Scholia Reviews ns 11 (2002) 4.
Clifford Ando, Imperial Ideology and Provincial Lovalty in the Roman Empire, Classics and Contemporary Thought No. 6. Los Angeles Berkeley, and London: University of California Press, 2000. Pp. xxii + 494, incl. 7 black-and-white illustrations. ISBN 0-520-22067-6. US$60.00.
University of Auckland, New Zealand
Many scholars have asked why the Roman Empire fell, and in recent times a number of studies have emphasized provincial resistance to Romanization and the tenacious persistence of local customs and ideas. The book under review is a product of its time in that it has much to say about the periphery looking inwards and the centre looking outwards; but instead of searching for seeds of decline or reasons for the inevitable fall, it asks about the secrets of Rome's success. How did an imperium, a collection of conquered provinces, become transformed into a patria, a focus for the patriotic loyalties of its subjects? Why did the empire last so long? What induced quietude rather than rebellion? How did the centre achieve this unequalled feat? It will probably be cited in future as a positive account, one which argues that Rome tried to be, and was accepted as, a just and benevolent ruler; and the likelihood is that it will be set against negative accounts, which emphasize Rome's capacity for conquest and repression. This is foreseeable, and to a fair degree justified, but unfortunate, for Ando's thesis is more complex than simple, and more sophisticated than others on its topic. He is fully aware of force, repression, and injustice, but succeeds nevertheless in pointing out that there were positive features of Roman government and that these have not been given sufficient attention, especially of late. There was, for instance, widespread peace in the first two centuries AD, a peace that followed a Roman conquest that was extraordinarily swift in many cases; this helped enormously in engendering a positive response in subsequent ages. The whole argument deserves to be read widely, even if many readers will undoubtedly dispute its prime contentions. Their reactions will reflect the basic importance of the theme and perhaps also the long-held prejudices of readers, such as myself, who have grown up with a different, less appreciative assessment of the merits of the Roman Empire (cf. p. 120, on modern writers, 'suspicious of monarchs as of empires, [who] view the Roman government's role in the dissemination of news with profound cynicism'). I find myself both admiring and being somewhat disturbed by this impressive work. Its publication means that a fundamental debate now has strongly argued parameters.
Ando argues that the peoples of the Roman Empire came to accept that imperial rhetoric was not just a body of empty platitudes but that there were distinct advantages to Roman rule and that the emperor did take their interests into account. We have been used to the 'propaganda' view when assessing media such as coins, statues and the rituals of Imperial Cult, but Ando believes that provincials learned how to manipulate such media to their own advantage, so that power was negotiated in ways acceptable to them. This enabled them to respond positively to imperial requests for various kinds of support, such as aurum coronarium. The centre created frameworks in which the provincials could participate, enjoy the benefits of empire, and actually join the rulers, for example through bodies like the army and the Senate, and through the rituals of Imperial Cult and oath-taking. It is certainly an unfashionable view in a number of ways: it often works from the centre to the periphery, stresses positive rather than negative reactions to Roman rule, benefits rather than costs, positive rather than negative results of Imperialism, general prosperity rather than elite prosperity, and a rather enlightened, even at times selfless, impulse from the centre. Yet the view of power as a matter for negotiation is quite fashionable, one of the most notable influences from sociology on analyses of Roman government and religion in the last generation or so. In Ando's words, 'Imperial ideology emerges here as the product of a complex conversation between center and periphery' (p. xiii). I find it a helpful way of appreciating the management and maintenance of power in the Roman world. Other views tend to make one party, either the monarch or the subjects, essentially passive or reactive, or imply that power was wielded by a personality and experienced by the group, instead of being applied only insofar as it is simultaneously conceded. No reader will be unimpressed by Ando's command of a huge range of source materials. Equally, he is to be commended for his knowledge of current thinkers on social formation, like Max Weber, Jürgen Habermas and Pierre Bourdieu. This is a study which impresses both for its source criticism and its methodology.
There are ten chapters divided into three parts -- about the importance (Part 1), dissemination (Part 2), and results (Part 3) of Roman imperial ideology. The Introduction ('Communis Patria', pp. 1-15) sets the agenda with reference to Gibbon's ideas on the unity of the Roman Empire, and gives a synopsis of each chapter. Part 1 ('Ancient and Modern Contexts') is composed of two chapters which argue that obedience was produced by the internalization of Roman ideology. In Chapter 2 ('Ideology in the Roman Empire' (pp. 19-48), Ando follows Weber in describing the imperial office as heavily founded on charisma, but shows that the ideological agenda, set by Rome, supplied several principles of legitimation concurrently. Provincials could choose which of these principles met their outlook. The imperial ideology was characterized by flexibility and had the capacity to satisfy a diverse set of local needs and aspirations. Provincials understood the realities of power perfectly: 'whether one addresses him as imperator, princeps', or Augustus, he is simply a king' (Appian, Praef. 22f.). Gradually, they 'absorbed and iterated those ideas that they wished their overlords to endorse, embody, and express' (p. 467). Ultimately, they grew convinced that the values enshrined in Roman ideology responded to their needs and were supported by a majority. This welcome result was achieved unconsciously, in a non-programmatic way by the Romans, who fashioned something which addressed fundamentals of life in a spirit willing to negotiate.
Chapter 3 outlines 'The Roman Achievement in Thought' (pp. 49-70). Among other things, it distinguishes between the imperial government and particular officials, who at times might have been loathed and resisted. The political and economic stability guaranteed by Roman rule was generally recognized and appreciated, and the speed and thoroughness of Roman conquest convinced many that Rome had a divine right to construct a jural-political system for those whom they had conquered. It was thought that Rome's gods had conquered local gods, or that the latter had sanctioned Roman success. Greeks like Aelius Aristides were pleased to see the end of internecine strife in Greek life (p. 54), and they were impressed (in a tradition stretching back to Philip V of Macedon) by Rome's generous policy with her citizenship (p. 57). For their part, the Romans emphasized their special skill at government. Provincials internalized this message and tended to respond with praise for Rome's achievement of having unified the world. By the end of the first century AD, rhetoric about Rome was marked by descriptions of the empire as a single community, with the city of Rome and the emperor at its head, caring for the common interests of the inhabitants.
Part 2 ('Consensus and Communication') forms the bulk of the analysis and is notable for its informed deployment of communications theory. It encompasses four chapters, beginning with Chapter 4 ('The Communicative Actions of the Roman Government', pp. 73-130) on the evidence for, and impact of, widespread distribution of legal and administrative ordinances from the centre to the periphery. Ando points out that the Roman government expended huge resources on keeping the inhabitants of the empire informed. Far from being prescriptive, however, the centre sought consensus, as was the traditional Roman way in civil affairs. As a result of this approach, provincials were empowered by their rulers, and in turn empowered their rulers. They were encouraged by the flexibility of Roman responses to enter negotiations or to initiate religious and political displays of consensus, which had the effect of providing support for Roman activities. Negotiation was not just encouraged but even perpetuated by this process. Ando employs the work of Jürgen Habermas, who believes that communication can only be successful when it is assented to: 'successful communication of any sort requires participants to reach a mutual or intersubjective agreement concerning the validity of an utterance' (p. 75). This applies to Roman government because Roman ideology made claims on the basis of law and morality, which could only be justified by rational discourse aimed at assent; the use of force would have invalidated them. Provincials began to describe themselves, their status and their history with reference to Roman official documents. In general the discussion is highly illuminating about the ways in which administrative and legal texts were promulgated, disseminated, and authenticated throughout the Roman world. Although literacy levels were not high, Ando follows those who believe that a small number of literate individuals could go a long way' (p. 101).
Chapter 5 is entitled 'Consensus in Theory and Practice' (pp. 131-74). It is about the role of consensus, picturing the emperor ruling through negotiation and applying the weight of venerable bodies like the Senate in support of his desires. Ando concentrates on documents through which emperors elicited expressions of consensus and thus implicated others in a culture of loyalism. Interestingly, documents invoking consensus usually claimed to represent the opinion of particular groups, not of the whole world, so that something deliberate rather than formulaic is implied. It was something intrinsic to the group, something to signal particular loyalty in an atmosphere of competitive displays of loyalty. Such documents 'created rifts within the general population, divided its loyalties, and allowed it to express its unity only when expressing its commitment to the established order' (p. 135). Provincial communities competed for recognition and benefits in this competitive manner, one consequence of which was that they gave up their chance for more united negotiation with the ruler. For the Senate at Rome, consensus was a stylized expression of libertas and should not be seen as sycophantic. It was, on the contrary, fundamental to 'the economy of flattery that facilitated exchanges between emperor and Senate' (pp. 152f.), and meant that the prestige of the Senate under the Principate was considerably enhanced (p. 168). When the Senate suppressed Gn. Piso and published its thanks in every major city and legionary camp throughout the empire, it was thinking in terms of a broad set of loyalty relationships and describing the ideal for all parties to live up to. The Senate's displays of consensus set an example that was followed by corporate bodies and individuals throughout the empire (p. 173).
Chapter 6 follows up with 'The Creation of Consensus' (pp. 175-205). Whereas earlier chapters examined spoken and written modes of communication, this one has interesting things to say about the drama or performance involved in achieving positive support for imperial measures. It pays particular attention to the propaganda of Septimius Severus in the years following his assumption of the purple. Ando emphasizes three radically different though recurrent social dramas eliciting or expressing provincial consensus: (i) concerning provincial payments of gold for a crown in honour of imperial military victories (aurum coronarium, pp. 175-90); (ii) aiming at local quiescence when pretenders (like Severus and Julian) or legionary commanders needed provincial assistance for a military campaign (pp. 190-99); and (iii) encouraging acclamation, the ritualized, rhythmic, unanimous chanting-in-unison that became a favourite method of expressing consensus (pp. 199- 205). The latter was a way to respond both favourably and unfavourably to particular individuals or propositions. Through such rituals, claims could be made about empire-wide unity and support for the centre, or about the empire being a unified community.
Chapter 7 investigates 'Images of Emperor and Empire' (pp. 206-73). It sees art as providing the setting for social and cultural rituals, and as a prime means of communication. Accordingly, Ando has much to say about the production, transmission and reception of imperial messages in this medium. He does not believe in the old 'propaganda' view. In the case of coins, for instance, he is inclined to think that inhabitants of the empire did not understand the ideological content of an imperial coin in much detail. Instead, coins were used because of a widespread belief in their purity and economic redeemability. However, there was a general belief that the emperor supervised the coinage, and thus the emperor's charisma was inextricably involved in the response of the provincials (pp. 215-28). This applies likewise to imperial portrait statues (pp. 228-53). These were ubiquitous (p. 232), but the benefit was not so much in a particular statue as in the impression made by a line of imperial statues, conveying the idea of a succession of charismatic individuals and of a ruling dynasty. Milestones and military standards (pp. 259-69) could similarly evoke the particular but also the totality, so that a universal symbolic language was created for the empire that operated across the never-to-be underestimated linguistic boundaries.
Part 3 ('From Imperium to Patria') contains the final three chapters. Chapter 8 ('Orbis Terrarum and Orbis Romanus' (pp. 277-335), looks at the intersection between local identity and imperial loyalty, judged in terms of response to Roman laws and culture. The best way to assess loyalty to Rome, in Ando's view, is by analyzing provincial reception of messages about Roman military victories, which are far more problematic on the periphery than in the capital (pp. 277f.). He argues that provincials as early as the time of Augustus began to propose models for the empire in which the distinction between citizens and provincials was replaced by that between those inside and those outside the empire (pp. 278-86). There was, then, a desire quite early on for non-citizen aliens to identify themselves as Roman (Ando emphasizes that the divide between citizens and non-citizens does not help very much in appreciating the spread of loyalty). Works of art, such as the Gemma Augustea, the Boscoreale Cups and the Great Cameo of France, are interpreted as pictorial language designed to give this ideology monumental form (pp. 287-92, 303- 20). Geographical writing was far from unaffected (pp. 320-29), while Hadrian's recognition of the 'limits of empire' produced a new mental geography (pp. 330-35).
Chapter 9 ('The King is a Body Politick . . . for that that a Body Politique Never Dieth' (pp. 336-405) reinforces the view that provincials tended to see themselves as Roman by examining ideas and rituals which described the empire as a community under a father. It is argued that all inhabitants were unified by, for example, the enjoyment of peace, swearing loyalty oaths, filing census returns, paying taxes, and submitting to Roman legal structures. In addition, even though the Romans appear to have set up urban centres to facilitate the transfer of provincial wealth to Rome, such building programmes did provide real benefits to local populations by returning wealth from the centre to the periphery. Local benefactors made contributions too, illustrating both imitation and manipulation of Roman paradigms. The symbolic language of Roman urban environments was unifying within and between provinces, and it reflected a level of material prosperity that could only be identified with Roman power. Ando notices the conceptual transformation through which the republican title pater patriae became simply pater in the works of Greek and Latin writers of the empire (pp. 398- 405). He concludes that 'it must have become easier and easier for all to see themselves as equal members of that patria' (p. 404).
Finally, Chapter 10, 'Conclusion' (pp. 406-12), ends the analysis by emphasizing once more the unifying effects of such Roman institutions as cult rituals before imperial portraits, loyalty oaths, prayers for the emperor's health, and the common calendar of imperial anniversaries. These kinds of things produced a shift away from Cicero's conception of the res publica as an entity largely confined to the capital to one coterminous with the boundaries of the empire. Arnaldo Momigliano is one eminent scholar who did not believe that the paperwork passing back and forth between centre and periphery would have struck the provincial imagination and created widespread loyalty.[] Ando's reply is that it would indeed have done so because the petitions, replies, laws, and orders of this 'paperwork' were the lived testimonials that suggested the truthfulness of Augustan propaganda (p. 409). To political historians, obsessed with personality, he says that the charisma of the imperial office ultimately dominated the emperors, not the other way around -- the madness and despotism of some of the best known emperors did not undermine the authority of their successors. This charisma backed their communications to the provinces -- and in turn the efficiency and constancy of such communications supported the charisma.
I feel sure that one could write a parallel book about the disunity of the Roman Empire, about civil discord in the capital, about imperial capriciousness, selfishness and extravagance, about the paranoia often rampant at court, about serious abuses, hated officials and revolts in the provinces, even during the most peaceful days of the pax Romana, about social and religious restrictions, especially in the East, status-consciousness of the most distasteful and insecurity-producing kind, about army mutinies, abuse of women, children, the aged, and infirm, about resentment among slaves, piracy and banditry, problems with the grain-trade, earthquakes and famines, economic problems, especially to do with the empire's balance of payments, anxiety, wild fluctuations of fortune within quite short periods of time, and so on. How large and efficient was the imperial bureaucracy really? How consistently did provincials distinguish between abusive officials and 'Rome' as an imperial idea? Do political rituals like the census unify more than they stratify? Something similar might be asked about, for example, oath- taking in the presence of Roman authorities. Yet if the potential for a very different book is certainly there, I could not now imagine doing it with as much conviction as Ando has done. It would not be quite fair, for it would require the omission of much that sustains the alternative view. Nevertheless, there is a point to be made about selective emphasis and even more about the nature of our surviving evidence, much of which is designed to promote the view that Roman control should be characterized in something like the manner Ando offers us. It derives from people and agencies with a vested interest in the imposition of this kind of picture. Of course, any objection along these lines would inevitably run up against the undeniable fact of the longevity of Roman rule. If it was being resented and resisted constantly, how could the empire have lasted for so long? Ando's work makes it clear that if the Roman government had had to deal with constant provincial uprisings, the empire would not have lasted as long as it did.
Still, there were times when I found the picture a little too positive, the centre a touch too clever, the provincials being satisfied too easily by universalizing ideology, which at times they appear to have set up rather than reacted to. Imperial Cult rituals, for instance, following writers like Simon Price,[] seem largely to have been the product of provincial initiative, especially in the East, a way of controlling (not merely coming to terms with) the new foreign power. Perhaps I am being unfair, for Ando can and does stress flexibility, which must derive primarily from the attitude of the rulers, and it need not entail an attitude completely or even mostly positive. In the negotiation or conversation, each side could initiate and reply flexibly, respectfully, from a position of strength. It is the emphasis upon flexibility as a primary reason for Rome's success, often producing what seem to modern eyes like ambivalent results (e.g. provincial portrait sculpture), that impresses me most about Ando's study. Force or the potent threat of force must always be kept in the foreground too. It could do with more emphasis here. Apart from this, satisfaction of basic material needs -- food, clothing, shelter -- is crucial, along with peace. The Roman Empire was quite successful at providing these things, it seems to me. Some might say that there are examples in human history of incredible suffering being endured for what seem like intolerably long periods, but it is unlikely that this applies in any general way to the Roman Empire, though it certainly depended upon your class, gender, age, race, and so on. Finally, the professional standing army shifted the burden of military service from the civilian population to a class who made it their career. The change in lifestyle and thought that this entailed in the Mediterranean world was utterly profound, and once you have relinquished your military capability it becomes quite difficult to recover it, so that you become very much dependent upon those designated to act for you militarily. The system is maintained of necessity.
I can see both the iron fist and the velvet glove in the case of the Roman Empire. It was always impressive to me as a student that the Romans, during their period of expansion in the Italian peninsula, operated on principles that were very different to those shown by the Greeks: they extended their citizenship, especially to the elites of the conquered communities, refrained from placing garrisons in conquered towns, allowed local autonomy, levied troops rather than money as tribute, thereby securing allied cooperation in their imperial ventures, and liberally gave out a variety of other privileges. While they could use force, therefore, they showed a readiness to ally themselves with, rather than simply dominate, those whom they had conquered -- to their mutual benefit, for this was judged to be the best way to succeed. There is an attitude of mind here that basically seems to underlie much of what Ando has to say. It helps me to be receptive to his arguments while at the same time being careful about going too far with blanket generalizations. The big worry, to give myself away at last, is that I am being induced to see something positive in imperialism, and perhaps even an enlightened imperialism.
[] On Pagans, Jews, and Christians (Middletown 1987) 100.
[] Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge 1984) chapters 1 -2.