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Rome: City and Empire

Author(s): Michle Lowrie

Source: The Classical World, Vol. 97, No. 1 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 57-68
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Classical Association of the Atlantic
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Cities bear a symbolic weight that goes beyond their manifold
physical and social structures at any one time because their persis-
tence through history gives layers, sometimes contradictory, to what
they stand or fall for. Empires unfold over time, but traditionally
have a capital to localize them in space. The recent division be-
tween Washington as political capital and New York as cultural capital
of our country responds to a need to break up these functions. Hitler
thought Berlin was the capital of the world, and the division of
Germany and the relocation of the capital to Bonn were powerful
symbolic acts against German imperialism.' For centuries, Rome was
indeed the capital of that part of the world we call the West. Rome
is "the eternal city," but this is Christian Rome. There is also Re-
publican Rome, Imperial Rome, Rome as city, and Rome as empire.
Space, government, religion-at least are all denoted by these dif-
ferent Romes. These Romes persist in our imagination even when
the buildings and the society that inhabited them have fallen into
ruin. Freud, in Civilisation and Its Discontents (1.17-18), famously
describes the psyche by analogy to Rome, as if we could walk around
Rome with all the buildings that have ever stood there still stand-
ing, coexisting in the same place as their predecessors and successors:
Now let us make the fantastic supposition that Rome
were not a human dwelling-place, but a mental en-
tity with just as long and varied a past history: that
is, in which nothing once constructed had perished,
and all the earlier stages of development had sur-
vived alongside the latest. . . . But more still: where
the Palazzo Caffarelli stands there would also be,
without this being removed, the Temple of Jupiter
Capitolinus, not merely in its latest form, moreover,
as the Romans of the Caesars saw it, but also in
its earliest shape, when it still wore an Etruscan
design and was adorned with terra-cotta antefixae.2
But the unconscious only ever comes into consciousness partially,
so that we cannot recreate more than a few past Romes in our
minds at once. The Romes I will talk about today are two: the
physical city and Rome as a figure for empire during the time of
Augustus, the first Roman emperor. The Capitoline, Freud's Palazzo
Caffarelli, will occupy a decisive space in my discussion.3
J. T. Quinn, "The Ancient Rome of Adolf Hitler," CB 76.2 (2000) 150. M.
Jaeger (cited in "Selected Bibliography" at the end of this article) refers to the "universal
tendency to view one's own city as the center of the world" (9).
2 See C. Edwards (below, "Selected Bibliography) 27. This translation is from
the Freud edition (below, "Selected Bibliography"). All other translations are my
Jaeger (below, "Selected Bibliography"): "Rome is the center of the empire it
rules, and the Capitoline, the fixed center of Roman religion and the home of the
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This Rome is an exception to the pattern highlighted at the
conference which gave rise to this paper. Rome was sacked at least
twice: by the Gauls in 386 B.C.E. and by Alaric on August 24,
410 C.E. The point I want to make, however, is that warfare, de-
struction, rebuilding, and moral renewal are so strongly linked that
these different elements do not have to take place on the same
site for the connection to hold. The extraordinary building and re-
building plan of Augustus in the latter third of the first century
B.C.E., spilling over into the first century C.E., was conceived of in
the minds of his contemporaries as a restoration of the moral fi-
ber of the city, of the society, and of the state in the wake of
warfare. The wars in question were civil, so that that enemy was
internal, not external, and the major battlegrounds were not in Rome,
or even Italy for the most part, but in the Greek East, so that the
devastation was one of the mind and spirit. The city itself was
untouched. Still, it needed to be restored.
It would be tedious to go over all the battles of the civil wars.
Suffice it to say that by the time the future Augustus won the
battle of Actium in 31 B.C.E., civil unrest had plagued Rome for a
century. The battle of Actium itself was between Octavian, the successor
to Julius Caesar, on the one hand, and Antony and Cleopatra on
the other. The Senate actually declared war against Cleopatra as
the sovereign of Egypt in a gesture that figured the civil war as
external (no one was fooled).4 The decisive battle took place on
the west coast of Greece, and in its wake Antony and Cleopatra
fled to Egypt, where they were definitively defeated in the fol-
lowing year. Even though the theater of war came nowhere near
Rome itself, Horace's ode celebrating Cleopatra's defeat brings her
metaphorically into the heart of the city as a threat: dum Capitolio
/ regina dementis ruinas / funus et imperio parabat ("while the
queen was preparing crazed ruin and death for the Capitoline and
empire," Carm. 1.37.6-8). He is not wrong in his representation:
civil war strikes at the heart of the state, and the Capitoline, capped
by the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno, and Minerva,
was the city's citadel and stands for the center.5 What is strange
is the eclipse of Antony as the real menace in the poem. Instead,
the enemy is depicted in a resolutely orientalizing mode: Cleopatra
is accompanied by a band of eunuchs, described as a "contami-
nated flock of men foul with disease" (contaminato cum grege turpium
/ morbo uirorum, 9-10); she herself has lost control of reason and
is "drunk on sweet fortune" (fortunaque dulci / ebria, 11-12). The
gods who are the source of Rome's supremacy, is the center of Rome" (3); see also
61, n.14.
4 R. A. Gurval (below, "Selected Bibliography") 33; and M. Lowrie (below, "Selected
Bibliography") 145-46; but see C. Pelling, review of Gurval (below, "Selected
Bibliography") 290, for warnings against overstatement.
5"The Capitoline hill symbolized Rome," C. Williamson (below, "Selected
Bibliography") 179.
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civil context, however, and mention of the Capitoline reveal the
stakes. According to the historian Cassius Dio, Cleopatra had threatened
to dispense justice on the Capitoline, and Propertius and Ovid af-
ter Horace also speak of her as a threat to the citadel.6 Horace's
formulation turns city space into a metonymy for power. His par-
allelism between Capitoline and imperium equates two aspects of
Rome: the city's physical dimension with that of its ability to command,
in other words, empire.
Horace is not the only one to make this connection. Vergil
equates the longevity of his poetry with the conjoined Capitoline
and empire:
si quid mea carmina possunt
nulla dies umquam memori uos eximet aeuo,
dum domus Aeneas Capitoli immobile saxum
accolet imperiumque pater Romanus habebit.
(Aen. 9.446-449)
If my songs have any power, no day will ever re-
move you [Nisus and Euryalus] from the memory
of the ages, so long as Aeneas' house will inhabit
the immovable rock of the Capitoline and the Ro-
man father will have empire.
Jupiter's prophecy to Venus in the first book of the Aeneid starts
by promising a city (cernes urbem et promissa Lauini / moenia
["you will see a city and the promised walls of Lavinium," 1.258-
259]) and ends up promising eternal empire (imperium sine fine
dedi ["I have given empire without end," 1.279]). The conquered
territory is first Greece and then will be bounded only by the Ocean.
Perhaps the most epigrammatic formulation belongs to Ovid. In
the Fasti, a didactic poem on the calendar, he devotes a day in
honor of Terminus, the god of boundaries and boundary stones. It
is significant that when the Capitoline was being rebuilt back in
mythic times, he was the one god who was not moved to make
more room for Jupiter. Livy interprets the omens against moving
him as a sign of the future greatness of empire. Ovid ends the
section on Terminus with a comparison of Rome's boundaries with
those of others: Gentibus est aliis tellus data limite certo /
spatium est urbis et orbis idem ("The land of other peoples has
been given within a fixed boundary: the expanse of the Roman
and of the world is the same," Fasti
The Latin
plays up the similarity of city (urbs, urbis) and world (orbis).7
Prop. 3.11.45-46; and Ovid, Met. 15.827-828; for further references, see R.
G. M. Nisbet and M. Hubbard (below, "Selected Bibliography") at Horace, Odes 1.37.6.
The urbslorbis pun was already a topos, e.g., Prop. 3.11.57: septem urbs alta
iugis, toto quae praesidet orbi ("a city high on seven hills, which presides over the
whole world"). For the collocation, including bibliography, see Jaeger (below, "Selected
Bibliography") 9, n.26."
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Vitruvius, the architect, explicitly speaks of the imperial sym-
bolism of buildings. He uses Augustus' building campaign in Rome
to justify his own writing of a technical treatise on architecture.
He says in his preface:
cum uero adtenderem te non solum de uita com-
muni omnium curam publicaeque rei constitutione
habere, sed etiam de opportunitate publicorum
aedificiorum ut ciuitas per te non solum prouinciis
esset aucta, uerum etiam ut maiestas imperii
publicorum aedificiorum egregias haberet auctoritates,
non putaui praetermittendum quin primo quoque tem-
pore de his rebus ea tibi ederem....
(Arch. 1, Pref. 2)
But when I noticed that you not only had care of
the common life of all and the constitution of the
republic, but also about the advantage of public
buildings, in order that the state (civitas) be in-
creased by you not only with territory (prouinciis),
but also that the majesty of empire (maiestas im-
perii) have outstanding examples (auctoritates) of
public buildings, I did not think I should in the
first instance omit publishing for you these things
about these matters....
The increase of the commonwealth through territory parallels en-
dowing the empire's majesty with outstanding public buildings. The
state gains materially through the physical extension of coloniza-
tion and annexation, as well as through the symbolic act of building
within the city itself. Vitruvius uses the same word for the build-
ings' power as Augustus does of his own in his funeral inscription
on his accomplishments: auctoritas. This word is etymologically
related to the verb meaning "increase" (augeo), and it is the word
Vitruvius uses for increasing the commonwealth.
It is also the verb Augustus himself uses in describing his ex-
tension of territory in the aforementioned inscription. This is known
as the Res Gestae Diui Augusti, or "The Accomplishments of the
Divine Augustus." It was read to the Senate at his death, subse-
quently inscribed on bronze tablets and set up on pillars outside
his Mausoleum, and then copied and set up in Latin as well as in
Greek translation on monuments in three extant locations in mod-
ern Turkey.8 Only the copies have survived. The location of this
inscription both in the heart of the city and the outreaches of the
The basic text of the Res Gestae can be found in V. Ehrenberg and A. H. M.
Jones, eds., (below, "Selected Bibliography"). Discussions in J. Gage (below, "Selected
Bibliography"); E. S. Ramage (below, "Selected Bibliography"); and P. A. Brunt and
J. M. Moore, eds. (below, "Selected Bibliography"). For the reading to the Senate,
Suet. Aug. 101.1.
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Roman Empire was a monumental link between urban and Impe-
rial Rome.
The inscription itself contains a number of lists. Two of these
cover the extension of the empire's territory and the building campaign
within the city. In the former, he uses augeo, "increase": omnium
prouinciarum populi Romani quibys finitimae fuerunt gentes quae
non parerent imperio nostro fines auxi ("I extended the territory
of all those provinces of the Roman people on whose borders lay
peoples not subject to our government," RG 26.1). The list of ex-
ternal lands which were added to Roman territory, or forcefully
pacified, takes us in a geographical excursus over the known world:
Gaul, Spain, Germany, Ethiopia, Arabia Felix, Egypt, Armenia, Sicily
and Sardinia, Pannonia, and Dacia, across the Danube. Interven-
tions are made in Persia and diplomatic relations extend for the
first time to India. Augustus had already given a list of places,
specifically monuments in Rome which he had either built or re-
stored. This is the list of public buildings he built from scratch:
Curiam et continens ei Chalcidicum templumque
Apollinis in Palatio cum porticibus, aedem diui luli,
Lupercal, porticum ad circum Flaminium, . . . puluinar
ad circum maximum, aedes in Capitolio louis Feretri
et louis Tonantis, aedem Quirini, aedes Mineruae
et lunonis Reginae et louis Libertatis in Auentino,
aedem Larum in summa sacra uia, aedem deum
Penatium in Velia, aedem Iuuentatis, aedem Matris
Magnae in Palatio feci. (RG 19)
I built the Senate House, and the Chalcidicum ad-
jacent to it, the temple of Apollo on the Palatine
with its porticoes, the temple of the divine Julius,
the Lupercal, the portico at the Flaminian circus .
., a couch for the gods at the Circus Maximus,
the temples on the Capitol of Jupiter Feretrius and
Jupiter the Thunderer, the temple of Quirinus, the
temples of Minerva and Queen Juno and Jupiter
Libertas on the Aventine, the temple of the Lares
at the top of the Sacred Way, the temple of the Di
Penates in the Velia, the temple of Youth, and the
temple of the Great Mother on the Palatine.
He has a similar list of buildings he restored, and includes the
statement that he restored eighty-two temples of the gods on the
authority of the Senate (RG 20).
What we find in Augustus as a bald juxtaposition of lists of
imperial territory and sites within the city is given more of a cul-
tural context in the poets. Both foreign expansion and the building
program within the city are regularly explained as alternatives to,
or expiation for, civil war. The moral threat is within: it entails
internal conflict and, as is usual with moral threats, acquires the
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added imagery of sexual profligacy. Augustus' focus on restoring
temples goes hand in hand with bringing back the old religion
and a sterner attitude toward sex. Jerry Falwell's attribution of the
destruction of the World Trade Center to God's wrath at the sexual
"depravity" of gays and lesbians seemed laughable to us in the
fall of 2001, but it belongs to
long tradition, starting of course
with the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah, but with classical
roots as well. Horace brings together all of these elements in his
sixth so-called Roman Ode:
Though undeserving, you will keep paying for
the sins of your ancestors,
Roman, until you restore the temples
and slipping shrines of the gods and
the statues black with foul smoke.
You rule because you carry yourself subject
to the gods:
From here refer every beginning, to here ev-
ery end:
The neglected gods have given many ills to
Grievous Hesperia.
Already twice the Monaeses and the band of
Have pounded our inauspicious
Attacks and smile at having added
Booty to their slender torques.
The Dacian and Ethiopian almost detroyed
The city, occupied by sedition,
The one fearsome with his fleet, the other
Better at shooting arrows.
Centuries rich in blame have
Befouled first marriage, and the race, and homes;
Disaster derived from this source
Has flowed onto the fatherland and people.
The maiden come of age rejoices in learning
Ionian dances and fashions herself with artifice
And even now contemplates unchaste loves
From the quick;
Soon she seeks younger adulterers
At her husband's wine, nor does she choose
To whom she may give unpermitted joys
In haste in the dark,
But ordered openly she rises,
Not without her husband's knowledge
Whether a salesman calls her or the captain
of a Spanish ship,
The pricey buyer of breaches of decorum.
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Youth risen from parents not like these
Dyed the sea with Punic blood,
And felled Pyrrhus and huge Antiochus
And dreaded Hannibal,
But rather the masculine offspring of rustic
Soldiers, taught to turn the earth with
Sabellan mattocks and to carry firewood
cut at their harsh mothers'
Command, when the sun lengthened
The shadows of the mountains and
Removed the yokes from the tired oxen,
Bringing on the time of fellowship with
setting chariot.
What has each damning day not diminished?
Our parents' age, worse than our grandparents,
Bore us, more wicked, soon to give forth
Progeny full of even more vice.
(Carm. 3.6)
The capacity to rule is linked to the building program; the failure
of foreign campaigns is credited to civil war, which threatened the
city (urbem), even though no Dacians or Ethiopians (or even Egyptians)
even came close to the physical city. The rebuilding being recom-
mended to Horace's fellow Romans stands for a moral renewal,
which will take care not only of the problem of civil war, but
that of its consequent foreign threats. This rectified relation to the
gods justifies empire, conveyed by the verb for giving commands
and cognate with imperium: imperas ("you rule"). The depiction
of a woman prostituting herself with her husband's connivance brings
up a further element of what is called "the Augustan program,'
namely his marriage legislation.
One of the paradoxes regularly pointed out about the Augustan
renewal is how much novelty he brought to his call to return to
the good old days of the mos maiorum, the "customs of our an-
cestors."' One of his greatest innovations was taking prosecution
for adultery out of the hands of the family, which had formerly
been responsible, and making the husband and father of the adul-
terous woman themselves liable to prosecution. The incentives he
established for early marriage and childrearing, and penalties for
failing to do so were similarly new, but were done in the spirit of
things the way they were before the decadence of the present. His
mention of these new laws in the Res Gestae perfectly illustrates
this paradox.
Legibus nouis me auctore latis multa exempla maiorum
exolescentia iam ex nostro saeculo reduxi et ipse
multarum rerum exempla imitanda posteris tradidi.
(RG 8.5)
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With new laws passed under my authorship, I brought
back many examples of our ancestors already fad-
ing away from our age, and I myself handed down
examples of many things to be imitated by later people.
Augustus situates himself at the crux of history: he brings back
the past and hands down the future, each gesture with the figure
of the exemplum. It is important to realize not only the nostalgia
of such calls to restoration-the last stanzas of Horace's sixth Roman
Ode are certainly nostalgic-but also their modernity. I am not
sure whether Augustus' unprecedented religious activity-he him-
self held six priesthoods in addition to that of pontifex maximus,
the chief priesthood (RG 7.3)-could be termed fundamentalist, but
the structure of innovation clothed in the rhetoric of the past is
certainly something we are still familiar with today.
One fundamental difference from our fundamentalisms, how-
ever, is the absence for Augustus of a sacred text, or at least a
fixed one. Scholars agree that the Sibylline oracle calling for the
Century Games, the ludi saeculares, was made up ad hoc.9 Augustus
fiddled with the calendar to make the time for these games occur
when he wanted. The text performed at these games was written
by a contemporary, again Horace, who again brings together the
city with the moral reforms. This poem was performed twice dur-
ing the games, once on the Capitoline and once before the temple
to Apollo that Augustus had built on the Palatine.'0 When Horace
mentions the Palatine altars (Carm. Saec. 65), in at least one per-
formance context, they were right there." Within this poem, Horace
prays to the Sun and asks, possis nihil urbe Roma / uisere maius
("May you be able to visit nothing greater than the city of Rome,"
Carm. Saec. 11-12). Usually, urbs Roma denotes the city proper,
but the context of the Sun's daily travels over the sky opens the
possibility of a wider, indeed very wide meaning, and later on,
Horace tells us that the Mede fears the Alban (i.e., good old-fash-
ioned Roman) axes and that the Scythians and Indians are awaiting
diplomatic responses (Carm. Saec. 54-56). The city of Rome is
again the Rome of empire. Furthermore, he asks the gods to make
the marriage legislation prosper (Carm. Saec. 17-20).
Rome has long been exemplary for modern constructions of
power. It was an important model for the founding fathers of this
country, who looked to the mixed constitution of the Roman Re-
public for the division into different branches of
government, though
the system of checks and balances is an innovation.'2 But Impe-
E. Fraenkel (below, "Selected Bibliography") 365, n.4.
See the Acta of the Century Games, CIL 6.32323.147-148.
" P. Hardie (below, "Selected Bibliography") 125-26; and D. C. Feeney (below,
"Selected Bibliography") 33.
See M. Hardt and A. Negri (below, "Selected Bibliography") 161-64, though
they mistakenly attribute Polybius' description of the mixed constitution to the Empire
instead of the Republic.
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rial Rome was also a model for Mussolini, to whom classicists at
least should be grateful for funding a huge amount of archaeo-
logical research.'3 His efforts are responsible for the reinscription
of Augustus' Res Gestae close to their original location near the
Mausoleum, and his huge Mostra Augustea della Romanita was a
very important scholarly endeavor, as well as a propagandistic one.
The interpretation of the same buildings lies in the eye of the
beholder. While Americans see the assault on the Twin Towers as
a threat to republican liberty, much of the rest of the world has
rejoiced over the challenge to capitalist imperialism. Well, which
is it? Republic or empire? The quotation from Freud that I cited
at the beginning suggests that Rome at least must be both-as well
as Etruscan and Christian and who knows what else besides.
Let me end with the suggestion that a critique of imperialist
building propaganda can come from within. Ovid mocks the re-
newal of Augustan marriage legislation and the building program
in the third book of the Ars amatoria, his didactic poem on se-
duction. This book is addressed to the ladies, so that they will
not be defenseless against the men, whom he has instructed in the
previous two books. His advice starts with grooming, cultus, the
word also for culture. Not all women have beauty, but proper care
can improve appearances, and the neglect of heroines of old is no
excuse, since times have changed. Rome is the example, and, be-
sides the Capitoline, he focuses on buildings built from scratch
by Augustus:
simplicitas rudis ante fuit; nunc aurea Roma est
et domiti magnas possidet orbis opes.
aspice, quae nunc sunt, Capitolia, quaeque fuerunt:
alterius dices illa fuisse Iouis.
Curia concilio nunc est dignissima tanto,
de stipula Tatio regna tenente fuit;
quae nunc sub Phoebo ducibusque Palatia fulgent,
quid nisi araturis pascua bubus erant?
prisca iuuent alios, ego me nunc denique natum
gratulor: haec aetas moribus apta meis,
non quia nunc terrae lentum subducitur aurum
lectaque diuerso litore concha uenit,
nec quia decrescunt effosso marmore montes,
nec quia caeruleae mole fugantur aquae,
sed quia cultus adest nec nostros mansit in annos
rusticitas priscis illa superstes auis.
(Ars 3.113-128)
Before, there was uncultivated simplicity; now,
Rome is golden
And possesses the great wealth of the
conquered world (orbis).
13 P. Aicher (below, "Selected Bibliography") 123-24.
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Consider what the Capitoline is now, and what
it was before:
You will say the latter belonged to some
other Jove.
The Senate house is now most worthy of such
a great council,
It was of straw when Tatius held sway;
The Palatine now shines under Apollo and the
What was it then but pasturage for plow
Let the old things please others, I congratulate
That I was born now: this age is apt to
my manners (moribus),
Not because now pliant gold is drawn from
the earth,
And the choice conch-dye comes from far
Nor because the mountains grow smaller from
mining the marble,
Nor because the blue-green waters give way
to building projects,
But because there is culture and that rusticity
left over from
Our ancient ancestors did not remain into
our years.
The erotic context makes a mockery of the moral renewal, and
Ovid's explicit rejection of the mos maiorum, the customs of the
ancestors, as rusticity, in favor of his own modern customs or manners
exposes Augustan ideology for what it is. Ovid is completely sup-
portive of building, as of all culture, but, besides the joke, he
shows that those doing the building cannot control what the building
means.'4 The buildings can have antithetical meanings for differ-
ent audiences. The stakes for this sort of freedom of expression
were high. Augustus sent Ovid into exile, for, among other things,
this very poem.
It is important for this discussion of the commensurability of
city and empire that we remember that things look very different
from within the imperial city and from the edge of the frontier.
The conjunction of city and world which Ovid happily puts to-
gether in the same line in the Fasti ("the expanse of the Roman
city and of the world is the same," 2.684), he rips apart in the
"1 K. Galinsky (below, "Selected Bibliography") 99 notes Ovid's link between
conquest and building and discounts the subversive reading (228). P. Hardie (below,
"Selected Bibliography") begins his book with this passage to exemplify Ovid's embrace
of the elegant style.
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exile poetry. The first book of the Tristia, the "sad poems," opens
with a poem addressed to his own book. It has the unkempt physical
appearance of the exile and is specifically incultus (1.1.3), that
is, lacking in the grooming and culture that made him so proud
to be Roman."5 The last word of the poem's first line is "city,"
urbem: parue (nec inuideo) sine me, liber, ibis in urbem ("Small
book, I don't begrudge it, you will go to the city without me").
The "city" for them was Rome, the way "the city" for us is New
York. In the same position in the poem's last couplet, we find the
same word for world, orbis, as in the line from the Fasti: longa
uia est, propera: nobis habitabitur orbis / ultimus, a terra terra
remota mea ("The road is long, hurry: the ends of the world will
be inhabited by me, a land far removed from my own," 1.1.127-
128). City and world are put as far apart in the poem as the frontier
of empire was physically from the city of Rome itself. Ovid's re-
sistance to imperial ideology when he was still dwelling in Rome
was lighthearted, but he acquires a greater understanding of the
problematic of this equation from the margins of empire.
New York University MICHELE LOWRIE
Classical World 97.1 (2003) michele.lowrie(
P. Aicher, "Mussolini's Forum and the Myth of Augustan Rome,"
CB 76.2 (2000) 117-39.
P. A. Brunt and J. M. Moore, eds., Res Gestae Divi Augusti:
The Achievements of the Divine Augustus (Oxford 1967).
C. Edwards, Writing Rome (Cambridge 1996).
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