Scholia Reviews ns 10 (2001) 31.


R. MacMullen, Romanization in the Time of Augustus. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. Pp. xi + 222. ISBN 0-300-08254-1. US$25.00.

Denis Saddington
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

The verb 'to Romanize' first appeared in the 17th century, used both of making Roman in character and of joining the Roman Catholic Church. But the noun 'Romanization', in the senses of `assimilation to Roman customs' and `alteration under Roman influence'[[1]] is late 19th century. In passing it may be noted that Romanization also bore a linguistic sense, referring to Roman influence on English.[[2]] A similar metaphor has now been suggested, creolization.[[3]] But this word is being used as a substitute for cultural Romanization, especially the mutual influence of Roman and local civilizations. In Roman provincial studies Romanization was first applied to the process by which provincials became Roman (essentially that is), adopted Latin as their language and accepted a (Graeco-)Roman lifestyle, using 'Roman' artifacts. Some[[4]] believed that this was encouraged by the Romans, presumably the emperor, the provincial governors and prominent Romans working in or emigrating to the provinces. However, it is clear that Romanization was not enforced from above: it was an entirely voluntary process.[[5]] Not that the Romans did not notice it occurring and not approve. Virgil (Aen. 6.851-53) claimed that it was the mission of Rome to impose mos, her value system, on the pacified provinces. Tacitus (Agr. 21) commended his father-in-law Agricola for encouraging the local élite in Roman Britain to adopt the trappings of Roman civilization. Pliny the Elder (HN 16.3) said of a German people, the Chaucans, that their almost sub-human way of life was a punishment from the gods because they had spurned the benefits of Roman peace. Elsewhere (HN 3.31) he says that southern Gaul (Provence) was more Roman than Italy.

Ramsay MacMullen, known for his many instructive books on Roman social phenomena and a shrewd article, `Notes on Romanization',[[6]] has now written on Romanization during the principate of Augustus. In his preface (p. ix) he states: `My object is to point out and explain the appearance of a way of life in areas of the Roman empire outside of Italy just like that prevailing inside Italy. I focus on those decades when Augustus was alive.' His main concern is with processes by which the `Roman civilization of the Empire' (p. x) became the universal way of life.

In Chapter 1, 'In the East' (pp. 1-29), he discusses the Roman or Italian immigrants who settled in the East, the effects of Roman control on public institutions (including the introduction of the imperial cult), the introduction of Roman architectural forms (such as fora) and the response of local power- holders to Rome, especially their accommodation to her. Chapter 2 (pp. 30-49) is devoted to Africa. Here the sub-headings are 'The Occupation of the Land', 'Leptis Magna' (as a case study), 'Juba's Kingdom' (i.e., Mauretania) -- which corresponds to `Behavior' (especially that of Herod the Great) in Chapter 1. The final sub-section deals with 'Acculturation through the Plastic Arts'. Spain is discussed in Chapter 3 (pp. 50-84). The topics covered are 'The Transformation of the Land', 'Urban Structures', 'The People Responsible for Change' (both Roman administrators and local dignitaries), 'The Formal Articulation of Change' (the locals adopting to Roman administrative procedures) and, finally, 'Arts, Letters, Private Life'. Gaul is the subject of Chapter 4 (pp. 85-123). It deals with 'What the Romans Found' (i.e., the existing `Celtic' civilization), 'Re- Ordering Gaul on an Urban Basis', 'The Province Narbonensis' (i.e., modern Provence), 'Artists and Patrons', 'Public versus Private' (i.e., the use of Roman motifs on private monuments). The last chapter is called 'Replication' (pp. 124-37): its headings are 'The Means'; 'The Opportunity'; 'The Motive'.

It can be seen that broadly the same themes are discussed in the various different regions of the empire, but with interesting differences which underline the point that there was uniformity neither in the culture of the provinces the Romans administered nor in the responses of the locals to Roman control.

A few remarks may be made on some points of detail:

p. xi: MacMullen valuably recognizes the diversity in Roman civilization itself: cf. p. 2 on the Greek element in it (where perhaps he might have referred to philanthropia as the antecedent of humanitas). But the distinction between `Roman' and `Italian' is not particularly helpful. By the first century AD the culture of the wealthy in Italy was entirely Roman, so that the distinction is only geographical. Cf. `Italian' on p. 68.

p. 4, n.12: It seems odd to quote Deiotarus among local Romans exercising influence through the governor of a province.[[7]]

p. 10: More explanation of technical terms might have been given for the non-technical reader. Duumviri, aediles, quattuorviri, sufetes appear as such on p. 10. (On p. 39 chalcidicum is explained only on its second appearance.) `Colonial government' as a description for city administration in Italy could be misleading for a modern reader.

p. 11, n. 30: Reference to ancient inscriptions and other documents are sometimes only recoverable from a modern author quoting them or are often rather cryptic. MacMullen includes Ehrenberg and Jones in his bibliography, so could have assisted the reader in 90 n. 30 by referring to EJ 311 and 322. On the first, the Edict from Nazareth, a reference to A. Giovannini's recent article[[8]] would have been useful: he places the edict in the context of Augustus' eastern policy.

p. 12: MacMullen rightly stresses the political and cultural effect of the settlement of veterans in the provinces. But they were sometimes only dubiously `Roman'. Some of them who settled in Dalmatia under Augustus chose not `Roman' style tombstones but a type common in Asia Minor.[[9]]. Many legionaries in the East had in fact been recruited locally and given Roman citizenship on enlistment.

p. 19: On occasion MacMullen refers to `Commanders of the Engineers' as a type of specialist officer dealing with building and the infrastructure. From p. 127 it is apparent that he was thinking of praefecti fabrum. However, there is very little evidence of these officers dealing with building or engineering.[[10]]. By the time of the early Principate praefecti fabrum had in fact become (administrative) adjuncts to the legionary commander. With regard to the M. Cassius Denticulus, whom MacMullen quotes on p. 20 (ILS 7729), he was not architectus `after his demobilization' but before: his military tribunate was the summit of his career. Most urban architecti were in fact recruited from freedmen. The document claimed to refer to an army architect quoted from Donderer (the reference might have been given: it is OGIS 2.660 or IGRR 1.1236) does in fact not do so: the architect in the inscription (Mersis) is a different person to the soldier (Mommogaius Bataiou of the Cohors Nigri). The text of the Liber Coloniarum (244 Blume, line 5) which MacMullen quotes on p. 20 is in fact corrupt, and does not seem to refer to soldiers assisting in land surveys in the Triumviral period: Mommsen, CIL X p.560, emends to date the incident to A.D. 126. Cf. RE IA 1110f.

p. 78: Hispanenses (which in any case should be Hispanienses) is a strange lapse. Hispanienses were Romans resident in Spain: the local Spaniards were called Hispani, which is in fact what Tacitus has in the text. But even so, `natives' is perhaps not the best translation for it. Roman residents in the province would not have been behind in promoting the imperial cult: Tarraco was after all a Roman colony. Cf. Dio 51.20.6: a special temple for the incipient cult for Roman residents in Ephesus.

p. 135: honoris aemulatio is a difficult phrase. But MacMullen's translation `competition for promotion' (in disagreement with A. Birley's version quoted on p. 176, n. 27) is too concrete. Honor can of course refer to political office in Rome, but at this stage in Britain Agricola would have had no posts to offer British noblemen, who are not even attested as commanders of auxiliary regiments. The correct nuance is suggested by the 1938 translation of G. J. Acheson, `competition for the honour of his (i.e., the governor's) approbation'. Ogilvie and Richmond ad loc. have `competition for honour (that of being praised)'.

MacMullen's extended essay is a tour de force and will set the agenda for succeeding analyses of Romanization. Its chief merits are its regionalisation and its restricted time-scale. It refuses to look for a single process of acculturation operating empire-wide and it concentrates on a specific period, the initial consolidation of the territorial empire under a new system of Roman government. Its main omission is a full discussion of the emergence of local élites into Roman society and its governing structures. Thus figures such as Theophanes of Miletus (and his descendants under Augustus) and Cornelius Gallus, administrator but also an important poet and a friend of Virgil, together with whom he was educated,[[11]] could have been singled out and discussed (as in fact the Spaniard Cornelius Balbus is, but there are many more). At the lower end of the social scale the experiences of the non-Roman auxiliaries in the Roman army might have been considered: Augustus formalized their permanent use alongside the legions. And the impact of the ordinary legionary in his provincial camp -- apart from his role as a purchaser -- might have received more reflection.

By concentrating on specific areas within the empire MacMullen has been brilliantly able to show how organic the process of Romanization was: the East responded differently from the West, where Gaul and Africa, with their stronger local tradition of town life, were different from Spain. The adoption of a very brief synchronic, rather than a lengthy diachronic, approach enabled MacMullen to bring out the real significance of the similarities and differences he was able to highlight.

The richness of his scholarship is apparent from the footnotes. His style is refreshingly simple and there are useful brief summaries of scattered details. The maps and drawings are excellent.

MacMullen is usefully iconoclastic of old certainties: cf., e.g., his scepticism about the presentation of the `ideology' of the art of the capital into the provinces on pp. 113f.

The work is indeed a reliable contribution to Roman provincial studies.


[[1]] OED, svv. 'Romanize' and 'Romanization'.

[[2]] OED, sv, 'Romanization'.

[[3]] J. Webster, 'Creolizing the Roman Provinces', AJA 105 (2001) 209-25.

[[4]] For early accounts of Romanization cf. P. Freeman, 'British Imperialism and the Roman Empire', in J. Webster et al. (edd.), Roman Imperialism: Post-Colonial Perspectives (Leicester 1996) 19f.

[[5]] D. B. Saddington, 'The Parameters of Romanization', in V. A. Maxfield et al. (edd.), Roman Frontier Studies 1989 (XVth Limes Congress) (Exeter 1991) 413-18.

[[6]] R. MacMullen, 'Notes on Romanization', BASP 21 (1984) 161-74.

[[7]] Deiotarus is the subject of my paper, 'Preparing to Become Roman - The "Romanization" of Deiotarus in Cicero', in Charisterion C.P.T. Naudé (Pretoria 1993) 87-98.

[[8]] A. Giovannini, 'L'inscription de Nazareth: nouvelle interpretation', ZPE 124 (1999) 107- 31.

[[9]] Cf. J. J. Wilkes, 'Army and Society in Roman Dalmatia', in Kaiser, Heer und Gesellschaft: Gedenkschrift E. Birley (Stuttgart 2000) 330f.

[[10]] Cf. B. Dobson, 'The Praefectus Fabrum in the Early Principate', in Britain and Rome: Festschrift E. Birley (Kendal 1965) 61-84, and my article, 'Praefecti Fabrum of the Julio-Claudian Period', in Römische Geschichte, Altertumskunde und Epigraphik: Festschrift A. Betz (Vienna 1985) 529-46.

[[11]] Ps. Probus in Verg. Ecl. praef. calls him a condiscipulus of Virgil (p. 328 Hagen).