informed of the geographical features of Anatolia. Mary T. Boatwright then addresses the issue of Agrippa's map and visual representations in Rome. By setting Agrippa's map in its urban context in the vicinity of the Porticus Vipsania, Boatwright shows that Agrippa's map, while initially unique, would become simply one illustration in a sea of geographic information, which included monuments with depictions of barbarians like the column of Marcus Aurelius. Brian Turner discusses the acquisition and use of geographical knowledge by Velleius Paterculus and the importance that the provinces played in the organization of geographical knowledge. Not only was Velleius' interest in provincial history clear in his historical excursus, but he organized his geography of the Roman Empire based on the provinces and their location relative to one another. Jerzy Linderski's contribution is an interesting historical investigation. Cicero received a letter from his brother and Caesar posted from Blandeno, an unknown place. Where was Caesar? Linderski proposes that Caesar was in fact on the move when he dictated the letter. George W. Houston shifts the discussion away from geography to consider the physicality of telling time through a study of sundials. Noting both their lack of precision and their sparse distribution, Houston suggests that these sundials were not primarily time-telling devices but rather could be used as gifts or prestige items. John F. Donahue focuses on one aspect of geography: water springs. He demonstrates that spas were and would remain a central landmark in Roman geography. Lastly, Michael Maas moves us away from geography as organizing space to topography as organizing civilization. He identifies three phases in this development. First, there is the Greek phase, in which the environment dictated behavior; then the deterministic phase, in which the ability of humans to alter the environment became a marker of civilization; and finally, the Christian phase — which either embraced or denied classical environmental determinism— for which civilization necessitated conversion of erstwhile uncivilized populations to guarantee salvation.

The volume as a whole speaks, very broadly, to the organization of human space in the ancient world. Part I describes over and over the relationship between institutions and individuals; Individuals make up institutions, but institutions alter and mediate behaviors. This is made abundantly clear in Fagan's article on the ludi while Slootjes' article shows that the institution of the diocese was incomplete in the fourth century since individuals had not yet been affected by it. The second part focuses on the organization of space and time, the evolution of knowledge, and its organization. Contributors highlight the fundamentally social nature of chronological and geographical space, from the fact that, in Boatwright's contribution, the Regio VII could become a microcosm of socially-acceptable imperial representations, to the liturgical role that sundials played.

The volume achieves three distinct objectives. First, by adopting a diachronic approach, the editors encourage the reader to draw connections across time and discipline. For instance, Slootjes' article finds an echo in Turner's; likewise, Bond and Boatwright both address the evolution and transformation of physical space albeit in different ways. Second, while this volume, as is typical with Festschriften, demonstrates an extraordinary diversity in topics, each article remains extraordinarily accessible. As such, even non-experts would find a starting point for further exploration. Third, Talbert's scholarship is a part of each paper, demonstrating further his broad influence on scholarship of antiquity.

Scholars, though their interests may range from Alexander's wars to late-antique dioceses, will find something of value in this volume, not just in their area of expertise, but in others as well. Much like Talbert's many important contributions, this volume should find itself in libraries of ancient historians and philologist of extremely diverse interests.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Introduction
Brice, Lee L. and Daniëlle Slootjes, "Chaps and Maps: Reflections on a Career with Institutional and Cartographic History," 3-11.
Elliott, Tom, "Cumulative Bibliography of Works by Richard J.A. Talbert," 12-25

Part 2: Roman Institutions
Stadter, Philip A., "Plutarchan Prosopography: The Cursus Honorum," 29-47
Perry, Jonathan Scott, "The Lex Julia de Senatu Habendo: A View from the 1930s," 48-64
Bablitz, Leanne, "Tacitus on Trial(s)," 6-83
Bond, Sarah E., "Curial Communiqué: Memory, Propaganda, and the Roman Senate House," 84-102
Brice, Lee L., "Second Chance for Valor: Restoration of Order After Mutinies and Indiscipline," 103-121
Fagan, Garrett G., "Training Gladiators: Life in the Ludus," 122-144
Eck, Werner, "Statuenehrungen als Zeugnis für den Einfluss römischer Amtsträger im Leben einer Provinz," 145- 160
Fuhrmann, Christopher J., "Dio Chrysostom as a Local Politician: A Critical Reappraisal," 161-176
Slootjes, Daniëlle, "Late Antique Administrative Structures: On the Meaning of Dioceses and their Borders in the Fourth Century AD," 177-195

Part 3: Geography and Cartographic History
Golden, Cheryl L., "The Geography of Thucydides," 199-215
Naiden, Fred S., "An Anatolian Itinerary, 334-333 BC," 216-234
Boatwright, Mary T., "Visualizing Empire in Imperial Rome," 235-259
Turner, Brian, "The Provinces and Worldview of Velleius Paterculus," 260-279
Linderski, Jerzy, "Litterae Datae Blandenone: A Letter in Search of a Posting," 280-297
Houston, George W., "Using Sundials," 298-313
Donahue, John F., "The Healing Springs of Latium and Etruria," 314-332
Maas, Michael, "The Shaping Hand of the Environment: Three Phases of Development in Classical Antiquity," 333- 346


1.   Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel J. Gargola, Noel Lenski, Richard J.A. Talbert, The Romans: From Village to Empire, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
2.   One additional point that might be of interest is that the Itinerarium Burdigalense is both a personal travel document and an administrative one, probably coming from the cursus publicum. Thus, while the dioceses retained a central administrative role, administrative documents sent by the chancery to subjects of the Roman Empire did not acknowledge their existence. Celestina Milani, "Strutture Formulari nell, 'itinerarium Burdigalense' (a. 333)," Aevum 57.1 (1983): 99-108.
3.   Incidentally, this would become the topic of J.A. Talbert, Roman Portable Sundials: the Empire in your Hand (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

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